A lot of new bands arrive on the scene claiming to be impossible to categorise but then produce material which is so clearly formulaic that their album could be called Insert Genre Here. Not so Montreal’s Suuns who are solely responsible for a global outbreak of head-scratching.
“Most of the time, people are kind of perplexed,” Suuns front man Ben Shemie admits. The singer/guitarist is talking about the Canadian art rockers’ debut album Zeroes QC which has been causing furrowed brows since its release in December last year. “Generally people don’t know how to react. It tends to polarize the audience.”
On hearing the record for the first time, one can see why there has a been a certain amount of confusion. Without knowing it was the work of one band, Zeroes QC could quite easily be mistaken for a label compilation. Opening tracks ‘Armed for Peace’ and ‘Gaze’ swagger along in crotch-hugging, dirty rock leather, all guitars blazing, before the album veers off into stylish post-punk droning with the likes of ‘Pie IX’ and the minimalist electronica of ‘Arena’ and ‘Sweet Nothing’. There are even a couple of sweetly-sung ballads thrown in for good measure, pitching the listener yet another curve ball. It’s a collection of songs which has drawn admiration for its diversity and dexterity but also criticism for drowning the album’s focus in a sea of influences.
Shemie is unapologetic about the album’s disparity and explains that far from being a calculated exercise in eclecticism, Zeroes QC is merely a reflection of the multi-faceted world around them. “The main inspiration behind our music is exactly that; where we are from, what we are exposed to, what we see everyday, what music we are listening to,” he says. “The initial ideas at the heart of every song, which is the hardest part to come up with and to feel strongly about, come from our environments and experiences. These things have the biggest effect on us.”
One of the band’s main environments, their home town of Montreal, played a huge role in defining the album’s sound, Shemie says, but he freely admits that the current demands of being on the road may result in even more variety when it comes to recording the follow-up to Zeroes QC. “If we were in Berlin we would produce different sounding music, as we would if we moved to the prairies,” he says. “But right now, writing music is something that unfortunately is slotted into our schedule because we are touring a lot. It’s not our main focus at the moment.”
After criss-crossing North America in April, Suuns return for a whistle-stop tour of European venues in May before playing the Primavera Music Festival in Barcelona on May 31. Buoyed by the reception they enjoyed in Europe earlier this year, the band are looking forward to hopping back across the Atlantic for a summer love-in.
“Europe is amazing and it seems that we are more popular there, which makes sense to me,” Shemie says. “I think the music we make has a more minimal and electro thread which is more readily accepted there than in North America. Maybe the Europeans are just cooler. But the reaction in the US is also great. Canada is a bit behind on us, but they’ll come round soon enough.”
Shemie ponders the possibility that Suuns’ homeland is struggling to process their rapid ascension in much the same way as the band itself. “We are all surprised how fast everything has materialized in the last six months,” he grins incredulously. “Six months ago, none of what we are doing now would have even been conceivable. We’ve played together for 3 years doing local shows and getting a reputation but in the last six months the whole project has rocketed to another level. I think we could have imagined this happening, but it’s still surprising that people have even heard of us at all, even at home.”
“Positive attention is always nice and flattering, whoever and wherever it comes from,” he adds. “I don’t think any of us really feel a burden with the attention being thrown our way. We’re pretty chilled out about the whole thing.”