If SUUNS’ brand of mysterious art rock were to take on a visual aesthetic, it would certainly look like this — living in monochromes and being sprinkled occasionally with bright flashes which hint at beauty in deep places. Obvious aspects of their music — incoherent mumblings over grinding basslines and electronics — embrace the darkness, while lighter guitar elements and steady beats seem to offset that heaviness. The resulting sound is brooding and danceable, and singer and guitarist Ben Shemie’s own description of SUUNS’ music might be the most appropriate visual and poetic accompaniment.
“There is a kind of sense of falling backward that I think the songs conjure,” says Shemie. “Or blindly driving your car into a wall. A sense of sadness in all the amazing things in the world.”
“We are definitely influenced by visual art, and I suppose art of all kinds,” he continues. “On a conceptual [and] intellectual [level,] many of our friends work in that medium, whether it be film or painting or whatever, so there is definitely an interest in what they are doing and what trends are happening in the visual art world in general…
“You can definitely draw parallels to composition in a visual format versus a musical format. They draw upon the same tastes and impulses. None of our songs are ‘based’ on a film or picture or whatnot, but in some cases, I hear our songs as little plays, or films.”
One look into SUUNS’ own interpretation into their music lies in their video for “Up Past The Nursery,” which was directed by Ben Shemie and Petros Kolyvas. The video is slow and complemplative, not unlike the song. Alternating between shots of the band standing idly in the woods and being suspended motionless in watery atmospheres, the video’s subtle off-kilter color treatments and occasional overlays of fireworks serve as bursts of action in stillness.
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Many of the songs from Zeroes QC are powered by basics. Take, for instance, “Pix IX” and “Sweet Nothing”; both songs begin with repetitive rhythms, each droning on for a solid minute before experiencing any significant changes. From there, they build and progress lightly, until they finally settle into confident, full grooves, aided by guitar noodling and loads of instrumental manipulation. The name of the original game, though, is simplicity.
“There is a minimalist thread to the music,” Shemie reveals. “Lots of times, we are really expounding on a theme, trying to dig as much energy out of as little as possible.”
Zeroes QC was recorded with the goal of creating a cohesive album. It succeeds, although it remains sufficiently diverse from track to track. “There is definitely a big variation between the songs, but I think they have a similar ‘sound,’ like they are coming from the same place.” explains Shemie.
“There is a kind of sense of falling backward that I think the songs conjure. Or blindly driving your car into a wall. A sense of sadness in all the amazing things in the world.”
— Ben Shemie, Vocalist of SUUNS
“When we recorded this record,” he continues, “the intention was to make an album. You hear chat about how the album as an entity is fading. I think the importance of the album has become greater among bands. We all grew up listening to records and know how defining they can be. And I think we want to craft a body of work represented by albums.”
While it might seem that SUUNS have a clear vision of their style, it isn’t nearly as complicated as it might seem. In fact, the band members’ approaches to their musical careers seems fairly casual. The naming conventions for the band’s two releases — Zeroes EP and Zeroes QC — simply pay homage to its old band name, Zeroes. QC stems from the abbreviation for Quebec, the province in which the band resides. “We had been playing as Zeroes for the last three years, but we had to switch to SUUNS because every proper word in the English dictionary is taken. It’s pretty ridiculous,” says Shemie. “I still refer to the band as Zeroes; it’s just ingrained. But I like SUUNS, too. I don’t care anymore.”
Even their signing to powerhouse label Secretly Canadian was quick, easy, and obvious. “We had just mastered our record that we had recorded, [but] we hadn’t really formulated a plan of attack. Jace Lasek, who recorded Zeroes QC, passed it along to his mates at [JagJaguwar]. A little while later, Chris from [Secretly Canadian] contacted me…” says Shemie. “I knew we had a killer record, and it was great to get acknowledged so quickly. We got a chance to hang out with Chris in New York, and it was all straight up and cool. We knew it was the place to be for the band.”
In conjunction with the release of Zeroes QC, SUUNS will be embarking on a series of tours this fall, and are putting out an open call for guest saxophonists on each of their various tour dates. Most of all, Shemie and company are taking the future step-by-step — almost passively in some ways, but with an accepting and open attitude.
“We are… very open to ideas to promote our new disk,” says Shemie. “Otherwise, no, we have no idea what the fuck we are doing.”