This kind of retro thing in music now… we’re all kind of looking back to look forward you know? We do too. It’s kind of always been like that but now it’s really as if the retro thing is the dominant force in new music.
Now SUUNS are a good band. We liked both their LPs, especially the new one, Images Du Futur but sometimes interviewing new or newish or modish bands who make impressive LPs can be difficult: the unspoken ideas of “you’re just out to get us” /”are you really as pretentious in the flesh as on record?” do float about the ether, creating a sub agenda that can get in the way of the meeting. Luckily sitting down with the urbane Ben Shemie, a nice thoughtful lad who is at turns quick witted and also up for a giggle turns out to be a pleasure. In any case, it’s one of those afternoons where it doesn’t really matter what we talk about, the pub is full of chattering types wagging off work for an extended Friday lunch. Why not just see what happens? We did.
(Incendiary turn the tape on)
BS: An old school cassette recorder, ey? I love that shit. I love seeing it being used.
IN: You know what I really love about these? Even though it’s a pain sometimes when you’re transcribing, when you turn this on to listen, the noise in the background takes you back to the interview, it fleshes things out, and then you have all this weird hiss and noise…
BS: Yeah yeah it’s great.
IN: That whole Eno thing going on.
BS: (Laughs) Yeah yeah, to get the tone! Cool, so you listen back and it’s kinda relaxed in a really interesting way, it takes away the tension, I don’t know why.
IN: You heard that new L Pierre record, the lad who is in Arab Strap, Aidan Moffat?
IN: Well you should get that – it’s a weird trip built round all these scratching and hissing samples from old vinyl the sliding noise on a pickup, say: whether they’ve been digitally summoned up is neither here nor there, it’s an incredibly evocative LP. People are so fascinated by the sound of the vinyl itself.
BS: CD is so pristine; it’s a double edged sword. Nowadays they have these vinyl plug ins where you can digitally recreate the sound of vinyl, like it’s on a record, you can create the sound into how scratchy you want it to be. A lot of electronic music it’s kind of a cliché, a gimmick. It’s really weird, really weird…
(We both ponder this new technology making old technology weirdness).
BS: I mean for us it’s really important that we release our music on vinyl… just because, I mean nowadays I mean.... (pauses) I don’t give a shit about "the sound of vinyl" anymore, or the notion that we have to get it mastered in the traditional way I mean, whatever. But to me it’s like buying a painting from an artist and then getting it framed. You know the frame is the vinyl for me now; it’s like a physical connection and a sort of statement that this is the best physical format.
IN: I paint, so I sort of get what you mean. It’s very true that as an artist you have to give vent to the two sides to your existence; you have to have something physical to show what goes on in your head. Allowing a set of mental equations physical release: and a set of mental equations is effectively what digital is…
BS: Right, it’s a bunch of numbers. Yeah I mean but you can make the association with contemporary art that is just an idea, kinda Yoko Ono territory. Where there isn’t really anything, just a direction of what you should do, which is kind of…. You know, I think there’s value in physical, I want people to buy our records. I mean, I’m not a total traditionalist, you can’t ignore how we all consume music, you can’t ignore now. So there is a nostalgia attached to it, but I’m really not bothered about that. It’s just different, just another format which I personally think is important.
IN: Nostalgia worries me a bit but maybe it’s because I’m increasingly becoming an old wanker… (Laughs)
BS: There is something romantic about it right and that’s cool, and nothing wrong about playing into that right? I think that’s fine. I think it’s important that I can buy records. Also so I can see where they recorded things, like stupid shit on the sleeve notes, I really don’t understand why they don’t do it on digital, like the credits to a record, you can’t look into where it was recorded, when it was mastered, all that simple, little shit that I like.
IN: A crisis of confidence about telling people about stuff, because there is this weird idea that people don’t have time to digest the info, time is crimped, so let’s get rid of the extraneous stuff.
BS: I think we have more time than we give ourselves credit for. I mean I don’t think much has changed, there are some busy people and they still manage to read books, and I think if you have time to read a book you still have time you know what I mean?
IN: But attitudes to time are crippling it seems now: and it hits people who are creative the most; they wither get over creative and drive themselves too much and burn out, or create a mental block by worrying about running out of time, people are so worried about getting things done that they seem to just copy things to get round a problem.
BS: Oh yeah I agree, I know what you mean. This kind of retro thing in music now… we’re all kind of looking back to look forward you know? We do too. It’s kind of always been like that but now it’s really as if the retro thing is the dominant force in new music.
IN: In terms of your records I hear this…. if you don’t mind me saying: especially in the latest record, which I think is a lot “better” than the first, which, whilst I really appreciated it, I could really hear what you were drawing on; I know you weren’t maybe aiming the record at the likes of me, but the old git in the corner here…
BS: Still got suspicious? (Laughs)No, that’s fair enough.
IN: It’s like the new record’s got more soul.
BS: Yeah! Cool!
IN: I’m fascinated by this whole retro thing, especially how it makes the leap to live. From what I hear you’re obviously clever and there’s a whole bunch of ideas going on… but what do you think the point of contact is with your audience? What do you want to do, live, play a show to your ideas or get a reaction from the audience?
BS: Say all that again?
(Laughs all round)
BS: I mean, I think you want to know how we approach our shows and how we experience our shows. Well, we always see ourselves as a live band. We were a live band way before we were a recording band, and the recording studio for us is like a totally different event you know. When we play shows I mean it’s like a… (Long pause…) I mean we don’t really talk about it, we just do it. Our shows are aggressive; it’s much louder and faster if you like.
....There is any much thought about “putting on a show for the audience” I mean there is much more a band consciousness of trying to play the songs really well, and mostly trying to get lost in the music. It’s not about putting on a show…
….I’m not really understand I understand the question you know?
(Laughs all round again)
IN: Well the reason I ask is that I’m beginning to think the relationships with bands and audiences is changing now. From when I first saw bands, there was this thing of really wanting to see this particular band but at the same time just getting pissed and having a good time. Now a lot of people in the audience are as smart as you and react as if you’re more of a product that has to pass a set of tests than just something that’s there as a conduit for “mutual fun”…
BS: Man... I mean I never really thought of that way. I think if you are a good band and can communicate that well, then you’re fine. I would say as a music fan that seeing the show and working out what that band does in a physical manner is definitely the main drive to whether I like the band or not. And I think like for us, we always try to put on a good show, but we never talk about putting on a show. I mean the only preparation we do for a show is normally that we write the set list out 10 minutes before we go onstage, and then we talk about how we feel at that point, what kind of a night it is, how long we’re playing, and we will change it on stage if we feel like it’s not working, or whatever.
I think of engaging an audience... I think if you’re strong enough as a group and dynamic… I don’t think you need to do anything. I have my reservations about saying how we are on stage because it sounds pretentious to say “oh we do that or we do this because I don’t know how conscious we really are, erm... I think we do get praised as being a good live band but we don’t have any light show or funny shit, and I think it’s really about seeing guys play. And what I think is cool about the band is that everybody in the band has an equal role. Everybody does their own thing. And I think there’s enough there for an audience to hold onto. Despite the fact that it’s so… plain to look at. You know what I mean?
But I take your point that audiences are really informed. And it’s really geeky now. Indie rock shows, they’re pretty clued in audiences, but I think some people still go to shows and get wasted and that’s cool; the general audience is there always to party, and when you drop the beat and everyone goes crazy, that’s not changed but I concede that a number of people are really critical and have very informed opinions and are really severe, and not always based on a physical reaction to a show.
IN: Fair enough! Let’s change tack and talk about the record: I thought it was really dark in places…
BS: I love it when you critics always talk about the record in the past tense. I mean I’m not going to listen to it again… (Laughs)
IN: True! OK, to change tense… You are a gnomic band, with a lot going on; and the new LP is very much like listening into private conversations…
BS: Cool. I think so, it’s fair and I take the idea of the record as a private conversation as a compliment. We’ve kind of developed an aesthetic over the years and I think there is a certain idea with the band: we hope you’re in it with us, but we certainly aren’t going to explain it to you, you’re in it or you’re not. I think it’s stronger on this second record because we’ve already built a foundation. We’re thinking about the people who already know of us, so it is a bit more about the people who like our band will like this record, and not so much about people in general liking this record. So there is a little bit of an insider thing.
It’s cool, although it’s not an exclusive thing, but if you don’t get it you don’t get it.
IN: Good to hear that because I do get sick of people trying to give answers that seek to include everyone’s approval. It’s mad.
BS: That being said I do think this new record’s a lot more accessible than the first one; because there’s lots more singing on it and there are more entry points for people to come into it.
IN: Bits of Syd Barrett in there…
BS: Cool! Totally!
IN: You do sound like a British band at times…
BS: I know what you mean but I still don’t get why that would be: our influences are far and wide… and we don’t actively seek out British sounds… but that said, the interest in the band is definitely much more in Europe than it is in North America and I can’t explain why that is at all. I can’t deal with any of that kind of shit (laughs). I like to think that the audiences here are just more into new music and more adventurous, but I really don’t know.
IN: Well, maybe because you genuinely do sound different? I recently wrote this article about the fact that there are so many American bands that are all talented, hardworking and I’m sure well-intentioned, but all churning out the same crap.
BS: Yeah… Please don’t use a glockenspiel (laughs)
IN: This tidal wave of similar sounding stuff… you could make a sculpture with all the CDs of this kind of music… and you’re different to that. How did you escape?
BS: I dunno man… I always thought that the way people stood out was… and I’m talking about all people that are good at any art here.... Everyone’s a little bit talented, and some are really talented. But the guys who stand out, the guys who go far are the ones that have taste. If you think about what is it that makes something great; I’d say it’s down to the way a piece of art is delivered, how to meet people’s expectations - about delivering the goods. And in music it’s about having a good ear, and the confidence and the brass front to do it. I think people appreciate that kind of thing.
IN: The human element isn’t it? I think sometimes bands get lost in this whole set of equations.
BS: For sure for sure. Lost in an algorithm. I mean it is hard as a band especially when you go to all these big festivals where there are seven other stages, and you go down the road and there are all these fucking other bands… and you like it, I mean it’s all good, but it’s not that interesting, like these bands you were talking about before – okay you can totally identify why people like these sorts of records. But I find that poppy music really hard to make because it’s just not…not… natural. And it just seems like, what’s the point.
It is frustrating… You take on a lot and there are a lot of bands at the moment: I mean, you hope people don’t forget what you’re doing. I mean earlier we were talking about the audience being informed. But in a way you kinda count on that because they are a little intelligent and they get the joke or appreciate you.
IN: Complicated times. There is so much stuff going on. And people aren’t relaxed. But I think that’s why your new LP stands out: it’s good at using simple space and time, and not scared of its influences.
BS: There was a certain type of thought processes that kicked in with this record. You’ve got to get this shit down in the allotted time. We’re very deliberate in what we do but we are always careful not to overthink it. We’re just gonna do the best we can do, it sounds stupid but it’s true. We’re just four guys in a band and we’re very sensitive to music and we all have a different approach to doing what we do – but we’ve established the aesthetic and we know when it’s working, we go with our gut. Maybe that’s what makes it what it is: they are really simple songs, you know, really simple songs. As for influences, well definitely Clinic, we’re big fans of the band and we finally got to play a gig with them last fall, which was really cool, eh, I guess Barrett-Floyd. But we got compared to Krautrock bands a lot and I’d never really heard the term!
IN: Ah yes, Krautrock lazily used as a term to describe anything with a steady beat… trust me!
BS: I know why they say it mind… Lots of electronic too which kind of speaks to the simplicity of the arrangement and that kind of tension you get in dance music, how long you can repeat this thing before you get bored of it. There’s a threshold where you get bored of hearing it, but then there’s a further moment where it starts to get interesting again. So there is a lot of that. It is challenging, but it’s something that informs us, and it will go until we think we’re done! (Laughs) A lot of sections in the live show are open and it’s up to whoever in the band wants to call it. But you know I grew up listening to classic rock and my introduction was my parents’ records collection: Dylan, Led Zeppelin was a huge deal and when I was little I was into AC/DC and what I would now call pop rock. I think it was the Pixies that put me over the edge into what and that’s probably my favourite band and the one that bridged the gap between popular culture and alternative culture.
IN: i saw them back in the day, they were deafening, and a genuinely weird, fascinating band.
BS: You know for me they were the last great band, I could never get sick of their music… it’s infinitely interesting what they do, and they don’t really do that much, you know? It’s like coming in from another planet and I really don’t know how they manage to pull it off.
IN: The human element?