by Amanda Harvey
Montreal’s Suuns produce music that is cool, calm, and collected: prog-pop melodies with a wry vibe. Their last two LP’s Zeros QC and Images Du Futur were refreshing and sleek in a scene that was mostly saturated with derivative and overly complicated lyricism and production. Yet unlike their first two albums, their newest LP Hold/Still has a discomfort which resonates just below its shiny surface, and their songs seem to hint towards something deeper.
The album is accessible to the average listener, but it’s also tinged with a distinct knowledge of the past: a sense of history that a music lover will recognize. Hold/Still is steeped in reference points; from prog-rock to German experimentalism to shoegaze to new wave to pure pop.
I caught up with Suuns drummer Liam O’Neill to discuss Hold/Still, among other things.
Amanda Harvey: Hold/Still feels very different from your first two LPs. Can you please talk about this progression?
Liam O’Neill: ‘Twas a very fine progression. For us, we did it in a new place with a new producer, and having those para-group elements always changes your process. It’s funny to think that if we did the record in Denmark with Q-Tip producing, we’d have not only another record, but probably a whole different genre. You know what they say: Location, location, location.
AH: Does location have an influence on your sound?
LO: Nope, location isn’t really that important to us. In the end, you’re just kind of in the studio, a totally insular environment, working on your shit. The process in Montreal is slightly more social, which may influence things, but it’s actually kind of impossible to tell.
I think more than the cultural environment, whose influence is undeniable but impossible to measure, the experience of working with one person or another really matters. ‘Cause at the end of the day, making a record involves so much social interaction, so much communication and miscommunication, so much conversation about aesthetics. Of course, we are the products of certain cultural communities, but that influences the writing of the music – that’s the position you are taking in society, and more of a long-term thing. But when it comes down to the studio, recording time, it’s Friday Night Lights, baby, and it’s all about that sweet, sweet convo.
AH: Where do you look for inspiration when writing/producing?
LO: Mostly “Friday Night Lights”. Fuck, that song gives me g-bumps every time. At the beginning? Man.
I mean, we reference other music while making our own – that’s just kind of an effective way to communicate, like if I say “two” you know that that is more than “one”. Mostly, what inspires us is the alchemy of trying in vain to communicate with each other. That’s how you get to the interesting shit, I think. Understanding each other one minute, missing each other the next.
AH: I’m curious about the Dark Sky remixes of “Translate” – as electronic manipulation seems to play a large role in your sound, how do you feel these remixes play off of the original?
LO: Yeah, well I wouldn’t say that we employ electronic manipulation so much as we just use electronics. There is very little post-production of the electronic variety or any variety when we record. So in that way, a remix of our music is like any other.
However, I will say that the sounds we use, especially the synth sounds, are very much derived from dance music and so lend themselves really well to being remixed. I’d imagine that Dark Sky had a pretty easy time with that jam.
AH: How do you feel about appropriation (culture jamming, remixing) within the industry in general?
LO: Culture jamming is a word I haven’t heard in a while. Takes me back. Well, that is a huge question, of course. There is more awareness than ever about the politics of cultural appropriation in all kinds of social arenas, music being one of them, and it’s important to be mindful of that. But it’s also good to consider exchange and how beautiful that is. Like, what do we want? Each ethnic group plays its own unique music and we are all separate, doing only things that we are “entitled” to do? Hm. Dunno. It’s good we are having a more active conversation than ever about this stuff now.
AH: If you could collaborate with any artist or group of artists, who would they be?
LO: I’ve always found the Balinese Gamelan tradition to be fascinating. Maybe we’ll collaborate with an LA studio band to imitate that kind of stuff in the future.
AH: I read on your Twitter that you consider all music to be ‘experimentation’ – could expand on the words ‘experimentation’ and ‘tradition’ and the role these words play in the conception and production of your music?
LO: I mean, yeah, it’s not like we’re playing music randomly and just gonna “see what happens.” All music is an experiment in the way that walking out of your house, or making a cup of coffee is an experiment. I didn’t write that thing on Twitter. Probably it sounds like [bassist/keyboardist] Max wrote that.
We partake more in tradition than experimentation, I think. It’s more a matter of combining various traditions into a form that we consider to be something new, which I suppose is a kind of experiment. But certainly it is not “pure” experimentation. What are we talking about again?
AH: Ha! Ok, lastly, what are your favorite Montreal spots that no one has ever heard of? Places you like to go to disappear rather than to be seen.
LO: If I told you, I’d never stop being hounded by the thousands of fans dying to meet me – I’ve taken to wearing ball caps and Ray-Bans in daytime.