Interview by: Trent Lira
We had the chance to chat with Michael Razo and Adam Castaneda, two of the 10 members of the reggae-ska group The Suffers at Free Press Summer Fest this month. Check out the interview below.
Coog Radio: I know it says that you guys are from the Gulf Coast, but more specifically, you’re from here [Houston], correct? So can you talk a little about your formation, or how you kind of came out of this scene and met?
The Suffers: The band started with me and our keyboardist Patrick Kelly. We put together a group of people that we had known from the Houston ska and reggae scene and kind of built organically. We’d all played in groups–other group–together in different combinations, but this was kind of the who do we want to work with and who do we want to see work with each other, it was that kind of group. We didn’t really plan on it being 10 members, it just kind of happened that way.
Coog Radio: It’s kind of like ‘hey, I know somebody that can do this …’
The Suffers: You know who’d be good in this? That person, yeah they would be.
Coog Radio: That’s awesome …
The Suffers: It ended up being almost like an all-star reggae-ska group because it has people from Los Carnales, former members of Sound Control, Ivan, Secret Agent A, members from a hip hop group called Lower Life Form … even though it’s not ska or reggae, but it was a bunch of members of a bunch of big groups around the Houston area.
Coog Radio: You’re currently supporting “Make Some Room,” your EP, so can you talk about that record a little bit? What kind of sound has developed and what you want people to get out of the record?
The Suffers: Let’s see … well, we recorded the songs a while back and as far as a sound, we weren’t necessarily going for a sound. If you listen to some of our demos, like what we’ve recorded now, is nothing like what they sounded like. It was kind of like someone would say ‘hey I have a really cool part for this song. It would sound cooler if we did a version like this.’ So we would try out different ways of playing it–the style–and when we found out what was easier, I guess you could say, or what sounded way better ….
Yeah, you know we experimented a lot with a lot of different genres around town. And a lot of the songs, because of the way we write, a lot of the time the songs will come into the group and start the group in a different genre–a different feel–and we’ll play around with them. Over the past four years we’ve kind of identified ourselves. We’ve kind of built our own identity and as we did that, our songs took on a different sound that isn’t really, we didn’t really call our music soul music because it’s not really. It’s not reggae, it’s not ska, it’s not rock, it’s The Suffers. So hopefully with the EP people will kind of see who we are and what we sound like and recognize that it’s something unique.
Coog Radio: Right. l can see that eclecticness because you guys have come from so many different places, but is there a group of bands or influences you have as a whole that’s kind of molds your sound a little bit?
The Suffers: Well definitely old Jamaican stuff. A lot of us came from the punk and ska scene. A lot of us grew up on that kind of music, but I think generally as a group we’ve kind of gravitated towards bands that mix genres very well in a very unique way. Bands like The Clash, Rancid, even people like Prince or Fishbone … bands that are really good at mixing different cultures, different sounds into one unique identity.
Coog Radio: So because there are 10 of you on stage, what is the live show dynamic like since there is so much energy up there and in the audience? What goes through your mind?
The Suffers: What goes through my mind is everybody being on point. We kind of prepare just to get into a mode before the show to focus; don’t worry about anything going on around you. Yeah, we know it’s a big event, but we just want to treat it how we did in rehearsal. What we want to do is just give everybody an experience. When I go see a band, I like to jam out and stuff but then sometimes like Charles Bradley for example yesterday, just his attitude about everything was [expletive] great. He’s just all about love and about going out and doing your dream. I want people to see us, even younger generations, to see us and be like ‘man, they’re so bad [expletive]’ I wanna do that. We want people to be inspired and know that you can do whatever the [expletive] you want. Like you said, we came from different music scenes but here we are doing something completely different. We want everybody to be inspired. It’s all about love too.
Coog Radio: Speaking of that, I know that you guys were on stage with Welcome to Houston yesterday. What was that like being from the Houston scene and having the opportunity to be up there with the whole Welcome to Houston experience?
The Suffers: That was an honor. Those guys are all characters. They’re characters and I guess that’s why they are so popular. They have so much personality–each one of them–they’re all completely different. But I mean, it was really cool because stuff like that pushes you as a band because you usually have to play music that has nothing to do with your instrumentation, so you have to interpret that. And then, it’s a lot of music to learn very quickly. When we found out about it we were on the road and it was a real struggle to get everything crammed in all at once, plus the other stuff we’re doing. We’re about to go out on another long tour. Plus, it wasn’t just these rappers and a backing band, it was these rappers and The Suffers. So we had to maintain some sort of identity as The Suffers in songs that we didn’t write and that weren’t made for our instrumentation to begin with. Artistically it was a challenge to make that work and at the same time pay credence to all of the fans out there that love whatever the song is. It still needs to sound like that and represent what they’re a fan of too.
Coog Radio: Yeah I came in right when Mike Jones was starting …
The Suffers: Who? [laughter]
Coog Radio: [laughter] … and it was amazing in a really interesting way.
The Suffers: Growing up, in high school, I was a bit more into rock and punk rock stuff but 90% of my high school listened to rap. You can’t escape it in Houston. So to me, I actually have more appreciation after having to learn all of the [expletive] because you’re like ‘OK, these guys work hard too.’ They do.
Coog Radio: It’s a struggle in the scene for sure. So what’s the rest of the year looking like now that you have this EP and you’re going on tour. What are you most excited about?
The Suffers: Well we’re going on a tour for two months next week, but we’re pretty much booked until the end of the year. So we’ve got a lot of shows coming up, a lot of festivals, one in particular, Pemberton in Canada. Also, Newport Folk Festival where [Bob] Dylan went electric, and Roger Waters is going to be there too so that’s really cool. We’re doing ACL [Austin City Limits] …
Coog Radio: The [ACL] lineup is really good this year.
The Suffers: Oh yeah, it’s really amazing.
Coog Radio: Finally, what do you want people to know about The Suffers that maybe they don’t. What do you want people to get out of your overall message at the end of the day?
The Suffers: I think sky’s the limit. Especially with the Welcome to Houston thing, and again, we come from different backgrounds so you know we’ve done a lot of ska, [inaudible], we’re doing some soul. We’ve tried to incorporate some Latin stuff because some of us are Hispanic and then we come from Houston, which has a big Hispanic culture. And then we did Welcome to Houston which is rap, R&B and stuff like that and I feel like we could do anything. I just feel like we represent Houston in a good way knowing that everybody is from all over the place, but we still come together, music is what brings us together. I think the sky is the limit for us, man. We all, we didn’t form in music school, we all met each other in shows. Either we were fans of a common band or we were fans of each other–we met each other at our shows. And I think that says something about just getting out there and going to shows, liking the music you like, just meeting people and getting excited about the music and that’s a really cool thing. That’s what brought us together. It may not necessarily be a band, it may just be friends, or it may just be people who form a company later on, or they make their own art, form their own band, whatever. They can go to shows, all be interested in something together, and feel that and go and do something.
Don’t forget, the band is currently on a summer US tour, so check out those dates here.
Did you get a chance to see The Suffers at FPSF? Leave us a comment and let us know what you thought!
By Sarah Hoffman