Not Musical Tourism

A Trip Down the Rabbit Hole with Suuns Drummer Liam O’Neill

Suuns drummer Liam O’Neill (right) sees the band growing tighter than ever on Images du Futur.

Suuns make the kind of music that will burrow inside your head, nesting in your subconscious only to emerge when you least expect it.

They toe the line between drone and dance, often falling into one or the other. Their dark, at times alienating, synthy, slippery sound comes more from a feeling than a theme, one that drummer Liam O’Neill worried they wouldn’t be able to recreate for their sophomore effort.

As a band, they had more at stake in their new Images du Futur LP. And far more people were listening, too.

“At first I thought we wouldn’t be able to do it again, or that it would sound completely different,” says O’Neill. “But it seems the more we work together the more we sound like us.

“We’re a live band, so the development of this record is just about to start.”

O’Neill is at work at a café in the McGill ghetto during our interview, as the band prepares for the first leg of their Images du Futur tour—a few dates in small Quebec cities before showcase spots at the South by Southwest and Canadian Music Week music festivals.

The album will have been out for a month before the Montreal release show at Sala Rossa.

But that gap is good for the band, allowing for the industry stuff to be done first so they can begin to flesh out the murky ideas of Images du Futur before starting their own tour across North America and Europe.

“They’re necessary chores; you get on and nobody really gives a shit, but you’ve got to do it,” he says of the showcase gigs. “But it’s also good to hone your skills as a performer under pressure, and I think our band thrives on that.”

Images du Futur

The follow-up to 2010’s Zeroes QC has been mastered since last November and was recorded this past
summer at Breakglass Studios in Villeray, also the birthplace of the debut LP.

But while the environment was the same, their approach to the new record was anything but. Zeroes QC was something of a dumping ground for songs they’d played live for three years; Images du Futur was carefully curated—and its tracks written in a much smaller timeframe.

They were also more accustomed to the style of producer Jayce Lasek of The Besnard Lakes, who knew what sound the band was going for this time around.

“It’s hard to tell what the aesthetic trajectory is when you’re just recording drums and bass,” says O’Neill. “We’re just a lot more mature. Now we know what’s worthwhile to pursue, what will lead us down the rabbit hole.”

That trip becomes all the more apparent on the second half of the record, where the club haunt of “Bambi” and the syncopated minimalism of “Edie’s Dream” begin to take hold, pulling you into the kind of fully-formed songs that barely existed on their debut LP. It’s a product of all four members gelling together earlier on in the songwriting process, although the “nucleus” of the song usually comes from singer/guitarist Ben Shemie.

“There’s a certain alchemy that happens after you play a song for that long. You start communicating better, a pheromonal connection.”
—Liam O’Neill, drummer of Suuns

Doing it Live

“I like the sound of an electronic base, with loose percussion around it. For me it saves its direction from becoming Ableton music,” says O’Neill of his drum style, referring to the popular music production computer program. “I like that loose feeling you inevitably get with the human element.”

It’s that human element which sets Suuns apart from their more electronic contemporaries. Three of the four bandmates studied jazz at McGill, something that O’Neill says has allowed him to execute whatever pops into his head.

“We were all trained as performers first, playing acoustic instruments,” he says. “These days there are a lot of bands that weren’t musicians when they were young, that grew up reading magazines or music blogs and then decided they wanted to play music.”

The strongest parts of Images du Futur are the tracks that the band allowed to rise from primordial jams—tracks like “Sunspot,” where the bass line would feel at home under today’s Radiohead, or “Edie’s Dream,” which emerged as-is from months of improvising during sound checks.

“As soon as I started playing it on the drum kit, which is growing to be a less and less fashionable sound these days, the song was much more natural feeling; it gave our ideas room to grow,” says O’Neill.

They keep the electronic aesthetic but still execute nearly everything live—a testament to their training as performers.

“There’s a certain alchemy that happens after you play a song for that long. You start communicating better, a pheromonal connection,” he says. “They become more gamey, more fragrant somehow.”

Their latest work is an exercise of restraint—nowhere on Images du Futur will you find the explosive moments like in the Zeroes QC standout track “Armed for Peace.”

The new record ebbs and flows, slipping into climactic moments at a much more gradual pace.

“A lot of people say our first record was all over the place, which in some ways I agree with,” he says.
“But also that’s why I love this band, I feel like we can do anything and still be us. We try and bring our presence towards whatever we’re working on.”

And so far that ethos seems to hold true, even when collaborating with performers such as Arabic Psych artist Radwan Moumneh, who plays under the name Jerusalem in My Heart.

“We tracked a record with him in January, and it doesn’t feel to me like musical tourism or some strange academic experiment. It still sounds like our band in that scenario,” said O’Neill.

Suuns (w/ Technical Kidman & Rat Paws) / April 4 / Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent Blvd.) / $10.00 advance, $12.00 door)