Published Apr 20, 2016Montreal's Suuns could have repeated a successful recording approach from their first two albums, but instead they jumped at a rare opportunity and headed to Dallas to work with revered producer John Congleton, whose resume includes St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, Sigur Rós and more.
"He approached us years ago, and frankly he's a point in his career where he doesn't have to work with bands like us, it was flattering," Suuns' guitarist and vocalist Ben Shemie tells Exclaim! "Working with him kind of changed the process entirely from how we would normally record a record."
Three weeks in Dallas, followed by an additional five days in Montreal, resulted in the confrontational and challenging, yet doubtlessly sensual and engaging third album, Hold/Still, out now on Secret City/Secretly Canadian.
Most recording was done live off the floor, which the band agree is far more reflective of their sound. They worked on every part of the record together, with very little massaging or redoing of takes, an entirely new approach.
"We were out of our element," guitarist Joe Yarmush offers. "We worked like a work week, it was 10 to 6 every day, no more, no less — to me that's strange. You wouldn't go overtime; it wasn't our decision, that's just how John works. It was good — it felt like work, but it also doesn't make for an interesting story."
Suuns admit that, left to their own devices, they'll end up going down a variety of rabbit holes, but Congleton's input and especially redirection proved invaluable.
"That's his ethos, just to keep it going as long as the ideas are good," drummer Liam O'Neill says. "If they stop being good, we're going to stop doing it. It was fast. He's a good person to bounce things off of because he's not wishy-washy, his opinion is definitive, and it's a good way to discover what you think should happen, because he will give you a really opinionated answer."
Shemie adds, "We ended up going in a certain direction that we wouldn't have unconsciously, because we've never had an outside force encouraging us in a certain way, it's always been us in a kind of bottle."
Hold/Still feels like a solid progression for Suuns; songs are less conventionally structured, and the already existing sense of ominous darkness is heightened.
"We sort of push in that direction a lot," Yarmush says. "It seems like you can do more interesting things in that realm, sonically. There are lighter songs on other albums, but they are touched by the darkness and that's just naturally what happens."
Following Hold/Still's release, the band are off on tour but not without reservation.
"Our new stuff hasn't been going [over] great," O'Neill says. "We're no stranger to people leaving our shows — happens all the time, more than most bands I know. Of course I would prefer that people stay, but there is an undeniable active provocation that goes on sometimes. We're provoking some sort of reaction, which is strong."
Keyboardist Max Henry adds, "It's high stakes when you're introducing music to people for the first time. Maybe it's pleasant enough that people are going to stick around, but that probably means that in the long term your music's kind of boring. I would rather have them leave than people sit through it and go, 'Oh, that was nice,' and never think about us ever again."
You can check out all of Suuns' upcoming tour dates over here, and stream Hold/Still below.