Teamwork and togetherness in the face of adversity. A Houston band that’s one short of a soccer team hold their hands in the air like a generic stock photograph on their debut album’s cover and as a motivational tool at the start of live performances. Something that has been notably copied by fans on the group’s social media page.
The Suffers don’t just epitomize the right way to manage a band, they also provide uplifting tutorials on maintaining an optimistic outlook on life by helping and being helped. “It takes a really big person to stand up and help somebody out and give them the opportunity that someone might have done for you“, said the band in an interview for Glide Magazine.
The Texan ten-piece that create music self-labelled as “gulf coast soul” is: guitarists (Alex Zamora, Kevin Bernier) a bass player (Adam Castaneda) and a drummer (Nick Zamora) backed by a brass & woodwind section (saxophonist Cory Wilson, trumpeter John Dorbin and trombonist Michael Razo), a percussionist (Jose Luna) and a keyboard player (Patrick Kelly).
Collectively, they create a vibe, that on the surface, is a nod to glitterball Motown Soul but once magnified, you can hear their authentic odes to the rhythm of reggae. A love for this genre is first and foremost demonstrated by their choice of name. The Suffers being a play on the band The Sufferers from the zeitgeist Jamaican documentary The Rockers (1978). Additionally, they label a track “Gwan“, an example of greeting slang in the language of Patois.
If the instrumentalists lay the foundation for the vibe, passionate vocalist Kam Franklin translates their manifesto into words and visceral feeling. Her voice is unmistakably soulful in all its hopelessly romantic glory, but like Lianne La Havas – who Franklin is a big fan of – the assisting escort doesn’t need to be.
Also like the band The Sufferers in the film The Rockers, who struggle to get paid for their musical genius, Franklin reflects on positivity through perseverance. Genres that embrace and appreciate the wonderful now – Gospel and rocksteady – are utilized for this effect. After overcoming a horrific ankle accident and with her band taking a while to get recognition, she has plenty of inspiration for this.
On one end of the happiness scale is “Good Day“; the perfect accompaniment to a walk in the park in sunny weather. The ska groove moves it hop along steadily whilst the enthusiastic trumpets create the melting Caribbean flavour. With it’s observational compliments, it’s reminiscent of Lily’s Allen “LDN” without the Londoner’s underlining sarcasm. It’s 100% optimistic and full of smiling relief like the end of a University year.
On the other end of the scale is songs of companionship longing that are more realistic in their balance of fortune. You can hear Franklin’s desperation in the lyrics; “stay with me, tell me that you’ll stay“, from “Stay“. The video accompaniment inventively suggesting that the attachment complex can go as far invisible friends, and doesn’t need to be of a sexual relationship.
The underdog story combined with the gigantic strength of her voice make it comparable with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes – it’s also noticeable that the track “Giver” sounds similar in pace to Shakes’ “Gemini”. The notion of companionship searching is also carried on to the twinkly organ-soul of “Make Some Room” in which Franklin lays all her cards out and makes slavish offers of kindness to no avail.
Franklin stated in interviews that The Suffers weren’t trying to copy vintage soul but submissive lyrics about cooking and cleaning, make it sounds slightly outdated. It’s worth mentioning that for a song about wishing, it appropriately begins like the theme to I Dream of Jeannie. Yet the overall concept of partnership & fellowship and facing problems together shines through the failures.
Everything clicks together cohesively throughout the record but none more so than in “Gwan” – the overwhelming highlight of the debut. A song that could be a classic exotic festival-starter in it’s own right. A brassy latin funk celebration with the woodblock percussion of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” is matched with Franklin’s most authoritative and character-molding soars.
A song so sophisticated and classy that it would be suitable to theme a nocturnal chat show, and was solely responsible for elevating audience awareness of the band via The Late Show with David Letterman. Although you can imagine the a capella clap sequence in “Better” would have also been appropriate as an introductory interaction.
A crowd-funding campaign in Kickstarter financed their irresistibly enjoyable debut album, thus showing that even their fans (the 11th member if you will) have been taught well about the potential that united synergy brings. The Suffers’ self-titled album is out now via The Suffers Music, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs