UPDATE: Following the publication of, but not related to, this story, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner did indeed issue a proclamation on Tuesday, July 10, naming July 13 The Suffers Day in Houston — to coincide with the release of the new album.
Mayor Turner, let’s make it official. It’s time to proclaim The Suffers as the biggest and best band from Houston.
The eight-piece soul act celebrates the release of their excellent sophomore album, Everything Here, with two sold out shows at the Heights Theatre on July 12 and July 13, and an in-store performance at Cactus Music on July 14. It’s a big step up from their debut, self-titled album, the second being documentation of a band with the experience of two solid years of touring that definitively captures the essence of who they are as performers and musicians.
“This is us growing as a unit,” says charismatic lead singer, Kam Franklin, over coffee in Midtown on a muggy afternoon. “Still all of us representing Houston, but taking what we’ve seen around the world, taking that back home to present this gift.”
Anyone used to seeing The Suffers perform live is familiar with Franklin’s call-and-response habit of getting audiences to remember who her band is and where they are from, asking audiences to repeat the group’s name and their hometown a few times throughout the performance. It’s a habit she should be able to quit soon with the trajectory the group is on right now.
“By saying we’re from Houston and saying it so incessantly, is that other bands in the scene can see that you don’t have to move, you can stay here,” says bassist Adam Castaneda. “I think it’s cool to rep your city and take that with you. You can say, ‘This is who I am; I’m from a huge, hot and humid city where it’s always raining, but I can do whatever I want to.”
The Suffers are not only beloved by local fans and media, going so far as to be featured in a My Houston tourism ad that is played across the country. They are also adored nationwide. Since the release of their first album in early 2016, The Suffers played The Late Show with David Letterman (who loved them) and are finding themselves in the coveted big font on festival posters in Europe and South America. NPR is currently streaming Everything Here as part of its revered First Listen series.
But to call The Suffers simply a soul band does them a disservice. They incorporate many sounds of each of the members’ previous bands and in turn, represent the diversity of Houston itself — R&B, ska, reggae, cumbia, bachata, and more into a potent, uplifting mix. This time around, they had the hours, money, and expertise to record the best possible versions of themselves on Everything Here, produced in The Heights at 226 Recordings and in Kingwood at Third Coast Recording Company over much of 2017.
“I think it’s all still in there, maybe even more,” Castaneda says. “I think we’ve better learned how to make those flavors settle in, so it doesn’t stick out as much or it’s as easy to identify. I think we were able to figure out what makes a genre that genre and infuse it into the music easier so it’s a bit smoother and not as abrupt. It’s us growing as songwriters.”
Asked for a list of influences the band had going into recording sessions, Franklin whips out her phone to find a list. And it’s a doozy: Barry White, Luther Vandross, Emily King and the Eisley Brothers, the Georgia Mass Choir, Al Green, The Doors, King Tubby, The Carpenters, Dawes, Darryl Hall and John Oates, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Juan Gabriel, Kanye West (808s and Heartbreak album), Solange, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Andrew Sisters, and Kendrick Lamar. Put those acts in a blender and you’ll get the tasty brew that is Everything Here.
The album includes multiple guest stars, including local hip-hop artists Paul Wall and Bun B, and a variety of musicians. Standouts like “I Think I Love You,” “Do Whatever,” and “You Only Call,” with lyrics written by Franklin, are songs about self-respect and learning to build boundaries as a busy, world-travelling performer.
“After the Storm” harkens back to Hurricane Harvey, about making intimate connections during a terrible situation. Album closer, “Won’t Be Here Tomorrow,” could be taken straight from Aretha Franklin’s songbook, a powerful torch song that is bigger than anything The Suffers have recorded before with layers of strings, backing vocals, and an amazing vocal turn by Franklin.
“This album is a testament to self-love and loving those who love you,” Franklin says. “But at the same time, being OK saying I need my space, or saying, please don’t waste my time because we don’t have very much of it when we’re home. I’ve learned the hard way these last few tours is that I can’t spend my time with people that aren’t contributing to it, that don’t appreciate it.”
Admittedly, the first album was done quickly and on a limited budget, bandmembers still working day jobs to get it out. The Suffers is now a full-time endeavor with a team of music industry professionals working to push them to even greater heights. It seems the sky is the limit.
“Now or never is not a phrase in my vocabulary,” Franklin says. “I see it more as what can the band do to work harder so we can achieve these goals. We haven’t played the Hollywood Bowl yet. We haven’t played Red Rocks yet. We haven’t played Glastonbury yet. So now or never is not a conversation until we’ve headlined those places a few times.”
The Suffers perform two album release shows at the Heights Theatre, located at 339 W 19th St., on Thursday, July 12 with The Tontons; and Friday, July 13 with Black Pumas. Both shows, which start at 7:30 pm, are sold out.
The band will perform in store at Cactus Music at 1 pm on Saturday, July 14, located at 2110 Portsmouth St. Only those who pre-purchased the album at the store will be allowed admittance. Everything Here is available for pre-order/purchase at the band’s website.