EN: The Sueves is the band that I chose to honor in my article dealing with the death of garage rock, because it gives me hope – more than others – as it produces the world’s best garage. Originally from Chicago, The Sueves is a cult band in the making. And it doesn’t intend to stop there. In the making of a new album, The Sueves had many things to tell me. I had a lot of questions. Take the time to dive into the its universe, you’ll come out of it all the more… incisive.
FR: The Sueves, c’est le groupe que j’ai choisi de mettre à l’honneur dans mon article sur la mort du garage rock, parce que lui, plus que les autres, peut encore me donner l’espoir d’un énième renouveau. Originaire de Chicago, je le tiens comme l’une de mes découvertes préférées de 2020, un groupe culte en devenir. Et il ne compte pas s’arrêter là. En préparation d’un nouveau album, The Sueves avait de nombreuses choses à me dire. Ça tombe bien, j’avais de nombreuses questions. Prenez le temps de vous plonger dans l’univers du groupe, vous n’en ressortirez que plus incissif.
Let us start with a playlist curated by
The Sueves for Still in Rock
How are you? What’s up with you these days?
Hey Thibault! We are alright all things considered. 2020 has been a tumultuous year for so many reasons, but we’re just trying to evolve with the times. All three of us were out of work once Covid hit, but we’re all trying to find new sources of income. I just moved back to Cleveland, Ohio. Rob’s scouting investors for a social media empire called Enchilada Man, and Tim’s out road-trippin’ across these awful United States!
Your music is the purest example of what excellent garage rock is in my view. I found some releases of you from 2012, so I suspect the band will soon be 10 years old. What has been the most pleasant surprise along the way? And the most unpleasant one?
The most pleasant surprises are the bands and people we’ve met along the way. We’ve had people come up to us after shows and tell us how some of our songs have gotten them through hard times and that means the world to us. We hope our songs can act as little catalysts to catharsis! The most unpleasant surprise is maturing inside the music industry – if I could quote Bon Scott here, “getting ripped off, underpaid, getting sold, second hand, that’s how it goes, playing in a band”. There’s that, and then playing with other bands that are too cool for us. They must feel threatened!
You have released only two albums, why is that? (not that there is anything wrong with that).
We just don’t write songs that quickly. I’ll take years trying to figure out lyrics for a guitar part I write. We also all have other things going on in our lives and we are definitely NOT go-getters. Once we have songs ready to play, we get really excited to go play them live. Then, after a year, we’ll realize, “Oh yeah I guess we should record these, yeah? That’s what the people want? Songs, yeah?”
It seems to me that your first two albums refer to the universe of slasher movies, with graveyards, dead people, knife, and serial killers. Are you indeed inspired by these movies?
I definitely love horror movies, but they were more of an influence when I was younger. I think today I naturally use the language and themes of horror movies and apply them to my feelings of existential dread. I am terrified of “normal life” or the 9-5 lifestyle. 401k, what’s that? I see so much depression and untapped potential in the people around me. I’m not willing to sign over precious life-time to a company just for an abstract sense of security in the future. Live your life to its fullest right now!
In the meantime, some of your songs deal with these serious themes, like the combo “White Business” and “Dudes in Suits”. Can you tell me more about them?
“White Business” is an example of a type of song I write that I consider having “hybrid” meaning. One of my favorite parts about writing lyrics is enjoying the process of choosing words, and finding new meaning in sentences after they’re composed. “White Business” started as a song about feeling guilty about my white privilege (boo hoo, right?). Around the same time I was writing this song, all the little white garage dorks in Chicago were getting big on cocaine. I could feel this scene of mediocrity and privilege stealing the spotlight from more deserving voices. As a white man myself, I hated the fact that I was probably categorized with this mediocre scene. And to be fair, my nose is no stranger to accepting someone’s offer to visit the bathroom stall with them. I was motivated to yell about this. Not because I’m looking for sympathy, but because I want to take the shit out of mediocrity and say it out loud. White privilege and cocaine usage are such repressed and secretive cultures that I felt needed to be amplified in my negative way.
“Dudes in Suits” has a similar motivation in the sense that it is an attack on privileged businessmen that infest downtown Chicago. When I wrote it, I was still going to The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and I would run into these dudes downtown all the time. I would overhear their confident, Bluetooth-headpiece-phone conversations. They always smoke light cigarettes (never tough enough for the real deal). They’re always discussing their “next fuck”. They treat women like shit. And I hate them. To be honest, though, I was single, lonely, and very horny at the time, so I was probably just jealous that they were getting laid and I wasn’t. Point being, the “Dudes in Suits” way of living is no way to behave. Behaving as such is part of what gets people like Donald Trump elected.
What’s the story behind the video of “Never Been To The Beach”
I had a daydream vision of a tropical island jello mold sometime in early 2018. Not unlike Richard Dreyfuss’ vision of Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of The Third Kind (see here).
After I saw the island in my mind’s eye, I had to create it. I was obsessed with making this island real and it felt like the perfect image for our song “Never Been To The Beach”. That song is basically about my frustration with modern-day “surf rock”. I love surf music as much as the next garage nerd, but a lot of the contemporary surf music coming out now makes me want to barf. High production, reverb-drenched garbage made by pretty boys for the sole sake of fooling people into thinking they’re more complicated than they really are. The jello mold is a symbol for the consumerism of modern, popular surf music – pretty on the outside, but a tasteless mass of cheap gelatin at its core. I can’t help but think that most “garage surf” bands these days haven’t ever really surfed but probably played a lot of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 in their suburban basements.
What’s the biggest difference between your first and second album?
Our first album has our first drummer Andy “The Sneeze” Martin on it, whereas our second album is our first record with our current drummer Tim “Can I Draw a Bath” Thomas. Both were recorded at Rose Raft, a studio in southern Illinois which is run by Phil and Jessee, our dear friends from the band The Funs. Phil recorded both records, but the first one was done on cassette 4-track whereas the second one was done on reel to reel tape. I also think of the first record as a bullet-pointed manifesto and the second record more so as an illustrated narrative.
Excellent! And when is your next LP coming out? Do you have a name for it? An album cover? After the red and the blue album, I expect this one will be green, or yellow?
Damn, you’re good Thibault, it will be yellow indeed (saving the green record for later. I want that one to be a wild card, not unlike the Green Ranger from The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and his transition from enemy to hero). Our new LP, the yellow one, is called Tears of Joy and will be out early 2021. We have an album cover finished but are only going to tease with portions of the art until I have a definite release date.
What will be the biggest difference between that 3rd album and the other two?
With album number 3, we slowed our recording process drastically. Albums 1 & 2 were both recorded in 1-3 days and are all live takes with the exception of overlaid vocals and a few overdubs. Album 3 was recorded over the course of 3 separate sessions at Rose Raft during 2019 and 2020. I play some very amateur Casio keyboard parts and also created loops using a Flexi disc that I cut up and rearranged. We are also self-releasing this next record and I am personally screen printing all the covers and inserts.
You worked with HoZac Records and Goodbye Boozy, among others. Yet, your upcoming album will be self-released, as you just said. Why?
I want to have more control of our music in terms of its release date and how many copies we have to sell on tour. We are incredibly grateful to HoZac for taking a risk on us with our very first 7” and the two subsequent LPs. Without them, we would not have the reach that we have today. And they are friends and I value their impact on my own musical taste! That being said, HoZac has focused more so on archival releases and its book publishing in the past few years and I’m tired of waiting for some defunct 70’s band’s reissue to come out before our music is even sent to the plant. I want our music out now. That’s not to say we wouldn’t work with a label again, we’d love to, but for now, I want to take a stab at putting it out ourselves.
I’ve recently conducted a short empirical study on garage rock (link). I found out that there are more and more albums labeled as such, but the number of Google queries tends to decrease. What’s your impression from the inside? Do you find it more and more difficult to get support from playing shows and releasing music?
Once again, Thibault, we are impressed! Most people just smoke pot and listen to records, but you’re cranking the numbers! We definitely feel the negative aspects of being billed as a “garage band”, no doubt. We, just like every other artist who thinks they’re special, wouldn’t classify ourselves as any particular genre. But I’m not too proud to understand that we are ultimately a garage band in most people’s eyes & ears and I hope that we can challenge the genre. It is difficult to find support to play shows and to find interest in our recorded music. Yet, I know we have fans out there and we want to continue to engage them and gain more support as we continue to release music.
You’re from Chicago. What a great city, and yet, the garage scene seems to be less active than what it used to be. Is that correct? Have you ever taught about moving out?
Ain’t that the truth! When I moved to Chicago in 2009, I was a huge fan of local bands like The Ponys, Cococoma, Daily Void, and Functional Blackouts. But by the time I got there and started making my own music, it really felt like that ship had sailed. I feel like the overall scene in Chicago these days is purely based on gaining the attention of Pitchfork, which is more interested in “alternative” or “indie” music – which to me translates to fucking boring, sad music. I don’t know, we’ve all got our own tastes.
I guess it just makes me sad that popular Chicago music these days really has little to do with the rich music history that the city has to offer. I understand that it’s totally uncool to be a white guy who loves the blues, but holy shit, I love blues music and Chicago is such an integral piece of that history and the subsequent boom of rock’n’roll. Chicago is the home of Chess Records!! You’ve got Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley all causing a ruckus in Chicago in the heyday of that scene. Then you’ve got tons of incredible 60’s garage bands coming out of there like Shadows of Knight and The Knaves. And now, today, it doesn’t seem like young people even care. Instead of young rockers trying to emulate Howlin’ Wolf, we’ve got young emo dorks trying to emulate Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins are cool, it’s all good, but do you know what I mean??)
I did just recently move to Cleveland, but not because “garage is dead”, but because I want to work towards someday buying a house that I can build a recording studio and a screen-printing studio inside. I love Chicago like none other and always will. I just needed a change and Cleveland’s where I grew up and I love this city too. We have the internet now so it doesn’t matter as much where you live, but rather, what you do there to contribute to culture and society.
The garage scene (generally speaking) has been quite obsessed with slacker bands such as Fidlar, Dune Rats, and co during the second half of the 2010s (see here). Do you identify with these bands, or, on the contrary, do you reject (part of) what they represent?
I’m not very familiar with either band, and I want to be careful with how much shit-talking I do on the internet, but I think I know what you’re getting at… I think there was an unfortunate wave of generic party-garage bands that got big around 2008-2014. I feel like these bands were made up of opportunists that decided to pick up guitars in high school, but could’ve just as easily chosen the lacrosse stick and Abercrombie & Fitch polos instead. I definitely reject what music like this represents because it represents predatory behavior disguised in wastoid “lets live in the moment!” bullshit. We are not ignorant of our own slacker behavior, but we want to aim WAY higher than music like this. The world doesn’t need any more songs about cheap beer and pizza. Somebody write me a dirty garage song about Saison DuPont and mirepoix, please.
Hahaha, that Abercrombie analogy is just great! So… regardless of these bands, what is your favorite album of the last few months?
Definitely Green/Blue’s debut self-titled record (here)! They reached out to us to come play a show with them in St. Paul, Minnesota last year. We didn’t know them but quickly learned of their supergroup status – Jim from The Blind Shake, Annie and Danny from The Soviettes, and Hideo from The Birthday Suits. They are not only an incredible live band and the nicest people we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with, but the music translates beautifully to record! Everyone listen to this NOW!
Best tour memory?
There are so many, but here’s a recent one. We were driving back to Chicago from St. Paul after that show with Green/Blue, when the water pump in my minivan blew around Stoughton, Wisconsin. We drove off the nearest exit, at a slow 30mph crawl so my engine wouldn’t overheat, and pulled into a gas station to figure out what to do. Lo and behold, there was a mechanic’s shop right behind the gas station. It was past 6pm on a Sunday night so they were closed, but I called the number and this guy says I can leave the van there and drop my keys in his mailbox and he would get to it the next morning. We had no idea who this guy was and all of our gear is in the back. But what else are you going to do when you have no other options?
So we leave the van and keys at this shop and get a ride into town and find a room at a Days Inn hotel. We’re super hungry and walk to the downtown strip and find a bar/restaurant called Tailgaters… we probably stuck out like sore thumb in this townie sports bar, but quickly made friends with an off-shift bartender there. She takes us on a wild bar crawl to Stoughton’s deepest dives. We met the town drunk as he was being kicked out of Nevermind Bar, we played a dart game to win free shots and had full control over the jukebox.
We end up at the 3rd bar of the night, Whatever Bar, way drunker than before, and are offered a ride to a house party by some super tan older woman who was driving a slick 90’s white sports car with the flip-up lights. We respectfully declined her offer (she was way too hammered to drive) and walked the 2 miles back to the hotel while playing with traffic cones and jumping into bushes. The next day we wake up and the mechanic has driven my van closer to town and fixed it in no time. And he didn’t rip off any of our gear! We love stories like this because when you’re on tour you have to accept certain challenges and roadblocks and work them to your advantage rather than worry yourself to death. You have to have faith in strangers and you have to make the best out of bad situations.
What are the next steps for you as a band?
We need to start working on the green record! Maybe find a pedal steel player? That’s what everyone likes now, right? Pedal steel?
How do you imagine your discography in 20 years from now?
We hope we can fit in some more colors of the rainbow, maybe do a black and white record, get really serious about it…
That would be some serious shit, indeed! OK, we kinda discussed it already, but let me ask you the question in those terms: is “rock’n’roll dead”?
Maybe, but we like it that way! Not that we want to drown in obscurity though. We don’t want to be a stubborn revivalist band – a lot of that kind of music is steeped in racism and sexism and we’re definitely aiming to change that. We like the old stuff big time, but I want us to be a contemporary band always.
The last word to conclude?
Black Lives Matter. Educate yourself and the people who need to know around you. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid to challenge a family or friend. Try not to pick fights, but try to push people towards necessary change. Systemic racism is real and we need the efforts of privileged people to push the change necessary for real progress. Empathy is not enough.
Believe survivors of sexual assault. Never use your power or influence to take advantage of anyone ever. If you feel like you are doing something wrong then you are doing something wrong and you need to stop doing it immediately.
Support the LGBTQ community. Oppression and discrimination have never been reserved for a specific race, gender, or sexuality alone. These crimes are committed against a wide spectrum of all of humanity. The LGBTQ community is a beautiful example of what humanity can be and constantly challenges us all to question what normal means. Let’s never be normal, let’s evolve always. Don’t ever be afraid of people different from you.
If you are a registered voter in America, for the sake of the entire world, do not vote for Donald Trump. Donald Trump represents a terrifying shift in human consciousness, all real politics aside. The man–if you can even call him that–has no one’s best interests in mind. If you do vote for him, seek immediate medical attention.
Finally, thank you Thibault! We don’t talk much, but when we do, we have a lot to say. Keep a lookout for our new LP early next year!
Will do. Thanks for your fascinating answers!