Interviews

SUUNS’ Liam O’Neill Talks all Things FICTION.

The art-rock trio’s drummer sheds light on their latest release, creating a record virtually and the 10 year anniversary of their debut LP, Zeroes QC.

By: Sun Noor

A constant in SUUNS’ discography is their ability to explore new sounds and techniques into their work without drifting away from their framework. Following the release of Felt, back in 2018, the group’s main focus has been directed towards the creation of their fifth LP. Through that process came a smaller body of work, which became the “FICTION,” EP. During confinement, the band managed to rework songs that did not fit with previous projects, while exploring new ideas. I recently phoned Liam O’Neill for a chat regarding the EP, the band’s decision to include a Frank Zappa cover into the mix, putting a record together through emails and adapting to the ever changing music industry during these unprecedented times.


First of all Liam, how have you been these days? 

“I don’t know. I mean you get your ups and downs. I was having coffee with my friend yesterday, and he reminded me that there’s some tough days and you’ve got to remember that everyone’s going through it. I have to say though in general,  I’m doing pretty good. The first little bit I was strangely thriving, I feel it was nice. I also tour as a drummer for other projects too. I was zipping up my suitcase to go on a European tour and was like “Here we go again.” It was supposed to be five weeks with Andy Shauf and I got an email from the management saying that it was cancelled . It was a bummer of course but also really nice to get a break from touring for a while.”

Yeah, especially for people’s mental health, it’s really important to slow down sometimes.

“Yeah, the first time around was kind of a pyjama party and I’m done with my baking now, I want to get back to my life. But I just can’t yet, so I don’t know. At least we have no choice, you know? It’s Kind of a relief in this case.”

 Did you pick up any hobbies during quarantine aside from the baking?

“I was into baking before. Well, I feel like there are cookers and bakers and I’m a cooker. I’ve never cared for baking. I did get a sour dough starter from a friend though and I got into that, but that was pre-pandemic so that was already going. I actually distributed my starter quite a bit among my community and that made me feel good. Other hobbies? No. I just got really deep into music. I feel like when you make music, it’s like half a hobby anyway so I just I learned a lot of new music software and sequencers. I’ve been doing a lot of that stuff at home.”

 

I want to congratulate you on the release of “FICTION,” How do you feel about it being out in the world?

“I feel fine about it. Honestly it kind of came together as we put it together as a bit of a lark. In a way, I didn’t ever think about it being released because of the reality of the quarantine work process, where you’re just emailing things and you were finishing songs but it doesn’t really feel like that because you haven’t seen anyone. Usually when we sign off on something and you give it your stamp of approval, we’re in the studio together and we’ve worked for several weeks nonstop, listening with nice speakers. Whereas, this sign off was on an email thread and we were alone at home listening to different versions. It’s not that same set up. There’s another thing like a reward program that a typical album making has. It was more abstract in a way.” 

“At the same time, we have been working on a full length this whole time, which was the main focus. We got the EP together really quickly because a lot of it was old material from 2016 that was not finished but a lot of the bones were there. The fact that we got “FICTION,” done and it’s coming out just feels like a bonus. I kind of forgot that we did it, here’s something else into the world. I also feel like we’ve been a band for a long time. We put up so much stuff now that I feel like we just keep looking forward. When we finish a project, we almost never think about it again”

Was there a plan of starting the full length with the undeveloped material from 2016?

“Earlier in the pandemic, there were lots of nights spent going through old hard drives just to see if there was any material that we could work on while not being able to be together. Prior to the idea of putting an EP together, those songs have been more or less forgotten about. When we have our studio sessions, it’s kind of a blitz. We see things really quickly and so we’re usually left with a bunch of stuff on the cutting room floor that didn’t make it and don’t really have time to think much about it. There’s the proper record to put together, going on tour and what that entails. A lot of those ideas are never thought about so it was refreshing to come up with the idea of creating “FICTION,” rediscovering and recontextualizing  those ideas. It was nice to just put a bunch of those songs we like together.”

Was there anything in particular that drew all the songs together?

“To the extent that there were any kind of initial architecture for the design of the EP, we started talking about reworking the first two songs look and breathe, which were extra forgotten about. “PRAY”, was something that we had really wrestled with  a lot. We considered putting it out in different contexts for years. With the  first two songs we had (“LOOK” and “BREATHE” )  I discovered it was on a hard drive and I sent them out to everyone. No one even remembered recording them at all. We kind of went from there, using those songs as a static backbone. I also work with Jerusalem in my Heart, and there’s something in common with that project. “LOOK,” has something in common with that project, stylistically so we set that up as a framework, but to move freely, which ended up happening.”

Would you say that you stick to a similar creative process when working on records or do you take a more experimental approach?

“Yes and no, this particular one was  obviously novel because we didn’t record it in the same room together, but in another way, we did. It was a lot of stuff that was recorded live, and so they are takes from the studio that we kind of overdubbed over top of afterwards. We’ve never done that before, an email correspondence record like this.  It was difficult in one way but also liberating in another way. Each person really took their time with recordings, rather than worrying about annoying everybody or wasting everyone’s time. Often, we try 10 or 12 things before we find what really works so that was really nice. Typically, we like to meet our moment so it depends what the context is. We used to rehearse for a year  and then go in the studio to play the songs down like a live jazz band. That was our process for years, but I felt we didn’t do that at all. We’ve been doing a bit more remote work than we’re used to.  There’s a similar workflow but within that approach there are various other ways of working.”

What inspired your cover of Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day”

“Well, that’s a song that we’ve talked about doing for many years actually. We have a list of covers that we are always kind of spitballing around and we brought up this idea  as we were trying out different versions of the song and trying different backing tracks. It’s mostly about the lyrics that’s on, so we were just trying all kinds of different treatments behind it. It was coming together and starting to sound like something. That was the weekend of the protests in April, and it just seemed right, like a compliment of the world telling us that we should go through with this and put this together. The relevance automatically of that song seems to be in harmony with things that were for disharmony. I suppose with things that were happening around the world. And so it came about really naturally.”

Yeah, it really suits the other tracks on the EP. 

With the music industry constantly shifting, especially right now since there are little to no opportunities to play live, do you feel any pressure to be constantly putting out new music?

“In a way, I’m kind of excited to put up music all the time. I’m speaking just for myself here, but I’ve found that the format of the LP prior to this point being the only means of putting out your music for people of my generation to be kind of limiting. I like the idea of putting out more things that are smaller more often, which is why the EP was fun to do. It was cool to realize that you can just do something like that and people will still enjoy it. I’ve been surprised by the amount of people who are noticing that it’s (Frequent small releases) happening and want to talk about it. It seems to be in the eyes of our fans, a legitimate musical happening, whereas before people were like “If it’s not an LP, talk to me later!”  I think it’s cool that that’s changing, I welcome this new age where putting out lots of new music constantly is more acceptable.” 

Yeah, I think it’s way more better than having to wait  four years to hear the next LP from your favourite band

“And from the other side to work on something for four years only to have a good two songs on that record go up on the Spotify playlist for a week and then have the world just move on. It’s like, what was all that for? It can seem like a losing battle sometimes, to put all your work into this full length grand statement. The  pace of how people consume things now is just different. My listening habits have definitely changed. I’m certainly less patient with new material that I used to be. I’m not as willing to sit with a full link for a few weeks before I really start to absorb what’s going on. I’m much more likely to listen to a few songs, think of whether I like it or not and move on, which is not the best thing.”

SUUNS’ debut record, Zeroes QC had its 10 year anniversary earlier in October, how do you feel about that looking back?

“That’s true! Wow That’s crazy, I don’t know. I feel lucky to be still working with this project. I think it has really said something about us that we’re still doing our thing after all these years and it says something about our fans and their willingness to stick with us this whole time. Due to the aforementioned media pace when things change so quickly, I think it’s so cool that people are still listening to our stuff. I feel very lucky you know, being a musician can sometimes feel like you’re just surviving off of crumbs. It’s strange to look back on a large period of aggregated time and think about it as this continuous project because it can really feel like a series of, small, insignificant moments. And every once in a while, it’s nice to look back and just take it in.”

And lastly, what are some of your favourite records at the moment?

“I went through a lot of Dean Blunt this summer and I don’t know why. It just seems to suit the time. He has a kind of whatever quality to the way he makes work. It kind of spoke to the “dada,” quality of what we’re going through right now. Also, just like everything he does. The new Yves Jarvis, I’ve been listening to that. The new SUUNS full length a lot because we’re mixing it right now. I don’t know if that counts though. I got into this guy called Ibon Errazkin, he has a record called Foto Aérea.It’s like guitar music and has a soundtrack quality to it, almost like it was made for a film, but I don’t think it was. The whole record only has three or four songs but they just all appear in different versions and instrumentation several times on the record. And it has this circular quality that is really beautiful. I’ll also listen to that new METZ record while I walk around later today.”

Download/stream “FICTION,” here.

 

Watch the video for “FICTION,” below:

Header photo by  Joseph Yarmush.

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