Bio for SUUNS — The Breaks

Jasper Willems
5 min readJun 5, 2024

--

Out September 6th 2024 via Joyful Noise Records. Preorder here.

On their sixth long player The Breaks — their second for Joyful Noise Recordings — SUUNS find themselves lost in limbo. For some artists, being caught in flux may result in songs that are either naive, out of touch or both, simply as a consequence of being cut off from human civilization. But for SUUNS, a band who have grown more than comfortable in the oblique and the intermediate, it actually had the opposite effect. The Breaks marks the Montreal experimental rock outfit’s most emotionally resonant and tonally rich collection of music to date.

The trio of Ben Shemie, Joseph Yarmush and Liam O’Neill leans more zealously than ever into their pop instincts. Yet remarkably enough, with that same dauntless abandon, SUUNS have mined a more extreme sonic palette this time around, one that stretches far beyond their core fundamentals as a band. “Before we had a kind of rule that we wouldn’t have any instruments on the record that we weren’t actually playing,” drummer/percussionist O’Neill says. “The recordings we made were always more of a document. There were no overdubs. And now…we don’t care about that! Now we do whatever just sounds good.”

“The Breaks became sort of the opposite of our last record. Nothing was really played together. We were caught in a little bit of a wormhole, trying new things, throwing different things against the wall,” multi-instrumentalist Yarmush adds. Bands less experienced might have been forever trapped in said wormhole, but SUUNS’ mutual chemistry and trust turned out to be a reliable tether to explore these novel sonic ecosystems.

The Breaks finds Shemie, O’Neill and Yarmush gleefully experimenting with loops, synths, samples and MIDI instruments like a post-millennial Tangerine Dream messing with downtempo triphop beats. The album doesn’t capture a band looking to move in one specific direction: SUUNS simply aim to advance. The band took inspiration from the freedom of long, aimless drives where fully-formed thoughts manifest out of stillness, slowly surrendering to a quixotic wanderlust. On some moments, SUUNS sound like a tight-knit band 16 years into their restless creative journey. On other moments, the whole idea of being a band scatters asunder like a swarm of moths.

“Would you hold me baby/and free up my mind?” we catch Shemie singing mid-comedown on “Vanishing Point”. A flirtatious sax flourish lifts us skyward into a space-pop nirvana, dissolving into a lotus-eating swell of arpeggiated synths. “Fish On A String” revisits the serpentine grooves of The Witness, if only briefly. The song was actually written by Shemie during the band’s formative years — the epoch when their single “2020” became a hot pick for Hollywood blockbuster movie trailers. In those days, SUUNS would almost certainly have broken “Fish On A String” into taut walls of distortion and feedback.

But SUUNS in the year 2024 have become a more malleable, self-navigating operation. “I’m stuck in this glass bowl/but I believe that I’m free/Free to dream in colors/ colors I’ll never see,” Shemie sings, the acidic disenchantment in his voice gradually congealing into the hardened swagger of a Sergio Leone-protagonist. Like a beacon, an aura of synths casts a light on the song’s supple pulse, signaling a way out from SUUNS’ long-held sway with disarray and disillusionment. “Of all the SUUNS songs we’ve ever recorded, “Fish On A String” is by far the most confrontational and direct,” Shemie comments. “I feel I wouldn’t have been able to record this song in years past, because I wouldn’t have had the confidence to bring that kind of delivery.”

Likewise, The Breaks summons back some of the daredevil experimentations of 2018’s Felt, the band’s final album released under Secretly Canadian. During those days, the band still shared a rehearsal space together, which allowed them to quickly capture ideas in their rudimentary phase without being too precious about revisiting them. Now SUUNS’ dynamic is of course drastically different: founding member Max Henry left the band prior to The Witness, and Shemie has since moved to Paris, making SUUNS a more long-distance musical affair.

By fate and circumstance, O’ Neill took point in the producer’s chair for The Breaks, arranging, structuring and editing many of Shemie and Yarmush’s ideas from sporadic rehearsal sessions into Pro Tools, reimagining the songs over and over during a two-year time frame. “We were making this album at a time I just didn’t really have a lot going on in my life other than music,” O’Neill says. “Sometimes we arrived at these moments of impasse and where we didn’t know what to do. And I just found myself really getting into it. Let’s try this and this! And just try everything. I had a lot of energy, and I felt really passionate about it.”

One of O’Neill’s ‘babies’ is the sublime, piano-driven “Road Signs and Meanings”, which sounds like a deconstructed Bowie/Visconti-esque art pop opus. Shemie’s processed vocals hover above the arrangements like a spectral entity, drunk and dazed with pure euphoria. The hypnagogic “Rage”, despite its venereal synth-arpeggios and pitched-up vocals, is a deceptively simple pop song warped into something surreal.”Unlike our material in the past, the songs on The Breaks — and “Rage” in particular” — are pretty conventional. If you wanted to, you could just sit down at a piano and play the chords and sing them or play them on a guitar,” Shemie states.

One of The Breaks’ most spectacular moments arrives in the shape of “Overture”, which unfolds almost like a corrupted classical anthem. “We bummed a ride on dead end streets/And lost our way on the road to Mecca,” Shemie seethes, as the music smolders into sinister overdrive. Yarmush: “I pushed for that song to make it on the record. It’s so bonkers, like a little two-and-a-half-minute bomb. I think the vocals for me are what actually draws me the most to that song. I never heard that type of singing from Ben before. It just hit me in a way that I was like, ‘we have to put this on the record’.”

Forged between countless plane rides, road trips, van tours and text threads, The Breaks became a product of endurance and a lot of trial-and-error. It’s a record composed in tight fissions of freedom, where spells of whispered intimacy — like on the stunning ballad “Doreen” — are allowed to branch out into the vast glacial dreamscapes of the album’s majestic title track. It captures SUUNS at their most panoramic, curious and exuberant: a constant relay of being adrift and enlightened anew, geared up to eleven. And guess what: the wheels keep on spinning.

--

--