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A present-day Jamiroquai awoken in Japan!?
Suchmos, the Kanagawa-based 6-piece tells all about the their latest EP, “LOVE&VICE” –a hearty piece that sums up their vibe up to today while presenting new sounds.

Interviewed and written by: Naoko Kato

Suchmos――By far and undoubtedly the most attention-winning up-comer of 2015. The band who kept releases coming with their EP “Essence” and their first album “THE BAY”, and whose music is an outcome of whipping together the grooves of acid jazz or hip hop/R&B in a smooth and urban fashion into the nowish band sound they have today that keeps attracting the ears of a whole range of music fans. It’s definitely not the simple vertical-head-nodding dancy type of music. Rather, it’s precisely the opposite, in which the sounds suck up to nothing and no one, simply following the instincts felt in their bones, selecting only smooth and comfy sounds in their most natural state. Still, the string of great tunes by Suchmos legitimately meets the ear as pop sounds of 2015, steadily gaining its position in the overground scene.

And now, the first new drop for 2016 is this new EP “LOVE&VICE”. Condensing the past of the band into the track “STAY TUNE” of which the music video was made public in January, this EP makes up for a victory pose-inducing production that also lines up numbers that sets out the new and latest Suchmos guided by their own sensibility of [coolness] they believe in. We had a chance to sit down with the singer, YONCE, to hear about the latest EP.


――Given your CD debut last year, your surroundings must have changed a lot. How do you feel, looking back on last year?

Releasing a single “Essence” in April and then the album “THE BAY” certainly didn’t make us rich overnight (laugh), but those several months did bring changes to where we were positioned, and it made me realize that ‘I’m really a musician now.’ Ha ha.

――So essentially, you now have a stronger self-awareness as a musician (laugh). Is there anything you think have changed within yourself due to being more self-aware?

What I want to inject into our music hasn’t changed a bit, but I can say that my attitude towards music has. I’m more accepting to making changes, and if there was anything I should fix in order to carry on properly working with music, I would think over it and willingly make the necessary change. We always a have a few slots on a weekly basis for us 6 to get together to work on the songs, but I have come to realize that it’s rather the times other than those, like when I’m at home by myself, that play important roles.

――Is the song-making done based on the sessions with all of you present?

Yes, mostly. When we all get together, for example, the drummer OK may come up with an idea of a track with a certain (drum) pattern, or HSU on bass would be like ‘don’t you think this riff is cool?’, and we would build up from there.

――An approach like that would reflect the moods of the moment of each member or what each of you feel cool on a real-time basis, won’t it?

Absolutely. And because the ‘trends’ of each of us would constantly change, in a way like ‘weren’t you saying something else last month??’, the process of each of us thinking of how to approach that and squeeze out ideas to adapt to that is really interesting.

“Fallin” from the album “THE BAY” (2015)


――Can you tell us about what you (YONCE) were listening to personally in particular last year?

I was listening a lot to Oasis or Rage Against the Machine in the earlier half of the year, -the kind of music that sound large in scale. Because I had the aspiration of becoming a band of a greater scale, sounds that were fit to be played in stadiums were what perfectly matched my feelings back then. And then in the winter, The Beatles. Of course I had already been listening to all of their albums, but the image I had was that they were a band who were known for their classic super-famous songs. But it came to me that, with regards to their music-making techniques, what they are doing is absolutely incredible. I eventually started to try and analyze how they did the recordings or what kind of effects they were using in certain songs. 

――Are there any particular albums you are in favor of?

My favorite is “Revolver” (’66). It’s about the time when they still had the tone of Mersey beat (Beat Music) lingering while the psychedelic taste was starting to step up its presence. I think it’s around the time that their music was at the very verge of staying unvarnished (laugh). From then onward, they seem to have ‘gone over-the-top’. I also like the [White Album] (“The Beatles” (’68)) after the ‘effects’ seemed to have calmed down, but that no longer seems to be a Beatles album, so I can say that it would be “Rubber Soul” (’65) or the said “Revolver” that seem to have the most perfected groove as a band. Yeah, I love the Beatles of those days. 

“I'm Only Sleeping” by The Beatles from “Revolver” (’66)


――You’re more into ‘bandish’ music?

I would say so. Rather than having a single person being featured up-front, I like music that sounds strong played as a band.

――Has the way you listen to music changed at all?

I’ve always loved music that has great vocals, so if it’s anything I don’t feel right with the vocals, it puts me off to listen to the piece happily. Though lately and finally, I’ve come to the point where I can listen to songs thinking to myself ‘I’m really not sure about the vocals on this song, but this certain part sounds great’ (laugh).

――Wow, is that so (laugh)! Now, let’s move on to your new EP “LOVE&VICE”. On listening, the piece seems to have a night-ish feel to it overall. The album “THE BAY”, in the meantime, was kind of half-and-half mixing clear and bright songs like “GIRL” with moody numbers.

That’s true. Because “THE BAY” was an album and had a good 12 tracks on it, we were able to give a texture of an ‘afternoon~early night’ feel to it. “LOVE&VICE” can be considered to be in contiguity with “THE BAY”, so we were saying that it’s more like a piece for late-evening. But at that point, we still weren’t still in discussion of what kind of tracks we wanted to include. But when the time came to decide on the songs to records, it turned out that we selected a lineup of songs that were ‘so night-ish’, and with that, the image for the artwork came up smoothly.

“GIRL” from the album “THE BAY” (2015)


――Where did you shoot this photo for the cover art?

A place overlooking the Keihin Kogyo Chitai (Keihin Industrial Area: an industrial region centering on the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area). As indicated in the lyrics of “STAY TUNE”, there’s this part of us that’s anti-urban-drunkenness (laugh), and it’s supposed to be a kind of an image of us peering out at things like that from the city of Yokohama. We wanted to deliver our stance that ‘we’re prepared to keep a distance from anything of the sort’.

Cover art of "LOVE&VICE"


――The lyrics of “STAY TUNE” clearly shows that sarcasm to the fullest, but actually, I was surprised that the word [Tokyo] was heard at the very beginning of a Suchmos song.

Yeah, it’s a pretty punchy way to start a song. I had a certain degree of conviction that using the word [Tokyo] at the beginning would have the impact. I’m more the ‘don’t-want-to-be-in-the-city type of person, and rather than singing songs about lovely urbane things, I wanted to make it more about so many people getting over-drunk and not being able to get home on Friday nights in Tokyo. Like, ‘it’s a zombie town you guys are in’. Whenever we have shows at night in Shibuya, we usually have to catch the last train of the day, but then most of the people on the train at that time are drunk, actually, like every single one of them (laugh). There are even guys down on the floor, and I really don’t know if they have to drink to get to that state, but just, -that’s just not the way it should be. That’s the kind of thoughts I put down in the lyrics.

――Well at least that kind of annoyance isn’t reflected in your sounds (laugh). It’s a song that offers a glimpse to the rockfish side of Suchmos. What was the making process like?

J-WAVE (Tokyo’s popular FM radio station) asked us to make a track that can be used for the jingle of one of their shows back last April, so we made something of about 30 seconds length. The melody of it came out pretty well, so we discussed and decided to make it a ‘proper track’. “THE BAY” presents a variation of sounds ranging from our rock elements to our black music-loving sides, and that breadth was concentrated into the one song that sums up the whole of “THE BAY”. Well, as a result, that is.

――Aha, right! That makes sense!

In that regard, the track “Armstrong” in “THE BAY” was a number which we intentionally tried to use that approach. We’ve made it a track that one would realize how fantastic it is as a song, only being placed in the midst of the colorfulness of the whole album. Meanwhile, in the case of “STAY TUNE”, we took it to an even higher grade and managed to add a real rock approach to the song. So in that way, I think we can say that it’s a number that rounds off what Suchmos has been doing from last summer. And because “STAY TUNE” had undertaken a role like that, we were able to take more aggressive approaches with the tracks “FACE” and “BODY”.

――So I guess it’s more like, “STAY TUNE” is a track that sums up Suchmos up till the end of last year, while “FACE” and “BODY” acts to give a hint to where Suchmos is headed to going forward.

Yes, you could say that. Have you seen the film [Star Wars: The Force Awakens]? While that film manages to please the long-standing fans who’s been watching the film from episodes 4,5 and 6, it also glues people to the storyline that has a new lineup of cast! So yeah, that’s the image (laugh).

――Yeah, that seems to describe it well (laugh). But at any rate, I must say that “FACE” is really refined and cool!

“FACE” is something of a killer-tune of the album. That’s the kind of music we want to put forward. In some vague way, contrary to the glitter or the kind of ‘glitzy and strutting’ air that is suit to “THE BAY”, in “FACE”, we wanted to express the funk or bluesiness as if someone is celebrating his 60th birthday (laugh).

――Right (laugh). I wouldn’t say it’s like someone’s 60th birthday, but despite the particularly simple sound, it has this refined tone, more than ever, that increases its charm with every listen.

It’s about two and a half years since we formed the band, but within about a year since we started, we already had the foundation of the song. Only the melody and the lyrics from the foundation made it to the end, and we reworked on the other elements like the chords and tempos, which finally resulted in the current arrangement. We focused on two points; to develop the track with a structure as simple as possible, and to present reggae in our own style.

――Understand. The slightly reggae-ish way in which it unfolds is absolutely cool! And then meanwhile, the song “BODY” is a wonderfully pleasant medium tune. The way the keyboard gives off brilliance is reminiscent of Jamiroquai.

‘Hey, for some reason, “BODY” sounds like a rock tune to me....’ That’s the kind of response we were aiming for. We used to play this tune sometimes at our shows back around last July※. We wanted to prove that there is a band like us in our generation who can make songs of this relaxed slow tempo, and that also requires this certain vocal approach.

※The song was also performed at the release party for the album “THE BAY” that was held in September at WWW in Shibuya, Tokyo. The performance can be seen on the DVD that comes with the limited edition of “LOVE&VICE

――Yes, absolutely. You’d actually have to be extremely skilled to be able to tailor a song of this taste into something pop and smooth in a perfect balance. By the way, are you a band who likes experimenting new songs you’ve never made public before at your own shows?

We’re pretty relentless when it comes to trying out things. We think that we can only truly perfect a song after performing it live. In order to reach the level of recording a song before ever performing it live, you need to have mastered the art of performing live, gotten to know perfectly everything and anything about it, and become able to picture it perfectly in your mind, - it’s just not possible without getting there. With where we are now, we would try it out live even when the arrangements aren’t finalized yet. Actually, “FACE” is a good example. With that song, we tried adlib on stage the flow that gave the signature reggae tone to it which then came down to the current arrangement.

――So does that mean that songs are subject to change as they get performed live, even after they are released?

Among the songs that we play at our shows, songs like “YMM”, “Alright” or “Miree” are the ones that keep on changing. “Pacific” also used to have an arrangement more in the likes of a hip hop track when we did the recording, but now at our shows, it’s given more of a vocal music approach. If we keep on doing the same thing at our performances, we’d get bored, and so would the audience. And of course, even the songs I just mentioned have the potential of further changing to something different.

Live performance of “YMM” from September 2015 included in the limited edition DVD of ”LOVE&VICE


――You had already been performing the only instrumental track on “LOVE&VICE”, “S.G.S.2”, -well, more as a sound effect. The previously released “THE BAY” also had this instrumental track called “S.G.S.”, but what, at the first place, does this [S.G.S.] mean? Is it an abbreviation of something?

Oh, it’s an abbreviation of [Super Gyro Sensor], and doesn’t really have a special meaning to it (laugh). The way it sounds is really impressive! Ha ha, just that.

――Impressive, indeed… Is it that you have a policy of including at least one instrumental in every release?

Not in an over-pressuring way that ‘we have to do this as a band’, but more to have something we can use as the intro to a show or as SE. Something like the theme of Darth Vader that would stage the mood and make the audience anticipate ‘Suchmos’ coming on stage! We’re really in for a killer!’

――So for this track, did you have thoughts of making this instrumental from the beginning?

Yes, I would say so. I was thinking it was absolutely necessary to have a track that not only featured a DJ, but for the DJ to play a role as active as the singer. It was when we were jamming in the studio when our DJ, KCEE kept coming up with new phrases saying ‘isn’t this cool?’, so we simply went along inserting those into the track. 

――That’s an interesting way to make music. Listening to this latest piece has really raised my expectations for the next album.

We don’t have any fixed details at the moment, but the composing works are progressing in a pretty fast pace. Because we were in a fairly strong ‘rock’ mode until lately, we have several tracks in that line, but at the same time, we have been listening to our own sounds of when the band was frequently enjoying deep and dopey sessions, way before we put our music into circulation. We’re all in agreement when we talk about how ‘those were good on their own’. That kind of vide is actually coming around again, so there’s a vibe among the members that we would be able to come up with a new approach by combining the new essences we have gained through our experiences.

――That sounds very interesting! By the way, what were they like, -‘the dopey sessions’ of the past you just mentioned?

Those were the times when we were being strongly influenced by music that were produced with very complicated structures that were noticeable when you properly listen to the studio recordings, -the likes of Robert Glasper Experiment or D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” (2000). We used to self-produce tracks that reflected such influences. And we are thinking, perhaps we’d like to live the mode back then again.

“Calls” from Robert Glasper Experiment’s album “Black Radio 2” (2013)


“Untitled (How Does It Feel)” from D’Angelo’s album “Voodoo” (2000)


――Listening to tracks like “Pacific” made me feel that one of the elements that lies at the base of Suchmos are precisely those kinds of music.

We used to say to ourselves that, sound-making that lines up high-level instrument players and makes full use of the singer’s vocal sensibilities like in D’Angelo’s works is something we don’t mind taking time to achieve. So, that’s why we were just doing things in our own way without thinking too much, but we’ve just realized that that kind of trend seems to be making a come-back, so perhaps now is the time. We’re now at the stage of exploring what approach we can take going forward.

“Pacific” from the album “THE BAY” (2015)


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