We Jumped Together. An Exclusive Interview with The Suffers’ Kam Franklin.
During UTOPiAfest VII, The Austin Live Review had the chance to sit down and talk with Kam Franklin, frontwoman of Houston-based, ten-piece soul band, The Suffers.
Q: Thank you for meeting with us. In your words, what is your genre?
A: Gulf Coast Soul. For people who aren’t familiar, Houston sits on the Gulf of Mexico and it is the most international city in the United States. I feel as though RBN is not only representational of that, but our sound is representational of that as well.
My background is gospel, but I somehow found myself into punk and latin bands, and a lot of [the other members] have traditional jazz and salsa, whatever, backgrounds but they found their way into a soul band. I don’t see bands that have that same background coming together in other places.
Q: Is it complicated, touring with so many band members?
A: There’s definitely days for sure when it can be pretty tough, especially with me being the only woman with nine guys. But at the end of the day, it’s like going on a road trip with a really big family…Anyone with a big family can understand the dynamic, where you’re constantly talking, constantly arguing, there’s constantly someone having a good day, someone having a bad day, and you have to be in tune to that and cater to it, but at the same time, once you get to your destination, it made all that annoying shit worth it.
Q: Did [The Suffers] have a discussion where you decided to go for it?
A: Definitely. A lot of people that aren’t familiar with the band don’t realize how much older some of the people in my group are. We all had jobs. Like, real deal jobs. This time last year, I was working as a power analyst at an investment bank and I had full-coverage insurance and a 401K and a life career plan. Around this time last year, we started asking ourselves, ‘Could we do more as a band? If someone gave us the chance to do more, would we do it?’
This agent saw us at a show, really liked what he saw, and asked if we were interested in having a booking agent…He’s like, ‘I will take you wherever you want to go, but the thing is, a lot more work goes into this than a lot of bands realize. You won’t be home very often. The money’s not always going to be consistent. The venues won’t always be consistent. There’s no guarantee this is going to work out.’
So we tried it out, doing two or three shows here, like Dallas and Tulsa, come home and work all week, leave again, do Austin, do New Orleans, then come home do it all over again. It was like that up until last October, where we made a decision to go up to New York.
We played at Rockwood Music Hall and that’s when someone from the Dave Letterman Show came up to see our show. He liked the show and introduced himself to me. In moments like that, you don’t always believe when someone says ‘I work with this’ or ‘I work with that.’ You just kind of dust it off, because there’s no way your first time playing a major city that happens. It just doesn’t happen.
A lot of time went by…Thanksgiving, Christmas, all this stuff. Just after New Years, the show called and asked, ‘Is the band doing anything in March? We’d like to hold the date for them.’
In that moment, as a band, we had to decide: Are we going to do this? Because if we’re going to play Letterman, we’re going to have to release a record, we have to tour for the record, play on Letterman and then we have do another tour. My job wasn’t going to let me come back. I know a few of the guys were in situations where their jobs would let them come back, but I was like, ‘If I do this, that’s it. I have to jump. I’m not jumping unless you’re jumping too.’
I think it took a few weeks for everybody to agree, because the Letterman thing wasn’t guaranteed; they could have pulled [us] off at any time. Especially because it was his last season, they could have been like, ‘Sorry! Some more famous person released a record this week and we’re going to bump you guys’ but luckily that didn’t happen.
We jumped together and we’ve been on the road ever since. We’ve been on four tours since then…We have one more tour which is about a month long later on this year, and then we’re done for a few months, at least until the record comes out.
Q: Cool! So the record- when does it come out?
A: The record comes out in February. We just launched a Kickstarter campaign this last Monday and it’s been really awesome to see. We don’t have a record label. We do everything ourselves and we would much rather try to make this happen on our own than waiting for someone to come and rescue us.
The whole goal is so that we can put out a really good record…and we want to have a fighting chance at being heard. I feel the reason a lot of these bands are so successful is they’re coming from labels with strong marketing budgets. When you hear a song on the radio, when you go the record store and see a hanging thing, it’s not because that band is better than your band; it’s that they have a little bit more help, and that help is allowing them to be put into the public vision. We want to show bands from Houston, bands from Austin, Dallas, all over Texas, that it is possible if you have a good product, have a good fan base, and you work your ass off.
Q: That’s amazing.
A: It’s crazy. I look back at everything that’s happened just in the last six months and I just wonder, What would happen if we’d said no to the agent? Or what would have happened if we didn’t leave our jobs because we were afraid of being poor? I don’t make anywhere near what I used to make. I make maybe a fraction of what I did at my dayjob, but I can say I’m much happier now. I work a lot harder because my days are so much longer now, but I’d rather be fatigued all the time and happy than well-rested and sad. My office hours are probably more similar to a nurse, where it’ll be four twelves, but then i’ll have three days where it’s like, Ok, I can let go.
It’s really cool. I feel really lucky not only to be a part of what’s happening with my band, but just doing this. I know that this is a blessing. I know for believers and nonbelievers, anyone who’s able to call themselves a working musician and that’s your main love, that’s a blessing to me. That goes for anything. Anything that makes you happy that you’re able to make a living off of is luck of the draw, because a lot of people don’t have the option ever.
It’s rewarding. It feels like, This is why I’m here, this is why I do this. It’s that one thing that brings me joy no matter how I feel.
Q: Thanks for having the time to meet with me and talk about it. It’s really inspiring to hear you talk about your experience.
Look out for The Suffers at:
Austin City Limits Weekend 1 10/4
Smoked Dallas Festival 10/3
House of Blues Houston 12/31
Check out The Suffers’ tour dates, tickets, music and more at www.thesuffers.com
Contributing Writer: Merri Palmer
Contributing Photographer: Ismael Quintanilla (Maye Marley)