Pilgrimage Festival hosted one of the fastest rising bands of 2016 on Sunday, September 25th, The Suffers. Consisting of curator and bassist Adam Castaneda, vocalist/keyboardist Pat Kelly, trumpet player Jon Durbin, trombonist Michael Razo, guitarist Kevin Bernier, percussionist Jose “Chapy” Luna, drummer/vocalist Nick Zamora, Jazz saxophonist Cory Wilson and guitarist/vocalist Alex Zamora, and last but certainly not least, frontwoman Kam Franklin — they bring high flying instrumentation and bellowing vocals to the table with every track.
Their high energy performances, unique stylistic musical choices, and big band style have attracted audiences across every age and demographic. It’s captured the attention of festivals across the country including Austin City Limits, Americana Fest, and CMJ. Expanding their fanbase and popularity at a massive rate. Our contributor, Kristin McKinney, got the opportunity to speak with Kam and Adam before they took the stage. Check out the interview below!
You guys have been doing this on your own for sometime. I’m curious, when you think about some of the gigs you guys have had, like Letterman or Austin City Limits, that are hard for even really big bands to secure sometimes, what’s been part of that journey for you? In terms of getting that sort of recognition.
Kam: Hard touring and a really aggressive publicist, for sure. Everybody can say, oh I have a big publicist. But it’s one thing to have a publicist that can get you in automatically and one thing to be in a band that has a good product. But for us, it was timing, a lot of touring, and a great publicist. She believed in us.
I think it’s difficult for a lot of bands to know when to get a publicist and who is the right person to go with. How do you know?
K: You don’t, you have to see how it works out. For us, there were people telling us that we should go work with a bigger publicist. People have told us we needed a bigger everything. A lot of things we’ve gotten, so many bands that are levels ahead of us, have never even been able to touch. I can name a handful of bands that I know that have been on The Daily Show. But a lot of it had nothing to do with us or our product — it was our publicist. With the exception of The Daily Show, because the booker saw us perform at the Newport Folk Festival, and that played a heavy role. Our publicist has just been a champion of us along with everyone else that works on the team. She doesn’t take no for an answer.
Adam: She’s just as hungry as we are. It’s not necessarily how big your rolodex is but how big your heart is. And how big your drive is. That’s the biggest difference. If you’re just another artist name on a website, another paper in a stack, that doesn’t do you any good. You need someone who will be out there every day believing it.
K: We’ve told everybody that comes on to work for our team that it’s not the same experience as working for other bands. To work for us is to marry into our family. When you’re bringing a quality product to the table, that has stood the test of time, you can’t deny it. It’s hard to book a band our size, it’s hard to market a band that’s ages 28-38, that’s not traditional as far as looks are concerned. The majority of the band is Hispanic, we have a female lead singer that likes to eat, but our team saw past all of those things. And chose to believe that something truly organic could come from what we do. Because of their faith and persistence we’ve been able to thrive.
One thing that is really important to us is diversity in music. There have been a lot of conversation about that lately, particularly around women and their role. But what do you feel like the industry could be doing better to support diversity in music across the board?
K: Honestly I think the industry could serve well to diversify itself. When you see a lot of people working at these agencies, they do not look like the people that they promote. They go by what’s popular with certain age groups, who is downloading, who is buying. They don’t think about what the parents or even grandparents are buying. Our demographic is ages 15 to probably 75, and that’s because we don’t limit ourselves. I think not embracing the limitations set by other people would be something the industry could benefit from. For us, we’re making traditional music, not completely, but we’ve been able to succeed because people like hearing music made with real instruments! That’s why you have bands like Saint Paul, Alabama Shakes, and even Dawes, because they embrace those traditional instruments.
A: It’s much easier to just have a box and push a button to get your sound. I totally get that from a business standpoint, it’s more economical. But as far as a live show, as far as art, it’s a bit broader than that.
K: Back in the day, all of the bands were our size or bigger.
Given that you are such a big band, especially as you’ve gotten more successful, have you had to get creative to keep making sure everyone’s voice is heard?
K: It definitely gets challenging. And we’re constantly trying to find new ways to communicate better. As we get more popular and busier both in our personal lives and professionally, we can’t always meet every day. So we’ve been using this app called, Group Me, for the past few years. It’s been helpful.
A: It helps that we came from real corporate jobs as well, so we’re used to how communication amongst a lot of people has to work. It’s something that’s a little big more engrained. We’ve all been a project where there’s one guy who has never had a real job and you’re always like, check your email.
You guys have said you started the band as a hobby. What was that defining moment where you decided to make it more serious?
K:It was when we got approached by our booking agent that we’re with now. We wanted to go bigger as far as playing other cities. Our initial goal was just to play when we could. We decided to start expanding but there’s only so much you can do when you don’t know the buyers in the room. So we played at South by Southwest, and Aaron Summer from New Frontier came and saw us, and was interested in signing us to the agency. I don’t think we knew then what capacity he meant, but he put a challenge out there, If you guys want to be something real, you need to go on tour. We can try it for two weeks and if it becomes something more, cool. I think we all knew we had to try it at least once in our lives. Then the Letterman thing happened and we had to go on tour for real. So we ended up being on tour for about 8 1/2 months last year.
A: We cashed in our work hours and went up to New York to play CMJ and then went back to our cubicles. And that was just life, you know? But then with Letterman we realized, we can’t just go and do this and go back to our cubicles. That’s a waste. If we’re gonna do this, we have to hop in the van and put out a record. Coming from Houston, a lot of people in our town don’t get that. We knew at that point we had to do this, in a weird way, the choice isn’t even ours anymore.
What advice would you give other bands given what you have learned along the way?
K: If you think you’re working really hard at this moment and things aren’t happening for you, you’re not working as hard as you could. I thought I was working really hard, I was always stressed out, but I realized after seeing how other bands were working that I wasn’t. I advise watching as many music documentaries as you can, reading all the music business books that you can. With a stress on the documentaries, because it’s one thing to read a book and be told about it, but to see these artists get screwed over and rise above it… that’s so important to see. For us, it’s about staying together, the people that believe in The Suffers will have to work to keep it alive. The Universe is going to keep testing you.
What’s next for The Suffers in 2017? More touring, recording, maybe some new music or all of the above?
A: All of the above! We’re working on the next record already, writing that right now, hoping to get into the studio real soon.
Huge thank you to Adam and Kam for taking the time to sit down with us. Check out The Suffers newest music video, Midtown, below! All photo credit goes to John Miller.