The Suffers Showcase an Unrelenting Confidence on 'I Think I Love You': Premiere

Greg Noire
The Suffers

The Suffers have learned several times over is that there's no single "right person" or "right room" that guarantees success. The eight-piece's steely determination and low tolerance for indecisiveness isn't always visible in their hybrid blend of Gulf Coast soul and old-school R&B, but it's what earned an invitation to play NPR’s famed Tiny Desk Concert ten months after submitting to (and losing) the station's yearly open-call contest.

The opportunity to play their hit "Make Some Room" on Late Show With David Letterman, a bold-and-underlined moment in the band’s career, came when they saw them playing in a low-capacity, unassuming venue in New York. It's those random-feeling occurrences that have taught the band to embrace the unexpected, glamor-less parts of the pursuit. (Lead singer Kam Franklin's interview with Billboard, for example, was conducted in a Brooklyn laundromat, the only time she could wash her clothes before a run of European shows.)

“Our house is in order,” Franklin tells Billboard. "Yes, there's always going to be things that need to be fixed or renovated or whatever, but it's not going to get fixed if you have somebody constantly pouring dirt where you just vacuumed. I think we're learning as writers and musicians that we can't let the outside noise distract us or affect our energy."

Ahead of their as-yet-untitled sophomore record -- set for release next year -- Kam and company have shared with Billboard the lead single. “I Think I Love You” slinks along in a bouncing, mystical groove, hiding its incisive self-assuredness in layers of vibes, chimes and flickering organ tones. It's a softness that the band sharply drops on the chorus, weaving horn and drum fills beneath Franklin's vocals that pull the listener in like a rip current.

With "I Think I Love You," The Suffers are announcing their first batch of dates for 2018. Check the dates below, and read up on Franklin’s unwavering perseverance in the face of everything from Hurricane Harvey to finding love at unexpected times in our interview.

Where did “I Think I Love You,” musically, start from?

We started demoing for this next album last fall. When we were in the studio in Houston, they started playing this line [that became the verse] over and over again. I started hearing Tina Marie, Rick James's old songwriting partner, in my mind. Her staccato approach to singing is something I don't usually do in our music, but with this album I wanted to explore my tones. I'm almost singing in between the key of the song, very enunciated, so there was no question as to what I was singing.

The song itself is about finally getting your shit together, being single, happy, thriving and just loving life... and then someone who knocks you off your feet just rolls in and fucks it all up. Not in a bad way, but to where you're like, "Really? I just got used to being single! All those emojis were the cartwheel emoji!" That's how love works. It never happens when you're ready.

And that's pretty much where it is with the lyrics. "I'm 29" -- I wrote it when I was still 29 -- "I'm out here aging like a fine wine/ My wit is steady moving up the incline/ And I'm free of my worries." And then here comes this dude. With it being cold and that time of year where everybody's so ready to boo up with somebody, I felt like it was the perfect fucking time to have this introduction of this happy burst of joy. That's really what's happening. I don't know about you, but when it gets cold, that's usually when I'm like "Hey, how are you?" And I end up with some man until, like, February.

Were there any other influences from the Suffers listening sessions that were worked into the track?

Emily King, who's actually from [New York]. This album that was released last year, The Switch, had this song on it called "Distance." I thought it was one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. It was one of those songs where you're like, "Is this somebody else's song? Did you write this?" It was just so lovely. I loved how breathy she was on the song. A lot of early Santana [and] Earth, Wind and Fire went in there, so you get all the chimes and organs.

TLC [inspired] lot of the subtle background vocals happening. That was something I wish we could've done a lot more on our first album. With this record, it's been like, "well, let's go do that. We know somebody who plays vibes, let's call them. We know somebody that can sing these higher soprano parts, let's call her in to lay it down." When I listen to this song, compared to the old stuff, it just makes me feel like an adult. That's what this song is to me: It's an adult statement. "I want you. If you want me, stop playing games, because I'm grown and I don't have time for this."

You guys were in Houston when Harvey reached Houston, right?

We were supposed to be at Lockn' Festival in Richmond, Va. We were all on our way to the airport and... just, all these things started happening. My ceiling at my house took on water before the rain even started because my upstairs neighbor got stoned and left the bathtub running. I was able to clean it up and go to the airport, but on the way there I almost got into an accident, rain started pouring, one of my bandmates' Uber missed the exit, two of them were having troublesome panic attacks, one of them was like, "I'm not going." 

It got to the point where I was asking myself, "Is us making this money worth what might happen if we're not here when the storm comes?" One of the guys had a baby that ended up coming into the world the day that the storm hit. 

[Houston's damage] was bad. It's still bad. When you drive around a lot of the central areas, you'd think the storm never happened, but then you pay a little more attention to the buildings and you see a Best Buy that's closed on a Wednesday at 3 o'clock in the afternoon  and you're like, "what?" You see that the grocery stores are closed and you start looking and you see all these notices on the windows. You realize while it looks fine, that's what a tropical storm does. It floods you up, and then dries out, leaving this awful moldy smell.

With that, we're actually throwing a benefit show on the 22nd of December. We're partnering up with the Newport Folk Festival and inviting a bunch of our friends to play -- some that are way bigger than us -- and raise money for the mayor's fund. Hopefully, we'll get some people back on their feet for Christmas.

You said last year that the driving force of album two had been pushing on, staying positive, not getting discouraged. Given everything that's happened since, how do you feel about that as a theme?

I would say that it's not as "We're here! Be happy!" It's moreso, "you know what? Let's just cut the bullshit. Sometimes you are just fine." Sometimes that means cutting the toxic people out of your life that are affecting the way that you live. That might be a family member, a friend, a lover. Sometimes you are not the problem. [laughs]

I think a lot of people forget that. It's so easy to listen and immediately feel affected and think, "It's me, I need to do better." There's not enough music that's just like, "Man, get these people out of your life!" Even with "I Think I Love You," it's definitely on that theme of, "I don't need this, I'm happy without you." We have a lot of songs on the album that stay in line with that theme.

I've learned as I've gotten older that there are a lot of people that just don't understand the joy that can come from letting other people be happier. Some people find joy in bringing others down. Luckily, I'm not one of those people who can stand by and let that happen, but I realize that there are a lot of people that just don't know what to do with confrontation or when they're being manipulated. I'm writing these songs so that maybe the people that don't know how to handle these situations can have a little bit of inspiration.

The Suffers Spring 2018 Tour Dates

March 7 - The Echo - Los Angeles, CA 
March 9 - Kuumbwa Jazz Center - Santa Cruz, CA
March 11 - Great American Music Hall - San Francisco, CA
March 14 -  Crystal Bay Club Casino Crown Room - Crystal Bay, NV
March 16 - Mississippi Studios - Portland, OR
March 17 - The Crocodile - Seattle, WA
March 18 - The Imperial - Vancouver, BC
March 25 - Globe Hall - Denver, CO
April 18 - The Barns At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
April 19 - World Cafe Live Downstairs - Philadelphia, PA
April 20 - House Of Independents - Asbury Park, NJ
April 21 - Baby's All Right - Brooklyn, NY
April 24 - The Sinclair - Cambridge, MA
April 26 - Port City Music Hall - Portland, ME
April 27 - Higher Ground - Showroom Lounge - Burlington, VT
April 28 - Bar Ritz - Montreal, QC
April 29 - The Horseshoe Tavern - Toronto, ON
May 1 - The Ark - Ann Arbor, MI


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