Earfull: Suze

Local act SUZE release new album Sounds from Thursday Evening

 

Somewhere deep within the bowels of a warehouse in Pittston — surrounded by floral supplies: foam, fake flowers, accents, vases, and assorted ephemera — lead singer and guitarist Adam McKinley of SUZE turns to make a point. “I’m really glad we’ve got a chance to talk to everyone in the band. Usually I feel like I’m just talking and they never get a chance to chime in.” A minute or two and a few twists and turns past even more endless rows of merchandise and it becomes clear why it’s important to hear from the rest of the guys. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of jabs and in-jokes at times, but eventually photographer Keith Perks corrals the five-piece band together for long enough to snap a few shots. Later, they undergo some serious discussion of cigarette-smoking in front of a “No Smoking” sign before judiciously heaping some flak on drummer Kevin Gallagher for breaking the previously agreed-upon “cigs-in-mouths” composition for the photo.
While it’s obvious these guys like to enjoy themselves and joke around, things turn way more serious when music comes up. SUZE began in 2007 when friends Adam McKinley and Brandin Shaffern (bass) started jamming with mutual friend Chris Bednar. One night, after filling in a quick set at a benefit show, Shaffern and McKinley were at a bar. McKinley began to talk about forming a band. As it turned out, Gallagher was in the same bar. “I was looking to jam with people, and I happened to be sitting a couple stools down from Adam,” he says. “Our mutual friend — Alan Peterson — heard McKinley talking about how he needed a drummer, so he just said ‘talk to this guy.’” A few beers later, and things began to develop from there.
ECO6EARFULL_3_WEB“Chris and his wife were having a baby, so he decided he needed to spend more time with family,” says McKinley. “We only had a couple of original songs at that point, and in the fall of 2009 we added Adam Gabriel on lead guitar.” Like many of the SUZE stories, it was a pretty casual introduction: more mutual friends, and quick compatibility. “It was a very rigid audition,” Gabriel says with a laugh. “I think I just played and we said ‘alright!’”
The next addition to the band’s history starts when a series of laughter erupts over Gabriel breaking an ankle on his birthday. “We had a show the very next night, and obviously he couldn’t play,” recalls McKinley. “I had known Angelo [Miraglia] for about 15 years, and at the time I didn’t play any lead guitar parts. It would have been a pretty boring show without any kind of lead, so I asked him to just fill in and play some keyboard solos over the songs.”
With a full five-piece lineup, SUZE finally took its modern incarnation. “Once those two guys joined, the whole dynamic changed for the better,” says Shaffern.
“Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but…” jokes Gabriel. Even a ‘serious’ discussion with these guys is punctuated by the occasional ribbing.
With the full lineup, though, SUZE began to transition from mostly cover songs to original material. “We played a lot of covers,” says Shaffern, “but a lot of it was stuff people don’t really know – more or less jam bands, but not the obvious choices.” McKinley adds, “Like I always said, if you’re going to cover Cream, don’t cover ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ you know? Do something else, that’s the way we looked at it. We’ve done an eclectic mix; we’ve even covered Wu-Tang Clan before.”
What started as a few friends jamming and playing an odd show or two had turned into something more. The band’s first album, When the World is Not Enough, resulted from the natural progression as SUZE developed more original material. “We didn’t even have a full album’s worth of material when we started recording,” says Gabriel. SUZE entered McCrindle Building Recording Studios with the intention of laying down tracks while writing new material.
“We weren’t experienced at that point, we thought ‘oh, five songs will take us forever,’” says McKinley. “We weren’t going in very often to record, so we figured we’d have enough time.” That time turned into two years of sporadic recording sessions, during which the band continued to write more material. From there it was a matter of promoting and playing more shows.
“Just having an album, something we could give to people, opened up some doors,” says Gallagher. “That’s when we started developing a fanbase. Before that it was like, ‘Hey, you guys rock! Where can we get more?’ and we had to say, ‘Uh, I dunno, look us up on MySpace or something I guess…’” Naturally, there’s a pause for laughter and reflection on old technology.
ECO6EARFULL_4_WEB“One of our goals was go get into the River Street Jazz Cafe,” says Shaffern. “It’s one of the essential places to play original music around here, especially for our style.” The earlier days of playing mostly covers paid off when fans stuck around as the band transitioned to original music. At first, a few original songs weren’t enough to fill an entire setlist, but gradually the tide turned as the band’s output increased with additional contributions to the writing.
“Over time, we shed away a lot of covers and replaced them with more writing,” says Gallagher. “Adam [McKinley] does most of the writing, but we now have additional contribution, so it adds some variety. For example [Miraglia’s] songs have a much different structure from [McKinley’s]. And [Gabriel’s] songs are much different from either of those.” Immediately, everyone chimes in to make one point definite: writing in this band is a democracy. Everything is up for discussion, and while individual passions flare, ultimately the best sound wins out.
The conversation begins to border on the too-serious side, but comes to a grinding halt when too many “Adams” are thrown around. Reassurances are issued that editors are magical, and things continue.
The short story says McKinley writes lyrics and does much of the arrangement. Members of the band generate ideas — Miraglia might present a series of sketches, Gabriel may throw some riffs together, Shaffern comes up with a bassline, Gallagher gets an idea for a drum fill — and SUZE comes together enjoying making music.

Things have moved much more quickly for SUZE since the first album was released. With an increase of creative output during the lengthy recording process, it was less than a year before they began work on Sounds from Thursday Evening. For the second album, entering the studio was much more streamlined. “We learned a lot from the first album, how to work in the studio,” says Shaffern. “We got organized. We got focused.”
McKinley adds, “The first time – you go into the studio, you’re like 26 years old and you don’t really know anything, and then all of a sudden you’re in this professional environment. We had to write stuff on the fly, coming up with new arrangements. Honestly, before that we hadn’t even heard ourselves on a recording. You hear everything, hear yourself breathe.”
Miraglia pipes up, “You can even hear the drummer singing along…” and again the guys detour for a moment into some good-natured ball-busting. At some point, Shaffern describes the process as “A Rush” and the rest insist on that as the headline for the story.
The latest recording experience also gave SUZE the opportunity to add another dimension with the studio work of Carl Krupa adding saxophone and flute parts to six the tracks. “When the horns get involved, the whole mood of the song changes, and that was something of an epiphany for some of them. We didn’t even really know what we wanted, and he would just create great ideas on the fly,” says McKinley. While SUZE won’t be adding a regular woodwind instrumentalist to the lineup, Krupa will appear with the band for the album release show.
“All I have to say,” says Miraglia, “is that the flute on [album-closer] ‘Fall of the King’ – it transforms the whole song. It’s like magic.”
SUZE has continued to build a portfolio of material, but there aren’t immediate plans to rush back into the studio. “Last time there were a few songs here and there that we could have worked into the album, but they weren’t quite ready,” says Gallagher. “Same thing this time, they might not have fit, but with some development they can work for the future, it’s nice to have them in your pocket.”
After the band’s album release show at the River St. Jazz Cafe Friday, they’ll play a mirror show at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, which the band refers to as a “home away from home.” Other notable upcoming appearances an in-store release at Gallery of Sound on March 12 and a set on PA Live on March 24. McKinley rattles off a quick list of shows that will take SUZE throughout the region and as far south as Maryland. “We have a lot of stuff lined up, a lot of dates still to be announced, so we’ve got a full plate, and get the music in front of more people,” he says.
“As a product, this album is just leaps and bounds beyond our first one,” adds Gilbert. “We really just took it to the next level. We’ve got a mix of some new venues, some places we’ve played for a while, so the future is looking good.”
The excitement of opening a new chapter flows through this group, and it’s easy to share the enthusiasm – these guys are having a blast, and making music they love.
“We’re putting out music that we want to put out,” says Shaffern. “Some people may not like it, and that’s fine. We’re not targeting any sort of specific fanbase.”
“I think we’re eclectic when it comes to that,” says Gilbert. “We’ll have as many people our age, and people 20 and 30 years older than us getting down, you know? We work really hard at it.”
“We’re not just there to party, we want to put on a good show for people, and show people that we’re serious about this, and not just some party band that’s making extra cash on the weekend,” says McKinley.
There’s a moment of reflection and agreement on this, and it looks like we’re about to close on one of those rare serious notes.
“I would like to add, however,” interjects Miraglia, “that we can party.”
Laughter ensues, and it’s a fine way to sum these guys up.
— tucker hottes

IF YOU GO:
SUZE Sounds from Thursday Evening
album release party.
River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains
Friday, March 7, doors 8 p.m.
$5 at the door. 21 and older.