Interview: The Houston Suffers address racism and sexism on new album

Houston band The Suffers, now made up of seven musicians, have a new album called “It Starts With Love”.

Photo: Agave Bloom Photography / Agave Bloom Photography

‘It Starts With Love’, the new album from Houston band The Suffers, packs a lot into its 13 tracks.

There’s Sheila E. and the Miami Sound Machine-inspired percussion. There are emotional professions of love, grief and embracing happiness. There are piercing critiques of the music industry and ruminations about black violence in America.

“They keep breaking us / Like we couldn’t feel / We’ve all been screaming / Since Emmett Till,” Kam Franklin sings among a roster that includes Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor.

There’s even a contribution from Oscar-nominated songwriting icon Diane Warren, whose “B—- Gotta Get Paid” is a totally unexpected twist. The band celebrates Thursday with a hometown launch party at The Secret Group.

“I said, ‘No.’ I don’t want to miss anything ‘Diane Warren,'” Franklin recalled with a laugh. Franklin’s COVID era.The next day, Warren sent Franklin a “naked demo” of the song, a call for gender equity in the music industry.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very busy people. But the day after Diane lost her 14th Oscar (for ‘Somehow You Do’), she called me at first thing, that Monday morning, to ask what her status was,” Franklin says.

The Suffers’ ‘It Starts With Love’ album release party

When: 8 p.m. June 2

Where:The Secret Band, 2101 Polk

Tickets: $25 to $40;

Here’s what members of The Suffers should have with them when on tour:

Kam Franklin: My skin care tips. I am a shea butter queen.

Nick Zamora:Listeners.

Kevin Bernier: I actually have a list of things I forgot in the past. The passport and the world entry card appear there three or four times. Each time they are listed, it is with increasing urgency. By the time you get to the end, it’s bold, underlined, three exclamation points. Also, flip flops.

Michael Razo: Chapstick, of course.

Jose Luna: GPS.

Juliette Terril:I have dietary restrictions so I have several pounds of peanut butters and snack bars. If I see someone else getting hungry, I throw them a breakfast bar.


It is the band’s most ambitious and accomplished album to date and follows 2018’s ‘Everything Here’. $ of equipment in Dallas. Franklin also formed a local collaboration called Bayou City Comeback Chorus.

“I think a lot of those things that shook us up really gave us an attitude adjustment, for lack of a better term,” says guitarist Kevin Bernier. “It really forced us to carefully review our dynamic. This helped set the stage for other band members to contribute much more creatively than ever before.

So it’s a huge testament to the band’s effort that “It Starts With Love” is a totally cohesive collection of songs in every way. There’s a lot going on and the lyrics can get intense, but it all makes sense together. The album features local musicians Sugar Joiko, Madeline Edwards and Z’maji. This is their first on Missing Piece Records.

The band sifted through almost 70 demos to come up with the final track listing. Franklin credits drummer Nick Zamora and Grammy winner Adrian Quesada (Black Pumas, Grupo Fantasma) with mixing and editing to perfection. But a bigger challenge presented itself at the start of 2020, when COVID-19 brought everything to a halt. They were forced to record at home or in small groups, with the sections being reconstituted.

“We suddenly learn to be sound engineers. I’m thrown into Logic Pro,” says bassist Juliet Terrill, who was in Portland during the lockdown. “It’s the ability to focus on that improvisation and to accept that things might be different but to have the encouragement and the courage in general to keep doing it.”

Franklin took the helm and, in addition to his own contributions, participated in every session. She spent two months recording background vocals around the house and making sure everyone was in the right place, suggesting breaks and offering something to eat.

“She put us at ease and gave us confidence,” says trombonist Michael Razo.

Franklin’s work earned her an executive producing credit on “It Starts With Love,” an unexpected title she now wears with pride.

“I didn’t seek to be the executive producer of it. However, when it got to where we were coming to, I was like, ‘I’m about to drive this boat, but for what it’s going to take, I want that title,” Franklin says. “I also had to learn what comes with it. It was an extremely painful process. It was very upsetting at times. I had to constantly remind myself, ‘B—-, you been singing since you were 5. We’re not playing today.’ »

The Suffers formed in 2011 and released a debut album in 2016. The band’s sound – a mix of soul, ska, rock, pop and blues – works as the perfect sonic representation of Houston. They’ve raised their profile with TV appearances on “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah,” the “Late Show With David Letterman,” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live. They’ve appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series and are favorites by Brené Brown, who used the song “Take Me to the Good Times” for his “Dare to Lead” podcast Franklin appeared on the podcast this year.

Franklin frequently takes to social media to express her experiences as a black woman in music, detailing heartbreaking stories of racism and misogyny. “It Stars With Love” is the first time she’s addressed all of this in her music, both from her own experiences and those of her “visibly brown” bandmates. They are often the only people of color during road stops on tour.

“I never really talked about how I felt nothing at some of these shows. I was assaulted on stage. I was insulted on stage. I was assaulted backstage. We talked to me about being crazy. I was threatened by the police. Just all kinds of really dumb (expletive) things that wouldn’t happen if I was a white boy,” Franklin says.

“I wanted to put it into the songs in a way that would be digestible, in a way that would hopefully be relatable and also in a way that would provide keys, communication and understanding.”

[email protected]

  • Joey Guerra

    Joey Guerra is the music critic for the Houston Chronicle. It also covers various aspects of pop culture. He’s reviewed hundreds of gigs and interviewed hundreds of celebrities, from Justin Bieber to Dolly Parton to Beyonce. He appeared as a regular correspondent on Fox26 and served as head judge and director of the Pride Superstar singing competition for a decade. He has been named Journalist of the Year multiple times by OutSmart Magazine and the FACE Awards. It also covers various aspects of pop culture, including the local drag scene and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.