The World Wakes Up to The Suffers

Back with a new album, the first local band to gain a significant national profile in a generation performs at the Heights Theater this month.

By Chris Gray June 22, 2018 Published in the July 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Todd Spoth

When The Suffers resumed playing shows about a month after Hurricane Harvey, the audience at California’s Monterey Jazz Festival was, Kam Franklin recalls, “asleep.” Worse, when she announced where they were from, a collective awwwww went up.

Franklin wasn’t having it.

“Don’t you awwwww us,” the octet’s dynamic singer recalls telling the crowd. “I come from an amazing city, I come from a strong city, a resilient city, a vibrant city. Yes, we’re a little wet right now, but it’s gonna dry, and we’re gonna rebuild. Don’t you ever look at anybody from Houston with pity, because we don’t need it.’

The Suffers are the first local band to gain a significant national profile in a generation. On the road they delight in puncturing outdated stereotypes about Houston: “I’m like, ‘If you haven’t been to the city in two Super Bowls, I can’t really talk to you,’” says Franklin.

The group’s passports have now been stamped on five continents, and their self-described “Gulf Coast soul”—a hodgepodge of R&B, funk, rock, reggae, and Latin sounds—has been lauded by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, and Noisey, to name just a few outlets. As a result, they practically have carte blanche on the festival circuit.

“We can do a jam festival, an Americana festival, a jazz festival, a folk festival, and then come back and do [Brooklyn’s] Afropunk,” Franklin marvels. “I don’t know of any other bands that are doing that.”

At home The Suffers have played Rockets halftime shows, joined Lil’ Keke to record a new version of his 1997 rap anthem “Southside,” and appeared alongside Lyle Lovett, J.J. Watt, and Jose Altuve in tourist-courting TV spots. They also show up when it really counts: After Harvey, the group volunteered so much that Franklin says the studio became a much-needed “mental break” from the widespread misery around them.

“We try our best everywhere we go to rep Houston as hard as we can, and the city has shown us a lot of love, you know?” says bassist Adam Castaneda. “So we don’t ever want to see any part of it struggle like that, especially that much of the city all at once.”

The hurricane also hit in the middle of sessions for The Suffers’ second full-length release, this month’s Everything Here (Shanachie). Besides appearances by their friends Bun B and Paul Wall—and the band members’ mothers on the touching “Mammas”—their renewed love and appreciation for Houston surfaces on new songs like “After the Storm.”

“I think it showed just how resilient we are as a band,” says Franklin, “and also how much our love for one another and for our city has grown through all of this.”

The Suffers. Jul 12–13 (Jul 13 sold out). From $20. Heights Theater339 W. 19th St. 214-272-8346. 

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