The Cultivated Ladies of The Suzan
By Emi Kariya
Photos by Mike Nogami
The Suzan are a tight team of ladies who don’t seem to be affected by their surrounding environment, even with their relocation from Tokyo to New York when they signed with Fool’s Gold back in 2011. Their music transcends any single genre, with songs that feel like instant classics and are the sonic equivalent of being at a punk show while drinking a pina colada. I asked them some questions to find the secret of their not just up-spirited but badass band style.
Tom Tom Magazine: Did you all play music growing up? When and how did you form The Suzan?
Nico: We all learned piano growing up, it’s very Japanese. All girls do, it’s part of our raising a “cultivated lady” program, ha. We all went to the same all-girls private high-school into college. Rie(keys) and Kaori(vox) are sisters and I’m from the same town in Saitama. Rie’s the master of the band. She and Saori were making songs in their bedrooms before it was anything.
Saori: We were writing songs but we didn’t have much intention of playing out. We sent demo tapes of our super rough recordings to labels instead. We didn’t know a drummer so we used a Zoom rhythm machine that was around in Japan back then, added melody with guitar and she made me sing. I always liked Karaoke but I didn’t think I was a singer.
N: Keiichi Sokabe (famous guitarist) picked up their demo to release it pretty much as is on his label, Rose Records, so they suddenly needed a drummer. We were all having a homemade hot-pot party and Rie and Kaori say, “you look like you can hit!” They told me to drum straight up based on how I look! I had just turned 19, first year in college. Then within a month they were like “we have a show in Berlin, just so you know”.
That is amazingly quick! I didn’t even know sent demos were even heard. But you didn’t have a kit, how did you learn to play drums?
N:They told me to listen to the songs and use visualization so I was mostly air drumming to make my body learn the rhythm. I used tissue boxes a lot too. We worked, saved up money, and toured Europe during our summer vacation a couple of months later.
How was working with Rose Records and recording with Mr. Sokabe?
N: He was very nice and we learned a lot from him. We were extra lucky in a sense that there were no other girl bands and we were the youngest on the label too. We were like his kids, so he looked after us for everything.
S: I think what was unique about us was that we sent the demo package all in English because our focus was to go to Europe. We weren’t planning on doing the band in Tokyo so much. So we’d only sent the demo to Rose Records because we had an extra. Probably no Japanese band was sending demos in English which made us punk in a way. Or he liked the candies we included in the package, ha!
Good thing you made extras!
N: In 2006 we recorded Suzan Galaxy with Rose Records and went to Europe every summer where we met a lot of great musicians. We met our current producer, Björn Yttling (of Peter Björn and John) through mutual friends out there too. He was looking for a band to produce during Fuji Rock Festival when he heard about us. He first contacted us through Myspace and we didn’t believe it because PBJ was big. But then we got to record in Stockholm with him soon after.
How was that?
N: Amazing!! It was like going to class everyday. It would start early in the morning and then we’d all be out of the studio by 7pm because Stockholmers have to go watch ice hockey. We didn’t know anything about recording so he taught us everything too.
You not only rock together but all live together too. How does that work?
N: We’re like family and don’t step into each other’s lives so it’s almost like air. Aside from the band, we all do different things.
Are your recent tours mostly in the US? What was your favorite show?
It’s all in the US so far, all west coast and east coast. But we wanna go to Europe! Or anywhere outside of the US! We were touring with Chromeo for a few weeks so we got to play 2000-3000 capacity halls and the sound was great. My favorite may be the show in Portland on that tour. Portlanders have heat, like passion, so the energy of the crowd was something else! We were 2 bands before Chromeo but the crowd was already going wild with our playing. It was an amazing experience to feel all 2000 people riled up with our music.
Who’s your favorite drummer?
N: Travis Barker of Blink 182. He’s so skinny and covered with tattoos but he’s so tight, practices everyday and loves his family. That’s my ideal style!
S: A-track, the owner of our label Fool’s Gold, was touring with Blink 182, collaborative DJing. We got to see that show at SXSW. They were totally amazing.
N: That might be also something I’d want to do in the future. Collaborate with a good looking killer DJ! And speaking of collab, I want to play with kids too. We played a couple of times at the Willie Mae camp with Tom Tom Mag and the excitement of kids about the live music is definitely amazing. So I want to play more with kids.
What’s next for you?
S: Our new album! We already recorded it, about a year ago back in Stockholm and we all want to put it out within this year, including Björn. It’s been almost 3 years since our last album so we can’t wait to release it!