Festival Heartstrings Interview

INTERVIEW: Kam Franklin (The Suffers) at Old Settler’s Music Festival

Photo (above) by Todd Spoth 

The Suffers are Pat Kelly, Kam Franklin, Adam Castaneda, Michael Razo, Kevin Bernier, Jon Durbin, Cory Wilson, Nick Zamora, Jose “Chapy” Luna and Alex Zamora. They hail from Houston, Texas and bring a sensational gift with them everywhere they go — what they call, Gulf Coast Soul. While at Old Settler’s Music Festival, Kam Franklin and I sat down and talked, just behind the Bluebonnet Stage as Deer Tick + Robert Ellis journeyed through their early evening set. Later that night, The Suffers took the very same stage and there wasn’t a person on those festival grounds who wasn’t tuned in. The crowds in front and in back of the stage were exhilarated by the talent, power and excitement coming from Franklin and The Suffers clan.

Lauren Jahoda: How did The Suffers get their start?

Kam Franklin: We all knew each other for quite a few years, but we all played in different bands. It took about 10 years or about 15 years to fully come together. There’s a pretty large age difference between some of us, but we all got to know each other front playing in the same scene. We didn’t intend to eventually make soul music since we met when we were all doing punk and ska, but it transformed into that once the originals came along.

How did it evolve into more of a soul sound?

I think it was when they added me (laughs). I’m a gospel singer, and that was my upbringing. It was never my intent to join a soul band, but no matter how much I tried to hide my tone in other genres, you can’t really hide something like that.

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What is your earliest memory of gospel and soul music?

Gospel music was definitely at about 4 or 5 years old. There was a choir at our church and they were giving the mic to little kids and they handed it to me, and I just didn’t give it back. As far as soul music, my father was an R&B singer, so it’s in my blood. I grew up with it in the house and it’s part of who I am.

Does your father tour? What was his music career like?

He did mostly college concerts when he was in school, and DJing. He never toured. He wanted to, but his main focus was his education and he started a family and got married. He’s been extremely supportive of my career and I couldn’t ask for a better situation. He’s very proud.

I’m sure he’s ecstatic, and also living vicariously through you.

Oh yeah. I try to keep him updated on all that I am doing.

You may get asked the question a lot, but what is it like being the only female in large band?

There are days that it can be really exhausting. It stinks, like literally stinks. They fart all the time. But at the same time, I am surrounded by 8-9 brothers. I don’t think I really knew what unconditional love was until I was in this band. They piss me off on a regular, but I love them. I do things for them that I wouldn’t do for any other band in my life. I am so grateful to be here, with them. The fact that I’m a woman is just a benefit.

What’s your plan for the summer — any recording plans?

We’re very busy this summer. We’re going off the Paris in June and we just confirmed our first Japanese dates. We’re already writing the second record now, and hoping to record at the end of August and if not, we’ll push it to the end of the year. We want to get the music out as soon as possible but at the same time, we’re working on polishing and getting the best product as possible out there.

A very memorable moment for me was your Tiny Desk performance. What was that like?

It was hard and very stressful for me. I had to sing over the band without a monitor, so I couldn’t really hear. I’m such a loud singer but it’s easy to blow your voice when you’re forcing yourself to sing over something. I was so worried that I was out of tune and the comments that people write. It’s so funny because I am always happy that they comment on my body but when they comment on my singing, that’s when I get pissed. If they say “Oh she’s fat…,” I’m like cool, whatever (laughs).

You sounded great. There was a lot of emotion behind it and I really enjoyed it.

That’s everything. Maybe it’s a bad thing, like with my relationships and my daily life, I’m not the most emotional person. But when it comes to our shows, that’s where it all comes out.

It’s your outlet.

Yes. These are the stories of my life. These are my failed relationships. These are the people who have inspired me and I get to sing about them.

Is there a driving force or theme for the new recordings?

Right now a lot of my writing has been about trying to stay encouraged, not only in your life and relationships, but whatever it is that you believe in. If you’re Christian or an Atheist, just be consistent, no matter what anyone else says. Just try to be the best person you can be and live your life. That’s where a lot of our writing is right now and we’re also encouraging those people who feel like they’re not living the best life, and letting them know that you’re supposed to fall.

Does being on the road help the writing process?

We have a hard time organizing the compositions because we don’t have enough time to practice. As far as writing, that comes pretty quickly. If I’m writing a song, I need people there to keep going.

What do you listen to on your free time?

I listen to everything but I’ve been listening to a lot of BJ the Chicago Kid, Bonobo, Grizzly Bear, and I’m a big Luther Vandross and Led Zeppelin fan. And I listen to a lot of gospel because to me, the best singers I’ve ever heard in my life are gospel singers. I don’t feel like I have the most amazing voice in the world, but I like to stay inspired and try to be the best singer I can be, and that usually comes when I’m listening to these other singers.

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Robert Ellis & Kam Franklin, Old Settler’s Music Festival 2016. Photo by Lauren Jahoda.

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