The Masquerade in Atlanta has three separate stages: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. The Suckers are playing in Hell tonight, and are relaxing backstage beforehand. There is hummus and a loaf of white bread in Hell’s hospitality room, and not much else. Band member Pan (who goes by that single moniker) pulls on a Yuengling as we sit down on scavenged furniture. He doesn’t offer a beer to anyone else. Maybe he brought it in with him; maybe you don’t share beer in Hell.
No matter. This is the time to be talking with the Suckers. The band’s eponymous EP gained them attention from all the right media outlets. Pitchfork lavished them with uncharacteristically unqualified praise, and a noted reality network pegged them as a band to watch. Even the old folks at Rolling Stone put them on the hot list between games of shuffleboard. The upshot for the band was a contract with Frenchkiss Records to make a proper full-length album.
The culmination of the band’s efforts, Wild Smile, is set to be released on June 8. The band is, understandably, excited, but for a group of musicians used to self-releasing, the bureaucracy came as a bit of a surprise.
“It’s tough when you’re all of a sudden being run by the powers that be,” said Pan. “It was basically done in January for the most part, but we had some label things happen and it got pushed back.”
This theme comes up again when conversation turns to “It Gets Your Body Movin’.” Band member Quinn Walker is frank when asked why that song is the lone holdover from the EP: “We were told to.” He goes on to say that he “fought for the song not to be on the album,” and that he prefers that band is “constantly moving forward,” citing the song’s lack of coherence with the newly recorded material. There is a beat of silence. Shit is getting real in Hell’s hospitality room.
Austin Fisher is quick to point out that “it was good stuff” with the label, and defends the decision to put the song on the album. His eagerness to get that on the record is a quick reminder that, regardless of all the good press, Suckers are just a band trying to get an album out there. This thread carries through while discussing the pressures of making the album. Although the band allows that putting art into the market is slightly stress inducing, they are secure in the fact that “not enough people really know who we are” to limit the possible disappointment quotient. This breaks the ice a little, and Walker rejoins the conversation: “The EP was a really a piddle. We recorded it so quickly. The album is so much more. It’s a full puddle of piss.”
This metaphor, however colorful, doesn’t quite reach the depths of another one the band has used to describe itself: “Labyrinth rock,” with a specific mention of David Bowie’s codpiece. The band backs off from defining their entire sound based on a lesser Jim Henson film. “It really came from our producer, who said more than once during the recording ‘Hey, this sounds like Labyrinth. I’m going to call you guys Labyrinth pop. We really didn’t hear it at first; at most there were like two songs. Then we realized that we’re all kind of obsessed with Labyrinth, so it does work out.”
The newest Sucker, Brian Aiken, has yet to see the movie, a truth that prompts a cavalcade of suggestions about how he wasted his cinematic explorations in the ’80s. The band finally decides on The Sandlot. Before I can put my two years of video clerking to good use and inform them that that particular film came out in 1993, Fisher decides to delve further into the Muppet connection.
“A lot of people have been saying the last song on the record sounds kind of Muppet-y.” It’s a little bit of serendipity, as the next question on my list was to get clarification on what exactly “Kermit the Frog chords” are. The band seems nonplussed at first but makes the connection pretty quickly when the press sheet appears. The consensus reached is that “Loose Change” definitely contains “some Kermit the Frog lonesome riding around New York City sounds.” Quinn Walker underscores the connection by singing the song’s first couple of lines in a Kermit voice and then noting “the end of the song is like when all the Muppets get together and have a sing-along at the end of the show.” Pan is excited to have put this together.
The band gives him eyeball high-fives; combined with the mushy kid-show references, one would think their life is one big love fest. When the subject turns to the recording of Wild Smile, a hint of tension creeps back in. Walker says that the process is good for “finding everyone’s sensitivity levels and testing their bullshit meters.” Nobody quit during the process, and the band, many of whom have already produced their own records for other projects, “pretty much knew the record they wanted to make and then went into the studio and made it.” They dutifully throw kudos to the producer and reinforce that making the album was, if not an easy process, not a painless one. The tension about “It Gets Your Body Movin’” is noticeably absent. Even when squeezed on the problematic nature of having three songwriters and producers in one band, the three stonewall. Fisher finishes the conversation: “Suckers don’t cry.”
Pan looks bemused by the posture. Walker nods in agreement. And this, not the good press or comparisons to other bands, might be what ultimately makes the Suckers successful. Fisher leans forward. “We’re not interested in being the kind of band that’s one guy up front and three in the back, but we’re also not going to lose sleep over a bunch arguments. That’s how you lose band members.”
I observe that Suckers has never lost a band member, the only lineup change coming with the addition of Aiken on percussion. Walker says that even though the unit is tight, the band will probably pick up another member on the tour, “probably on the side of the road.” Pan rolls his eyes and takes a sip of his beer. He gives me a “you know he’s not serious” look. I nod. It’s Hell. You need a tight group.