Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Sufis - Interview and Exclusive Spotify Playlist


(This feature first appeared in issue #71 of Shindig! magazine. Click over the jump at the bottom to read the full unpublished interview. The Sufis have also very kindly put together an exclusive Spotify playlist for us featuring their favourite artists and inspirations. Do have a listen, it's highly enjoyable and an education in its own right.)

Late-night devotion.

Brooklyn-based duo The Sufis return with After Hours, a thrills-packed LP inspired by the misfits, scenarios and anything goes attitude of the Big Apple. Duncan Fletcher stays up after bedtime.



Calvin Laporte and Evan Smith have been collaborating as The Sufis since meeting at university. “We have very different approaches,” says Calvin, “Evan's formally trained and I mostly play by ear. We're kinda like Yin and Yang or Bert and Ernie haha! ... Neither of us has many strengths musically speaking, eventually we'd like to hire session musicians to just focus on writing and arranging.”

The Sufis' third and latest LP After Hours disputes this modesty with its scene-setting lyrics and infectious take on soul, disco and reggae rhythms. Such eclecticism is explained by an open-mindedness when consuming music. Says Calvin - “I get bored listening to the same band or album over and over again, so I'm always hopping between genres in search of something new. Nothing's off limits as long it's a good song with a genuine feeling behind it. My favourite albums are ones that have variety like Tusk or Sign 'O' The Times.”

The Sufis' previous albums were made in Nashville but a move to Brooklyn provided fresh inspiration. “There’s an energy in New York that's unlike anything I've experienced anywhere else” says Evan. “You have to go through so much just to play drums for example, so once you're at the studio you want to make sure you get something good. The record stores are amazing too so when we weren't playing or writing we were spoilt by all the great stuff to dig through.”

The move also enabled tuition from a left-field legend. “Before we started working on After Hours I spent half a year working and studying with La Monte Young at his loft in Tribeca. A lot of the songs are about those times” say Calvin. Despite such mentoring, After Hours is anything but avant-garde or minimalist, and draws inspiration from across the musical spectrum. “I was listening to a lot of jazz and soul,” says Calvin. “I always look up to writers like Smokey Robinson, Allen Toussaint and Wayne Shorter. We were really into Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building writers too. I remember putting on a lot of '80s and '90s Lou Reed after recording sessions haha!”

“I was heavily inspired by the session work of Aynsley Dunbar and the songs of Leiber and Stoller, as well as Hoagy Carmichael” adds Evan, “along with Burt Bacharach's arrangements and Linda McCartney's synth lines.”

After Hours is preceded by a single, 'All Knowing (71)'. Calvin explains the number's significance - “That's a reference to a chapter in the Tao Te Ching. I'm always trying to remind myself that I don’t know anything. I used to be a voracious reader, but lately I just read the Tao over and over. The instrumental section was inspired by Philip Glass and is meant to represent the paradox in the second part of the chapter.”

“While making the record we became fascinated with the Tao and read it constantly, we still do” says Evan. “I guess I'm always trying to destroy my ego even if I fail most of the time, and that's what the song is kinda about.”

After Hours is out now on Burger Records.
 
Check out The Sufis Favourites Spotify playlist below, and click over the jump to read the full interview.



(Click over the jump to read the full interview)




I may have got this wrong but have you dropped the “The” from your band name and are now simply “Sufis”? If so what prompted the change?
 
Evan Smith: We had our friend Jeffrey Novak design a logo for us and he chose not to use “The.” Definitely not a conscious decision on our part, people can use both if they choose.
 
Calvin Laporte: It’s kinda like the covers of Face To Face or Lola by The Kinks, we just changed our band logo for After Hours.
 
After Hours is the third LP you've made together. The first two were released in 2012/13, why has there been such a gap before this one?

ES: There were two other records we completed before After Hours but it didn’t feel right releasing them at the time. It’s possible they still might see the light of day.

CL: We continued to write and record obsessively, there are a couple hundred completed songs in the vaults. We also have hours of instrumental tracks, like Alvin Lucier pieces, Thelonious Monk covers and lots of jams/tape collages. In the end we wanted to make something very raw and immediate for our third record.

This time round there's less drone, less modal melodies, but more of an eclectic and fun pop feel. Was that a conscious decision? How do you think it differs from your previous works?

CL: Yeah I think it’s a bit different from our previous work, we’ve experimented with jazzy chords a bit more. We make music stream-of-consciousness so we never know what we have until we finish it. I think it sounds like early Steely Dan demos and The Microphones/Mount Eerie, but other people have compared it to The Magnetic Fields.

ES: We don’t analyze so much especially while we’re working on a track. That way it feels more natural to us.

The album covers a lot of ground stylistically, there's touches of soul, reaggae, disco etc. Is it important for you to always do something fresh?

ES: We both write every day and are into a lot of music so we don’t really limit ourselves. We’re never afraid to try something new and see it through the whole way.

CL: It’s related to the way we consume music. I get really bored of listening to the same band or album over and over again, so I’m always hopping between genres in search of something new. Nothing’s off limits for us as long it’s a good song with a genuine feeling behind it. My favorite albums are ones that have a lot of variety like Tusk or Sign ‘o' the Times.

How long did it take you to make the record? Were the tracks written before going into the studio or did you improvise and write as you went along?

CL: We made this one really fast. Almost all of it was written and recorded in about a month. It’s a funny story really, Burger Records were scheduled to release a completely different album called Soothing Sounds but we changed our minds and made After Hours right before our mastering deadline. We’re lucky that Sean and Lee believe in us and let us do our thing. I have so much respect for those guys.

ES: At one point there were three studios we used if you include our apartment. Sometimes I would go record drums and we’d demo a song on top, and sometimes we would record basic tracks together. It really varied from track to track. We were just super determined to have a strong set of tracks and were pretty relentless.

CL: We used an old Rhythm Ace drum machine for a few songs too. We hardly ever record the same way twice.

What made you title the album After Hours?

ES: The title seemed to fit the vibe that we inhabited at the time. Late nights, strange characters, weird scenarios, anything goes – that kind of thing.

CL: Before we started working on After Hours I spent half a year working and studying with La Monte Young at his loft in Tribeca, and a lot of the songs we wrote are about those times.

The album has a great sleeve. How did the idea for it come about?

ES: We had a rough idea of what the album cover was going to be, but when Lee and Sean (co-owners of Burger Records) introduced us to Sasha Eisenman he totally got what we were going for. Definitely wanted something subversive and contradictory and we had a few ideas but Sasha came up with the concept and we were really happy with it.

What's been on your listening pile while making After Hours? What musicians have been your primary influences this time round?

CL: I was listening to a lot of Jazz and Soul. I always look up to writers like Smokey Robinson, Allen Toussaint and Wayne Shorter. We were really into Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building writers too. I remember putting on a lot of '80s and '90s Lou Reed after recording sessions haha!

ES: Heavily inspired by the session work of Aynsley Dunbar and the songs of Leiber & Stoller, as well as Hoagy Carmichael. I was into Burt Bacharach’s arrangements and Linda McCartney’s synth lines too.

How do your approaches to making music differ? What are each others strengths?


CL: We have very different approaches, Evan’s formally trained and I mostly play by ear. We’re kinda like Yin and Yang or Bert and Ernie haha! It’s hard to separate what each of us do because all the parts are written together in a way. Neither of us have many strengths musically speaking, eventually we’d like to hire session musicians to just focus on writing and arranging.

Loving the lead single you have due out, 'All Knowing (71)'. What's the significance of the number 71?

CL: That’s a reference to a chapter in the Tao Te Ching. I’m always trying to remind myself that I don’t know anything. I used to be a voracious reader, but lately I just read the Tao over and over again. The instrumental section was inspired by Philip Glass and is meant to represent the paradox in the second part of the chapter.

ES: Over the course of making the record we became fascinated with the Tao and read it constantly, we still do. I guess I’m always trying to destroy my ego even if I fail most of the time, and that’s what the song is kinda about.

I really enjoyed the single you made with Paul Messis as The Market Squares? How did that come about?

ES: Paul reached out after our first record on Ample Play was released. He was in the states to meet a friend and had a day or two to stay with us in Nashville, so we did it then. We’re hoping to meet Paul again in NYC to do a follow-up.

CL: I think Paul wrote one song on the plane ride over, and we wrote the other one together the afternoon before the session. It was very spontaneous.

Since the last album you've relocated to from Nashville to Brooklyn, what are the best things about being a musician based in NYC?


ES: There’s an energy in New York that is unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else. You have to go through so much just to play drums for example, so once you’re at the studio you really want to make sure you get something good. The record stores are amazing too so when we weren’t playing or writing we were spoiled by all the great stuff to dig through.

Do you get out and play live much? If so how does your live sound differ from the records?


ES: The Sufis have always been a studio project, but you never know what the future will bring. Being that it’s just the two of us, we’d have to bring on additional musicians to properly do something.
 
CL: We’ve really shocked some people with the offers we’ve turned down. We like to write everyday so that’s always been our main priority in making music.