.Suffers at the Starline: Gulf Coast band brings their soulful sound to Oakland

The Suffers’ third album, It Starts with Love, is history in real time, with a brass section. Hips and heads can’t help but twist and bob respectively when listening to tracks like “Take Me to the Good Times” and “Yada Yada,” and the Houston Chronicle is already calling “Don’t Bother Me” possibly the best musical track of 2022. The Suffers already arrived—performing their second album, Everything Here, at places like Austin City Limits, NPR’s Tiny Desk and The Late Show with David Letterman—but with It Starts with Love, The Suffers are taking a hold of their platform, and giving it a new direction. 

Scheduled for a June 3 release, It Starts with Love is a response to life as we’ve come to know it in the last two years—a no holds barred, honest conversation about misogyny in the music industry, racism and socio-economic disparities in America. And it’s also a testimony to growth, self-acceptance, transformation and love. It’s a more fully-rounded, socially expressive album than any of their previous work.  

Currently on a U.S. tour—they’d just pulled in to their Phoenix, AZ venue when we spoke—frontwoman Kam Franklin and trumpeter Jon Durbin took some time to tell me about the band’s process in creating It Starts with Love. 

As Franklin and Durbin told me, the group has known each other since high school. Franklin, says Durbin, was a musical whirlwind, playing with her own band and sitting in with practically every band in their hometown of Houston, TX. 

“We all started sitting in with each other; it went from there, really,” said Durbin. “We’d get together on the weekends to play for extra money—we never saw it evolving into our primary music project and career.” 

Since then, the band—now a seven piece consisting of leadwoman Kam Franklin, bassist Juliet Terrill, guitarist Kevin Bernier, trumpeter Jon Durbin, trombonist Michael Razo, percussionist Jose Luna and drummer Nick Zamora—has been on a full and wild ride, from the devoted local following they developed in Houston to their international breakout in 2015 on the strength of their debut EP, Make Some Room. Their 2016 self-titled album received similarly far-reaching acclaim and recognition, but things were not always smooth sailing for the group. 2018 brought acute challenges, including the parting of two founding members, physical and mental health issues within the band, and the loss of a trailer with $40,000 worth of musical gear during a show in Dallas. 

While all of this was going on, Franklin also found herself under increasing scrutiny for her vocal pushback on inequity and tokenism in the music industry. 

“This has been a dream album for us, honestly,” Franklin and Durbin both said. 

The group spent two years recording, and collaborating with musicians, artists and producers to give the album the utmost dimension. It Starts with Love is mixed by Grammy-winner Adrian Quesada—Black Pumas—and mastered by Chris Longwood—Khruangbin, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic. It features collaborations with artists like Swedish writer/producer Johan Karlberg—on “Don’t Bother Me”—and producer/keyboard player Dave Boyle on “Nunya.” 

“I wanted to make a record that sounded like Houston to me,” she explains. “You’ve got the hard edges and tough exteriors and hip-hop swagger, but then you’ve also got the sounds of the choir and the soulfulness and even a little bit of twang. I wanted to make something beautiful out of hardship.”

The range of the album’s sounds and contributors creates a chorus call for righteous healing and honesty around hard truths. It’s a more honest, revealing tone—a space for every single one of the members and contributing artists to process their grief, speak their minds and share their joy with music listeners. The album sheds light on hard topics, but it’s by no means hopeless. It’s been a liberation for The Suffers to create these songs which share so much truth, and they want to share that sense of liberation and possibility with their listeners. 

“The whole thing is about being yourself, and being yourself with love. Because it’s a hustle and a struggle, whether you’re an artist or an accountant, and if you can’t move with love, you won’t make it,” said Franklin. 

It Starts with Love moves body and soul, and gives the shot of power-infused hope all truly meaningful albums do. It captures a moment in history and timeless truths—it really does start with love. 

Check out The Suffers May 27 at the Starline Social Club. www.starlinesocialclub.com    

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