The Suzan


2010’s Golden Week for the Poco Poco Beat (Fool’s Gold) is the debut LP from Japan’s all-girl group The Suzan. Produced by Bjorn Yttling (Peter, Bjorn and John) – whom also brought the group into the public eye after discovering them on some website called MySpace – Golden Week for the Poco Poco Beat finds the band harvesting from several different genres, resulting in a varied set of accessible confections which are accentuated further by an energetic live performance, honed after several months of touring the world.
With the help of a translator, Ion Magazine recently interviewed The Suzan (Saori, vocals and guitars; Rie, guitars and keyboards; Nico, drums; Iuke, bass) in order to investigate their love of classical music, Japanese holidays and nicknames.


In recent interviews you mentioned that Mozart and the Beatles were your biggest musical influences. How do these particular artists inform The Suzan’s approach to songwriting? Your song “Rondo” for instance, is that an homage to Mozart (known in part for his use of the Rondo musical form)?
Rie: I learned songwriting from the classics and excitement of arrangement from Mozart. However, “Rondo” is not a song or homage to Mozart. Repeating the rhythm of drums is very impressive, so I named the song “Rondo” from this technique of repetition. The Beatles taught me the interest of the sounds. As they had used various sounds, I am also trying to use various interesting sounds, such as the sound of electric musical instruments and the sound of the native musical instruments besides the sound of the orchestra.

Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn, and John) engineered and produced all the songs on your record and is someone known for his sharp understanding of melodies and bass lines. To what extent was he involved in shaping The Suzan’s songs?
Rie: He didn’t touch the melody or bass lines very much, though he gave us ideas to choose the sounds of instruments for (the) arrangements. For example, on the song “Nice Code”, Bjorn recommended (for) us to use a trash can for drums and we did, which made the song more melodious. Also, to emphasize melody, he stripped off some bars and sounds on several songs.

You were essentially discovered after Yttling contacted you via MySpace. What was the timeline of events leading to you being signed by Fool’s Gold?
Saori: First, our good friends, UK band, The Whip told (Bjorn) about us when they met at Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. Then Bjorn checked our MySpace page, and we started (to) contact each other. We still doubted if he was really Bjorn of Peter Bjorn and John or another Bjorn guy, so we decided to see him in Stockholm in the summer of 2007, but it was him! Then soon (after) we planed to record in Stockholm in the spring of 2008 and did. We eventually got to know A-Trak who is owner of Fool’s Gold, through their (Bjorn and A-Trak) common friend, Kanye West.

The core of your band (sisters Rie and Saori) has been writing music since 2003. What has been the biggest change in your musical output since then? What has stayed the same?
R: On songwriting, we haven’t changed. But I think our skill of playing music has improved. So now we can challenge (ourselves) to make more difficult melodies or arrangements to play.

For your debut (Golden Week for the Poco Poco Beat) are most of the songs newly written or have you been developing them for a long time?
S: We have been developing them for a couple of years.

Your record incorporates several different genres and styles in each song’s composition. Was the confluence of jazz, garage, and funk (among others), intended all along or was that something that came about in the recording process?
S: Some arrangements came about in the recording process. However, we didn’t intend to mix these genres when we were making songs. We always make songs without thinking (about) composition. We believe that it is good way to make songs if you wanna make new and innovative sounds.

Your lyrics are in English, but you are speaking to us through a translator. How comfortable are you with speaking English? Is it a challenge for you to write your songs in a language that isn’t Japanese?
R: Well…writing lyrics in English is still challenging for us. Japanese and English are completely different. We feel it is difficult to compose lyrics in English, though it’s (a) good way to learn another language and it’s even fun. So we keep studying English.

Your Twitter page says that you are currently based in both Tokyo and New York City. Are you living mostly in America at the moment? Has that been an adjustment?
S: Actually we’re not living in NYC now. We stay in NYC when we have plans for gigs and some promotion things though. We are quite adjusted already, I guess.

What has been your favourite place to visit while on tour? Why?
Nico: We love to eat good food! Anytime! Anywhere! In NYC, our favorite place is this $1 pizza place. We don’t have $1 pizza shop in Japan. Stopping by a pizza shop in midnight is really exciting!!!!

You are generating buzz everywhere from America to Europe. How has the response been back in Japan?
Luke: The response in Japan is bigger and more supportive than we expected. After our new album Golden Week For The Poco Poco Beat was released last month, iTunes Japan selected our single “Home” as the single of the week and spread that around Japan. On the other hand, we found that most comments or reviews in the US are focusing on our race or how we look. However, comments from people in Japan ignore our race and outfits. They are just talking about songs on the album and focusing just on our music. Now we come to think we should thank and refer to such honest comments from Japanese listeners very much.

The name The Suzan, refers two of your bandmates’ (Rie and Saori) family’s nickname, does anyone else in the band have a nickname?
N: My name “NICO” is a stage name. I got the name from my favorite bassist’s daughter’s name. NICO is also a very catchy name for the people of the world.

“Golden Week” is a Japanese term for an extended vacation. How would you ideally spend your next Golden Week?
I: We’ve spent Golden Weeks playing shows in Japan almost every year, but we really hope we can play in the place we haven’t been to next Golden Week!! There is no eagerness for us to have a vacation, we wanna keep moving!! 

Was it the band’s decision to cover the Strokes and Kanye West and if so, how did that come about?
R: Bjorn recommended us to play cover songs and we picked up those songs because they have a good pop melody and easy to cover for us. Also they’re well known artists, you know. We wanted the challenge to play different kinds of music because we thought it would be great chance to show a different aspect of (ourselves) through these cover songs. It was an interesting trial indeed.


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