In this age of corporatized disease-beating, it seems like such a cliché, but to call New Orleans trio Suplecs anything other than “survivors” feels like cheapening what they’ve been through over the course of their 15 years together. They survived the demise of their first label, Man’s Ruin Records, in 2001, the American stoner rock movement (allegedly), and most pivotally, the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on their hometown of New Orleans in 2005, and 2011 finds them still kicking and in top form. In January, they released their fourth album, Mad Oak Redoux, via Small Stone Records.
Named for the studio in which it was re-recorded (because gawd forbid Suplecs should be able to get away with anything so easy as making an album once) by Small Stone’s go-to engineer, Benny Grotto, Mad Oak Redoux combines the band’s love of heavy riffage with their hardcore punk roots and bluesy afterthoughts. As ever for them, it’s a sleeper among many listeners, but the quality of output and loose, jammy feel is pervasive. Just because Suplecs can see through your bullshit and laugh at it doesn’t mean they don’t take themselves seriously.
I spoke to bassist/vocalist Danny Nick (formerly of Nola sludge-lords Eyehategod) prior to the band’s appearance at the 2011 South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. Nick is joined in Suplecs by guitarist/vocalist Durel Yates and drummer Andrew Preen, and, much like when I last spoke to him after Katrina and the release of the band’s third album, Powtin’ On The Outside Pawty On The Inside, it’s my pleasure to bring you the following Q&A.
So when you finally finished Mad Oak Redoux, after two years, minimum, of just a recording process, never mind writing the songs, how did that feel? To hold the finished product in your hand?
It was finally putting it on the shelf. When you write songs, you put a lot into the songs, and from the time you’re writing the songs to the time you have a finished recording of it—one of the songs, that song “Coward,” I wrote eight years ago, around the time we did our second album. I just never did have the arrangement right. I kept forgetting at practice how it went, and it never did get onto one of these last records.
So it’s just a way to close a chapter, like, “Wow, it’s done.” It’s great, because we weren’t liking the way it sounded the first time. Our third album, we ended up settling on a lot of things. The guy owned the studio, and he was like, “Yeah, it sounds great,” and we were like, “I don’t know man, I don’t think it does,” but there’s only so much you can argue when the dude’s putting it out and he’s paying, whereas, with Scott [Hamilton, owner of Small Stone Records], and with Benny and them, it was like, “Ah, yeah,” immediately. “This is the way it needs to sound.”
A lot of these songs are very emotional and very upfront about that. Have your feelings about the subject matter in the songs changed since you wrote them?
Well, no. Not really. A lot of the songs do deal with specific things that took place along the journey between Katrina and now. They were a very integral part of it. There was a song in there that I wrote about a girl I was engaged to. She left me for an actor (laughs). I work on movie sets. It was a real horrible thing that happened.
I was on a tour. She gave me a “Dear John” on the tour; a phone call breaking it off, and so I wrote a really mean, heartfelt song. Now, years later, do I hate the girl that much anymore, as in the song “Tried to Build an Engine?” No. I’m married to somebody else who’s way better. It’s probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me, in retrospect, but it’s a song that deals with a certain emotion I was dealing with at the time.
But then you talk about a song like “FEMA Man,” I still stand behind the lyrics to that song 100 percent. I wrote that song a few days after Katrina, while I was still in Austin, Texas, couch-surfing, trying to get my measly $2,000 that FEMA was giving out, that I never did get. I never did get it. Everybody got it. I knew people who didn’t even lose anything, that cheated the government, and got their money.
I’m a regular, hard-working guy, just trying to get what I’m supposed to get, and I got fed through circles and circles and never did get it. Never did. To this day, never got the money. So “FEMA Man,” every time I sing it, I think on that, reflect on it, and put it into playing the song.
Has the time since Katrina given you a different perspective on everything you guys went through?
It’s definitely forced us to grow up a lot. We always—typical New Orleanians—very “The Big Easy,” as everybody says. Everybody’s easygoing and “Hey, how ya doing?” and very laid back. And then after Katrina—I think it was Anthony Bourdain, or all people—I know that’s a strange reference. He did a show on New Orleans, and he said, “The people down here seem like, when they hug each other, they hug each other a little tighter.” And it’s true. Now I know what it’s like to be like, “Wow, my city might not come back at all. We might all have to go live somewhere else.” Like an explosion goes off.
It’s like your house burns down, only it’s everybody’s house. If only your house burns down, your neighborhood’s still there. Your neighbors are still there. Your friends are still living in their houses. Something like this, it’s like, “Man, what if nobody comes back?” The rebuilding process, obviously it slowed our band down, but the band is all from here, we knew we could always come back to that. We were never gonna give up on playing music. Music was our sanity, but having to deal with a lot of the unforeseen issues that we had to definitely gives you a whole different perspective. Lets you know too who cares and who doesn’t.
There was bands like Clutch, who immediately contacted us and said, “Drop what you’re doing, come fly out to where we’re on tour, and y’all can just open for us and play on our gear.” Wow, really? We didn’t do that. We couldn’t. We have lives and families and houses, and we couldn’t. But just the fact that you see who really cares and who’s offering a helping hand. A lot of people, especially from our community, didn’t. Didn’t offer a helping hand or try to help us the best they could.
You guys are going back to SXSW to do the Small Stone showcase?
Yeah. I’ll tell you, another thing about Scott. We played a lot of Small Stone showcases over the years. Scott told us years ago, “Go do whatever you think you wanna go do, eventually you’re gonna want to hook up with my label.” At the time, we were like, “Man, whatever dude.” As the years went by, and especially, you go on tour, Dixie Witch is obviously friends of ours, but there’s a lot of other obscure bands out there. We’re hanging out with them, and they’re all making a little bit of money here and there. Scott’s getting them on TV shows, and it’s like, “Fuck.”
Finally, I was almost embarrassed to go ask him for a record deal. “Hey man, you wanna sign us?” Like, “We’re finally ready to do this, after all these years. We’re sorry.”
And he’d always let us play his showcases, but he’d tell us, “I’ll let you play the day show, but you’re not on my label, so you can’t play the night show, but I’ll let you play the day show,” and he’d always give us killer billing. We’d headline the day show, or he’d always give us a good slot. So it’s kind of been an ongoing joke almost. “We’ve been playing your showcases for years, now we just made it official.”
Any other plans? You guys going to do any other touring?
We want to. Especially now. This album’s coming out, and this was the thing for us. We toured all these years ago, and we want to get out and do it again, and it’s a lot different now. With iTunes and the recession, all these things play factors on touring bands. But we’re ready. We’ve got our van ready. We actually found a booking agent, and we’re looking to hook something up this summer. We’re still dying to go to Europe.
We’ve been duped with Europe so many times, it’s almost not even funny. Man’s Ruin was supposed to send us to Europe right before they went belly up, with Alabama Thunderpussy, and we thought for sure we were going. This is back in 2001. There’s been several other opportunities where it slipped through our fingers. That’s a big goal, to go tour Europe.
Mad Oak Redoux is available now via Small Stone Records. More info at smallstone.com.
JJ Koczan one saw Suplecs at SXSW and it changed his fucking life. You’ve never seen love for rock like that before. He swears it. firstname.lastname@example.org.