Published Apr 13, 2015Speaking with Ben Shemie, guitarist and vocalist for the edgy rock outfit Suuns, it's apparent his band's self-titled collaboration with Radwan Moumneh's Jerusalem in My Heart started very casually. Both groups repeatedly crossed paths over the last decade in the artier circles of the Montreal music scene.
"We first met [Moumneh] at the Salla Rosa, and he did sound for us one night, years ago," Shemie tells Exclaim!, adding that it wasn't until Moumneh, who is also a studio co-owner and very active music producer, did live sound for Suuns' European tours that a deeper bond took hold. "Through spending so much time together, we became really good friends. And in that time he put out some records of his own, so we were obviously talking about music all the time."
Growing out of a common respect for each other's work and a desire to experiment, the sessions for a co-creative album were recorded with a sense of play rather than deadline. "We didn't say 'let's do an album together,' we were just 'let's try to record some music… and see what happens.'"
Recorded over a week in November 2012, the tracks mixed the strengths of both bands: the Eastern modes and drones plus the Arabic vocal delivered by Moumneh, and the keyboard arpeggios and incisive guitars of Suuns' Shemie and Joe Yarmush. "Our expectations for the project on the whole were never really that high, but when we finally heard it all in sequence we were a little surprised."
Now that the album is finally coming out, the adventure of presenting it to live audiences begins. The Canadian launch comes in May during FIMAV, a long-running festival of avant-garde music in Victoriaville, QC, where, Shemie says, "We're really going to go big [on presentation] because it is a big festival and close to home."
But even more thrilling for everyone is a show at the International Festival for Experimental Music in Lebanon, a scene Moumneh, who is Lebanese by birth, has long been involved with.
"We're closing this festival [on Sunday]. It's kind of an underground/new music festival, and we're, from what I'm told, by far the most accessible music that they're programming. But apparently," Shemie says incredulously, "we have fans there! It's a real trip. I feel really really lucky to go."
As Suuns return to the studio in May to record their third full-length, the experience of crafting and honing these tracks will have an effect on their creative process.
"The biggest takeaway from doing this with Radwan is maybe changing how we do things as a band. Radwan's style of production is really all about capturing a moment and the feel and getting the vibe on a record. The more we do this, the more I understand it's easier to make a great sounding record than a great feeling record."
And when asked if there's anything he'd do differently with the Suuns/JIMH project if they were to start the process today, Shemie says, "Honestly, man, I wouldn't change a thing."
Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart is out Tuesday (April 14) via Secret City/Secretly Canadian. You can see all their dates below, where you'll also find a full album stream.
05/14 Victoriaville, QC - FIMAV- Colisée B
06/11 Wakefield, QC - The Black Sheep Inn
06/12 Kingston, ON - Grad Club
06/13 Toronto, ON - Geary Lane
06/18 Winnipeg, MB - The Good Will Social Club
06/20 Saskatoon, SK - MoSo Festival / Amigo's
06/21 Calgary, AB - Broken City
06/23 Vancouver, BC - Fortune Sound Club
06/24 Victoria, BC - Lucky Bar
09/18 Guelph, ON - Market Square (Guelph Jazz Festival)
09/19 Picton, ON - Sandbanks New Waves Festival