Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. This week: Surinam, the spacier, more GZA-covering new incarnation of Ontario punk legends Anagram.
When they called it a day back in 2012, it wasn’t without much fanfare (at least in a Toronto underground scene sense). Their legacy was mostly left in beer (and sometimes blood) on the sticky floors of dive bars, exposed pipes of suburban house party basements and sometimes under bridges, but it felt like the end of an era for a certain sect of Canadian music. Their reemergence has been much quieter.
Three-fifths of Anagram — Matt Mason, his brother Willy Mason, and drummer Clayton Churcher — along with Ancestors/Buckets Of alum Corey Wells on bass and Katie McLeod on keys have resurfaced under the similarly unGoogleable moniker Surinam, named for the British spelling of the teeny-tiny South American country where nobody in the band has ever visited or shares any connection to, really. Despite the name, Surinam isn’t a far departure from the Masons-Churcher fare that’s grown infamous. It’s just simpler, more powerful, brewed down to its dark, oily quintessence.
On the heals of their digital single Midnight Train to Buffalo, released back in December, and as they prepare their debut full-length, I traded emails with Surinam frontman Matt Mason. We talk English space rock, drugs, and using the stage (or the ground in front of it) to exorcise your demons — you know, rock & roll stuff. Plus they cover GZA!
You and your brother Willy played together in Anagram, and here you two are again in Surinam. Show us a little brotherly love: why’s he your favourite collaborator?
It always just made sense with Willy, partially because we’ve always had similar ideas on how we’d like music to sound, and partially because he always pushed me. I don’t know if I’d be involved in anything right now if it wasn’t for him.
Did the Masons have a musical household growing up? What’s your earliest musical memory together?
It wasn’t particularly musical, aside from Sunday nights, when our dad would sit alone and listen to Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Cream. I’m sure that had some effect on us. The earliest musical memories between the two of us, at least the formative ones, for better or worse, involved drug experimentation and hearing songs like “Radioactivity” and “Venus in Furs” for the first time.
With so many members carrying over from Anagram, what’s Surinam trying to do differently?
The only real plan was to strip it down even more, and by effect make it heavier, which I think we’ve done. We never really tried to make it too different from Anagram, just a slightly altered take on what we’d been working on for the past decade.
If Ian Curtis and co. were central to the Anagram project, tell me how a band like Hawkwind is important to Surinam. What did they do so well?
Hawkwind, and I should add Spacemen 3 who were even more an influence on us, were the best shorthand description of what we wanted to do. Particularly in their early songs, the riffs are repetitive, the drums simple, driving, and danceable, but still really loud. And the rest was texture, something to fill out the sound while they played the hell out of a riff.
You’ve said you wanted to shed the Joy Division comparisons, and to that end, covering GZA’s “Duel of the Iron Mic” was a nice touch. What struck you about that tune? What made you think, “I want to scuzz this thing up”?
We’d been talking about doing a hip-hop song for years. It just worked out that Surinam had the time to work on it when we did. We’d always loved the early Wu-Tang stuff, and all the satellite projects, so one of those was an obvious choice. “Duel” was always at the top of the list, but it ultimately worked out because 1) it only had one N-bomb in it, and 2) it already happened to be Katie’s favourite. We tried it in her first practice with us and had it fully formed in about 10 minutes
I’ve read that you say your songs are about nothing at all. Tell me then, what are you thinking of when you get on the floor and lose it? Nothing at all? Is there some therapy to that?
That sounds like something I would have said back in the Anagram years, I was probably lying to myself to a point. I’ve given up on that train of thought, anyway. It’s a bit more work to disconnect yourself from your creative output, so I’ve written all the Surinam songs about the things I know best: being working poor, excessive substance consumption and its inevitable consequences, and weird personality disorders.
That said, there isn’t to much thought going into the live shows. You’re probably right that it’s a sort of therapy. I’ve always been a fairly anxious and introverted person, so I think it’s kind of a fight or flight reaction when I get in front of a crowd.
Coming from a band that was hailed “one of the best live shows in Toronto,” tell me about the best show you ever played. What made it so exceptional?
The best live show by far would be the first Extermination Music Night at the Brick Works [in Toronto]. The generator broke down briefly about two or three songs into the set. It was just about a minute or two of near complete darkness, but you could feel the electricity in the air. When they got it working again, we had them shut the lights off and finished the set illuminated by nothing but dancing flashlights and cigarettes. Loud, sloppy, kinda dumb and dangerous at 3 in the morning, It doesn’t get much better than that.