Kamerra “Kam” Franklin doesn’t seem like a singular bit of energy when you see her in person. She almost feels kinetic, a combination of 40 or 50 different singers who all pile inside her when the curtains rise and stay with her weeks after she walks offstage. She glows, radiates and, even when she clutches her purse and laughs with friends, is still a Presence.
As lead singer of The Suffers, all eyes are normally on Franklin. The band’s self-titled debut album arrives this week, with a coronating performance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to match. Their two hometown album-release shows at the Continental Club this Saturday and Sunday have been sold out almost since the moment they went on sale; initially crashing the server at Sig's Lagoon to boot. For The Suffers, it’s another feather in their growing list of big stages. For Franklin, it’s more affirmation that the growth she’s displayed since 2008’s Bam It’s Kam has paid off, back when she wanted to get in “Solange’s shit” at SXSW.
But hours before she took the stage as a guest vocalist for Lyric Michelle’s album-release show in late January, Franklin went on a lengthy Twitter rant. The normally calm face of The Suffers had boiled over.
“I had pretty much been driven to a level of frustration that I hadn't been at in quite some time,” she says of those tweets. “Nothing drives me more insane than people who have accepted defeat before they've put forth real effort.”
All of it centered around not just the band’s success, but the personal pains they had to endure in order to get there.
“There are actually some folks out there that think our success has been handed to us, even though that's not even kind of close to the truth,” Franklin says of The Suffers' early days. “We asked for help and advice from folks who really cared about us early on. We realized that we had to make some major changes once we realized people were start taking notice. After a few rounds of discussion, we went over all the critiques that had been given to us by our friends, families, and close confidants.
We listened, changed our ways, and it made for a way better show for our fans, ourselves, and our brand,” she continues. “We're nowhere near perfect, but we're always looking for ways to improve our overall performance.”
OTHER SUFFERS EVENTS THIS WEEK
Performance on The Daily Show: 10 p.m. Tuesday, Comedy Central. Tune in!
Vinyl Listening Party: 8 p.m. Wednesday, The Nightingale Room (308 Main). Admission is free, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Great Day Houston taping: 9 a.m. Friday, KHOU-TV (Channel 11) Tune in!
- In-Store Performance (wristbands only): 1 p.m. Saturday, Cactus Music. Starting Tuesday, one wristband will be given with each purchase of The Suffers on CD or LP. See here for details.
On the surface, The Suffers are the latest in a string of Houston acts to go national and with widespread acclaim. Formed in 2011 by Adam Castaneda and Pat Kelly, the group has taken on many forms, eventually building toward the ten-piece machine that exists today. Franklin, who originally played with local indie-rock/soul hybrid Heptic Skeptic, was among the first voices The Suffers sought to lead them. Over time, the band danced around with sounds of neo-soul, ska, hip-hop, brass-band jazz and more. Their sound consistently leaves critics unable to put them anywhere near a box, stymieing easy comparisons. It makes Franklin, their de facto leader, satisfied.
“We can shy all we like, but it would do us no good,” she says of The Suffers' contemporaries. “Comparisons give folks that may be hesitant to check you out a reason to invest time in listening to you. I'm just glad I love all the artists folks seem to compare us to. It'd get a little awkward if it were the other way around.”
One of those people, Lionel Richie, isn’t directly compared to The Suffers, but he’s one of the few artists whose advice for the band has stuck. His words to Franklin and crew? “Stay together no matter what they try to tell us,” she recalls. Understanding the band is as firm as it has ever been, nothing seems to shake The Suffers. That’s due mainly to Franklin’s demeanor, which outside of one night in particular stays rather cheery and high.
On The Suffers, there are multiple singles that stretch Franklin’s vocals and the band’s sound, well beyond their practically trademarked gumbo of “Gulf Coast Soul.” Tracks like “Better” and “Peanuts,” the two lead singles, reflect moments of love and healing. Free-flowing studio sessions helped power those records, along with the rousing “Gwan,” into becoming even bigger than studio experiments that turned out right. This weekend's release shows at the Continental promise to be just as rowdy and liberating as any of the group's performances over New Year's — or even on The Daily Show.
Days before she boards the plane to New York, Franklin shoots over an email, once more describing the box that she and the band will never get stuck in.
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“When we first started, there was definitely a fear of being placed into one box,” she wrote. “But as we evolved into what we are now, the bloggers and music writers that were discovering us were forced to dive a little bit deeper. Anyone trying to simply label us as a soul, ska or reggae band would have to go back to the drawing board once they attended a live show.”
She signed off the same way someone might write a speech fit for accepting a nomination.
“It wasn't like we were trying to go out of our way to be different; we just are different,” Franklin says. “Minus all of that, at the end of the day, our love for the music we create is way stronger than any label they could ever try to slap on us.”