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|Rob Suchan of Koufax
Piano Pop, The State of the Music Industry, and The Inherent Evils of Stagnation
by Katie Sauro
Koufax has had its share of problems—a constantly revolving line-up, record label execs who were sorry they ever offered them a deal, and a nomadic frontman who can’t seem to stay in any one place long enough to unpack his boxes.
But singer/songwriter/guitarist Rob Suchan and keyboardist Jared Rosenberg keep churning out record after brilliant record, recruiting friends from previous bands and from various tours to round out their sound. For the band’s newest album, Hard Times Are in Fashion, released last August, Suchan’s friends Robert and Ryan Pope of The Get Up Kids lent a hand on bass and drums, respectively.
Suchan says that the Popes, whom he doesn’t specifically name, but discreetly describes as “really quite successful” (understatement of the year), aren’t really looking to form a permanent band, as they’ve done it all before. This has been the problem with previous line-ups, as well.
“The touring line-ups I think always change just because people are getting older and they don’t wanna leave their girlfriend, or they don’t wanna leave their job,” says Suchan. “It would be nice to have a set group of people that you know how they play, you know what they’re capable of… The ideal situation would be to get the same people to tour as record, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”
The line-up changes don’t seem to have bothered Suchan much, though, because his friends in high places have been able to provide an endless supply of musicians from which he can draw for the next album or the next tour. These friendships also opened the door to Vagrant Records, a small (at that time) label started by the Get Up Kids. While admittedly not the best fit for Koufax’s sound, Vagrant did get the band’s name out there.
“Once [the Get Up Kids] broke up and The Anniversary broke up, right when we were getting ready to do some of the demos for this latest record… they had been putting out a lot more emo/hardcore records,” he says of the label.
“We sort of got this thing, like, ‘Why are these guys on Vagrant?’ and, you know, for them it’s like, ‘Wow, I wish these guys sounded like they were more on Vagrant, we’d be able to sell a lot more records.’”
The whiney, pretty-boy emo bullshit that is now so prevalent on that particular label, and several others, isn’t Koufax at all. Suchan describes his band’s sound as “piano pop,” an ode to a time when rock and roll didn’t mean loud guitars, but when rock and roll meant piano melodies and hooks, a la Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. And so, even though Koufax owed the label one more record, they asked Vagrant execs if they could leave.
“We weren’t one of their higher-selling bands, so they gladly let us go,” Suchan laughs.
He is pleased with the band’s decision because he thinks that it’s much better to put out records with friends, even if it’s on a tiny label, than to change to fit some major label’s formulaic idea of what makes a good rock band.
“The major label industry, that whole world, died a long time ago. It’s sort of in its downward spiral, last stages, end days, if you will,” says Suchan.
And with independent labels struggling to make a name for themselves, as well as others masquerading as indie labels while they put out the same “cookie-cutter” music that major labels are putting out (Suchan names Victory Records, specifically), he says that the music industry is in complete shambles.
But honest labels still live, and now that Suchan and Koufax are back on Doghouse Records, all is well again. The songwriting and musical arrangements are better than ever on this last record, which according to Suchan, has just come from experience and from writing sincerely.
“Once you get older and have written more songs… you become a little more picky and I think sometimes a little more calculated instead of just letting it go,” he says. “I want to offer my music from my perspective on things so that there’s a personality in the music, and whether you like it or not, it at least stands out more than if I was just singing about a girlfriend or some 7th grade diary break-up lyrics.”
Whatever it is, it seems to be working. Accompanied by the critical success of Hard Times, Koufax is just beginning their latest tour with The Honorary Title, and is in the midst of writing a new record which Suchan hopes will be released next winter.
And just what can we expect from this upcoming tour, which makes its way through Seattle on February 12?
“Hopefully we don’t suck,” Suchan says with a laugh. “We haven’t met the people playing bass and drums yet… we start practice next week.”
For more information and tour dates, visit www.koufaxmusic.com or www.doghouserecords.com. Koufax hits El Corazon on February 12.