Kam Franklin has been associated with a number of different musical acts over the course of her career, but joining the Houston-based rock ‘n’ roll and soul band The Suffers as its lead vocalist required her to transform in a way.
“Once the opportunity to front the band came along, it just changed my whole identity as an artist,” Franklin said. “I was so used to being in the back and not having to put that much effort into the way that I worked and the way I executed my singing, and to be surrounded by so many talented musicians — it’s just forced me to step my game up.”
Franklin said being a part of The Suffers has helped her find a new level of confidence in herself as a performer, something that will be on full display when she and her bandmates perform at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
The Suffers is a big band — both sonically and in terms of its members. Franklin’s vocals are supported by nine other members. Bassist Adam Castaneda started the band, and it has gathered more and more members over the years. For Franklin, working for a band of The Suffers’ size is like performing with a big family, something unlike any other musical project she’s been a part of.
“With smaller bands, you can afford to be more passive if you’re having some type of disagreement,” Franklin said. “You’re not sharing as close of quarters at the time. With a band of our size — we have 10 people instead of four people. We have so many rules when it comes to being respectful of one another, and that forces everybody to step up not only as an individual, but as being a better bandmate.”
The large-group dynamic is also conducive to the creative process, because Franklin knows she has nine other artists to bounce ideas off and make their work better.
“We have fun in The Suffers, but it’s so much more than just us as individuals — you force yourself to shift or change into the person you need to be to make this work,” Franklin said.
The band has a wide range of influences. Each member brings a unique perspective, Franklin said, and they’re also from Houston, which she referred to as an “extremely international city.” She said their styles can range from reggae to jazz to traditional salsa, and the band’s sound has been inspired by numerous artists, Gladys Knight, Miles Davis and Nina Simone among them.
The band has been garnering buzz and attention since the release of its EP, Make Some Room, in January. The band has been touring the U.S. and even made an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” — Franklin’s cover photo on Twitter is one of Letterman embracing her while she laughs.
BuzzFeed listed the band as one of the “25 Artists You Need in Your Life in 2015,” and said, “It won’t be long before people are making room for The Suffers.” The New York Times’ Andy Langer cited Franklin’s voice and the band’s “high-energy, easy-to-dance-to live shows” as one of the reasons to look forward to its album in 2015 in his piece “Albums to Look Forward to From Texans in 2015.”
That album will be released in October, and the band is gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign in order to gather support and publicity for it.
“We don’t have a record label, and we don’t have a huge marketing budget or anything like that, so we realized that by doing a Kickstarter we could have our friends, our family and our fans actually serve the role as our record label,” Franklin said.
Until then, they’ll be continuing their tour. Franklin hadn’t heard of Chautauqua Institution before the band was first invited to perform, but she was impressed by the beauty of the place when she looked it up. She’d also heard about it from people she’d met on tour.
And while The Suffers is a more youthful band, Franklin said she has no worries about performing for an older audience, because she’s noticed during the band’s tour that they love to have just as much fun as any young crowd.
“You can’t convince me that people are going to go out, sit in the heat and listen to music unless they want to have a good time,” Franklin said. “I’m sure there’s wine in those coolers, and who knows what else. I’m sure they’ll have a great time.”