Damion Suomi
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Damion Suomi

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Looking slightly bedraggled after a long drive from a show the night before, Damion Suomi sits down at Corner Pub in Decatur, Ga., lights up a cigarette and orders a beer. “I have a constant stream of beer and coffee and Diet Coke,” he explains with the gravelly voice that epitomizes the gritty, bare feel of his debut album, Self Titled (out now on P is for Panda). Throughout the album, he flies and dives from high to low, fueled by a love for honesty and torrid relationships with women, booze and spirituality.

His stripped-down lyrics and fervent guitar strumming bear a closer resemblance to Hank Williams than most of his indie singer-songwriter contemporaries. “My buddy describes it as Billy Bragg and Michael Stipe drinking beers and singing Woodie Guthrie,” he says with a laugh. The record waivers from world-weary lamentation to uproarious celebration, whether he's sarcastically decrying a meaningless relationship or laughing at his own infinite cycle of debauchery, and some of his most aching songs leave in their wake an emotional hangover as sour as the leftovers of any whiskey-soaked night out.

Over a few beers, appropriately, Suomi recently regaled Paste with tales of Bible college and explained how, exactly, he squeezed so many broiling emotions and profundity into one 10-track album.

Paste: You're often described simply as an indie singer-songwriter. But there seems to be a lot more than that in the album—alt-country, Irish influences, folk. How would you describe your own music?
Damion Suomi: I don't know how to describe it either, because it really comes from a lot of different places. Sometimes they try to sell this album with this Irish tag to it, but I guess that's just inevitable—I've been playing Irish music for many years now, and so that's just naturally coming out. But then I started getting into a lot of the old country guys, so for me it's not any certain genre. I kind of lean towards this folk thing, but I've said it before—the only thing I really love is honesty.

Paste: Honesty is a big part of your album. It seems like the lyrics are very bare and straightforward.
Suomi: That was done on purpose. But honesty can come through anything, even a dance song... which doesn't happen too often, but it could. That's what's most important to me.

Paste: There do seem to be a lot of Irish influences in the album—he prelude to “Sunday Morning,” the singsongy pub feel of “Oh, Won't You Please.” Where do those come from? Are you Irish?
Suomi: Actually, I'm Finnish. “Suomi” means “Finland.” But the thing about Irish songs is, it's not all drink and drink and drink. There's a lot of cynicism. The story of Irish culture, it's a people who were oppressed. Yet their language and poetry and music still survive, and it's all so passionate that it blew my mind. I lived there for a year when I was about 20 years old, and that's when I discovered it.

Paste: The album seems to be really emotionally charged—the despondent “What A Wonderful Game,” the rowdy chaos of “San Francisco.” What was your mindset like while you were writing it?
Suomi: Well, a few years ago, I was in a band called Memoranda. It was kind of this attempt, like, “OK, we're getting old, it's time to do something, let's try to write pop songs.” and we did it, and it was really good. I was surrounded by some really fantastic musicians, and it just took off really fast. This was about three years ago. And it's the kind of thing where it happened really fast, where Universal came around and was offering us this horrible ridiculous singles deal, like, “Here, we'll put this single out, because we don't really trust you to put out a whole album, and if it hits by some miracle then we're going to rush you in and make you do this whole thing.” The thing just self-imploded, and I was like, “This is not me.” I never felt comfortable with it. And the whole time, I started writing these folksy songs outside of it, so it was always weird for me. So when it blew up, I said, “Fuck this,” and I went to San Francisco. I spent three months out there, and then I tried to move to Boston for a girl. That lasted about three weeks.

Paste: So that's the girl in the album?
Suomi: No. That one's fictitious. Totally fictitious. Completely, completely fictitious... So I came home from Boston, and again the whole “you're not getting any younger, so you better do this” feeling started to hit. I had written a few songs that are actually on the album, and then this whole new batch of songs started coming out. I'd always sent demos to my friend here in Atlanta, and he was finally like, “Let's do it.” So we recorded it, and put it out ourselves, got on iTunes. I just didn't do anything for a year—I played Orlando, and that was about it. I was pretty much ready to give up on it, and I was like, “OK, I'll go get a job and be miserable.” And that was when P is for Panda came around. And I was just like, “You want to help me? You want to do this, yes or no? Do you think this is a good album to put out, yes or no?” And so from that point, I signed in July. We took two songs off and I wanted to put two songs on it, because I never felt like the album was done.

Paste: Do you like the way the album turned out?
Suomi: Yeah, I really do. But I like the next album a lot more. That's mainly what I'm excited about now, writing. And Shivawn, my violinist, is actually writing with me.

Paste: So there's a next album?
Suomi: Yeah, absolutely. But we have to sell this one first.

Paste: What's your favorite track?
Suomi: My favorite track is definitely “Save Your Ass,” because that is what finishes the album. It's the empowering “What am I doing to myself?” kind of thing.

Paste: That one seemed to sum up the album's theme—the brutal honesty, the sarcasm.
Suomi: Exactly. I hope that comes through.

Paste: You talk about God a good bit on the record, but it seems to be a source of struggle. “Darwin, Jesus, the Devil and Me” is one example. How did your spirituality come through on the album?
Suomi: The spiritual aspect of the album—I hate saying that, it sounds ridiculous—is that there's a duality in the relationship that I was feeling with God as a deity. I grew up in church, which is where I actually started singing, and I actually went to Bible college for a year.

Paste: Bible college? Is that the origin of all this confusion in your album?
Suomi: Well, there were just a few of us there who didn't mesh. They give the students this great experience, but then I realized later that I was having the same experiences at concerts and bars, where there's this collective conscious, you're surrounded by the people you love, everyone's singing songs, and something just clicks. It's completely the same feeling. It's that energy that probably is God, but that's a whole different thing. But they hit you with that right away, and you feel it, and they say, “Well, we have the answer.” And you get stuck in this perfect trap. I just said, this is absolutely not for me, and that's where I ended up in Ireland and where I became an adult. It's so good to go somewhere else and get an idea of the world, because we can be so isolated in this country. We tend to think that everyone wants to be here, and that's just not how it is. That's how it was where I grew up in Florida, and that's when I really started questioning things. So it's been a cycle of coming out asking questions, and then finding what I believe to be true, and then going through this anger phase, and then coming back around and coming to terms with everything. Separating spirituality from religion, realizing what myth is, how it relates to my life. I read a lot of Joseph Campbell, and that's been really affecting my life lately. But that's what a lot of the next album is dealing with, and it was already starting to come through in this one, with songs like “Darwin, Jesus, the Devil and Me” and “Save Your Ass.” But at that time I was paralleling all the things that were going on in my life.

Paste: So you've had a tumultuous relationship with religion. But your songs also deal with relationships—or, it seems, one relationship. Tell me about the “fictitious woman” who appears on several parts of the record.
Suomi: Those songs are not necessarily about a person, they're more about the way I perceive that person, the way I perceive the relationship. Like, when I listen to “San Francisco,” I laugh at myself. I was even laughing at myself when I wrote it. When I look at “Archer Woman,” there's kind of this feeling of, “Why were you sitting around, feeling all of that?” I now feel so far removed from it. I know I'm not that guy. And as I talk about the album more and more, it seems like there's just this constant contradiction of things like love, and rejecting that, and God, and rejecting that, and drinking, and hating it.

Paste: All in all, you have a pretty serious love/hate relationship with women, God, and beer.
Suomi: Yes. Exactly. And that's just being honest. Like when you're laying in bed, just thinking, “Why did I go drinking for three days? I'm now broke, I feel like shit...” But it happens every time. I believe everything has a time and a place, and I think you just can't stay in that place. But every now and then, you have to go deep down into that hole, that pit, and find whatever you're looking for. That's really what the album's about.
- Paste Magazine

Folk songwriter Damion Suomi will be releasing his debut album, Self Titled, in stores next week, though the record is already available at P is for Panda to download if you feel the need to get a hold of it sooner. Suomi makes emotionally charged folk-rock tunes, which he says were influenced by Irish culture, with the drinking, the pubs, and the drinking at pubs to deal with lost and broken relationships. The record feels grounded and familiar in the best possible way, "a mix of hope and despair," says Suomi, that makes for another of this year's solid singer/songwriter albums.

The record starts things off with a couple up-tempo acoustic rockers, the soaring "Archer Woman" and the intense, driving "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil, & Me," the latter of which finds Suomi dwelling intently on the point where faith, science, and reason collide. He explores similar philosophical territory in "Save Your Ass," a heartbreaking story of the loss of belief that mixes electric guitars, horns, and strings in a beautiful mess of emotion and melody. Apart from these few deeper, contemplative moments, Self Titled generally slips into more booze-induced territory about the frustrations of relationships, whiles the music stays simple and direct. The drunken 'friends with benefits' ballad "What a Wonderful Game," shows the sort of honesty that only reveals itself after a few too many beers, while "San Fransisco" is rowdy and lonely, featuring some jangling piano and pounding drums behind hazy vocals containing plenty of recklessness and abandon.

The sincerity embedded so thoroughly into each tune gives the album a raw, emotional edge and makes the music especially compelling. Depending on your mood, Self Titled may be too much of a downer to listen to all at one time, but Suomi knows how to tread the line between sadness and despair, always singing his songs with a sort of implied smile that lets you know he's hopeful despite the heartache. Also, even at the loneliest, dreariest moments, his writing, along with his wit, is generally quite sharp and his stories entertaining. Self Titled may be an album built from one man's experiences, but I imagine its message will ring true to many. - chewinggumfortheears.blogspot.com

Damion Suomi's debut album Self-Titled is far from complicated. Over the course of 10 songs, he spins yarns about drinking, love lost, redemption and traveling. Not exactly original or heady territory. Moreover, most of the songs are structured rather simply and are centered around his voice and his acoustic guitar. A violin jumps into the fray once in awhile, as does a trumpet and on a select few songs, a rhythm section is added, as well as an electric guitar, a piano and keys. The production by Matt Malpass is bare-bones and minimum. And somehow, perhaps divinely, this disc is an absolute goldmine.

Whether it's the utterly profane and startlingly candid hook-up song "What a Wonderful Game," or the reconciliatory ode to boredom "Sunday Night," there is a clarity and conviction to his words and message that is both unrivaled and impossible to mimic. When he does aim to make a point, as on "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil and Me," it's neither cliched or sugar-coated when he sings, "Go on and take more than you need, all your sins have been washed clean, you're only human, you're only human, boy."

Stylistically the songs are spartan folk songs that vary only mildly. Opener "Archer Woman" is piercing and soaring, as it swims through roots-rock territory, with him singing, "My archer woman shot me down...don't let her see me cry." Backed by a rollicking rhythm section and a touch of electric guitar, it's as welcoming and warm as one could hope for, even if the song deals with a broken relationship. His voice seems to be a mix between Michael Stipe and Atlanta native Josh Joplin and is warm, supple and brimming with raw emotion. When he does kick up the tempo, as on the aforementioned "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil and Me," and the straightforward "Save Your Ass," he sounds wholly comfortable and in the pocket.

If there's any reservations after listening, it's that there aren't more songs like those two. There's an energy and a delight in listening to the songs bounce and strut that seems to work rather well. That does not dismiss the shuffling "San Francisco," or the toe-tapping "Ghost," by any stretch. In fact, "San Francisco" features a delicate set of lines about tenacity in the face of adversity, “I gotta sing. I gotta shout. This world is tough. Boy, you should know if you love something let it go."

While he certainly seems to favor songs and themes about alcohol, there's still an assuredness and a charisma that leaps out of the speakers from the very first note. Inspired by Irish culture and bar drunk poetry, he set out to recreate that sentiment, writing songs birthed from time spent in pubs, downing drinks and lousing up romances. After years spent fronting local rock/pop bands, he took to his native Florida and began performing sets of classic Irish folk songs, Irish drinking songs and his own material to wide acclaim.

That time spent on the road has certainly served him well. There is something deeply resonant about these 10 songs and something wholly captivating about listening to them. There aren't many singer/songwriters who can sound so hopeful, candid and poignant while at the same time sounding drunk, hopeless and wreckless. That he can do such things in just 10 songs is something to cherish. These timeless tales are simple yet stunning, making for a beautifully intricate maelstrom of emotion and melody. The real clincher though is that on an album adorned with simple, intricate melodies, Suomi manages to say and do quite a lot with very little. Few singer/songwriters ever make this strong an impression the first time out. - www.absolutepunk.net

Atlanta art/music/charity label P is for Panda presents its first signed artist’s first full-length release: 38.4 minutes of Damion Suomi’s satisfying, alcohol-soaked tenor crooning over a traditional Americana guitar band. Though the pool hall orchestrations (“San Francisco” is a barn stomper and “Oh, Won’t You Please” is a group sing-along) are capable and well-performed — even creative at times (“Darwin, Jesus, the Devil, & Me” features an anthemic pedal steel jam-out in its B section) — they’re the type that has been found on numerous releases before. The real meat of the record lies in Suomi’s lyrical sensibilities, an odd mixture of wry humor, bald emotion (“One More Time”) and utter bitterness (“Waltz”). Suomi communicates his thoughts without flower or flourish. It’s a straight-ahead look at disillusionment and the walls people put up to avoid pain.

Obviously, Suomi’s narrator has a difficult relationship with the women in his life. Lead-off “Archer Woman,” for example, features the simple refrain, “Don’t let her see me cry … she never got the best of me.” The album presents an interesting mixture of the humble and the jaded. “Darwin, Jesus, The Devil & Me” discusses love as relates to mortality, redemption as relates to everyday sin. “You’re only human, boy / Don’t worry too much,” Suomi intones, his vocal style startlingly reminiscent of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. And nearly every track discusses struggles with sobriety while singing the praises of alcohol itself (“Sunday Morning,” “Ghost”). All the ideas explored in his songs touch on the internal conflict surrounding losing control, as one does with relationships, with substances and with death. Suomi may have inadvertently written a theme album.

The record’s stand-out track, whether good or bad, is doubtless the duet “What a Wonderful Game.” It’s a tale of two adults whose paths cross romantically over and over because of loneliness and moderate alcohol abuse. It’s sort of tragic (“We’re just drunk enough / Let’s fuck each other up like we do … We’re both so fucked up always / What a wonderful game that we play”) but surprisingly ends almost hopefully. Maybe that’s the moral of Suomi’s sad story, if there’s one to be found at all. - Atlanta Music Guide

And the answer for Damion Suomi is HELL YES! He opened for Sanders Bohlke tonight in the front room at The Lyric, which is called the Red Bar. It’s a cool, intimate setting with a pretty small capacity (100 or so?), and it was the perfect venue for tonight’s show.

Damion has a great stage presence and voice and is backed by Shivawn McCarthy on violin, who has quite the presence of her own. He did something that I love and saw recently when Mark Adamec of Sleeping Bulls did it at the Music and Movies Night at The Lyric a couple months ago.

I’ve described that moment to some friends of mine as one of the top 20 music moments in Oxford that I’ve experienced. On that night, following two other great acts, Stuck in the Mud and Tate Moore and the Cosmic Door, Mark grabbed his chair and guitar from the big stage, moved down in front of said stage with no microphone, and within a minute’s time had everyone’s full attention. And I mean FULL attention, as everybody found a seat, and you could have heard a pin drop in the place as Mark belted out song after amazing song.

Tonight, Damion Suomi, after a couple songs, left the stage and placed himself a couple feet from the closest spectators (me among them), and proceeded to give us a show that in a fare world would only be reserved for the most special weekend night of the month. But this was a TUESDAY, and well, sometimes life isn’t fare in a good way. We got way more than we deserved on a Tuesday night, I do believe, and we are not complaining. Great vocals and songwriting and the ability to command a room. There was even a sing-along to end the set.
- OXFORD MUSIC SNOB oxfordmusicsnob.com

I have to start my review of Damion Suomi’s performance this Friday night with an apology to you, our readers. I am so sorry that I waited until the last of the Florida artist’s shows in L.A. to do a performance review. It feels like I’m about to describe to a friend a delicious meal I just enjoyed and then have to tell them in the next breath that the restaurant has closed down and won’t be open again until…well, I don’t know when. Considering the great response he received from the crowd, I can’t imaging that Suomi will wait too long before making it back to the west coast so maybe we’ll just pretend I’m giving you a really early heads up for that TBD show.
From the minute he stepped on stage, it was clear that Suomi was in his element. Like his music, the artist was open and honest with the crowd, treating each song like a story he was sharing with us over a couple of beers. He occasionally paused mid-verse to explain a lyric and matter-of-factly described how a murder/suicide committed by his uncle in Detroit inspired one of the songs from the album. At times Suomi would lean so closely into the microphone stand that it seemed the sound of his booming voice would knock it over. At other points in the set, he would eschew the mic altogether and stand at the edge of the stage, singing directly to the audience members, many of whom were singing right along with him. I highly suggest you pick up a copy of his album so you’ll be ready to join in with the rest of us the next time he’s in town. I promise to give you plenty of notice.

Before his set, Suomi was kind enough to answer a few questions for our readers.

Tell us a little about your experience in L.A.
I’ve been here about three weeks and a couple of days. It’s been fantastic. I think it’s a great place to visit, there is just so much going on. The great thing I learned from the trip is that although L.A. has a bad rap elsewhere in the country, there are real people out here and real artists and real dreams and people pursuing what they love. I think a lot of the stereotypes are here, but if you want to find something real, that’s also here.

Why did you choose to do your residency while in L.A. at the Hotel Café?
I don’t think so much that I chose it, but it was chosen for me by my team. I think they chose it because everyone in L.A. that I’ve talked to says it’s the venue where a singer/songwriter can make a home. People come to hear songs and not just great bands but great artists. I go back to reputation…it’s just got a great reputation. Also I caught the Hotel Café tour last year, and I was just so impressed by the tour they put together and the artists that they had on. It was just a no-brainer. When we got in, it was a big deal, it was just really cool. Tonight is the fourth show and it’s just been fantastic.

Have you had a pretty good turn out for each night?
Yeah, we have been playing earlier so we are just kind of dealing with that. What I am finding out is that you never know whether the show will be for ten people or a hundred people but every show has been beneficial. The people that I have been meeting and the fans I have been making and then having them turn other people into fans, I can’t put a value on it. It’s just been great. We just came out here to introduce ourselves to the west coast and L.A.

While in L.A. have you had a chance to catch any other shows?
Man that was my goal. I have been at the mercy of rides. I have been taking this time though as time for personal solitude. It really gave me an opportunity to write and maybe deal with some things that I couldn’t deal with at home because there is always somebody there. Where I am staying, the people there are great, but pretty much all day they are gone so I have that alone time to write and work some of these things out. Then they come home, and I have this great group of people to hang out with. It’s just all around a blessing.

What are you working on once you leave California?
Well I am going home and putting a band together. It’s time to bring the live show up. The album is full instrumentation. I have half the band together, and I am still working on the other half. I am probably going to spend a month doing that and practicing while adding the odd show. When I get home, I am going to take a small break and get some things personally together but also get a band together.

Tell us a little more about your team.
My record label is called P is for Panda. It is a satellite label of Hopeless Records, which is based here in L.A. and that is pretty much why they wanted to bring me out here. I am actually staying with one of the guy on the staff at Hopeless. They have been nothing but supportive. They’ve been awesome. The album came out in March. It started a little slow but has recently picked up steam. It’s just great to be with a consciously minded record label, not just on developing artists, but on the charity end. Both labels are into charity work as far as proceeds of sales.

Tell us a little more about your background in music.
I guess I started songwriting in my early twenties. My earliest group was called the Dames, and we released an album on a very small label with very small distribution. I kind of bounced around after that. I ended up doing the bar singer thing. I spent some time in Ireland and I picked up a lot of folk tunes, which is a lot of the influence on this album that’s out now. I got real busy playing in Irish pubs for a long time and I got this “Hey I need to make a career out of music” thought. Then I went and formed a band and wrote pop songs with it in mind that we were writing pop songs. I was with the most wonderful guys in the world, friendship and talent-wise, but it just didn’t feel right for me. It was more dance/electro music but I never felt great playing it. It just wasn’t me. All the while being in that band, I was on the side writing these folksy, kind-of-country, kind-of-acoustic tunes. So when that band ended, I kind of disappeared for a while and bounced around and that’s when I came back to Florida to do something. That’s when this current album came about.

Before heading back to Florida, where were you living?
Well I bounced around and was in San Francisco for a while, and I went back and forth to Boston a lot. So that was mainly the large part of my travel.

What is currently in rotation on your iPod?
That’s a good question because I was making a mix earlier. I have been listening to a songwriter named Micah P. Hinson. He is in Texas, but he doesn’t really tour America. He is on an English label and mainly tours Europe. I listen to a lot of Micah P. Hinson. There is another group called Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers. I am just absolutely, positively in love with her. Those are the two main things I am listening to right now. - LA Music Blog ( www.lamusicblog.com )


Damion Suomi Self Titled - LP Spring 2009
Pisforpanda/Hopeless Records
Damion Suomi Needs A Little Water - EP
Winter 2009
Pisforpanda/Hopeless Records

Selections from Self Titled EP
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When DAMION SUOMI (sue-me) stands before you on a slightly elevated stage you will find yourself wondering where exactly you heard the songs before that night, there is just something familiar about them; like they have always been inside you, but you never heard them actually sung before. DAMION takes the stage as a nomad who just found his home again and will fight to stay in it as long as possible, empty and half empty beer bottles will surround him like a protective fence. DAMION says the songs he sings are “a mix of hope and despair,” but what only takes one verse to realize is that hope and despair is sung as a doppelganger that can only survive conjoined to each other, which is why when DAMION is singing a song that reads like forgotten lines by Yeats and Bukowski, but he’ll be smiling as an only child does on Christmas morning.
DAMION used to be in a rock band of the pop rock persuasion, but at some point he began writing a collection of songs that felt rooted in Irish culture and bar drunk poetry. “These songs were birthed from pubs, drinks, and relationships,” he says. So he took this newly discovered collection and added in some classic Irish folk songs and began playing sets in Irish pubs all around Florida out of a hope that others would smile with him in the sorrow.
If you’ve ever searched out aged whisky to help you sort things out, then DAMION will be your preacher. If you’ve held onto your friends and lovers like stolen money, then DAMION's self-titled album will be your holy book to keep at your side. It will remind you to smile when sadness comes crashing in because you have to have them both to live.