The Suitcase Junket bringing unique one-man-band sound to The Ark
With two albums under his belt and a decidedly open-minded approach to making music, the 30-year-old resident of Massachusetts recently spoke to me by phone about his musical influences, the strange place he found his guitar of choice, and the method behind his throat-singing. Q: How old were you when you started playing music?
The Suitcase Junket: I started playing piano when I was five or six, copying my sister. After that I picked up violin, saxophone and then the guitar, but songwriting didn’t happen until later. The band I started and also still play in, Rusty Belle, includes my sister and one other guy. We’ve been together for six or seven years. With Rusty Belle we had the alternative percussion stuff start pretty early. Our drummer wanted to be a guitar player, so we all started figuring out ways to play the drums and fill in the spaces he left. I built a little cajon wooden box I could sit on and play with my heels, and that went from one thing to the other.
Q: How did your one-man-band project come about?
TSJ: The Suitcase Junket was born out of this one guitar I found in the Dumpster. I’m a bit of a Dumpster diver and was looking for some cool stuff. It was a piece of junk, full of mold and missing some pieces, a knockoff of a Silvertone and Japanese-made. I took it and fixed it up and while it’s not a good guitar, I learned to take advantage of its restrictions. I played it with a slide and tuned it open, got this really cool sound and wound up pulling a bunch of songs out of it. Because these weren’t songs for the band I was in, I started putting together a different foot (drumming) set-up and slowly started working it together until I had enough songs for an album.
Q: How did you come up with the name Suitcase Junket?
TSJ: The name came out of the blue, really. I thought a lot about the name of the project and decided I wanted Suitcase in it. And after trying out a bunch of words after Suitcase, Junket came to me and I wasn't quite sure I knew its meaning. So I looked it up in a favorite old dictionary of mine, an illustrated one from 1917, and the first definition was "a sweet meat" then "a pleasure cruise". It also means a tour. I liked the sound of it and that was that. Q: Where did your use of throat singing come from? That is something you rarely hear in pop music, and it is an absolutely riveting, unusual sound.
TSJ: I know; it’s really strange! There are places all over the world where it happens traditionally, but I wasn’t familiar with those. I stumbled across it by accident and then felt like I joined some brotherhood of throat singers from the last two millennia. I was taking a south Indian cooking class and there were some words that have a retroflex ‘r’ or ‘d’ in them. When you say an ‘r’ or ‘d’ in this language you put your tongue on the roof of your mouth. I wound up improvising with that shape for whatever reason, and I heard this high overtone. Immediately I thought my car was broken or something because it didn’t sound like it was coming from me. I practiced it in the car for five years and gradually got better at it. Now that I do it I’m pretty blasÃ© about it, but in the beginning it was really frustrating. I would make breakthroughs and then the next day not be able to do it.
Q: What changed about your songwriting and how did you grow as a musician between the time of your debut album “Sever and Lift” and follow-up “Knock It Down”?
TSJ: The first one I was definitely just really green about the whole set-up. I still like it and think it’s a pretty good album, but there’s a roughness of performance there and my feet aren’t as with it. They’re in time, but the facility on all the instruments—voice, guitar and drums—increased in that intervening year between the two albums. I’m more into a heavier rock sound on the second album, while it’s more an acoustic-folk sound on the first. On the second one, done live like the first album, I put my guitar and voice through amps, so I gained a little bit in the way of having post-production control over the sound.
Q: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
TSJ: I was home-schooled for a few years, from 8 to 12, and so I was listening to my parent’s records - people like Hendrix and the Who and Dylan. I went back to public school in 1994 and that was when I listened to Green Day, Offspring, and other rock groups. Recently I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from Tom Waits and the Band along with the old blues guys.
The Suitcase Junket's concert is part of The Ark’s Take a Chance Tuesday series, meaning admission is free. Attendees are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to donate to Food Gatherers. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and further information is available at 734-761-1818 or www.theark.org.
Martin Bandyke is the morning drive host at Ann Arbor’s 107one, WQKL-FM. The Suitcase Junket will also perform live on Bandyke’s show this Tuesday at 9am. Follow Martin on Facebook, Twitter or at www.martinbandyke.com.