MusicFebruary 21, 2017


Ask Kam Franklin what kind of music she plays with her band, The Suffers, and she’ll first give you a three-word answer: “Gulf Coast soul.”

suffers Then, if you don’t quite understand what that means, she turns to a trusty food comparison.

“I refer to it as a stew or a soup,” Franklin, the group’s singer, explains. “What’s ‘Gulf Coast soul’? I like to say that traditional soul music would be like your stock — your chicken stock or your beef stock that you start out with. If you have a good foundation, it doesn’t really matter what you add in there. So in our case, jazz would be like your onions, salsa and reggae would be like your garlic and your celery.”

Those ingredients seem to be working. The 10-piece, horn-infused outfit became sensations in their native Houston by melding numerous musical genres heard around their hometown, one of the cities along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

And in recent years, you might have seen them on David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk shows. Or maybe you caught them on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” New Jerseyans got a glimpse of them last year at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival in Camden.

Now, The Suffers — who released their self-titled debut album last year — will return to the Garden State, playing the Luciani Theatre at the Guaracini Performing Arts Center at Cumberland County College in Vineland at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Franklin — who commands attention with her booming voice, energetic presence, curly black hair, and floral print dresses — has a quick response when asked what she likes most about the group’s music.

“How it makes people feel,” the 29-year-old says. “It makes them feel happy, for the most part. There are certain songs that we have that definitely have that force you to kind of reflect on certain things in your life — be that your romantic relationships or your personal relationships with your family or whatever.  But more than anything, I think that we do our best to try to remind people to engage in compassion towards others and self-love.”

And is that needed more than ever in today’s political and cultural climate?

“Yeah, I think everybody needs as much love as they can get,” Franklin says with a laugh.

The genesis of the group dates back to 2011, when many of the members were already playing in other Houston-area acts. The Suffers began as a side project, with the simple intent of playing for fun.

“They had the idea to bring together all of these different players that they always wanted to work with,” Franklin recalls. “The idea was just to play once or twice a year. It ended up being where one show led to three shows to touring full time.”

suffers3Franklin had known some of the members from high school and had made a name for herself as a singer with other local bands. She also was a backup singer and dancer for other artists, often singing hooks for rappers — something she still does on the side.

The band took their name from a 1978 Jamaican film called Rockers.

“In that movie, ‘the sufferers’ are musicians that are not being rewarded for the music that they create,” Franklin explains. “So originally when we started, we were called The Sufferers. But we found out that it was really hard to say.”

So instead, they shortened it. And yes, they understand it’s grammatically incorrect.

“We do have a lot of grammar nerds that let us know that every time they see us,” Franklin says, laughing. “We are more than aware.”

Franklin’s own name is unusual, too. Her full first name is Kamerra — pronounced like the instrument you use to take a photo.

“My mom is a photographer,” Franklin explains. “She named me and my brother after her hobbies. I’m Kamerra and my brother is Langston, after Langston Hughes. She’s a big poetry fan. “

“But (my name) is phonetically incorrect when people try to pronounce it,” Franklin adds. “It looks like Kamera.”

So she shortened it to “Kam.”

The Suffers will celebrate their sixth anniversary in June, and Franklin says where they are now is “night and day” from where they started.

“It’s something you can compare to working out,” she says. “There are going to be your guys who can run a mile really fast, but if they’re running every day, every day they work out, it’s going to get easier and easier and easier to accomplish that mile. … With us, because we started doing this every day while you’re touring, your level of musicianship just goes through the roof compared to when you’re doing it once or twice a month.”

Up next: Immediately after leaving New Jersey, they’ll spend three-and-a-half-weeks on their first European tour. And after that, they’ll spend two weeks playing Australia. Plus, they’re writing their second record now.

“It’s just non-stop work and creating,” Franklin says. “It’s a really, really, really exciting environment to be in.”

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Brent Johnson
Brent Johnson

Brent Johnson is a pop-culture-obsessed writer from East Brunswick, N.J. He's currently a reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark. Before that, he was a longtime entertainment and music columnist for The Trenton Times. His work has also been published by Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated On Campus and Night & Day Magazine. His favorite musical artists: Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Dave Matthews Band, The Beatles, Blur, Squeeze, The Kinks. When he's not writing, Brent is the lead singer in alt-rock band The Clydes.