Jeff Suffering Interview
|Ever since 90 lb. Wuss came out with its first record, Jeff Suffering has been a household name in the music scene. With the demise of that band and Raft of Dead Monkeys, he has embarked on a new frontier known as Suffering and The Hideous Thieves. Currently The Thieves have released a follow-up to their Velvet Blue Music release “Real Panic Formed,” which is a split EP with The Hush Hush on Lujo Records.|
Last week I did a 45-minute phone interview with Jeff Suffering. You never know what to expect with Jeff and the interview wasn’t any different listening to his views on the “Christian” music industry, swearing and theology. Even if you never heard any of his music, he has some fascinating perspectives that will definitely make you examine your own thoughts and ideas.
Matt: On the Paradox website it said you recorded there and it seems like your band plays there a lot. Do you work there or are the people there like buddies of yours or?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s my job; I book for them and manage the whole thing.
Matt: I know 90 lb. Wuss broke up a long time ago, but I’ve got a couple of questions about that.
Matt: Where did you guys get that name from?
Jeff: Our drummer took off his shirt and we made fun of him because he was really scrawny. It’s kind of like that old “Don’t be a 90 lb. Weakling” advertisement. They used to have them in comic books and magazine for weight gain supplements to buy.
Matt: That’s pretty funny.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s pretty much it. It was stupid, but it was a fun. It was an inside joke.
Matt: It seemed like 90 lb. Wuss changed a lot after the first album. Why did you guys abandon that poppy sound that was on the first record?
Jeff: Because suddenly I had a lot more control over the band because other people were quitting.
Jeff: That’s basically it. I could elaborate. But what happened was we started with different people involved and I didn’t play a big role. I just sang and we were all friends. We had a Bible study together, played music and we weren’t really expecting too much from it. Then, after we got signed, the first bass player quit. Then the guitar player quit and I just started writing songs more musically, and taking a more active role. Since I had moved to Seattle, and was by the label and everywhere and lived with my friends in Roadside, I just did a lot more for the band musically. I was in other bands before 90 lb. Wuss first started and 90 lb. Wuss wasn’t my main focus. When it became my main focus, I wanted to make it more musically what I wanted to do.
Matt: You guys were in the Christian market at that time. What were your thoughts on that industry then and what are they now?
Jeff: Well, basically I didn’t know anything about it really. I listened to some Christian rock bands at the time. I liked Scaterd Few, I thought they were always really good. I thought some of The Prayer Chain records were pretty cool and [I liked] some of the early Tooth and Nail bands; I always liked Blenderhead. So I knew a little bit about Christian music, but not really that much. I had gone to Cornerstone one year, but most of the stuff I listened to was general market music; I wasn’t really into [the “Christian”] scene that much. I knew MxPx. We were friends. We did some shows for them up in Port Angeles. When we put on our shows, we never did shows with “Christian” bands; we just did shows with whoever was around. So there was kind of a culture shock when we got really involved. It was fun because we got to go tour. Then, we started seeing lots of hypocrisy and lots of things that weren’t “Christian” at all, that were just business. Basically things we didn’t quite understand because we didn’t know what [the industry] was. Then, we started seeing, what I would feel, the “Christian” music industry being exposed for what it is. [It] kind of just opened up before our eyes and we really didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And when I say, “exposed for what it is,” I basically mean a industry based off of personal and financial gain, [which] exploits God and religious beliefs, and capitalizes off of it, while trying to convince itself that’s it’s alright to do that when the Bible seems to pretty strongly suggest the opposite. I suddenly just started growing less and less into having anything to do with that particular marketplace. We sort of fought against it, but it was hard because we were stuck in it and we didn’t know how to get out of it completely. So by the end we just didn’t do anything that was associated with playing shows in that marketplace. Although, our records, we had no choice, were distributed there from the label. That was one of the reasons that we broke up too, we couldn’t deal with it and we just didn’t want to continue on in that marketplace, and we didn’t have an option since we had another record to do on the label. So we just felt that it was pretty much time to be done. Now I would say I’m not as intense about fighting against or changing as much as I am just like, “I just don’t want to do things that would compromise or exploit my faith for profit, and my belief in Jesus Christ for profit and personal gain.” I don’t mind exploiting my belief for the sake of the gospel, but for the sake of profit, I think that’s bad. Our first record came out on Velvet Blue Music, which has some connotations with the Christian music industry, although [Jeff] Cloud seeks distribution elsewhere. If a store calls him and it’s a Christian store, he’ll sell it to them. He just does things with integrity; it’s about selling the records and it’s about putting out the artists on their terms-creating their own music the way that they want to, and trying to get distribution and selling the record as many places as possible. It’s not fundamentally about using the terms “Christianity,” “God,” and “Jesus Christ,” and all of these things are very important to make money off of. So I like working with Christians, but it has to be on the right terms and on the right sort of… they have to have some sort of ideology that I understand. On the new EP on Lujo, Erik is a big 90 lb. Wuss fan and a Christian, and he went to Cornerstone and sold the records. That’s totally fine with me as well because it’s as I said before, he’s not trying to do it to capitalize off of the fact that I’m a Christian; he’s doing it because he likes my music and he likes the CD, and he’s trying to sell it so people who like the music as well can get their hands on it. Whether that be Christians or not, that’s fine and I don’t care about that. So I guess my stance on it now, it’s still as intense integrally about not exploiting for profit, but it’s not as intense as I would not completely alienate from the Christian music industry, I just don’t want to have anything to do with it. But if that happens to come, [if] those are the opportunities that God provides, then I would tend to say that’s a little bigger than me as long as it’s not exploiting my faith for profit for anybody.
Matt: Have any of your fans expressed disappointment about you leaving the Christian scene?
Jeff: No not really because I think that… maybe they have to somebody else. But fans that are around here where I play shows and go to church and serve, they can see my band any time. They also understand that the musical quality, as well as the integrity of the things that I’m feeling tends to be more gospel-oriented than ever before. As far as fans that I’m more removed from, I don’t really know because I don’t have contact with those people. I know that it’s different in other parts of the country than on the West Coast. I don’t know how different things still are, but I remember in 90 lb. Wuss first going to the Midwest and in the South, and having people kick us off stage saying that we weren’t Christians and people praying over us to cast out demons. I don’t know what that was about really, except for them believing that what we weren’t doing something right. If it’s still like that, then I’m sure that some people have expressed those concerns and think they’re from Satan, but if they haven’t talked to me then they don’t know. That’s kind of a legitimate concern I suppose.
Matt: Do you think the whole exorcism thing you just spoke about had anything to do with spitting?
Jeff: It could have. 90 lb. Wuss was known for spitting a lot, but that has a lot to do with not just being malicious. I have some problems breathing and I have some throat issues. When I get very energized and my voice opens up, and I’m singing very loudly, I tend to get very clogged up with a lot of phlegm and I have often times gagged and vomited from it. I kind of just would spit to get rid of it all the time; I still do that even when I perform now.
Matt: After 90 lb. Wuss you did Raft of Dead Monkeys.
Matt: How long did you go that for and how many records did you have?
Jeff: We started it during 90 lb. Wuss. We used to live with Roadside Monument and we started it with them when they were still a band for the first time, before they broke up. It was different and it had a bunch of different lineups. We played one show that was just Doug [Lorig], Matt Johnson and I. Then, we didn’t do anything with it for a long time because both of our bands were busy. It was just an idea that was supposed to be fun. We weren’t planning on taking it that seriously until Roadside broke up. We started fooling around with the idea again then 90 lb. [Wuss] broke up. Then everybody was just like, “Oh yeah, well let’s do this because we’re all friends and we might as well be playing music together.” We did it, and our roommate and my wife put out our first EP, before I was married to her. I still have copies of, but it’s almost out of print. We recorded almost another full-length that never came out, but it’s going to get released really soon. Then, we recorded our last full-length that this guy Paul, Burnout Records, put out here locally. There were 2,000 of them pressed and he stopped doing the label, so that’s out of print too now. So it just kind of doesn’t exist, I don’t know. So we have this one thing that was actually our worse stuff that is going to be coming out pretty soon.
Matt: Is the band officially broken up or are you still playing shows?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah we’re done.
Matt: Supposedly back in the day you were doing some solo stuff called “This Suffering.”
Matt: Is Suffering & the Hideous Thieves an extension of that?
Jeff: Yep. Basically. It’s what I was doing before 90 lb. Wuss and it’s what I always wanted to do. But back then it was a little bit more Nine Inch Nails kind of thing, like it was sequenced. It was just my wife, who was girlfriend then, my friend James played guitar and I sequenced everything, and played bass and sang. It wasn’t very good, but we recorded something that’s been floating around for years, just this cassette a long time ago we sold it. Yeah, it’s kind of an extension of it, but it’s more defined. That was kind of a Goth band or it was, and I guess Hideous Thieves has those moments as well. So yeah, it’s pretty much an extension of that.
Matt: So what type of commitment is there to Suffering & the Hideous Thieves, like do you guys have plans to tour and how many shows do you guys play in a month?
Jeff: We play about once every two or three months if we can, I don’t like to play more than that. Touring is pretty much out of the question right now, but it will come in the future, just not right now. The whole band actually does it because we enjoy playing together. It’s a rotating cast pretty much. The members change a lot. In the last two years since we’ve been a band, there’s about 25 or 30 different people that have played live with me. Almost all of them play in bands that are national touring acts and some of them international touring acts, so they’re all real busy. And finally I think I found the band that’s perfect, that isn’t very busy, that doesn’t have too many members doing different things all the time. It finally seems to be, right now at least, a pretty permanent situation and it’s the best we’ve ever sounded, so I’m pretty happy about that. We’ve got some plans of doing stuff, but it’s a matter of time. This is the band that I’m going to do for pretty much for the rest of my life, so I’m not in any hurry. I just don’t want to start another band, so I set it up so this is the band. I write all the songs and they write their parts, and as long as I keep doing it then it can still be a band. But when it comes to touring, I don’t know. But locally, there’s no reason for us to play more than once every couple months because if you do then nobody comes out. But if we play once every two or three months then the shows are pretty big because we’re not playing too often. So we’ll do a really good show and promote it really well, lots of people will come out to see us play. Or we’ll open up for something really great, which has been fortunate that we’ve been able to do that. Mostly at Graceland, the bar in Seattle, they’ve been really kind to us and booked us for some really good shows. The Roadside Monument show, obviously I used to be their roadie, so we were the first band they asked to play. I’m usually pretty good about not throwing a bomb at the Paradox just anytime. We usually play there like once every two or three months. Actually we hadn’t played there for almost six months before that Roadside show. We played other places, but not the Paradox for quite awhile. So I’m pretty good about that.
Matt: Suffering & the Hideous Thieves is a lot more mellow than the stuff you’ve done in the past. Why do you think musically you’ve gone in that direction?
Jeff: It’s actually as I said, “It’s what always I’ve wanted to do.” Probably because I have the freedom to do it and I wasn’t locked into a bad situation where it was unanimous. The darker songs that Hideous Thieves does reminds of the last 90 lb. Wuss record. The more indie rock sounding stuff is the stuff that’s been kicking around for years in one form or another and then evolved before we were recording the record, and actually got finished. It was finished a year before that or two years; some of it had been sitting around for a while. The new stuff that we’re writing for our next full-length is pretty dark and pretty ruckus. It’s a bit more what you’d probably expect from me, but it’s not as fast, like disjointed guitars and really swingy, and lots of screaming. That’s more because it’s a concept, but it has to be that way. I just write songs that I like and what I feel like doing, whether it’s a pop song, whether it’s all noise, or whether it’s fast or slow, it’s kind of irrelevant to me it’s just how I feel. The stuff that I really enjoy right now isn’t hardcore, probably because I book hardcore all the time and I see it always. It’s just very one-dimensional to me right now. It seems like there are very few bands that actually inspire me in that musical genre at the moment, so I guess personal taste changes with time. I feel too that if I were still playing the same kind of music that it would be irrelevant. Like the last Raft of Dead Monkeys record was pretty much the closest thing I’ve ever done to sounding like Soundgarden. It was really fun and really rock, and really heavy, but it wasn’t any way, shape or form, anything that was punk in sound. But it was definitely punk because we did it. You listen to it, “Thoroughlev,” it’s very Soundgarden, Tool and all sorts of stuff like that kind of inspired [us]. We were more of the rock stuff like Le Savy Fav. That was a fun record to record. So to me it doesn’t seem like a big stretch like I’ve changed much musically because I still write the same way. It’s a bit slower and more melodic. If I didn’t have the freedom to change every single time I recorded something, I think I’d go nuts. I just can’t do the same thing time. I never want to put out the same record over and over again.
Matt: Is it a difficult transition for you to sing with Suffering & the Hideous Thieves?
Jeff: It was at first. You can listen to the Velvet Blue release and probably understand that. I’m pretty horrible with my pitches, [which] aren’t quite “there” all the time and it’s a little bit uncomfortable at moments. But I think our EP… if you listen to that I’ve gotten much better singing. [That’s due to] a lot more practice. For a while we were playing quite a bit to start gaining a fan base. We did probably two shows a month for like eight months so that we could start getting a fan base. But now that we do [have a fan base] locally, we play less. But that in itself and practicing quite a bit and writing more has… I sing every Sunday at church and that helps a lot too because I sing all the time. It’s been four and a half years I’ve done worship almost every Sunday at church. That helps a lot with your developing skills. I haven’t taken any voice lessons. I probably should, I’m not that great of a singer. I do, however, feel that I can express the emotion of a song fairly easily because I know what it sounds like and I know my dynamic range. That hasn’t been a hard transition because I did that before in 90 lb. Wuss. So I guess the hardest part has been learning to develop some sort of skill singing, and being on key and not pitchy. It was hard at first but it’s become a lost easier. I think I still struggle and I’m not that great of a singer. Hopefully, people enjoy that they’re tons of people that aren’t great singers that are some of the best. I’m not saying one of the best or anything, but hopefully with that same attitude I’ll just keep doing it and not be too frustrated by my lack of skill.
Matt: What was the reaction to your first album and what response have you gotten thus far to the split EP?
Jeff: Everybody seems to like both of them. I’ve only read one bad review of the first full-length and then a couple of criticisms, usually as I said about my voice. The reaction has been good, but I don’t really care that much. I actually do it because I want to do it, so whether it was bad or good is kind of irrelevant to me, but it’s nice when people do like it. I do, however, feel really satisfied with what this band has done and I like the EP. We have some other stuff coming out: a split seven-inch with Rocky Votolato, a split digi-pack CD with Damien Jurado “Gathered in Song,” we have a single coming out for “All My Friends Are on Prozac” that has some outtakes from the session and we have a reissue of the first CD. It’s already out of print, it’ll have a little bit different artwork and it’s going to be released on vinyl as well with a seven-inch that has an extra song that’s not on the CD. We’re working on a new full-length and I think it’s just going to get better and better. That many releases, it’s cool that people are interested. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s been received.
Matt: You swear in some of your songs. Have you gotten any flack for that?
Jeff: I did in Raft of Dead Monkeys, but there were very few people that would ever talk to me about it. I would only hear stories from my wife, [who] works at Tooth and Nail for a little bit longer. She would hear some stories and I would hear from some other people every once in a while. And I did go to Cornerstone one year when Raft of Dead Monkeys was a band and I heard some stuff then. Usually if anybody asked me, they got over it pretty quick. It didn’t even seem like an issue, but anybody who never talked to me about it seemed like they just perpetuated these stories of madness and [did] not really understand what was going on. I would expect that. I don’t really care if people understand or not as long as I know that it’s fine. I wasn’t too worried about it. Yeah, some people would ask questions, but most of the people who asked questions were like fans and didn’t really care that much.
Matt: As a Christian what are your views on swearing and how does your personal belief system justify it?
Jeff: Swearing, well I wouldn’t take an oath on the name of God to somebody. I wouldn’t use the name of God in a derogatory blasphemous way purposely. Linguistics of language, as far as words that are colorful and offensive at times, I think that the way you speak to people as well as around others is relevant and meaningful to the culture you live in, the people that you’re surrounded by and the places that you live. I think for me to say some of the things that I express, ideas and language in song, even the way I just speak to my friends, would be inappropriate and not very wise to be used in front of my grandparents or somebody else’s children, who they’re trying to raise not to use that sort of language. I do however feel for a church even, I actually do feel that it would be appropriate in my church and even in a worship song to use any colorful language as long as it made the point and was clear, and drew attention to what the message of the song was. I think that Christ was very offensive with the way that he spoke to the Pharisees when he said to not even call somebody “Racca,” that was like “f*** you” at that time, that’s like “empty head.” Linguistically, if you look at it culturally, that word was offensive. To say all of our righteousness is as filthy as menstrual rags, that’s offensive and that’s dirty, especially at that time, that’s something you don’t talk about. It’s like social “faux pas,” you don’t say those things. I think in our culture and our society to use words like “f***,” “s***,” “d***,” and “son of a b****” are words that have meaning, they have some sort of power to them, but in Seattle, Washington, it’s fine, it’s appropriate, there’s nothing offensive about it very often at all. In America even, it’s not very offensive you see it in mainstream culture all over television. Well not television, but like cable television they say “a**” now. Movies are full of it. It’s ingrained in our culture, it’s still offensive, but it’s not something that is really that big of a deal. It’s part of our language; it has nothing to do with, I think, swearing in the way that the Bible asks us to do things. I do however think if you’re saying things out of anger, maliciously to somebody, no matter what word they are. If you call somebody a “fool,” then you’re sinning. If you get mad and say “frick this,” it’s just as bad and even stupider because half the time you’re trying to cover up your own anger and the fact that you’re doing something by substituting [for] a word that you think is bad. But it’s just a color; it’s just a word. Words are meaningful and words are powerful, that’s why they must be used in context. But I don’t think it has anything to do with when the Bible talks about swearing. I think that coarse and rude jesting I am guilty of and I think Raft of Dead Monkeys is totally guilty of, and I’m not even going to attempt to justify that. At the time, I justified it fine and it seemed relevant for what we were doing. It was art and we were making some statements about our culture by mirroring it, copying it and throwing it back on people’s faces to like say, “Hey, this is what people adhere to and this is it.” We thought it was funny and humorous and a lot of people didn’t get the joke and didn’t get that we were characters that we had created when we performed sort of to break the Rock ‘n’ Roll idea/lifestyle, although we don’t really have that idea or lifestyle, at least I don’t. As far as Suffering, yeah, if it’s appropriate for me to saying I’m going to say it because I don’t think I have to justify using that in any shape or form, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I guess that’s pretty much how I can, if that’s a justification, let it be. But to me it doesn’t feel like anything, so that’s the truth.
Matt: As a Christian does your music and beliefs interact and if so, how do think God is glorified through your songs?
Jeff: I think they’re completely interactive. Jesus Christ is the foundation of my whole entire life and the gospel is very important to me, but just even not being important to me, which it happens to be, it’s still what all of history revolves and what all of the universe revolves around. There’s no way around it. When you’re a Christian and you truly believe that everything centers around Father, Son and Holy Ghost being God, your whole life glorifies God in the fact that you seek Christ and pleasure in the things that he has given you. I seek to please God by enjoying my life that he has given me and being able to give him thanks and praise for that. Part of that is creating music, whether the songs are blatantly about him or somebody else or a life situation. It’s a whole different sort of dichotomy when you’re playing worship in a church to lead the corporate body in corporate worship of God together. To raise hands and to sing songs, to dance and to joyously proclaim God as Creator, as sovereign and Holy, and [to] rejoice in that and rejoice that he’s redeemed us, that’s a whole different dichotomy. When you write a song about a friend who’s had a divorce and he’s really miserable; he’s covered up her name that was tattooed on his arm. She left and he had nothing to say about it. They were both Christians, and she totally sinned and was out of the will of God, and he can’t do anything and is wrestling with the issue of “Well, can I even remarry?” When you write a song about that, which I have, our song “Sex is Dead,” I don’t think that de-glorifies God at all. I think that it is a song with a subject that isn’t about God, but God shines through and is reflected in that because the whole idea of the song is that it wrestles with issues that have to do with faith in God. When I write songs of being sexually unholy and sexually unrighteous, it’s from my perspective because it wouldn’t be unrighteous or unholy to me if I wasn’t sanctified by Jesus Christ, redeemed, and made holy and [made to] have those standards. Every single song that I’ve ever written in my whole entire life, including every Raft of Dead Monkey’s song, I could probably find a way that it glorifies God and points back to the gospel. But usually an artist who loves Jesus Christ, his or her work as a whole will always reflect God, whether you can pick out directly or indirectly how it does, usually the artist knows or somebody that the artist is around understands. With that I would say that everything, every single thing that I write for Suffering & The Hideous Thieves, it’s a lot easier to point back to the gospel because at this point in my life that is my whole entire life. As far as some of the other songs, even in 90 lb. Wuss, it might be a little bit more difficult to see and maybe it is now for Thieves too. It’s kind of funny because one of our songs is blatantly Genesis one. The verse, it says “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, she shall be called woman.” In that song I say, “f***.” I say, “You’re my glory, sweet f***ing glory” in that song, but that whole song is about twirling toward the woman that God has given you to become one in the flesh with. Because you love her and because God’s given her, because like Adam, the first time that he set eyes on Eve he sang. What spilled out of his mouth was a song because it was perfect and holy, and a beautiful union. They were naked together, and unashamed and it was beautiful. He called her “woman” and he sang to her, and that’s what that song’s about. It’s kind of funny because that song’s straight out of the Old Testament and I say “f***” in it. I found that rather amusing. There’s only one other song that Hideous Thieves has that’s going to be, it’s the unreleased song on the re-release of “Real Panic” on vinyl that I say that word in. It has to do with lust. If I would have said the word “lust” at that point, it would have been less dynamic and colorful. But since I say, “Can’t you see the f*** in my eyes,” it draws attention to that. It makes you think about it even more. In that particular song it’s there. In the other song it’s there because it does the same thing. It draws attention to how sweet that glory is. As well as, it’s funny because it’s about man and woman, and husband and wife. That term “f***” is a word that means almost anything, but it’s colorful. It doesn’t really have much of a meaning; the literal meaning is “sex.” It’s usually associated with intense sex and sexuality; I think it’s even more funny and humorous to myself that I used that word in that particular song. Usually what that comes up with is meaningful. A lot of our new songs, like our next record, are going to be full of words that will be vulgar and difficult for Christians to listen to. And in no case am I saying by me being able to and me being fine with saying these words, in no way am I saying that everybody should be fine with it at all. As I said before it’s a time, it’s a place; it’s a cultural thing. I think that the music that we play and the people that Thieves are playing for and everything can take it, it’s fine. I don’t think that Delirious, they probably have no business using that language. It would be way too offensive to their fan base. It would just cause controversy. They would just be a total “thing.” In that maybe it’s fine in their personal lives to use that language, I don’t know. But in no way am I saying that everybody should go ahead and swear because Jeff Suffering feels that he can and doesn’t even feel that it’s swearing. In no way am I advocating or saying that. As a Christian you need to stand upright before God and you need to listen to your surroundings. I’m a deacon at a church and it’s a very theologically sound church that tends to be very reformed in nature, and often leaning toward many points of Calvinism. I would say that I’m very conservative theologically. I would say that my views of God are very Jesus-oriented and not Universalist. I would say that the Word of God is the Word of God. So I tend to be conservative on a lot of those things and that’s kind of odd. People think it’s okay to use this language, but I feel that it’s my freedom in Christ that I can use it and I also feel that it’s my freedom in Christ to exercise discernment with it. I feel that discernment is simply when it’s appropriate and when it’s not appropriate. God’s given me that and his given that to all of us through the Holy Spirit.
Matt: Any last words, thoughts, comments or suggestions?
Jeff: We just put up a new website it’s www.hideousthieves.com. It’s not very good yet, but it will be. Hopefully you can get stuff there. Not all of the members in Thieves are Christians and not all of them share the same views I have. If anybody has theological question or anything about what I believe, they can go to www.marshill.fm. All of the Christians in the band, half of the band all go to the same church MarsHill fellowship. That’s the church that I work for and go to. Through there, somebody can, if they want to e-mail me directly, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and somebody will forward it to me. That way I can weed out responses. There’s also MP3s of all of the worship teams playing, they’re out there for free and some of them are ours because we write our own songs. Other websites for buying our stuff or listening to it are: www.ihateyour.com. www.lujorecords.com. www.velvetbluemusic.com.
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