At Barcon, the Suzaku 7 are even more catchy, fun, quirky, and upbeat than when I last saw them play several years ago in their early, incredibly remarkable days as a working band. I reminisce about sitting in on many practices as enjoyable as if I were being given a private live performance. I, along with my companions and many men and women in amazingly elaborate Halloween and other costumes (something this crowd is known for its knack for assembling in the very popular art of cosplay). After the exemplary performance featuring the current band members clad in their smartly designed individual costumes I sit down with them for a very enlightening, fun chat about them and the Suzaku 7 past, present, and future.
Suzaku 7 Interview: (Dreux Blalock, Tommy DeVille, Megan DeVille, Josh Stearns, Rafiq Mandal)
Margaret: So are you all originally from New Orleans?
Tommy: Yes, I grew up here. I’ve lived here my entire life.
Margaret: So, the classic question. Where did you going to high school?
Tommy: Well, I went to Rummel.
Megan: So, I technically spent several years in St Louis. So I went to high school in St Louis and then moved back to New Orleans for college. So I’ve been back for, about 12 years.
Margaret: Where did you go to college?
Margaret: When did you guys get hitched? (Speaking to Tommy and Megan)
Megan: Two years ago.
Dreux: Yeah I have to intervene here, I was scared shitless because she handed out all these envelopes at practice and I was like, oh crap. She’s like giving her resignation (all laugh) and it was actually “save the dates.”
Margaret: So what initially drew you guys together and to form Suzaku 7?
Dreux: So, uh, I decided to form the Suzaku 7 because I felt the time was right so I talked to a friend of mine about putting it together and we were discussing about how to actually do this and we had actually played in a band with Meghan and Megan and I had talked about doing Japanese stuff together and she and I had become friends through our mutual appreciation for anime and we needed a singer so I texted her after like six months of not talking and was like, you want to be a singer? She’s like, “Oh my God, yes!” So after a while we realized we needed another guitar player because Melissa had to back out due to other commitments and Louis from the band COG was like “I know a guy!”. (Speaking of Tommy)
Tommy: So I was in a band and I was on hiatus and I was trying to, I was literally trying to get into COG (Consortium of Genius) and I asked Lewis, I said, hey, do you have any need for another guitar player? They have sort of a revolving door when it comes to guitar players, at least at that time, so I asked him and he said, well, do you like anime? I said, sure, I know Astro Boy and Robotech. (All laugh) And so he pointed me to Dreux. I said I went to kindergarten with that guy in River Ridge. So I got on facebook and I contacted Dreux and I said, hey man, just out of curiosity, did you cut your eye open on the-
Dreux: The fire engine! (Laughter)
Tommy: Fire engine at Storyland in City Park 1986? He’s like, yeah, that was me. I was like, we went to school together. So he invited me to audition for the band and I immediately got the part because you have a lot of options.
Dreux: No we didn’t (All laugh)
Margaret: Okay. Now, this is a question for Meghan. Meghan, how long do you live in Japan and how did that influence Suzaku 7?
Megan: I lived in Japan for two years at two separate times. I studied abroad my junior year in college and Tokyo and then went back after graduation to teach for a year with the JET program, which is the Japan exchange and teaching program. And I was like out in the boonies. I like to describe it as, as far north as you can get on the main island about falling off of it, which was fabulous. Uh, I make light of it, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. That’s really where a lot of my language took hold. So he obviously living there in Tokyo, there’s a lot of English speakers, so it wasn’t as necessary to speak Japanese even though I did have the ability, but in the northern part of the country it’s all Japanese all the time or you weren’t eating that night. So that’s really where it took off. (Laughter) But apparently I’ve also picked up like a really thick country accent but only Japanese people know though. So that’s okay.
Tommy: So you’re basically like a Japanese redneck?
Megan: Yeah. (All laugh) So, I would say, that experience kind of brought me to this band.
Margaret: Well, I think you certainly found your forte.
Megan: Thank you very much.
Margaret: So, how long has Suzaku 7 been a band?
Dreux: We argue about that. I think it’s been about six years I guess at this point.
Margaret: So have there been challenges you guys have had or having to overcome?
Megan: That’s a good question.
Josh: Money! (All laugh)
Tommy: Ok, you say that, but this is the band that I’ve been paid the most from.
All: (In agreement) That’s true
Tommy: I’ve been in a dozen metal and punk bands and they’ve all been really enjoyable but it’s a very different experience playing for a rock crowd, and then you play in an anime band where you get to play at conventions and you get to play in front of kids and older folks and it’s really not your traditional, sort of like a cooler-than-thou rock crowd so it’s been enjoyable and met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
Dreux: We’ve had our share of ups and downs with members and with fans. When we first put out our first EP “Shutup Hufflepuff,” we were very proud of it and we got a lot more followers out of it but some of our original fans were like, what is this? This is not Japanese! But it still came out really well. There were times where it was trying, I mean like in any band you have that, there were times where it was very hard for all of us. I’m not going to lie, there was screaming and hollering in the studios and stuff, but you know, in the end, we’re a family so we just go throw it, I mean we call Megan and Tommy Mom and dad. (All laugh)
Megan: Well if you wouldn’t forget your costume!
Dreux: I don’t forget my costume!
Josh: I do feel that the biggest struggle that we have is time.
Dreux: That’s really the biggest thing.
Megan: Yeah, we’re all really busy. I think the other challenge is we’re not a normal band, so it’s challenging for us to find places to play.
Dreux: Another challenge we have is like a lot of venues will try to book us and they’ll be like, what do you do? And we’ll tell them and then we’ll get pigeonholed. Like, so there’s this weird Asian band coming in, y’all want to play with them? Sometimes it works in our favor, we’ve gotten some lasting friendships that way, like the slants. We love those guys to death.
Margaret: How are the early days of Suzaku 7 different from Suzaku 7 now?
Josh: I would say one of the biggest differences in numerical, at one point there was actually seven members. (All laugh)
Dreux: Also we’ve branched off and we’re working on our first all-original concept album, which is really cool. It’s really helped that our creative process.
Megan: We’ve definitely changed our style a bit too and that just comes with experience and confidence, we really found our roots in punk rock, which is kind of funny because I hate punk music, but like we like fast energetic music. That’s who we are and that’s who we like to be and I think we started off trying to be very true to the originals, the music that we were covering and just eventually we figured out what worked for us instead of mimicking others.
Margaret: How did you all come together?
Megan: well Dreux and I had met previously.
Dreux: Apparently Tommy and I had met previously… in 1986, 30 years beforehand.
Megan: Tommy brought in Josh.
Josh: Tommy used to sell me drinks.
Megan: There as a time where I was like oh, Josh is great, and then you started pushing my buttons… I think on purpose. So me and Josh didn’t get along for a while.
Josh: It’s actually funny to think about us not getting along now.
Dreux: And then Megan and Rafique had done Music of the Blue Haired Modern Day Samurai
Megan: I had known Rafiq from college, when I came back from Japan we started doing this radio show at Loyola University called music of Blue Haired Modern Day Samurai where we just played Japanese music the whole time and it was great. We had a different drummer then and we had a gig that we were already contracted for and our drummer couldn’t play it, so I called up Rafiq and was like, hey, can you just spot us a single gig? And so he came and played the gig with us. Well, we ended up getting seen that night by MechaCon, and they agreed to let us play, which was like our goal when we first started out as a band. So Rafiq stayed on and we really meshed well from that point forward.
Dreux: It was like night and day man. When we brought Rafiq on, the entire dynamic changed, it started feeling less like a business and more like a family. Then that’s when we started screaming, shut the fuck up Huppel-Puff! (All laugh)
Margaret: You don’t scream at people you don’t care about you know? I think that is very fantastic. In your own words, if you were to define what sort of band you are and what sort of music you play what would you personally describe it as?
Tommy: Oh, a nerd band, that’s… yeah, we’re a nerd band.
Nick: I tell everybody we’re a nerd band
Margaret: What do you say Dreux?
Dreux: I say we’re nerd punk-rock man.
Megan: I am still adamantly a Japanese anime cover band! (All laugh)
Margaret: I love the Japanese influence as well; since I first heard you guys play I’ve always thought your songs were immediately catchy. How does your creative process work?
Dreux: We go, Tommy, I want a song that sounds like such and such. (All laugh)
Megan: Don’t let the secret out of the bag.
Dreux: Josh will write the lyrics, and it’ll go on Tommy and Megan’s fridge for six months, and then Tommy will stare at the lyrics for six months and then all of a sudden we’ll get a link in our group chat that just says “I wrote the song”.
Megan: I signed on for a cover band originally so I’m just used to having the music prewritten and performing it, so it’s been a bit of a struggle for me to make the transition to writing, but the song that they’re referring to right now I helped write the lyrics on and I’m taking baby steps towards writing the melodies and stuff. But that’s not really my strong suit. In a more general sense, we go through phases. Like I got super excited about Harry Potter, well, I’ve always been super excited about Harry Potter, but, one day I brought Draco and the Malfoys, which is this super inspirational wizard rock band that was putting out music in 2001. So I brought their songs to the table, we punk rock’d them. Well, now we’re all crazy Gundam fanatics.
Margaret: Wizard rock?
Megan: The interesting thing about wizard rock is we’re kind of inspired by that genre in and of itself. It’s just like a couple of guys who had a drum machine and a guitar and they wrote these witty songs about Harry Potter, right? You have the Draco and the Malfoys, the Harry Potters, there’s just like all these people that wrote their own music that was based on Harry Potter and are performing it. So it’s Kinda, it’s extremely similar to what we do.
Margaret: That’s awesome! So further success aside, what are some of your goals for the band in the future?
Josh: Ten foot Gundam head!
Dreux: Are we talking like achievable goals or like…
Margaret: Yes, aside from money and success.
Dreux: One of my biggest goals is I want to do the full stage show that I had planned in my head. I want to do the full story arc of our upcoming album and do a full show for a full 75 minutes.
Rest of the band: Seventy-five minutes?! This is the first time we’re hearing about this.
Dreux: That’s if we do the interludes… (Laughter)
Tommy: I just want to finish the record.
Megan: We have some lofty goals, we want to produce our first album of entirely originals.
Dreux: One of our other biggest goals is we want to play a top the Gundam in Tokyo.
Margaret: You know the pageantry really is great and you guys are always stepping it up, I love it. So in closing are there any personal thanks or other statements any of you would like to make to your fans or the people of NOLA in general?
Dreux: First I want to take the Bad Wolf for inviting us to play the 4th BarCon in a row, and SyfaCon for having us five SyfaCon’s in a row.
Josh: Basically anyone that hires us.
Megan: Yeah, no joke, and we’ve been hired by so many people and I just… thanks!
Dreux: I want to also thank Simon and basically all the guy’s in the Slants for all their support and all that they’ve done for us. It’s really great every time they come in town because they’ve gone through a lot of struggle and they’re a really big name now and they always remember the little guys when they come through.
Tommy: And I would like to thank The Consortium of Genius because without those guys we wouldn’t exist at all.
Dreux: I also want to thanks the Futurenauts, cause they got us a gig with ContraFlow this year. We’ve had fans like Walter Scott and Cameron, people who have literally been there since day one, who…
Tommy: Wear the t-shirt at every show.
Megan: We don’t even have the t-shirt anymore, they still do. (All laugh)
Dreux: But like, I really want to thank, you know, the fans that show up at almost every gig we’ve had from day one. We’ve had people that we met at Lake Charles and God, I cannot remember her name right now and I’m so sorry if you’re reading this because I cannot remember, but she showed up to one or our SyfaCon gigs when she was like 16 and she shows up to just about every gig that we do now and it’s absolutely great. I also want to thank Garrett and Stewart from SyfaCon.
Megan: SyfaCon has been great to us.
Dreux: They’ve been really great to us. I want to thank John…
Megan: This is not our liner notes Dreux. (All laugh)
Dreux: And thank Maria and everybody who’s come before us, COG and all of those who’ve paved the way for us to be here right now.
Margaret: Absolutely, and thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions, I wish you guys the best and I’ll see you at the next show!