... And Indie for All

Andy Suzuki
& The Method

Labels don’t attach easily to the music of Andy Suzuki & The Method. You might call it pop leaning toward R&B, with some country-tinged folk music thrown in. Then again, New Yorker Suzuki is half Jewish and half Japanese, and his longtime bandmate, Kozza Babumba, is the grandson of Grammy-winning Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji. They’re a two-man melting pot, so why shouldn’t their music be a stew, too?

In trying to get a historical perspective on Suzuki’s output, I ran into a stumbling block. The internet age has had obvious effects on indie musicians. Countless streaming sites serve as free or low-cost platforms for spreading their work, often one track at a time. It’s striking, then, when artists choose to decrease rather than increase their web footprint. Suzuki has done this with his first full-length album, 300 Pianos from 2009, and the 2012 EP, The Ghost Stories.

Suzuki’s merchandise store, via the Bandwear.com platform, lists both CDs as in “final printing” with only a few copies remaining, and warns that they are “no longer available on iTunes or any streaming services.” (It’s fun to note something else on Suzuki’s Bandwear page: for a mere $250, you can purchase a personal Skype concert by the singer! The internet age can be as great for fans as it is for artists.)

So, what is Suzuki allowing to fade into obsolescence? Only the title track of 300 Pianos still exists on YouTube. While it’s a little rough in terms of ensemble, and maybe the phrase-endings in the lyrics could have a more natural cadence, there’s a lot to admire. Babumba provides an intriguing texture with hand percussion over the repeating piano chords. Former band member Jason Gorelick sweetens the sound with violin lines.

“300 Pianos” is a heartbreaking song about Suzuki’s father, who was ill with Alzheimer’s at the time. (He died in 2011.) In the lyrics, you can hear the singer’s pain and frustration at the ruthless disease: “And I know that every chord I’ve used before / And every broken metaphor / Can’t bring me closer to the man behind the door.”

 

The melodic style is accessible but not saccharine and would serve Suzuki well if he ever decides to write a musical. The art of expressing raw emotion without melodrama is rare indeed.

Another trace of Suzuki’s out-of-print work is “Take Care of Me,” a track from the 2012 EP The Ghost Stories. This shows a different aspect of the songwriter, one much more likely to turn into a payday but far less interesting. It’s an R&B-glazed pop love song worthy of a boy band. Shape your fingers into a heart and wink at the girls:

 

So, if 300 Pianos was the bare-bones truth and The Ghost Stories was the slick veneer, what does that leave? Fortunately, the rest of Suzuki’s work is easy to find.

The 2013 full-length album Born Out of Mischief, funded with $47,000 raised on Indiegogo, is still available in every format. Its release got enough attention and praise that it landed the band a gig opening for Ringo Starr, among others. What it reveals is more ingredients in the musical stew. “Virginia” owes its sound to modern country (Blake Shelton, Keith Urban). Suzuki proves himself a versatile singer with a big range that’s clear at the top and smoky at the bottom.

 

In “Keep Me Running,” Suzuki seems to have found a balance between love song and originality, no easy task in the pop world. Babumba’s angular patterns on the drum set drive at a frantic pace. The unusual rhythms in the lyrics reminded me of the recitational style of Tracy Chapman:

 

Without question, the gem of Born out of Mischief is the title song, another tribute to Suzuki’s upbringing, this time focused on appreciation of his mother. The accompaniment is based on simple strummed acoustic guitar, but any folk or country singer knows you can’t beat that as a canvas primed for emotional color. Again Gorelick’s violin contributes to the bittersweet effect.

 

In February 2017, Andy Suzuki & The Method released a new full-length album called The Glass Hour. Given that the tracks are mastered by Chris Gehringer, best known for his work with Rihanna and Lady Gaga, it’s not surprising to find a multi-textured production with a tendency toward brightened percussion sound.

But The Glass Hour shows another side of Suzuki and Babumba (Gorelick does not appear on the album), this time as socio-political voices. “Fight” is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., told from the point of view of someone who’s beaten down and baffled by mistreatment, but won’t go home. Gritty electric guitar and complex percussion support lyrics that will make you raise your fist in determination, contrasting with quieter sections:

 

Other stand-outs on The Glass Hour are “Runaway,” notable for Babumba’s military-style drum riffs, and the slow-beat R&B “Overtime,” which lets Suzuki show off some smooth upper register.

This latest album is a strong effort likely to launch Suzuki and Babumba into a new level professionally. But who can tell what that new level will be? The beauty of being indie, whether it’s in songwriting or any other artistic field, is the freedom to do what you like at any point, and change what you do when it suits you. Andy Suzuki & The Method take advantage of that freedom, and it seems to be working well for them.