Words by David C. Obenour
Calvin Laporte and Evan Smith of The Sufis have been perfecting their lofi bedroom pop sound ever since it first caught the attention of and later prompted the release by celebrated genre and culture fusing English band, Cornershop.
Continuing to expand the walls of their sound further and further with each new release, the duo has relocated to Brooklyn and released three albums for Burger Records – most recently earlier this year with Double Exposure. Taking inspiration from their shared love of crate-digging and insatiable passion for songwriting, the album brims with ideas that spill over into garage, psychedelia, dream pop, and beyond with sounds familiar and new.
Off Shelf: You cover a lot of grounds with sound and genres on Double Exposure. When you’re writing songs, are there any guides as to what you consider to be a “Sufis” song beyond just what appeals to the both of you?
Calvin Laporte: Not really, it’s pretty much what we’re into at the time. We don’t think a lot when we’re writing songs, it’s just an automatic process and then we edit and figure out what’s good later.
Evan Smith: I think we’ve been playing together long enough that it becomes obvious to us what will and won’t work in the Sufis mode.
OS: For all of the ground covered, Double Exposure hangs remarkably well together. How did you concept out the new album? Were there more songs recorded or demoed than made it on the release this time?
CL: Thanks! I’d estimate we had about 300 demos which we distilled down to 10 songs. Sometimes we combine demos to form songs, or even use demo recordings as tags or introductions to tracks on the album.
OS: 300 is quite a few demos. Can you talk more about that processes at all? Do you do it together or separately? Both in recording and amassing and then listening through to find what will make the record.
ES: Sure! It’s a combination of both, I’ve developed a habit of writing every morning so it’s become a bit of a ritual. Some people have found it hard to deal with at times.
CL: There’s some weird magic to songwriting that’s addictive and it gets you high in a way so we do it all the time. We put a lot of hard work and love into our music, it’s everything to us.
OS: Four albums deep, was there any mentality you took into writing the songs for Double Exposure and how it related to the rest of your catalog?
CL: We tried to do the best job we could as songwriters and arrangers. We spent a lot of time developing our approach to chord progressions and tried to work on the vocal arrangements a bit more this time around.
OS: There’s a sort of hazy production on the album, what appeals to you about the sort of lofi sound?
ES: I think what appeals to us is this DIY spirit we’ve carried throughout our discography. Calvin mixes everything himself and we’re careful to not let too many outside forces shape the sound too much.
CL: I grew up listening to second or third generation cassette dubs and low bit rate mp3s so I think that lo-fi sound is kind of in my bones.
OS: That production value also gives Double Exposure a feeling that it could have come out at any point in the last half century or so. Is that something you consider at all in terms of your sound?
CL: I think it’s a byproduct of the way we listen to music. We’re both such big music fans and our tastes are pretty eclectic.
ES: Definitely, for instance I was feeling equally influenced by Lou Reed as I was Janet Jackson.
OS: A bit of a nerdy tangent, but that last question kind of reminded me of the situation with the Star Wars prequels and subsequent sequels. Episodes 1-3’s heavy reliance on CGI looked odd when compared to the original movies, but it seems like episodes 7-9 made more of a conscious choice to feel in line with the originals – even matching some outdated film editing techniques. In terms of your music, do you see the value in being able to play Double Exposure between a record by The Who and The Byrds?
ES: That’s a great question, I haven’t seen episodes 7-9 but I think I understand what you mean. We’re definitely not trying to match or emulate classic recording techniques or anything but would love for our records to sit next to Byrds/Who records and lots of others in terms of being something people would want to listen to.
OS: Are there albums that you think may have influenced Double Exposure? In any sense, whether it’s a direct musical influence or more just of a feeling or attitude.
ES: Of course! I was into a lot of synth heavy records like John Foxx’s Metamatic, Human League’s Dare! and Tony Mansfield, both his band New Musik’s From A to B as well as the album he produced for the B-52’s, Bouncing Off The Satellites. I’m also really into R&B music from all time periods and was listening to Patrice Rushen’s Pizzazz on repeat as well as the song, “Over Like A Fat Rat” by Fonda Rae.
CL: I was listening to a lot of New Orleans music like Lee Dorsey, a lot of Allen Touissant productions. But I was also listening to a bunch of cold wave, New Mexico by Oppenheimer Analysis and a ton of Van Der Graff Generator and Peter Hammill solo stuff. Stereolab was in constant rotation as always.
OS: Are there any albums that recently you’ve just found to be interesting or inspiring? Can you talk about what resonates with you from them?
ES: I’ve been revisiting the Alan Parson Project’s I Robot recently and have been thinking about a lot about its combination of more sequenced sounding electronic passages with pop songs. Have also been really inspired by the early Pere Ubu singles as well as discovering the post Diana Ross-era Supremes records.
CL: Our friend Vincent Martini turned us on to this crazy Cleveland band Hy Maya who sound like Swedish psych rock mixed with the Velvet Underground. I’m a huge fan of the track “Dance of Illusion (Camel Song),” it sounds like Pärson Sound. I’ve also been jamming to Larry Heard’s first solo album a bunch. Shout out to our bud Marshall Stacks whose album Journey to Tortilla Mountain blows my mind every time I listen to it.