Damion Suomi with Chris Staples, Andy Zipf, Lauris Vidal and Andy Shauf
8 p.m. Saturday
8911 N. Western
$8 advance, $10 door
His injured croon recalls R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe; the religious symbolism and metaphor-rich confessional tone, Conor Oberst; and a cinematic, Irish-tinged country-folk plucked from the Avett Brothers' songbook.
It's an impressive inventory of influences, but Florida singer/songwriter Damion Suomi (pronounced "sue-me") flashes the kind of talent that promises great things, but his self-titled debut's most noteworthy characteristic is a passionate, soul-baring honesty that demands your attention.
"We're bombarded by so much bullshit every day, all day. It's refreshing when you know something is authentic," Suomi said.
Originally recorded in 2007, but only released last year, "Damion Suomi" winds its way through bars and self-doubt, seeking a measure of love and truth that one can believe in. On the twangy "Save Your Ass," he notes that "nobody's going to save your ass but you," and he takes his troubles right from Saturday night into a rollicking "Sunday Morning," explaining, "My head was pounding, but it killed the pain."
The best track on the album is "San Francisco," on which he heartbreakingly reprises the old saw that "if you love some thing, just let it go."
Sounding a bit like sour grapes, his foot-stomping folk-swing isn't so far off in suggesting the only way to truly love something is to be willing to lose it, but he's understandably hung up on giving up what you search so hard to find. From alcohol to faith to love, this ambivalence toward the heart's desires runs like a thread through the disc.
"I was drunk when I wrote that song, and I was laughing at myself when I wrote it because it has a childlike, 'I'm not going to feel this way anymore,'" Suomi said. "I get to the end of the song, and I'm like, 'Let's go out in San Francisco and we'll go singing in the streets / All those songs about them women and how we begged them not to leave.' It kind of negates everything I just preached on my soapbox."
Although his father and brother both played guitar, he didn't show much interest until his parents divorced. He saw the six-string as a way to maintain a connection with his dad. Still, his love of music might not have bloomed, had Suomi not dropped out of Bible college after two semesters and decamped for Ireland, where he developed a love for that country's music.
"They're all sort of rebel songs, and they're very moving, with a very just and righteous cause," he said. "It's so easy to get into the music. It just makes you want to move. There's just something about that stomp."
When Suomi returned to Florida, he made a living playing the songs he'd learned overseas at local Irish bars, when pangs of ambition struck him.
"I had this amazing scientific theory that life ends at 30," he said with a laugh. "And if you haven't done anything, you just pretty much need to give up. So as I loomed closer to 30 than I was 20, I said, 'Hey I need to write some pop songs.'"
It went better than he could've hoped, as his Killers-esque band, Memoranda, almost immediately attracted major-label interest. The buzz built fast, which spooked Suomi, who ran, first to San Francisco, then to Boston. When he finally returned home, he resolved to stay true to his muse, and began recording his solo debut in Atlanta.
"I realized at some point that I had no belief in myself, and yet, I asked people to believe in me," he said.
That realization is at the core of "Mustard Seed," off last year's "Needs a Little Water" EP. It's an appetizer for his second album, which he hopes to begin recording in May. Meanwhile, he's currently on a tour sponsored by To Write Love on Her Arms, a Florida nonprofit that helps people struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts and addiction.
"It's a unique tour, because it's going to be a lot of small rooms, some clubs and coffeehouses," Suomi said. "We're just going to be performing and talking about the songs, talking about how they relate with us and possibly how they relate to the issues of To Write Love on Her Arms." "Chris Parker