While the term “mindfulness” has been hashtagged to the point of near meaninglessness, musician Damo Suzuki long ago perfected the art of staying present in the moment. If the acclaimed singer and lyricist has a definable creative process, it’s fueled by sheer improvisation and indifference to the achievements of his notable past.
From 1970 to 1973, Suzuki was the lead singer of the German experimental rock band Can. The collective released a series of albums that were as intense as they were visionary. Its early-’70s output — Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972), and Future Days (1973) — seemed to have no precedents. The band’s influence has been acknowledged by innovative musicians ranging from Brian Eno and Sonic Youth to PiL and Radiohead.
Over the course of one song, Can could groove out on metronomic funk riffs and morph into spontaneous freak-outs, only to collapse onto themselves as Suzuki yelled, whispered, and chanted lyrics that were as inscrutable as they were emotional. Though Can certainly had contemporaries such as Faust, Guru Guru, and Amon Düül II within the psych-prog-rock scene that became known as krautrock, the band was practically peerless.
But during the band’s heyday, in 1973, Suzuki left Can and continued his career by becoming a kind of global busking musician, performing with both fans and people unaware of his music and legacy.
Speaking from his home in Cologne, Germany, Suzuki seems bemused, if not indifferent, to the band’s legacy. “I don’t want to be buried [yet],” he laughs. “I need more time.”
His appreciation of time, of the eternal now, is clear. In 2014, Suzuki was diagnosed with colon cancer, for which he was successfully treated. “My health is not the same,” he says. “But I’m alright. When I travel, I need help to carry things.”
Those ailments aren’t stopping him from achieving a forthcoming milestone. For the first time in 12 years, Suzuki will travel to America to play shows in the States. The first show of the tour is in Miami, and the set will double as his first-ever Florida show. “I’ve never been to Florida,” he says. “As a tourist, also no. But in Disney World, you can go to Paris,” he laughs. “But I’m not a Disney fan, so I don’t know.”
At press time, the tour consists of three dates: Miami, New Orleans, and Austin. But Suzuki says shows are being added and are in the works including in cities such as Mobile, Houston, and Denver.
Suzuki will play the show under the name Damo Suzuki’s Network, a moniker he’s been using for years. True to his spontaneous form, Suzuki doesn’t perform with or meet his bands until the day of the show. For each town, the promoter is responsible for finding local musicians to fill those spots. Suzuki calls these “pick up bands” his Sound Carriers. “No rehearsal, nothing,” he says, acknowledging that he doesn’t give the bands musical direction, either.
“I don’t like limitations,” he says. “It’s not my band, so it’s not good or bad to me.” For the Miami show, Eclectic Overdrive promoter Adam Arritola is taking on the task of putting together Suzuki’s backup band. Though he says it’s still too early to confirm participating musicians, Arritola tells New Times he’s organizing “an eclectic cast of Sound Carriers from South Florida and beyond.”
Even after the band members meet Suzuki, they’ll be in for a night of sheer spontaneity. His concerts are always based on shifting, spontaneous composition rather than set times. “You can’t plan on these things,” says Suzuki. “It’s impossible. Sometimes I perform for 60 minutes, sometimes 90, sometimes 120, even 180 minutes. So it depends on the conditions and the reactions of the people and the atmosphere; how we feel. It depends on the music. Every instance, improvised. It’s about what happens in that time [onstage]… Each city, each band is different. Because it must be different. It’s the energy.”
Suzuki speaks about energy frequently in conversation. “I try to stay in the flow,” he says. A forthcoming documentary about Suzuki, is simply titled, Energy. His email signature reads, “Energy!” At 69 years old, neither propelled nor restrained by his legacy and the passage of time, Damo Suzuki is intent on honoring the forces that keep him active and innovative.
Damo Suzuki. With Sound Carriers, Dory y Eli, Pocket of Lollipops, Womanmay, and Jaialai. 7 p.m. Saturday, October 26, at Mana Contemporary at 777 International Mall, 145 E. Flagler St., Miami, 305-573-0371; manacontemporary.com. Tickets cost $20 at the door.