FLORENCE, S.C. – Rock n’ roll might be full of angst and blues, but a conversation with Tyler Suggs – the front man for Florence trio Blissful Thoughts – is anything but.
He’s introspective but humble. Deep but not ridiculous. Artistic but not condescending. Honest but not argumentative. Simply put, a lot more Dylan than Ozzy.
But when it comes to music, don’t be fooled. Suggs and his colleagues, bassist Hannah Garand and drummer Adam Brown, are all rock.
“I grew up on rock, alternative and punk, and I’d say we fuse lots of different genres of rock music,” Suggs said. “Blink-182 was the first band I ever fell in love with, and I think our sound could be described as alternative rock with hints of progressive and punk.”
Suggs first picked up the guitar when he was about 9 and took lessons for a while. But when lessons only taught him classical music, he quit and decided to learn on his own to play the music of the bands he loved. He stuck with it and even began writing music. But he was too shy to perform his own material.
“I was too insecure to sing any of my own stuff,” Suggs said. “So I was selling the songs I’d written to other bands to perform.”
That all changed when he decided to run a few of his originals by Garand, a budding bassist and close friend from his high school days.
“I had written some songs, but I didn’t know what to do with them,” Suggs said. “I showed them to Hannah, and she liked them, so I taught her the bass parts and the vocals, and we kind of went from there.”
Two weeks later, the duo was advertising on Facebook for a drummer. Brown was the first audition, and Suggs said he and Garand knew immediately he was the right fit.
“He was the only audition,” Suggs said. “He walked outside to take a call or a break or something, and Hannah and I immediately looked at each other at the same time and said, ‘This is our drummer.’”
Brown, Suggs said, brought not only his superb drumming skills to the mix but also a level of experience and knowledge of the music business that he and Garand were lacking.
“Adam’s older than us. He was probably playing gigs when Hannah and I were in diapers,” Suggs said, chuckling. “So he knows his stuff, and he brings a whole new perspective to the mix.”
Suggs writes the majority of the band’s music, but Garand also contributes to songwriting duties, and the two even collaborate in the process occasionally. Though their backgrounds are different, Suggs said they share the same vision for the band – creating their own unique sound.
“When we first started out, we were told over and over, ‘You’re gonna have to play classic rock covers if you want people to listen to you,’ like those same 20 songs you hear on the radio every day,” Suggs said. “But we’re pretty stubborn, and we said from the beginning we weren’t going to do that. We’re not a cover band. We’re going to play our original music or we won’t play at all.”
Suggs and company have stuck to that plan, but it hasn’t been easy in a town like Florence, where live music is sometimes treated more like background noise or drunken singalong material than art.
“It can be difficult here, just because there’s not really much of a scene for original rock music,” Suggs said. “But we have been fortunate to have a few area venues that have been really supportive of us and have booked us a good bit.”
One of those is The Swamp Sports Bar & Grill, where Blissful Thoughts will hold a release party Saturday in celebration of their first full-length album, “The Human Element.” The new CD was recorded with engineer and producer Ken “Dakota” Jones at Southern Harmony Recording Studios in Florence.
The 11-track collaboration follows the band’s common lyrical theme that though existence is a dark experience, there is always hope for a brighter day.
“The album’s sound is simultaneously nostalgic and modern in its tones and style,” according to Jones, who described the sound as a record sure to appeal to fans of Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and A Day to Remember.
Suggs said he hopes the record will help the band reach new listeners and grow its fanbase regionally and nationally. And should a record company or bigwig promoter come calling, Suggs said he and his crew are more than ready to give their two-weeks’ notice.
“That’s the ultimate goal – to be able to quit our jobs, go on tour and play music full-time,” Suggs said. “I don’t think a lot of bands are willing to take that risk, but we definitely are.”
“The Human Element” will be available on all major platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and Pandora. The band also will have physical copies of the CD and merchandise for sale at the release party at The Swamp. Show time is slated for 8 p.m.