Born in Rhode Island, Mike Suddes (Coleus) grew up in Manchester, CT and lived there through his youth and young adulthood. After attending Manchester Community College, he set his sights on the West Coast, attending Portland State University for a degree in Jazz Performance. He moved back to his hometown and quickly joined the small but growing community of Connecticut indie musicians looking to share their music with a wider audience. Over the phone, we spoke about his humble beginnings, how Nirvana changed his life at nine years old, and the unexpected happiness writing songs that inspired him to write his latest release, an acoustic version of “Strangers,” from his 2019 self-titled debut EP.
(Interview edited for clarity.)
Tell me about where you’re from. Have you grown up in CT all your life? Did you move from another state?
C: Of course. I was born in Warwick, Rhode Island. I didn’t stay there long. [My family and I] moved to Connecticut when I was four years old. Since then, I’ve spent the majority of [my] time in Connecticut. I grew up in Manchester, which is, like, 20 minutes east of Hartford. Went to Manchester High School, and studied guitar at Manchester Community College for two-and-a-half years. They didn’t have huge program by any means [and] I wanted a bigger challenge. Then, I moved out west to Portland, Oregon. Went to Portland State University to study Jazz Performance [and] lived out there for two years before returning to CT to join the music community here.
Coming from a fellow Manchester Community College alum, that’s amazing. And Portland’s an amazing city, too. There’s a lot of different things going on. There’s a big arts scene, a big music scene. What was that like for you?
C: A lot of different scenes. There’s a lot of music. A lot of homegrown. I call it, like homegrown music? I was only there for two years so I don’t want to speak like I know it historically, in and out, but there’s definitely a lot of music…there’s a good jazz scene out there, for sure. Between Portland and Seattle…that’s where the grunge scene kinda came from, and that influence on the world in the 90s…not necessarily grunge music everywhere you go, but just a lot of homegrown rock bands that, you know, play a ton of shows around Portland. There’s a lot of hole-in-the-wall kinds of venues. Everything small and packed to big theaters and venues that get national, international acts coming through. It’s not really fair to compare it to Hartford…it’s not that much bigger in square footage downtown. But [Portland’s] got more noise on it.
Right! And that’s very true. But the interesting thing about Hartford’s music scene is that it’s very small and big because Boston and New York City are within one to two hours of Connecticut. That being said Portland definitely had, and still has, a lot of grunge influences. Speaking of, who were your main influences? Inspirations?
C: Oh, man. There’s so many. I was a diehard Nirvana fan. I have very vivid memories of seeing the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video for the first time when I was, like, nine? And I was sitting in my living room and my oldest sister was a huge Nirvana fan. I remember sitting Indian-style a few feet away from the TV…not knowing anything about music at all! I was like “what the hell is this?” It captured me. The emotion behind it. Then, I guess I’ll go in order, the first CD ever bought was Everclear’s So Much for the Afterglow. And then I got heavily into hip-hop and bought a Jay-Z CD…Sublime, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, different kinds of southern rock ‘n roll. Then got into jazz. My mom loves folk and had a lot of that playing. A lot of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, so yeah, I could go on but I think that’s enough for artists.
That’s definitely a lot of influences and styles! You don’t want to specifically stick to just one, like, specific genre when making music to avoid being in a box, so it’s great you have all these artists that are both different and overlap each other stylistically. When did you first realize you wanted to start recording?
C: I feel late to the game of the recording process. I always saw myself as a guitar player first. And I just put a lot of hours into trying to get better at the guitar. And, you know, with jazz music I was playing mainly non-vocal music. Instrumental, improvisational music. But I never saw myself as a songwriter. Until, like, I was in a cover band in college that played a lot of rock ‘n roll covers. Top 40 stuff. And I loved to sing but not in love enough to continue it at the time. All the while, I wrote poetry which, in essence, are songs. And it was a big self-discovery when I realized I started putting my poetry to songs. I felt like, “holy s**t, I’ve been writing songs this whole time,” but I never exercised that in myself to make that happen. So, I kept it to myself, which is kinda what “Strangers” is about, too. So, it kinda perfectly related to that. I just started to write my songs [and] put them through melody. You know how life works. It’s slow sometimes.
C: And so…I always dreamed of having my own band. And even with, like, the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, I related to being fascinated by pouring your guts out in music. Having people listen to it. Connecting with humanity in that way. So, it was a dream I put on the shelf until three-and-a-half years ago, when I started putting songs together on my own…and I said “it’s time.” It felt very strong to me, like, “if I don’t go after this, I feel like there’s nothing else I want to do.” From a passionate point of view, that’s when it really clicked for me.
Sometimes, it takes awhile for us to appreciate our art for what it is. We love or hate it, depending on the day. Apart from your music finally coming into fruition, was there anything else that inspired “Strangers?”
C: I wrote the lyrics after seeing a Josh Ritter, a great singer-songwriter. Saw him play at City Hall in Hartford. I was so inspired by his writing after that show and how diverse his songs were, you know, in his catalogue. I was in the parking garage after…it was one of those [songs] that, like, came out in seven minutes. It was free-form and came from a very inspired place…a reflective place.
It really depends on the process! Sometimes it takes ten years, other times seven minutes.
C: I know! It’s so weird.
There’s a lot of folksy vibes to the melody as well. Like Fleetwood Mac and little bit of Allman Brothers. How did you come up with the composition? We’re you listening to a specific record and said “that’s it?”
C: Actually, I was. I forgot about this. There’s a bunch of slow songs in my set list. But all my originals felt slow. So, I intentionally tried to write more upbeat songs. Even if the lyrics weren’t, like, super, super happy. I came up with the guitar rift and then I knew I wanted to do something with it. When I go back to a riff, I’m like “okay, what’s the vibe of this riff? Let’s go to the poem book and see what could work.” And that’s what happened with [“Strangers”]. It’s a self-reflection song about being in a really dark place…not letting myself feel comfortable sharing my life and who I am. But it’s a very positive feeling and I wanted it to be optimistic. A light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty and people are responding to it in unique and creative ways. And although things suck right now, music like this helps people get through these rough times. In turn, the response is positive.
Speaking of which, even though it’s only been a little over a week since it was released, how has the response been from friends and fans?
C: The response has been great. It’s blowing me away. It’s so new to me, putting music out and hear people respond to it. A lot people saying, just like what you said, how much they can relate to the message of the song. The vibe of the song, you know, people compared it to, like, three people said Simon and Garfunkel.
Yes! That was the other band I tried to use for comparison.
C: And that’s the thing I didn’t even-again, it’s so new to me. It’s so insane to put out music and not really know. You put a song out and people are like, “oh, I hear this,” and I’m like “holy s**t, I didn’t even hear that.” But it’s just because I’m too close to the song to like, notice. But after people said Simon and Garfunkel, I was like, “oh, I see what you’re saying!” Yeah, the response has really blown me away on this one. I think even more than [past material]. I’m very happy about that. Grateful.
That’s awesome! Congrats again for the song’s release and positive feedback! With that being said, though, with the absence of live shows it’s been difficult, especially for indie artists.
C: Yeah, I’ve had my days of being bummed out about it. I love gigging and playing live shows. Playing with my band. It’s been tough, but also a blessing in disguise for me because of the recording process and it has forced me to…focus on my weaknesses, kind of. Working on marketing and learning about the industry in different ways. With all the downtime, there’s a lot of things to occupy yourself with. It’s such an interesting time and for me it’s been, like, the busiest I’ve ever been…because releasing music is a lot of work in itself. It feels very long ago I played for two hours straight [but] I think I’m not alone in saying, in a weird way, it’s been some form of opportunity in disguise.
You’re not alone. A lot of artists are going through the same thing, wondering when they can play live sets again. Until then, though, you’ve been performing sets through live-streaming on Instagram. Do you have any upcoming projects or plans for something bigger?
C: Yeah, so I want to keep doing [live streams] once a month on my channel. I have a full band, so we’ve been rehearsing every week for, like, the past month and a half. We’re just trying to be ready for when shows come back and definitely have a lot of work on that front. I would love to do a live-stream with the full band…especially if shows don’t come back, so that would definitely be in the works. I really want to shoot a live video of me and the band for a couple songs and release that. And then there’s another single that I plan on working on and getting in the studio probably in the summer. That’s most likely my next release.
Good luck on your goals! My last question is, as an indie musician, do you have any advice for indie musicians going through a rough time with this pandemic?
C: Oh, man. I could go on for hours about this. Everybody in the current industry is realizing you don’t need labels. That’s very established and we’re seeing big acts make it extremely far to top-level success without a label. Of course, there’s pros and cons to everything. But I have benefitted so much from this COVID time by treating music as a business and learning how wear so many hats. It has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, frustrations, feeling great, feeling awesome. I love the fact that you can do everything. Get yourself off the ground. Really make waves and get people’s attention.
Listen to “Strangers (acoustic)” on all streaming platforms. For more information on Coleus, visit coleusmusic.com and his social media accounts.