Two out of the six members of S U M (pronounced soom) drummer, composer and arranger Steve Belvilus and lead singer and co-writer Patryce Williams dialed in to Backyard Opera from their New York home. Belvilus and Williams, who are business and real-life partners, are travelling to Sydney and Melbourne this April for their debut Australian tour.
BYO: What led to the formation of this ensemble?
Belvilus: Well I used to tour a lot with different artists in the United States, but because the drummer is not necessarily perceived as the one to write music and you know do arrangement for them, I was getting frustrated.
I knew I wanted to start a band because I knew I could write and I wanted to create a platform for myself. I also wanted to write for myself and play music that excites me.
Williams: Steve asked me to be part of the ensemble which was a big thing for me, because even though I sang, I was primarily working in musical theatre. At one point, when I was exploring my own writing, I recorded a demo [but] I’d never been a front woman before. It was something I’d always been interested in but never was granted the opportunity to do. So when he asked me it just fit and it’s given me an opportunity to see another gift that I didn’t realise I had.
BYO: Who are some of the artists that inspire you?
Williams: For me, a big one is definitely Stevie Wonder. In terms of sound and as a story teller he has a way of bringing us on a particular journey. [Growing] up in the 90s and early 2000s, that neo-soul sound was extremely influential. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was huge for me. In ‘95, D’Angelo first came out with Brown Sugar and when I saw D’Angelo on the Voodoo Tour, to hear live horns, something about that experience was really life changing. That’s the kind of experience that I wanted to be a part of.
Belvilus: For me, I grew up listening to a lot of gospel when I was younger because of my dad. There was a lot of jazz because of the school where I was on my island, [Haiti]. I still listen to a lot of classical music, because of the technical part of writing music.
BYO: What is it like working as partners?
Williams: It’s a balance and I think it’s important to delegate responsibilities. If I know what my task is and what the responsibilities are, I can see him as just Steve, my business partner, and it’s really about learning to separate work and then taking the hats off when work is done. Being respectful of each other’s opinions is huge. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it, I was looking back - on of the things Facebook is good for is those Facebook memories and today it popped up a gig that we did a couple of years ago. We’re doing great, pat on the back for us.
BYO: So how did you guys meet?
Belvilus: We actually had a lot of mutual friends for seven to eight years before we met. One of her friends had a showcase for a new musical and I was playing the drums, and she [Patryce] came to see my show in the audience, and I didn’t know.
Williams: And there was another time where we were at the same party and I was upstairs and you were downstairs, and we can both recall when this young lady fell from down the stairs and we still hadn’t met yet.
BYO: What made you want to come to Australia to perform in the first place?
Belvilus: The thing that attracted me was, I’m from an island and we have the most beautiful beaches, so when I went to Bondi Beach I was like, wow. It wasn’t like the Caribbean, it wasn’t like Florida, it just had its own thing. It was just special. I lived in France for five years, I lived in New York, so for me to move to another place does not scare me. Having new experiences, other cultures, exchanging with different people, I think is the best part of life.
BYO: What can we expect from you in the future?
Williams: You can expect more music. We’re constantly in the lab, as I like to put it, working and just being inspired by things that are going on, the good, bad and ugly, and just expressing that in the music. So working on that new album will be the upcoming priority.
Belvilus: And hopefully coming back next year, if the audience embraces us.
BYO: See you at your concert!
Belvilus: Yes! Bring your friends and your enemies!