Growing up in the South has had many drawbacks for David Courtright.
As a musician with an honest heartfelt approach, Courtright’s project Suno Deko is a proclaimed “call to vulnerability, to living openly with love, fear, and free expression in a world that still prizes rigid notions of masculinity”. Coupled with a love for poetry and a lack of particularity about separating queer identity from his work, Suno Deko’s rich content and presentation, though pleasant, is in many ways radical. The music video for “Altar” is an example of unfiltered expression looming in an incandescently fairytale-esqe narrative and aesthetic. Visualized in a gauzy ether of cinematic storytelling, “Altar” is just one facet of the gorgeous web of musical magick Courtright has perfected in his craft.
Quite comparative to the regular populus of indie rock at large, especially regarding ATL’s macho garage scene, Suno Deko is a project that embraces depth and intimacy. Courtright’s connection to feminine energy and pansy princehood against the reactions of naysayers in the Southeast was both a hindrance and source of motivation. “It's easy to hate the South as a queer person,” Courtright says, an echo many a queer individual resonates with. “To feel your existence is so monitored and reviled, that the very narrow path of masculinity that is required, is so exhausting. In a lot of ways, that constraint caused a rebellion in me that I really value.”
With strong connections to the DIY communities of the Northeast, Courtright’s move to NYC in April 2016 was an intentional decision to connect to a stronger musical community in a more openly queer city. Born and raised in Decatur, GA, the crave for change persisted above the background noise of whispers throughout youth. “People are polite enough that they just glare at but don't openly assault you,” Courtright recalls. “You can stomp all over their dumb traditions and it feels empowering, but it is oppressive as fuck. That was sort of why I left. In other ways I belong to it, especially to the natural landscape. It feels like my job to reclaim that space.”
Courtright’s journey began with sax in high school, along with compulsively joining the drill team dance routines despite all the other boys’ laughter. His lean towards songwriting was solidified by the tell-tale of songwriters: being gifted a guitar on his 16th birthday. Teaching English in Thailand to get away from Wofford and small town Spartanburg, SC, the isolation of being abroad lended an opportunity to develop both in writing and technique. When Courtright returned to Atlanta and found himself collaborating in a band, his “real education” further surfaced. “I had accumulated all these tools and practices and felt ready to make the work I was dreaming in my head,” he says. “Now, this project has become such a valuable way to reclaim old parts of myself or rediscover things about myself I'd suppressed or tried to get away from because I was ridiculed for it.”
Music is a vehicle for many aspects of Courtright’s self, but most importantly, like any true poet, honors the heart: “Mainly songs come to me in times of emotional overflow. Moments of aloneness where an emotion is so powerful it needs to be channeled and transcribed into something tangible. That's such a gift of music for me, to create or observe and translate and record something that makes a new space in the world from something that is only a feeling. And that creation—a song—exists outside of me and outside of that feeling, and ultimately, will outlast my physical body, and that's such an amazing thing to know will exist beyond me.” Poignant sentiment that glimmers, glistens and swells to a bittersweet vibration, the earthy eagerness towards emotional expression is an intensity rarely well-done by Atlanta-bred musicians.
Suno Deko has roots in the Southeast always, though as a project has grown beyond the constraints of maps and relationships. Since Thrown Color, Suno Deko’s first EP in 2014, friends and comrades both near and far have witnessed a process of metamorphosis in personal and professional actualization, a beautiful thing indeed. And we’re in for more in 2018, according to Courtright, “The record I'm nearly finished writing is all heartbreak; brutal really, but also I feel some of the most crystalline and distilled work I've made. It's still in a formless state, but I think the next few months will bring a lot together with that.”
While relocations and romance are core counterparts that continue to inform Courtright’s work, the undercurrent of queer identity remains a solid space that Suno Deko draws from. “It's certainly the best time in history to be making queer work. Even despite the current political climate. There's more space than ever for marginalized voices, and more freedom for queer people than has ever existed in human history, so that still to me feels like something to celebrate,” says Courtright. “It's been amazing for me to be able to explore that very central part of myself—a queer person—in my work, and push my own boundaries and visual representations way more in that direction. There are so many incredibly talented queer people pushing the limits of what we've seen that it's really inspired me to take it deep into that territory, which of course exists in every part of myself.”
Suno Deko returns to the Earl, December 30th, accompanying the Dot.S release show, along with HALF | STATE, and Palmlines. Doors at 9PM. Entry $8.
All Photos by Tonje Thilesen
Sunni Johnson is a writer, zinester, and musician based in Atlanta, GA.