It should come as no surprise that Sufferin’ Moses frontman Zach Quillen has always been a big blues fan. “In fact,” he tells the City Paper, “the first albums I ever bought as a kid were by B.B. King, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley. I spent several years listening to nothing but those. Eventually I branched out into all kinds of other stuff, but that was my starting point.”
It wasn’t until college, however, that Quillen first embraced the idea of making music as a lifelong vocation. “I initially went to school to focus on math and physics, but then I decided I wanted to study something with a little more life in it. That’s when I switched over to music and studied voice, mainly, which is how I met the other original members of the band in, believe it or not, the opera program at Ohio University.”
This, apparently, was less of a stretch than it might seem on the surface. “When you think about it,” Quillen says, “most blues singers have powerful voices that really project, so it makes sense in a way that this shared endeavor led us back to the blues.”
Amazingly, the like-minded crew of opera scholars quickly discovered that they really did have the chops to pull off an authentic-sounding electric blues set night after night, as they were gigging at juke joints all over southeastern Ohio. Then life began to get busy for each of the founding members.
“People started having babies, moving away, or simply found other reasons for bowing out,” Quillen recalls. After earning a master’s degree at OU, Quillen himself took leave of the area and made his way down to the Lowcountry, cultivating a distinctive presence within the Charleston music scene ever since.
Alongside Quillen on vocals and guitar, Sufferin’ Moses’ current lineup features Arnold Gottlieb on bass and Sean Harshaw on drums. “I guess you could say that I pick my band members like I would pick little league baseball players. You know, for it to work, it has to be a team of talented guys, who are also the nicest boys to be around.”
After nine years of building a solid repertoire and a decent-sized following, Quillen and company decided it was about time to lay down some tracks in the studio. Many months of hard work will culminate in an extraordinary locally-produced LP called King of all the Sad Things.
For this project, the trio “was basically tracked live down at Fairweather Studios, over by Folly Beach,” Quillen says. “Omar [Colon]’s place is kind of like the old Motown set-up with one big room where everyone works in close proximity. And that is exactly the kind of sound I was going for, so it turned out real well for us.” The resulting 12 tunes, according to Quillen, are representative of everything they like to do as a band, with some of the songs going all the way back to the beginning.
“Ultimately, I’m just glad to get a quality product out there. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess,” he adds. “We’ll definitely be shopping it to labels and sending it to radio stations all over the country. And at some point we plan to head out on tour. For now, it’s nice to have something substantial to share with our hometown fans.”
Quillen is also adamant about pointing out that the upcoming show at the Pour House will involve more than just the songs that comprise the new release.
“While we primarily play originals, we also aim to please the audience by pulling out the best B-sides that they didn’t know they wanted to hear, including electric blues, old country, R&B, and material from some of the more obscure singer-songwriters. If we are doing our job, you won’t ever hear too much of what you already know at a Sufferin’ Moses show.”
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