Story by Allie Volpe
In fifth grade, David Courtright wanted to learn to play saxophone. But his hands, a music shop employee said, were too small. They suggested clarinet.
“And I was like, ‘I’m not fucking playing clarinet,’” Courtright remembers.
His brother played trumpet and, as a compromise, Courtright took a year of instruction on the brass instrument. By sixth grade, the size of his hands was no longer an issue. He played sax all throughout middle and high school.
Along the way, Courtright mastered the guitar, an instrument he’s played for half of his 32 years and the vehicle for the songs he composes as Suno Deko. Wrought with layers of edgy licks, colorful splashes of keys and wistfully introspective lyrics -- like “There's a hole inside of me / where courage used to be,” from “Bluets” which Courtright performs here with close friend Julie Byrne -- Suno Deko likens to the experimental multi-instrumentalism of Deerhunter and Youth Lagoon. On “Swan Song,” the first single from his upcoming self-titled debut, Courtright unravels to the mounting surge of piano which erupts with strings and horns over chamber pop coos.
Thematically, much of the music of Suno Deko is informed by Courtright’s lived experiences and thus the personal philosophies they have inspired. Influenced by author and spiritual guide Eckhart Tolle, Courtright explores the ideas of the physicality of love and the universe, down to a molecular level.
“When you have a body and an identity, especially one that’s been oppressed by others, how scientifically separate is that?” he says. “What I’ve arrived at now is that I’m a consciousness that lives in this body so I want to play with it. I want to treat it like a toy.”
As a child growing up in Atlanta, Courtright explored various avenues of expression, from painting his nails to attending gymnastics class. During adolescence, his male peers pressured him to conform, to eschew the colorful parts of his being.
“I was a really gay little kid and I was constantly policed by other boys for my behavior,” he says. “To come through that experience and have a confidence about myself and my work, it feels like I’m exorcising a lot of childhood demons.”
The songs started to come after college. Courtright was living in Thailand for a year, teaching English to students in the late aughts when he began writing songs on guitar that he would file under the name “Suno Deko” in iTunes. After a few month stint in India, Courtright returned to Atlanta, joined a band and put his solo work aside. By 2013, the band had called it quits and he began playing his first shows as Suno Deko and releasing a four-song EP the year after. That EP, Thrown Color, was the first taste of Courtright’s lyrical earnestness in reflections like “I don’t want to burn a hole through you, but don’t I?” on “Cinders.” Featuring songs that build from a drum rhythm, piled high with guitar riffs, it’s Courtright’s vocals that drive any emotional pull. His affectations lay between ambivalence, sadness and relief, giving his music a despondent hopefulness.
Finishing Suno Deko has allowed Courtright to close old chapters and start new ones. The acts of ending a relationship and moving to New York City provided him an opportunity to reflect on these transitory times and have offered perspective on some of the album’s earliest-written songs which harken back to an earlier time, different ways of songwriting.
“I have a better grasp on what my process is and what I’m looking to explore and how to do that,” Courtright says. “Rather than being like, ‘I have no idea what I’m fucking doing and I’m really terrified but I feel like I have to do it.’”
The music also allowed him to awaken that sense of childhood wonder that was stifled decades prior. Through social media -- which Courtright credits as an asset into transparency, truthfulness and a way to tell one’s own story in real time -- and a focused way to channel pain, Courtright has found a way to feel more confident in his work.
“Through doing something with all my heart and believing in it and doing it with an intensity and focus and passion, unapologetically, that feels really righteous and radical to me,” he says. “It’s just an expression of what used to terrify me -- which was the discomfort of other people at my very presence -- is what enlivens me.”