Superorganism – Interview 2018

When I first came across Superorganism, and the fact that their ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D’ was actually being played on mainstream radio, I was suspicious. Was this some kind of manufactured band of happy-clappy optimists, devised by a scheming Svengali? How were they managing to muscle in on the auto-tuned, pop-music-by-numbers production line that pollutes our airwaves?

The times they are a changing, sang someone famous, in the politically and culturally turbulent 60s. However, who would have predicted then, that a group of musicians could get it together via a virtual world of computer networks, messaging boards, and the internet, talking and messaging in real time, and able to send over huge amounts of information, 24/7. It was an unknowable future, where there was no need to call the operator to place that time delayed international call, or wait patiently for the expensive package to (maybe) arrive, with that all important tape.

It’s easy to forget, or to not even fathom, how far things have come along in the world of communications. Without it, there could be no group like Superorganism, a group essentially born via the internet. Yet, in most other respects it’s still the same. You still need infectious songs that have melody as their basis, you still need to be able to do it live on stage, and you still need to relate and work together with other like-minded souls. Superorganism have all the necessary ingredients, and in a very short time they have become something of a new music sensation, even if what they do is simply old fashioned indie-pop, but with a modern electronic twist. Although the gestation period was long, their impact, once they put something out there, was almost immediate. “I’m back at home in London, just back from a month in the States,” says producer, mixer, writer and drummer, Tucan (real name Tim Shann). I’ve got time, but not time off! We’re working on our next record, and a bunch of promo stuff. Always busy. It’s full time, and has been for a while.”

The eight-piece collective consists of members from England, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and have taken on stage names, which originally helped to foster this suspicion in, er, my mind. There’s singer Orono, Emily (real name Mark Turner), Harry, B, Ruby, Soul, Robert Strange, and Tucan, all mucking in with the ideas, and the writing. “We wanted to do the whole anonymous thing, and be mysterious,” admits the New Zealand born and bred Tucan. What about your name, where does that come from? “It’s a nickname that a few people called me in high school, to do with drinking, which I wasn’t very good at. Two cans! Not rock’n’roll. We’re not a very hard partying band.

“A whole bunch of us moved to London about three years ago. It’ a bit of a rite of passage when you’re from New Zealand and Australia. A lot of people do move over, get an overseas experience, travel Europe. Most of us had played in a band, and we were like, ‘Well, we’ve gained a bit of traction at home, let’s see if anyone overseas is interested. You don’t want to be ten years down the line, ‘If only we’d tried it!’ There was nothing holding us back, no kids, mortgages, so why not?”

In little over a year they have made a huge impact. Their first ever release was the double AA-sided vinyl ‘It’s All Good’/’Nobody Cares’, and they played their first ever London show (and only second show ever) at the 700-capacity Village Underground last October. Sold out way in advance, it was here that faces were put to the mystery. It was all very well having those brilliantly produced and infectious indie-pop songs, but would it mean anything if they couldn’t do it live? Well, they could. In 18-year-old Japanese lead singer Orono they had found the iced gem to complete the party cake: with her easy going cool nature she delivered the lyrics in an effortlessly lethargic way, in line with her love all things slacker rock, via the likes of Weezer and Stephen Malkmus.

“We did all meet over the internet, over a long period of time,” confirms Tucan. “I first met Emily and Harry via message boards, 10, 12 year ago. Emily and I had played in several bands together, and then Harry, Robert, Emily and I have done various musical projects over time, and slowly added friends to this group of friends. We would just send these Logic project sessions around to each other. We eventually decided to move to the UK and involve more of our friends, decided to do a recording project, and got Orono involved, who we’d met a few years prior. We liked her voice, and look what happened.”

Orono first came across them randomly on YouTube, thought it was “cool”, and went to one of their shows (pre-Superorganism) in Japan (where she was born) and they became buddies. “A few songs existed before we talked to Orono about it. We had the vibe, and the production down, but when we heard her voice, that’s when it really made sense. We’d heard some demos she had put out on the internet, so we hit her up one day, asked her to sing on this track we had made, and half an hour later she sent it back. We were like, ‘Wow, this is something special’! She’s not a professional singer by any stretch, but she has amazing pitches. Very impressive. She’s very cool,” he laughs.

Orono soon joined the band proper, moving to the UK to live in their collective house, where they all live bar one. “Soul lives just around the corner.” says Tucan. “There’s just not enough space! He was the last to come over. Everyone has their own space. There’s a kitchen, which is the one communal space. Orono has the living room now. We hang out in the kitchen, and come up with ideas. We’ve just been on a tour bus, which was quite funny. They’ve got lounges on the bus, and they generally have more living space than our house,” he laughs.

In early 2017 they put ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ out on the internet. It was the big moment when the metaphorical phone rang off the hook. “Within a few days we started getting our inbox flooded from all sorts of people in the industry. We talked to quite a few labels.” One of them being Domino, home to the Arctic Monkeys, and Stephen Malkmus. “We love the stuff on there, and they’re really nice people, so it seemed like the best choice. And we absolutely think that was the best choice.”

‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ was soon re-released, followed by a series of infectious, gleeful songs that demonstrated that this was no one-hit wonder, like ‘It’s All Good’/’Nobody Cares’, and ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’. These and more ended up on their self-titled debut album, released earlier this year, to great acclaim, backed up by their colourful and vibrant live show. “I think of music as an escape,” says Tucan. “All of what is going on is important, people should be engaged, but I can’t imagine us putting out a song about Brexit, or something! It’s not really our vibe. We try and stay informed, but we try and make music that is happy and positive, and offers people some form of escape.”

Jeff Hemmings

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