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Interview: Superorganism

Formed out of the detritus of various internet music forums in 2017, Superorganism’s unique blend of fun, wonky pop music fueled their first album to critical acclaim and award nominations. As they release the follow-up, World Wide Pop, and set out on a massive tour, I caught up with band members Harry and Tucan just before they jumped on a plane to Japan.

I wanted to ask you about your songwriting process; I remember reading an interview with Tom Waits where he said he wrote with instruments that he didn’t know how to play because it gave him a new take. How do you write with non-standard instruments?

Harry: I think that what he’s getting at there is similar to our approach, which is to try and maintain spontaneity in what you do. A lot of what we do is constructed remotely, so we’ll often be doing things in our rooms and then sending the session files to each other. It can be easy to overthink things, so we actually try to consciously maintain a level of spontaneity in what we do. We’ll often start with even just an iPhone demo, and sometimes things off those really early takes will end up on the finished song, just because of that energy when you first had the idea. I think it’s very much an approach of trying different sounds and trying to maintain a spirit of playfulness.

Tucan: A lot of us come from a guitar background and it’s very easy for your hand to get into the same chord shapes and your writing and playing can become very samey. Keyboards and that kind of thing are a little bit newer, so we’re still kind of trying to figure it out; plus a lot of us use a thing called musical typing on our laptops, so that kind of has a janky nature – there’s no velocity. So that helps us be a bit childlike cause you’re kind of mashing keys on your laptop trying to play a sample, or something, and it has a certain vibe to it.

On the album there’s a lot of incidental noises: phone buzzes and bits of digital interference. Was there an intent there to make that almost confusing?

Tucan: Sometimes certain sounds hit each other and it sounds like the WhatsApp ding and then every time you hear that again it confuses you. I like that, screwing with people, like putting a phone vibrating or a dial-up internet sound, kind of a nostalgia for the childhood internet that some of us grew up with. They’re just interesting sounds and you hear them in your real life, so why not throw them in a song?

I think every journalist describes you as a different genre. Have you got any favourites?

Harry: Something that I’ve heard people say is comparing us to kids’ music, and I always find that funny. I think that people get a bit confused by the kind of upbeat and whimsical nature. At the same time I love the idea that kids can listen to us. My favourite and foundational interest in music is The Beatles – as boring as that is – and I love the fact that that a band can have all of these psychedelic allusions to drugs and existential and confusing philosophical tropes, but also appeal to kids because they’ve got some silly sound effects.

There’s a lot of references on the album to aliens or the world being observed from a different place.

Harry: I always think of Carl Sagan and Pale Blue Dot. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but it’s a photo that was taken by Voyager I on its way out of the solar system; he does this speech about how everyone that’s ever lived, ever loved, ever hated, every war, every genocide, every piece of art, poetry, came from this tiny little speck that’s just floating in a ray of light. That has always really stuck with me. I think that’s a great way to explore themes about humanity and our place on this planet.

There’s a lot of artists that look at politics and engage with it in a really intelligent way; I think we try to look at it in a more of a big picture way, and so yeah, that idea of there being aliens looking down at us. It’s just a good way of trying to have a bit of self awareness.

Tucan: We took that theme with the ‘On & On’ video which is meant to be someone in the future pining for now, in the same way people look back at the 50s and 60s with rose-tinted lenses on. We were trying to put a lens on that, saying that for someone in the future maybe today will be the Golden Age.

The ‘past’ in the video is slightly off – do you think that romanticising the past will always be?

Tucan: People think the 70s were amazing, but I mean, I know in the UK the 70s were not amazing.

Harry: But when you look back and see someone in a cool pair of flares and listening to T. Rex, that’s not the bit that you remember. I I think about that with regard to touring: a lot of the time touring can be really gruelling, but when I look back on our time I don’t remember the parts where I was sleep deprived on the bus, I remember the best shows that we played. I can’t wait to see the reaction to the new stuff, because we’ve created it somewhat in a vacuum and now it feels like we’ve not had that engagement with the audience so far. We get a lot of nice feedback, but there’s just something so different to seeing how people react in the room; I’m really excited to see that. We’ve reworked the bunch of the old ones as well, so that should be really cool to see.

World Wide Pop is out on 15th July via Domino

Superorganism play SWG3, Glasgow on 18th September

picture credit: Jack Bridgland

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