“We’re constantly expanding, like the universe itself” – An interview with Harry of Superorganism

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As band introductions go, Superorganism’s inaugural missive last January has proved rather striking: “WE ARE SUPERORGANISM, WE ARE IN MAINE/LONDON, WE ARE DIY, WE ARE EIGHT AND MULTIPLYING, WE HAVE BECOME SENTIENT.” To figure out what powers an eight-strong outfit capable of driving copious excitement by wearing coats on TV, deploying bizarre percussive techniques in radio sessions, and, of course, releasing things like new single ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous,’ we joined de facto frontman Harry in the collective’s kitchen to talk signing to legendary indie imprint Domino Records, hosting antipodean orphans in the house on Christmas Day, and how starting a band on a whim over the internet ended up with one of the most anticipated debut albums of 2018.

How is it living all together under one roof?

It’s great, man. Sometimes it’s a pretty hectic house. It’s not a huge place in east London – it’s kind of hard to find a big place in London, so we’ve ended up here by economic necessity rather than this being some sort of amazing place to live or anything – but just living together and working together is really good. It’s really handy for a start, and we can always just hang out and listen to music together and stuff. It’s a really cool vibe.

How did you all come together initially?

I’m from Burnley originally. I was born there and I grew up there until I was 13, and then I moved to New Zealand, so I’m kind of this weird hybrid. In Burnley, obviously I’m like an alien to them, and when I’m in New Zealand it’s the same to be honest. I went to high school in Christchurch, and when you’re a foreigner and you’re new to a school it’s hard to find like-minded people, so my way of doing that was take to the internet. I started going on these New Zealand music forums (which are now long defunct, I’m pretty sure) and just got talking on there with people who shared my taste or didn’t: arguing about music, talking about music, and then, I don’t know, getting up to troll-y mischief on the internet, as you do when you’re a kid.

When you’re teenage you’re just making it for the fun of it, but when we were starting to figure out how to write songs and stuff, me, Emily, Toucan, and Robert – like, various people that were on these forums – just started sharing ideas that we’d been working on, at first over MSN and then Facebook. Over the next decade or so, various projects sprung up with combinations of people that are now in Superorganism, and other people that have fallen by the wayside. As we developed the projects we met different people as well. For example, Soul was playing in some bands. He’s from Australia – and so’s Emily for that matter – but he was living in New Zealand for a little while and had some projects doing quite psychedelic stuff. B and Ruby were doing various things and just became part of our crew as well.

Eventually we decided we’d go for an adventure and move to the UK. There was a little bit of crossover when we first arrived as Soul was actually already living over here and he showed us around a bit. Just before we came to London, a few of us went to Japan to play some shows. It was super low key – doing, like, indie rock stuff – and Orono had found our music through YouTube recommendations. She was usually going to high school in America but coincidentally happened to be in Tokyo, so she came down to the show, introduced herself, and we all hit it off and became friends.

We moved to the UK literally two weeks after that, so then we fast-forward to late 2016 as we were discussing putting together a recording project. We didn’t really have any expectations for it – at this point, we were like, ‘We’ve done different combinations of the people that are in our group in different projects, so why don’t we just do it with everyone?’ It kind of seemed like a ridiculous idea in a way to include eight people in a band (including a visual artist), but we felt, ‘Fuck it, it’s just for our own amusement. We might never even be in the same room as each other all at the same time.’

That’s when we put ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ together. That was the first song that we did, and we were really amused by it. When we put it online, it turned out a lot of other people were as well, and it snowballed from there, really. It’s hard to make sense of. A series of coincidences over a long period of time brought us together, and then we just had this Big Bang moment about a year ago when we decided to put all our heads together and create something as a unit.

A piece published a year ago says that “world domination is at the very top of [your]list.” We’re here now. The album’s out in five weeks. What’s the plan next?

We just want to get bigger and bigger. When I say that I don’t necessarily just mean in terms of audience, because that would sound horribly cynical and we’re not even smart enough to be cynical about the way that we go about our things. Basically, we just want to be able to expand the power of what Superorganism is. I think this first album’s like the establishing shot in a movie that will be our careers. We’re trying to build this big world which is really weird, really crazy, and has all these different multimedia elements – whether that’s the visuals, the artwork, the music, the live show, or the experience of all of that. This is phase one of building this universe. From there, hopefully – if we get the audience that’s willing to do this with us – we want to be able to grow this universe, make it bigger, more intense, more ambitious, and just see where we can go with it, really. We’re just constantly expanding, like the universe itself.

When you’re not doing all that stuff, what’s the normal day-to-day life in the house?

I might as well give you a rundown of today. Me, Orono, and Emily have been away for a week on a promo trip around Europe, and we got back just last night. This morning, I started working through a bunch of different ideas recorded on my phone while I was away, picking out ones I like and ones I want to work on. I know that Emily has been working on a song in the other room – he sent that through to me just before this call. Toucan’s been troubleshooting some of our live rig today, but usually he’s in his room mixing all of our stuff. Robert’s just finished off the new music video, but again he’s always tweaking our live visuals or working on a video or some sort of visualiser. He’s constantly creating stuff like that.

Tomorrow we’re actually going down to the studio. Because we’ve been out on the road playing gigs, it’s been a little while since we’ve been down at the practice studio to run through the live set. B, Ruby, and Soul are always working on vocal arrangements and really batshit insane dance moves, so they’re coming up with more embellishments to that sort of thing. It actually feels really normal to us, but when I say it out loud it sounds really hectic and insane. I guess it kind of is.

It must be quite strange now because your first live show was in October to 700 people and now you’ve got a big tour coming up around the album launch. Are you going to have any time at home over the upcoming year?

I don’t think so. Looking at the schedule as it currently stands, like, man, it’s just insane. We’re going to get everywhere. I’m really excited about that, but we’re like a little tribe. We don’t really go out that much. We’ve had people ask about whether or not we’re part of any scene, but we’re so out of touch. We all tend to stay at home all the time, and when we’re not working on stuff we’re hanging out in the kitchen together listening to music and just talking shit. We’re all used to being at home, so it’s going to be interesting when we hit the road, but on the other hand I feel like we’re taking our home on the road with us. It’s just that our home is going to become hotel rooms rather than our physical location.

What was Christmas Day like?

This year it was actually pretty quiet. Robert and B went back to New Zealand to see their families, Soul went back to Australia to see his, and Orono was in Japan, so it ended up being a bit of a quiet one. Usually we’ll just cook and hang out together. If there’s any other New Zealanders, Australians, or – in future, I’m sure – Japanese people in town that are kind of orphans who don’t have family to hang out with, they’re always welcome round our place. It ends up being this orphans’ Christmas vibe where we just eat, chill, and drink, you know? It becomes this really weird cabin fever situation.

The self-titled album is out at the beginning of March. What does it sound like?

I think it sounds like all of our eight different personalities and minds coming together. I know that sounds really cliched, but it really is – we’ve tried to get it really representative of all of us. It starts and ends with the morning and the whole thing is like a day in the life of Superorganism, really. I don’t know. It goes from quite introspective and contemplative in some songs – ‘Reflections On The Screen’ and ‘Nai’s March’ are both haunting ballads, in a way – and then we’ve got these really big, silly moments like ‘Prawn Song’ and everything in between. Obviously you’re going to have bangers like ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’ and slower, more chilled songs like ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.,’ so it’s quite a broad palette. As I was saying before, we want it to be the foundation of the Superorganism house we’re going to build, so there’s many different directions in which we can go from this album. We’ve really set it up to not restrict ourselves or pigeonhole ourselves too much in terms of sound.

What’s been the most memorable moment of the last year? Things like Later… With Jools Holland and being interviewed by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on your bed seem really crazy.

Man, that’s a really tough one to be honest because there’s been so fucking many. I remember when Frank Ocean put us on his radio show only a couple of weeks after we released ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.,’ and he’s one of my favourite artists of all time, so that was a real trip. To be honest, I think the most revelatory moment to me was a toss-up between two – sorry, I know that’s a cheat thing. One was when we went down to Domino to go through the album with Laurence Bell, who founded the label. We were talking through it all, decided on the order of the tracklist and stuff, and everyone was really excited. It really tripped me out that we were signed to Domino Records and that we’d made this really great album that everyone was really excited about.

The second big one for me: we’d put our live show together in all these different stages because we’ve got the visuals, the music, and all this dancing and choreography. All of this had been worked on not separately but in pieces, so rehearsals were the first time we were doing it all together. It was one of the first times that every member of the band had been in a room together as well. That was a real trip, seeing all of these different threads that we’d been working on come together. It’s like stepping back from a massive tapestry you’ve all been working on. You can see the corner that you’ve been working on, but then when you step back you see how ambitious and beautiful it all is. There was a real moment for me where it all came together like that, and it just blew my mind a little bit.

Is there one thing that you think people need to know about Superorganism that hasn’t quite got out yet, or one thing that nobody outside the house really knows?

That’s a tricky one, really. I feel like we’ve really put much of it out there. I guess the one thing I would like everyone to know about us is just that we’re trying to create this multimedia pop-art experience, so not to just qualify it as, like, the videos and the songs. It’s all part of the same piece. It’s all part of Superorganism. As I was saying before, it’s all going to keep growing and it’s going to keep getting more ambitious, so if I want people to know one thing it’s that. With people’s support and encouragement, that’ll just lead us to these crazy ambitious paths that we can go down. I know, that’s a bit abstract.

Superorganism is released on March 2nd via Domino

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Officially The Edge's Head of Relations. Unofficially responsible for encouraging people listen to Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 magnum opus E•MO•TION. Also sometimes found doing the radio thing over at Surge Radio.

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