Superorganism turn chaos into communication on debut album
“Put your mind in my brain and you’ll see / everything is better when you’re everything,” sings Superorganism lead vocalist Orono, her effortless, laconic tone oozing through sound that can be best described as organised chaos.
Indeed, this lyric neatly describes what the band are about. The indie psych-pop supergroup function as a hive mind; together the eight-piece build music that makes neither a utopia nor dystopia of our ever-growingly interconnected world. “[Technology] is an intense part of our lives for better and worse,” explains producer Harry (Christopher Young).
In September last year, Superorganism released the debut single ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D’ with scarce information on its creators. That same month, they had their first rehearsal – it was the first time that Orono and backup singer Soul had even met. “We fully finished the album before we ever got in a room together,” says Harry.
Just eight months after this initial release, they went on to play to over 5,000 people at Barcelona’s Primavera festival; performed on Jools Holland’s Later… and now, they’re heading to Australia to play Splendour In The Grass next month.
It’s better to just try and be your weird self and do it to the highest standard that you can.
Superorganism started finding their voice by brainstorming themes and ideas on forums from each of their corners of the globe. “Technology tended to dominate,” Harry says.
“The internet shines this strong light on how everything is connected: there’s no disconnect between any action or any consequence. It all has this knock-on effect with everything around it, whether that’s socially or environmentally, or even scientifically and technologically,” he explains.
Watch the clip for ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ by Superorganism
Their lyrics detail everything from “curious camgirls” and “cruel and kind cherry boys,” – the latter being a Japanese euphemism for men who have no sexual experience – to the little-known sophistication of a prawn’s social hierarchy. They make nods to the cartoonist R. Crumb and feature a distorted recording of self-described “empowerment guru” Anthony Robbins.
“There’s an abstraction to some of [the lyrics] that I just find so beautiful,” explains Harry. “I find that the best lyrics for me are ones where you can project whatever you want onto them.”
Due to just how many hands are on deck in their production process, each member is constantly finding new messages within Superorganism’s music. “It was only a few weeks ago that I realised that that soda jerk is a thing in America,” he says of the lyric in ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D’. “I just thought that that was just a cool play on words that Orono came up with.
“We’re always finding these little layers. You get all these layers that you missed the first time around. I’m still hearing things in some of the songs that I hadn’t even noticed the first time around, because someone else had put that layer in there and I’m like, ‘Oh damn, that’s really cool’,” he says.
The two things that particularly fascinate me is where we are from and where we’re going.
Asked if the band have an interest in science fiction, he replies, “oh, absolutely.” He considers himself a history buff and recently geeked out at Roman architecture while they were touring in Maine, France. Harry explains, “I’d say the two things that particularly fascinate me is where we are from and where we’re going. They’re central to my way of thinking about art and the world, so I’m obsessed with history and sci-fi and futuristic things.”
Watch the clip for ‘Night Time’ by Superorganism
He notes a favoured film that the band recently watched: 20th Century Boys, a 2008 Japanese sci-fi adapted from the comics of the same name. “The events of the stories that they wrote as children start to happen and start to click in place. It’s this really crazy story about how ideologies can spread in the modern world,” he explains.
While sci-fi might inform their taste, he says, “I don’t want to sound like we’re Muse though. When I think of sci-fi music I always think of Muse for some reason. I think that we’re not very comparable. We’re not singing about drones or anything. Well… not yet.” He laughs.
Along with the scattering of cash register bells and sirens, their debut record Superorganism features recordings of rain pouring, waves lapping and crickets humming. While Harry was editing ‘Reflections On The Screen’, birds chirped outside of his window. “I listened back to the song in isolation with headphones on and without having that texture there it felt really empty,” he says of his decision to add them to the track. Field recordings were also made with contact mics on cups of water and pourers, and they also managed to capture backing vocalist B’s yawn for the track ‘Nighttime’.
“I really the like the way that we can take sounds of nature or technology and then all those kind of things can become instruments in their own right. They’re not really sound effects … I can blend the sound of a siren with a synthesiser and get a really interesting sound,” he says. “It becomes this really fun, playful method of making music.”
Watch the clip for ‘It’s All Good’ by Superorganism
Superorganism turn chaos into a beautifully strange form of communication; their music is as tongue-in-cheek as it is made for pure amusement. “We started this band thinking that we were doing our version of pop music and then people have been like, ‘This is really weird’, and we’ve been like, ‘Oh is it?’” Harry breaks to laugh. “You don’t realise until people start to hold a mirror up for you and you see yourself back and the audience’s reaction,” he says.
Before they started writing Superorganism, they made a joint Spotify list of songs that inspired them: on the mainstream pop side of the spectrum were Katy Perry (the Teenage Dream and PRISM records), Miley Cyrus’s ‘Party in the USA’ and Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, Prince and The Beatles. And on the lofi-indie side were Daniel Johnson and The Magnetic Fields.
There’s no point in trying to be something else or someone else or chasing someone else’s creative style, because you’re not going to be that person.
“[A sound] that we’ve all naturally come to is crossed between something as colourful and fun and in your face as teenage-era Katy Perry with something as strange and eccentric as the Magnetic Fields,” he says. “He just writes these amazing pop songs, but they sit in this weird area where it’s not really pop music, but you can tell in his mind that’s what he’s writing.”
When it comes to what motivates Harry to continue experimenting with the boundaries of sound, it all boils down to curiosity and dissatisfaction. “I think those are the things that are at the root of all creativity,” he explains. “Curiosity in that I’m just always wanting to learn more, and that means learning more about the world around me; about music; about myself, and about my relationships with all of the people around me.”
Watch Superorganism perform as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk series
And his dissatisfaction comes from a desire to experience what is yet to be. “Each time I make a song it comes from a place of wanting to will it into existence. I mean, before any of the songs on our record were written, I wanted to hear those songs,” he says.
“There’s no point in trying to be something else or someone else or chasing someone else’s creative style, because you’re not going to be that person. You can’t be that person and all that you’re going to sound like is a cheap pastiche of that person if you try. So it’s better to just try and be your weird self, and do it to the highest standard that you can.”
The article was originally published on Tone Deaf