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Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

on January 10, 2018, 11:30am

Superorganism doesn’t make any sense.

Until this past May, the band’s Japanese-born lead singer, the now 18-year-old Orono, was a high school senior at boarding school in Maine. Meanwhile, the rest of the eight-piece band hailed from various parts of England, Australia, and New Zealand, having mostly met on Internet music forums.

Even more compelling, the lyrics and vocals of their biggest hit to date — the chaotic yet insanely catchy “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” — were written and recorded in about an hour. The band sent a GarageBand file across the Atlantic to Orono, who then sung the lyrics directly into her laptop the day after her 17th birthday. That track, randomly posted to Soundcloud on a whim in February, would go on to become Rolling Stone’s 25th favorite song of 2017.

Yet, even after releasing three singles with a combined few million plays on Spotify, the band had never all been in the same physical space until early September – about seven months after releasing “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” and less than a month before their first-ever show. How does that all make logical sense to you?

But the more we learn about Superorganism’s origin story, the more their music actually does make sense. Because only a band with this strange of an upbringing could make something this bubbly, this bouncy, and this bizarre. No, the London-based collective, who now all comfortably live together, is putting out material unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Raised on a steady diet of video games and early-2000’s Cartoon Network shows, Superorganism sounds like the lovechild of Damon Albarn’s eccentricity and Wayne Coyne at his most tripped out. From Orono’s tongue-in-cheek auto-tune on “Everybody Wants to Be Famous” to the unexpected “fiiiiiiiire!” on “Something For Your M.I.N.D.”, the group is creating a new strain of pop music altogether.

Though they all come from humble beginnings, filled with music experimentation and lots and lots of Skype, they have quickly managed to pull it all together, signing to Domino the same week they finally met in person, being named to BBC’s Sound of 2018 longlist, and performing in America, including a boisterous show at Brooklyn’s outlandish House of Yes.

Filled with colorful raincoats, 3D glasses, and lots and lots of whales, the group is taking over the industry with their quirky personalities in the spotlight. For 2018, they’ve got a massive world tour and festival dates on the docket, all surrounding the release of their self-titled debut album that lands on March 2nd.

You can’t help but want to join them.

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ON HOW THE BAND ACTUALLY MET

superorganism logo Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

Harry (guitarist/songwriter/producer): I moved from the north of England to New Zealand when I was 13. [Synth player] Emily’s from Australia and he moved to New Zealand at about the same time. We connected through some local music forums because we moved to these countries where we didn’t know a lot of people and were interested in making music. We found each other through being weirdos with an interest in music over forums. [Songwriter/producer] Tucan was also involved in those forums and he’s from New Zealand. From there, we kind of started to work together.

I eventually moved to Wellington, where Tucan was living with [visual artist] Robert and Emily – he had spent a little time in Amsterdam and had just moved back to Wellington. [Vocalist] B kind of joined our crew at about that time. She’s really talented but wasn’t really working on playing music with us. We then moved to Aukland as a group and that’s when [vocalist] Ruby got involved.

london postcard Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

[Vocalist] Seoul has spent time in various different countries, but he was living in Aukland at that time, playing in another local band as well. We ran into him through the local music scene and he became a part of our crew of friends, but he moved to the UK about a year before the rest of us did. When the rest of us were like, “Well, we’ve lived Aukland for a year or two, let’s go and have an adventure somewhere else,” London was the logical place for us to go.

We came over here and, at that point, Seoul was the only person we knew. We were hanging out with him a bunch and, eventually, he decided that he’d go to Australia for awhile and he moved over there. About six months after he left for Australia was when we had this idea of, “You know, we’ve known each other and have been playing music in various bands.”

I guess we grew like a snowball rolling down a hill – it starts with a couple of us hanging out and playing music and then we picked up various people into our crew. We included Seoul and we met [lead singer] Orono on tour in Japan and she just seemed like a natural fit as well.

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ON THE GROUP’S WHALE OBSESSION

Well, it started as this thing where Robert, our visual artist, came up with the idea of the whale as our spirit animal. It kind of became this thing because whales are these huge things that gently drift through the sea. Sometimes, it can be kind of scary, like if a whale is coming up above the ocean, it makes a massive raucous and then plunges back in the ocean.

Overall, I see whales as this massive ecosystem to themselves. They’ve got these little fishes that swim around them cleaning their cheeks and stuff. They’re this weird beautiful thing that’s big and gentle and move through the ocean really gracefully. They seem like something that we all kind of connected with and we really enjoy it. When he came up with that, it was a no brainer to continue with it.

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ON THE ALBUM’S WEIRDEST MOMENTS

superorganism Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

I kind of realized retrospectively after we finished the record that the central theme of it all is the way that things connect in the world. We obviously have stuff like “Everybody Wants to Be Famous”, which has got a focus on the Internet. We’ve got all of these various songs about working together and things like that.

“Prawn Song” is kind of a similar thing – it’s a reflection from nature of human nature, but through the guise of prawns. I guess it’s trying to make a serious point through a reasonably whimsical sound. I think that that in essence is what we try to do all of the time, just sometimes, whimsy is more pronounced than other times, like in the “Prawn Song”.

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ON FUCKING WITH AUDIENCES

Absolutely, all of the things that engage me are weird like that. Whether it’s film or art or music, I think that there’s something that can be said for stuff that first confuses you, but once you engage with it and start to process it a bit, it actually has a depth that you didn’t initially recognize in it.

A lot of what we do is so in your face and very immediate in some ways, but at the same time, we want to sink under people’s skin a bit and have time to reflect on certain more serious topics.

Confusing people is a great way to get people to start thinking. When you’re confused, you try to rationalize it and process it and when you process and rationalize it, it can get you to a really great place in terms of your engagement with music and art. That’s really what we’re trying to do.

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ON FIGURING OUT HOW TO PLAY LIVE

superorganism live Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

Photo by Michael Fuller

It was fun in the sense that it was like working on a puzzle. When we initially formed the band, we didn’t know if anyone would ever hear us. When we put “Something For Your M.I.N.D.” online, it was like a shot in the dark. I wasn’t sure if bands really blew up anymore by putting a song on Soundcloud – turns out, in some degree, that does still happen. When we did it, we didn’t do it with a master plan or anything; it was just “Let’s do a fun recording project with all of our friends and make it this audio-visual thing.”

Once it became apparent that there was interest and we could actually take it seriously and embark on a live show, at that point, it was like, “We have the songs, a couple of videos, and some visual reference points to work off of, let’s now figure out how to translate it.” We had the outline already sketched out in a way. It was a paint-by-numbers type of thing in how we put it together. It happened really naturally and we knew what colors would go where.

superorganism live 2 Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

Photo by Michael Fuller

Robert did an amazing job with the visuals and figuring out what atmospheres were going to work with the music that we were recreating onstage. We’ve got Ruby, B, and Seoul in the live band who do backing vocals and came up with this crazy dance move that was totally unprompted – those guys showed up to our first practice with this thing they choreographed! It felt like everyone was moving in the same direction.

We, instinctively, knew what the end live show should be based on the foundation that we set with the recordings and the videos. We were all different parts of the same train moving towards that final destination.

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ON EVERYONE FINALLY MEETING

superorganism band photo Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

Orono met Ruby and B in person for the first time about three months into the band. It’s this weird process where it grew over a long period of time, but it didn’t become Superorganism until the 6th of January, 2017. Orono first came over to visit in Easter of last year and that’s when she met Ruby and B for the first time. She went back in May until she graduated. Then she came over at some point in July.

Seoul didn’t get here from Australia until early September or something like that. That point was the first time the whole band had been in a room together. Considering the band was a thing since January, that’s quite a long time for band members to not have actually met each other! When Seoul arrived in the UK, we had a barbecue and we were in the practice room maybe the day after that. Pretty much straight away, we got to business preparing for the first live show [in Hamburg on September 22nd].

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ON INTERNATIONAL BAND DINNERS

skype meal Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

We used to do this thing quite regularly where we’d organize it so we could all have dinner. Orono would come on Facebook Messenger in Maine, Seoul would get on it in Sydney really early his time, and then we’d get on here and cook a big meal. Seoul would usually cook the same meal in Sydney! We had these band dinners and everyone knew each other before they’d properly met because of those situations where we were talking over Skype and stuff, but in terms of physically being together, it was about eight or nine months.

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ON HANGING OUT WITH FANS AFTER SHOWS

superorganism la Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

We’ve been playing a lot of these festival-type situations, and after we’ve gone back and decompressed and stuff, you’re just so hyped up after you play, it’s just fun to go out. If there are other bands playing, we go out and watch them play. If there aren’t, well, just going out and chatting with enthusiastic fans and everyone that wants to really – it’s just such a thrill for us. It’s all so new. I can imagine that some artists when they get big or whatever, they get jaded by that sort of thing, but for us at this point, it’s such a novelty and so much fun.

There was some guy in New York who came up to me and told me that him and his wife had driven like five hours and rented a hotel room for the night to come see us! Hearing that sort of thing is so exciting for us. With those first few months of us being a band up until we started playing these live shows, we knew there was some interest because, obviously, you see the play counts go up online, but the Internet is such a theoretical sort of thing.

There’s interest in theory, but when you start playing shows and you go out after the show and somebody comes up and tells you a story like that of how excited they were to see us – it feels real now. It’s gone from being a cool thing in theory to “wow, that’s amazing!” I think we just all enjoy it at this point and it’s so cool to see the different people who come to check out our stuff. You never really know until you meet people in person.

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ON RATIONALIZING SUCCESS

superorganism tour poster Artist of the Month Superorganism on Becoming a Band Before Ever Being in the Same Room

We’re totally along for the ride. It’s kind of twofold – on the one hand it’s like it’s gone so quickly that you don’t really have a chance to take stock and reflect too much on it. I know that Orono was super excited and freaked out by Ezra [Koenig from Vampire Weekend, who read Orono’s fan fiction live on his Beats 1 show. The story dates back to when she was 12-years-old, writing about Koenig and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo as arch enemies], but overall, I think that obviously these various milestones are mind-blowing for us to experience.

Going in and signing a record deal with Domino, a label that we’ve always looked up to and had so many artists that we adore, for us to do something like that was just mind-blowing, but it happened so quickly and so naturally that we didn’t really have a chance to stop and get freaked out by it. At the same time, we’ve got eight people in the band, so we’re like this weird little community to ourselves in a way.

We’ve got people to bounce things off of and when we have an exciting thing happen, like when we released a single yesterday, I’ve got seven other people to bounce off. We all hype each other up and really enjoy it because of that. It’s like going through this weird ride, but with seven of my best mates and the people that I trust and collaborate with. It all insulates us from whatever pressures you might face if you were on your own.

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