Some of the most warped, exciting indie-pop of recent years has spilled from the East London commune housing most of Superorganism’s eight members. The collective’s sound splits the difference between vintage Beck and meme-era mash-ups: a mix of synthetic and organic, funny, weird, internet-fueled, self-aware and very tripped-out. However, their psychedelic launching pad is actually an unremarkable row house tucked into a side street of Lower Clapton, near Hackney. It’s quiet, unassuming and mostly clean. Perhaps the most exciting thing inside is that there are two fridges instead of one.
The musicians – Harry, Emily, Tucan, Robert Strange, Ruby, B and Soul (not their real names) – move each song from A to Z via the bedrooms, ideas passing through each member’s computer before completion. The musicians usually pass demos back and forth on Whatsapp, and communicate there as well as Skype and Facebook Messenger.
“We hang out in the kitchen, listen to music together, talk about music a lot,” says Harry. He’s at local coffee shop called Hatch, where he and eighth member, Orono Noguchi, have strangely agreed to do an interview at 9 a.m. the morning after playing a show. “It’s in the interactions with the other members of the band that I have an idea. [But] it could start in anyone’s room.”
He explains how the process went for their just-released self-titled album: One band member started with a demo, then they passed it along to a few other members who added parts. The composition would then make its way to Orono’s home in Tokyo, where she created vocal arrangements. B and Ruby added their contributions either together or separately. Once there was something of substance, Tucan got ahold of the pieces to create a mix.
“That’s process is quite funny because it’s him making sense of everyone else’s ideas, which can be quite frustrating,” Harry notes. “‘Everybody Wants to Be Famous,’ for example, got up to 21 mixes until we were all happy with it.”
Robert’s contribution comes last, creating visuals and a music video to accompany the final song. It sounds like a set process, but there’s not actually a fixed path a song has to take. Any idea is worthy if it stands up to an instinctual feeling from the rest of the group.
“It’s all about that visceral reaction,” says Harry. “So if it doesn’t work quite quickly then try something else and try something else and try something else until you find something that does. That leads to an extremely fast-paced working environment.”
“If you keep re-recording or if you’re fussy about the sound of the drums or whatever for a really long time then that feeling’s gone,” Orono adds.
That has, perhaps unintentionally, been the mission statement of the band since the outset. Harry, Emily, Tucan, Robert, Ruby and B moved to London from New Zealand a few years ago – not because London was particularly exciting, but because New Zealand was not. Several played in a band called the Eversons, an indie-pop group who released a handful of records on NZ label Lil’ Chief, home of early releases by the Ruby Suns and Lawrence Arabia. Orono, then a 16-year-old high school student living in Maine, found them on YouTube and struck up a friendship. In early 2017, the musicians sent her a rough copy of a new song and within an hour she’d returned it with lyrics and vocals. The track became “Something For Your M.I.N.D,” Superorganism’s debut single, an immediate breakout which now has nearly two million views on YouTube.
“I just thought it was cool,” Orono shrugs. Like most teenagers, she’s seemingly disaffected, her interest only peaked by a question she deems engaging. “That same feeling I have listening to Pavement or whatever. Also I think because I respect them as songwriters and musicians, everyone in the band, so it was like, ‘No surprise that you guys do something cool like this because you guys are cool.’ … I was like ‘This is sick.'”
“If we had sent an idea to Orono and it had taken her two weeks to send it back we might think, ‘Is this even going to work at all?'” Harry adds.
Orono went from Tokyo to Maine and didn’t move over to London until last July, so most of the album was done long distance. Not that it mattered, since the Internet is key to everything Superorganism does. Their distinct visual aesthetic, which has incorrectly been attributed to an interest in vaporwave, came about thanks to a closed Facebook group the members started last year. Everyone posted images and thoughts, essentially building a mood board. It was up to Robert to make sense of it. “It’s the nature of having eight people in the band,” Orono notes. “We have such diverse interests in a loads of things, not just art. So I think it ends up looking that way.”
The band also has a private Spotify playlist – currently at more than 300 tracks – to which they can all add. They have numerous Whatsapp groups going at given time, including one specific to “shit-talking.” Most of their songs are inspired by ideas drawn from the Internet, too, which may be why Superorganism feels so rooted in meme culture. Orono is particularly interested in the popular YouTube videos made for ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response – a tingling experience brought on by certain sounds. Random online noises are present throughout the album and the live shows.
“We’ve got lots of various sounds,” Harry notes. “Some of those we recorded ourselves, some of those are found sounds from the Internet. Those certainly infiltrate it all. It comes back to that thing of having a really broad palate we can draw from and not being set by rules. The sounds of a rocket taking off – that’s almost as valid of an instrument as the guitar.
“Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking of a lot of sounds we actually recorded ourselves, like the sounds of birds chirping or something being poured into a glass,” he adds. “There’s cans being cracked on ‘Relax.’ The great thing about using computers for production is that all of those things kind of just become an instrument. Like the can cracking is like a snare. You can use it like that and it becomes part of the overall palate.”
There’s something striking about the idea that eight people can come to an agreeable consensus on a song. According to Harry, there have been no major disagreements so far and the band members have been able to put aside personal ego for the greater good. They’re hard to wrangle, sure, which can make touring a challenge (“Shout out to Gavin,” Orono quips of their tour manager), but Superorganism seemed to have tapped into a method of working that allows for total cooperation.
“At the risk of sounding completely pretentious, I found out recently that the method is the Socratic Method, where you constantly challenge each other on the ideas in order to either disprove the idea or have it stand,” Harry says. “The whole way we work is that you do something and then you show it to the group and if people like it it gets the green light and if they don’t you go back to drawing board. You do that until you come up with something that’s working for everyone.”
At the house, Robert and Emily join Orono and Harry in the kitchen, which Robert has dubbed the “Super Dome” since it’s the site of so many discussions. Orono is glued to her phone, scrolling through something online. Everyone else is still sleeping. A conversation begins about whether you should ever listen to an outside critic, including a producer or record label executive. (Notably, they are willing to take advice from Laurence Bell, founder of their current label, Domino, who made them pare their album down from an unwieldy 16 songs). There’s an easy consensus: Art works best as a genuine reflection of the person making it, not as something that’s filtered though anything external.
“When people say something negative and it touches on some insecurity it sticks with you,” Emily notes, leaning against the kitchen doorway. “It’s not even useful. It’s not good for your brain. It’s better to choose who you listen to and then don’t listen to anyone else.”
“That’s the thing about having eight people in a band,” Harry responds, gesturing around the room. Everyone nods. “You’re surrounding yourself with eight critics you trust already.”