Birthed from an explosion of scattered stars, a collision of far-flung heavenly bodies, a nuclear fusion of the outright impossible, came Superorganism.
They are a milky way of eight planets, brought together from every corner of the universe, to create kaleidoscopic pop music designed to blow your mind. In 2017, their arrival was heralded with the declaration: "We are Superorganism. We are in Maine/London. We are DIY. We are eight and multiplying. We have become sentient." What separated Superorganism from its musical ancestors was their breeding ground: the internet.
To make Superorganism, the unlikeliest of ingredients went into the Petri dish: creatives from as far as the UK, Australia, New Zealand - and Orono Noguchi, who was, at the time, a 17-year-old girl from Japan. "The fact we found common ground - and find creatively fertile common ground, at that - where we could create good songs together still blows my mind," de facto frontman Harry says. "That was so important for opening my mind. Superorganism has made me realise that the people you surround yourself with define how far you think you can go. Diversity of people means that your horizons are far broader. Those people, simply by virtue of being open to working with people from other countries, will be open-minded and so ambitious in what they want to achieve that it will reflect on you. That has had a huge impact on the success of the band and our creative processes."
The first track they released to the world, "Something For Your M.I.N.D", a glittering psych-pop confection that sleepily tripped over its own laces, was no sooner posted online than it was getting picked up by Frank Ocean’s Blonded Beats One radio show. Superorganism soon felt the eyes of labels upon them, finding a home with well-established indie label Domino. Ambition was inevitable: a natural by-product of being in a multi-media, multi-genre collective. Their creative output multiplied in these optimum conditions, and so their eponymous debut album followed in quick succession.
"We’ve not sat down and had any grand narratives of what the band should be," Harry says, considering the velocity of Superorganism’s success. "It’s a little bit overwhelming to be honest. We didn’t really expect to go from nought to a hundred like we have - it was such a fast process. We’ve all worked on different music and stuff over the years – you know, you can work for years and years in relative obscurity making music just for yourself, basically – so it’s really weird when you’re travelling around the world, connecting with a wider audience, like Super Bock Super Rock Festival in Portugal, Germany, Indonesia or Mexico where there are thousands of people who know your songs. We’ve only just come to the end of this touring period, and we’ve not had chance to catch our breath, really. Now that we’ve finally been able to take a step back, it blows our minds."
Superorganism was the door that opened as another closed. "We’d kind of come to the end of the line with what was creatively rewarding in our previous projects. I met Orono just before a few of us moved to the UK - 18 months later, we formed Superorganism." Harry explains.
Hailing from Burnley in Lancashire, Harry would later move to New Zealand to form The Eversons, whose members were to be absorbed into Superorganism. "We got over here, we were playing rock music for a while - garage rock-style music, I suppose. I felt like we kind of explored it creatively to the point where I kind of got bored." He adds quickly, "- though I can only speak for myself."
"The two guitars; bass; drums - we were four dudes as well - we don’t really hang out like that. It felt tired in terms of genre: the four-dude rock band." Harry continues, "When I hang out socially with my friends, it’s not just a couple of dudes hanging out: B was around; Ruby was around; Soul’s also a dude – but he was around - you know. Around that time, we knew Orono was making great art. It felt like a logical extension - we just wanted to see what we could do next. We always just excelled with playing around with different genres, and trying out different styles and stuff. We all listened to a wide variety music. Say, for example, if at a particular time I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic music, or rap, it makes no sense, in that regard, to be playing something like The Strokes. We thought, 'We’ve got a wider circle of creative people now; let’s draw them into our world and use that as a blank canvas to explore all the different ideas people are having.'" He emphasises, "That’s not exactly abandoning rock music, it’s just a case of utilising other people’s skills - and it has worked spectacularly well. People took to it straight away."
Rock music, as it is fashionable to say, is dead. While that may not be the unequivocal truth, Harry’s admission is not alone, talking about the genre and its long-established rules as ‘tired’. Opinions aside, rock’s right to the throne is hotly contested, with the majesty of grime and ever-eclectic pop music challenging its supremacy. "I think tastes in music tend to reflect changes in society," Harry muses. "I like to think about it in these terms: My dad of came of age in the late '70s-early '80s - the same with my mum, for that matter. Their tastes are dramatically different because of the subcultures they moved in. My dad liked punk music and hard rock stuff, from Motorhead to The Buzzcocks, who were toward the pop end of what he liked. Whereas my mum really likes '80s pop stuff; I remember her listening to Whitney Houston and Cindy Lauper. There was absolutely no crossover in tastes in that regard. That’s because the access to music that you had and the way that you’d develop culturally was within your social group - it was whatever was in your day-to-day. It was what you heard on the radio; what you could buy at the record store. I’m a fan of all of those musicians that I just listed - partially because my parents exposed me to them - but mainly because my generation has had this crazy access."
"Ever since I got into music, I’ve pretty much been able to listen to whatever I wanted." Harry continues. "If I read Kurt Cobain talking about The Wipers - I could listen to The Wipers, I could figure it out, I could find them. If I heard someone talking about how much they loved The Spice Girls, I could get exposed to that too. I feel like that has totally broken down the tribalism that used to exist in music. I feel like we’ve reached a point where it’s almost impossible to find someone who only likes rock music - I mean, who is like that? By that same measure, it’s increasingly rare that you come across musicians who only listen to and play rock music. I do come across people like that sometimes, and in a way, I kind of respect their single-mindedness, in that regard - but I don’t only listen to rock music, so therefore why would I only make rock music?"
"I think that’s the way things are going, culturally. That’s not to say that rock music doesn’t still have an influence. A lot of SoundCloud rappers, or even Post Malone, clearly love rock music. He’s one of the biggest musicians around right now, and you can see that rock music is a big influence on what he does. It’s way more profound than just the sound of a guitar, or a live drum kit or a live band playing on his record. It is there - the influence is still there and it will always be there, but it’s diversified to a point where it’s almost unrecognisable. The people who are still practitioners of classic, old-school rock music are doing something similar to what jazz artists were doing in the '80s, which is basically like a throwback thing. There will always be a market for that. There will always be a market for people who want to hear a band who sound just like Led Zeppelin, or the Ramones, because that kind of music is good. It’s just becoming increasingly rare because there is so much music at our fingertips these days. We will never know limits to our exposure to music."
The advent of Superorganism held the promise of an emerging vanguard of experimental music that defied the conventions of anything that came before it. Far more than a band, they were a collective - a project. "It confuses people," Harry says, thinking about the challenges of pioneering a new dynamic has brought to people’s perception of who Superorganism are. "This idea of a non-traditional band structure, that you don’t quite fit into the realm of what people have come to expect, really confuses people. My favourite band of all time is The Beatles, of course, and it’s funny because I feel like they suffered that same kind of stigma towards the end of their career." He lists, in mocking way, "George is the guitarist; Paul is the bass player; John is the rhythm guitarist; Ringo is the drummer! - even though they maintained those roles, it became much looser. You wouldn’t just call Paul McCartney the bass player on Abbey Road - though he was on a bunch of other tracks, he also played piano, he did a bunch of guitar work, vocal arranging. Same for the other members of the band."
"I’ve had people obsess to me over specifics about guitar parts because they see I play guitar live - but I don’t think they realise that being a guitarist is not my only role in the band. It makes sense on a practical level, but that doesn’t mean I play guitar on every record. It’s this thing that people struggle to understand where you fit. If you look on Spotify, a lot of the related artists - which I guess are what our fans are also listening to - make quite conventional, guitar-based indie. We’ve been kind of pigeonholed as that, which is strange, because to me, I don’t think we sound like that at all. I think it’s down to being signed to an indie label - which is amazing by the way, no complaints whatsoever there - but we’ve got this kind of home-spun DIY vibe, and are therefore filed alongside indie-rock bands. That’s kind of confusing to me, and a little bit frustrating - but I can’t really express why I’m so frustrated!" He laughs. "I guess my own self-image of what the project is doesn’t match up with what other people think of us. I think people sometimes try to box us in which isn’t helpful for their own perception of what our music is, nor is it helpful for us as people or what we’re trying to achieve creatively." Harry pauses for a moment, "Just to add, this frustration is purely an ego thing to be honest! I’m like 'Why can’t people see that we’re a multi-genre, multi-media project? We’re not just a traditional rock band!', but that is inherently pompous for me to be thinking about in those terms. If there is a drawback to how we’ve arranged our project, it would be that."
However, for as much as a large, unconventional, geographically disparate collective has its pitfalls, being an ultra-modern group gives Superorganism access to unique advantages. "The great thing about having eight people is the self-editing system." Explaining the creative process, he says, "When music gets made, we’ll discuss the song beforehand, the tone that we want to achieve with the music video, and we’ll make various mood boards on our group chat of images and colours and vibes that we might want to incorporate into it. Robert will then go away and do his thing - he’s very much an auteur, I suppose - compiling our tastes, and then he’ll come back and show us a cut and we’ll be like, 'Hey, I think this bit is particularly awesome; I think this bit needs a bit of work. Here are some suggestions about what could change, what could be different.' That’s our self-editing process. Actually, the songs are very much like that as well. If one of us has a draft for a song, we know we can run with it, and everyone can encourage that without being afraid to make our own suggestions. That’s how it builds into a finished song. In that sense, every piece of art we release is quite considered. We’ve been deliberate in how we’ve put it together. There’s a lot of spontaneity to it, which is why sometimes it might be a little rough around the edges, but what the final goal is has been a deliberate thing. We all reach a point where we’re all satisfied with it."
With a song named in homage to prawns, droll lyrics ("This sucks, I’m the Kmart soda jerk," "Cirque du trash," and "Make way, I’m in my Pepsi mood,") and music videos that take you on neon-coloured, hyperreal trip with flying cat heads munching pizza like PAC-MAN, it would be fair to say that Superorganism are in touch with a sense of humour. "People will perceive you the way you present yourself." Harry expands, "Robert makes all our music videos and I see that absolutely as the flip side of the coin to our music. You hear 'Everybody Wants to be Famous' or 'Night Time', and you might come up with a bunch of preconceived ideas about whether or not the song is meant to be serious or humorous. Then you watch the video - and I’m not saying that we’re trying to answer all of your preconceptions; we did want to leave something to the imagination - but it suddenly gives context to the artistic intention behind the song. It gives you an insight into the sense of humour that we’re trying to convey. In the modern world, sense of humour in music is becoming increasingly foreign unfortunately, particularly in pop music." He continues, "So often, when people do inject a sense of humour and self-awareness into it, its interpreted totally in the wrong way, and then it becomes this whole thing that the person has to defend themselves for."
"Indie rock has become quite a serious, dour genre," Harry muses. "Back in the '90s, bands like Pavement and Nirvana had a sense of humour. Even when they were being serious, or in Nirvana’s case, quite dark, they still managed to add a little humour to what they were doing. I feel like that is becoming increasingly lost in the mainstream. It’s not totally dead - there are a lot of artists who do still have that and carry the torch for it."
Superorganism are in the midst of the festival run, scheduled to play Super Bock, Super Rock Festival in Portugal later this week, sharing the top bill with the likes of The 1975, KAYTRANADA – "and Lana Del Rey as well, I think!" Harry adds. "I love all three of those artists so much. We actually played alongside The 1975 a couple of months ago; it was the first time I’d seen them live, and they blew me away. I’m excited to be doing the same again."
"Since doing this I’ve been to so many festivals," Harry ponders, "but there have only been a few where I’ve actually been able to hang out in the audience. I went to Primavera in 2016; we started the band at the end of that year, and I actually feel in some way that going to that festival opened my eyes to the breadth of possibility within modern music. There was a fantastic line-up and a great vibe. When I was a kid, I used to go to Leeds Festival as well. Looking back, going there to camp with no tent, no wellies for it then to just piss it down all weekend, with about £20 to my name and a box of beers, I’m like 'What was I doing?'", he cringes. "That would absolutely mess me up these days, but back then, I loved it. The state of the toilets as well - now I’m so glad that I get to use backstage toilets. That is one of the biggest perks of being an artist!"
"You can’t prepare enough - there are always going to be curveballs. Honestly, I just sound like my mum here, this is straight up my mum’s advice: lots of sunscreen, lots of water, try to get some sleep and shade as possible. There will be some unexpected pitfalls, like going to the toilet and finding there’s no toilet paper, but if you cover those bases, you’re probably going to have a good time."
The feeling of success is something Harry isn’t immediately equipped to describe. He seems to have fully formed thoughts on everything, from the state of music today, Superorganism’s place within it, to the industry they belong in - but when it comes to success and his definition of it, he is unprepared. He eventually decides, "Success is having a vision, realising it, and it then connecting with a wider group of people. For a lot my musical development over the years, I was really frustrated that my vision outstripped my ability. I’d have a really grandiose idea of what I’d want to execute but have no idea of how to do it. I’d have an idea for a song and start working on it, but then I’d just get a bit lost. The success with Superorganism is that we were able to have a vision that felt quite ambitious, and then actually execute it. It just felt so satisfying."
"I remember having the initial idea for 'Everybody Wants to Be Famous' back in 2014 when that phrase first popped into my head as a song idea, and at that point I had no idea how to execute that. I did a draft back then, I tried again, but I just couldn’t get it anywhere. I abandoned it after a while. Then when Superorganism happened, we picked it back up and it became exactly this thing I’d envisioned but hadn’t been able to achieve. With Robert in charge of the music video paired up with the song, it was such an exciting feeling to do that. In the past, before Superorganism, I kind of achieved it to a level where I thought, 'Damn, I’ve really nailed this!' - but then it hadn’t connected with anyone. Any of the songs off our record satisfies my own itch - not only with the result of the song, but also with the way it connects with millions of people."
He remembers one particular instance at Corona Capital Festival in Mexico, performing in a tent full to the rafters with 10,000 people. "Our tour manager actually took a video of the crowd singing along to 'Everybody Wants to Be Famous'," he tells us. "It was so loud! I could hear them on stage, even with in-ear monitors to hear myself. I’d just taken one out, and hearing so many people yell this phrase back at me that I’d thought of in 2014, all the way to 2018 when 10,000 in Mexico City singing it back to me - like what the fuck! Any time that we can experience something like that, I feel like that’s success. It’s so fulfilling to experience that shared consciousness and have that same excitement you had about an idea reflected back to you."
For almost two years, Superorganism have been comets hurtling at a breakneck speed, taking the world by storm. "Being on tour, we’ve got a lot of inspiration and a lot of ideas. It’s time for us to sort through our ideas and turn them into our next record. We already have a lot of songs that we’ve been working on for a while now - it’s just a case of bringing them together. In early September, we’re just going to knuckle-down and try and execute that same feeling that aligns with our expectations." Harry tells us, relaying no tiredness - only sheer enthusiasm. "We’re hoping to have an album ready in the next couple of months." It makes you wonder just how far a collective like Superorganism can go - a band without boundaries.