Submotion Orchestra on ‘Colour Theory,’ Keytars, And Onstage Livestock [Interview]
Submotion Orchestra’s new album Colour Theory is one of the albums of the year. Granted, it is only February, but I can very safely say that Colour Theory is going to take some beating. Seriously.
Colour Theory has been on near-constant repeat at TMMP HQ after hitting a 100% home run in this full-length review. It’s a genuinely spectacular album – and for this interview, TMMP got SubMo keyboardist Taz Modi talking about the story behind Colour Theory as well as stage invading DJs, keytars, onstage livestock and spaceships…
Your fourth album Colour Theory is out on February 19. What thoughts and feelings are going through your heads right now?
It’s amazing to have reached four albums and three EPs in such a short space of time, so we’re really excited to see how this album will go down, since it’s a bit of a change for us.
We’re also gearing up for the tour in March and April, which is going to be interesting for us, since it’s the first record where we’ve not developed the tracks by workshopping them together as a band – it’s been a much more produced and computerised process. So we’re still not quite sure how we’ll fit everything together when we do them live.
But that’s going to be exciting as well, since we’ll have to adapt and change our live processes, and after six years gigging it’s time to do things a little differently.
There’s a heavier focus on production throughout Colour Theory, and the album features a number of prominent guest spots. How did those changes affect your creative process?
Well, we’d done all our previous albums in pretty much the same way – writing songs, ideas and grooves which we then workshopped as a band and developed into finished tunes before recording them. Here, stuff was written separately, and then everything went to [producer, engineer, and effects guru Dom] Ruckspin, who put it all together, edited and arranged things, and then started sending things back to the rest of us to add parts and develop. Then it was back to him.
So it took a little while to get used to doing things in a bit of a vacuum and then sending it to him, but we all trust what Ruckspin’s hearing, so there was never a doubt that it would end up sounding great.
With the guest tracks, some of those were started before working with us, and others evolved in close collaboration, but again everything went through Ruckspin’s magic brain. In general, though some adaptation was needed to get used to it, it made everything feel really fresh for us, and it was definitely the right time to do something like that.
How have you evolved, as musicians and as people, over the course of creating Colour Theory?
We certainly felt good about letting Ruckspin off the leash – he’s always had to work with mostly live instruments and beats, so this was probably the freest he’s ever felt in determining the sound of an album, where most of the sounds were built up from scratch. And there’s definitely been a movement towards a more unified sound; some of the previous records have been a bit diverse, but this one is definitely more of a consistent sounding record.
You’re touring in support of Colour Theory this March and April. What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened at a SubMo show?
We’ve played all sorts of shows to all sorts of people, so have had our share of mishaps.
Several power failures have occurred at unfortunate times, like when we did Finest Hour as an encore in Oxford and the stage box for the keyboards decided to pack in whilst it was just me and Ruby playing. I think that happened in Guildford as well once.
Regrettably, I’ve both fallen off my keyboard stool and had my keyboard stands collapse in the middle of tunes, often when it’s just come down to me and Ruby playing. Not sure why it’s always then that things seem to happen. Maybe the gods of chaos like bass and get upset when it stops.
There was also the time in Manchester a DJ came on stage to set up his gear – in the middle of a tune in the middle of our set – and then proceeded to have an argument with our drummer when we told him to get off. That said, it was probably the first time he’d been told to fuck off very loudly by six people at the same time in front of a large crowd. Or maybe not, I’ve never seen him DJ…
You’ve been playing live for a long time now – but do you ever suffer from stage fright or pre-show nerves? If so, how do you get around that?
Generally, it’s not actually a problem. It’s probably the combo of doing all sorts of gigs to all sorts of crowds, and also having seven of us in the band – there’s definitely a security in the numbers there.
There’s been the odd occasion, such as the Barbican show we did recently with strings, horns and backing vocalists, where there’s a bit of a different atmosphere and we’re a little bit on edge [because] a lot more could go wrong. But generally, we seem to deal with nerves pretty well.
If you have the view that all gigs are similar, and you should play with the same amount of effort and love whether you play for five people or five thousand – both of which we’ve done – then it’s gets easier to treat the bigger shows with calm.
If money and good taste weren’t issues, what would your stage show look like?
There would definitely be keytars.
I always used to love the dancers at James Brown shows, so we’d have a couple of them behind us. I saw the amazing Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal, and he had a piglet on stage – so we’d probably get some livestock in as well, put a few mics around them and sample the bleating.
Some kind of spaceship or flying device would be handy too. But we’d settle for a roadie to help us with our gear – we still do all the load ins ourselves, which sounds massively unglamorous, but I guess it keeps us grounded.
Beyond the album release and tour, what do you have planned for the remainder of 2016?
We’re just finalising our summer festival schedule, so keep an eye out and stuff will get announced soon.
I imagine we’ll start looking at some new material towards the end of the year as well, and with some babies and marriages happening in the Submotion family, it’s going to be an interesting year.
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Image © Chris Hargreaves.