Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday May 21st 2019

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Hangout Fest ’19: The Science Behind Superorganism

By Savannah Evanoff

Music buffs look at electronic pop band Superorganism the same way scientists assess the swarms of humpback whales convening in the southwest coast of Africa. No one really knows the details of how or why the eight-piece collective formed, but it’s worth a closer look.

A photo of these mysterious whale gatherings is a chunk of the conversation that led to Superorganism’s band name, said backup singer Ruby.

“We started talking about superorganisms and the idea of what they were,” Ruby said. “A lot of us were really obsessed with the idea of technology and nature and how they interwove with each other and also how they’re quite similar. Each of them relies on other things to make it all work.”

“The whale is this huge, amazing beast that other species rely on,” she continued.

Ruby thinks one of them brought up a whale in a WhatsApp chat—not unlike their iconic origin story. The band met and worked through the internet for a while before moving in together in London. Ruby worked on two or three songs with pint-sized lead singer, Orono Noguchi, before they even met in person.

“What happens with the group is we all talk about stuff that we like, and often, something gets pulled out of it from one of the members to be used for something,” Ruby said. “All of our ideas are collective ideas, even if it’s one person in the group who brings them to life.”

Robert Strange, the band’s visual artist, took a liking to the whale. Turquoise inflatable whales hung from the ceiling when the band performed at NPR’s Tiny Desk C—one of their favorite performances to date.

“It was quite mind-blowing to be at NPR—in that same space where you see all these others perform—and then you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m doing this,’” Ruby said. “It was a special acoustic stripped-down version of what we would normally do at a live show … We really pulled out all our guns for that. We wanted to recreate some of the sounds we recorded for the album.”

The songs on Superorganism’s self-titled debut album are like children, so Ruby doesn’t like to play favorites. But she does anyway.

“Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” was the first song they recorded and the first song fans heard and latched onto. Every time she performs it, it transports Ruby’s mind to a memory. The members in London sent the demo to Noguchi in Maine to lay verses over it. She only had it for an hour.

“I think it was Emily or Harry that said, ‘Orono sent back the song. Do you guys want to listen to it?’” Ruby said. “We’re all like, ‘Hell yeah.’ I have this really distinct memory of sitting down and playing it on our tiny little speakers we have in our kitchen and hearing her and saying like, ‘This is really cool. We made this.’”

Many good memories were born in that kitchen, one of their only collective spaces, Ruby said. Noguchi’s vocals were the cherry on top of an already cool track.

“I just remember thinking, ‘This is really cool, and I don’t care if anyone else doesn’t like it because I freaking love it.’”

Listeners felt the same.

Because it takes two hands to count the number of band members, people can’t help but research the science behind their success.

“I don’t think about it until someone asks me because of the way we make music,” Ruby said. “Lots of bands do a jam session where they’re all physically in a room together trying to work out what they’re going to do. We’ve always worked quite solitarily in our rooms, doing stuff on our own then sending it to another person.”

The band has basically lived on tour since the song dropped, doing a Southeast Asia tour earlier this year and two U.S. tours and a Europe tour last year. The eight members might share a home, but they haven’t spent a “proper amount of time” in it since … well, ever.

“We kinda take our home on the road,” Ruby said. “It becomes like a mobile home.”

Superorganism brings lights, visuals and a bit of choreography to its shows. Noguchi likes to hand out snacks, too, Ruby said with a laugh.

“I never promise that you’ll get a snack from her, because that’s not every time, but food definitely becomes part of the show sometimes,” Ruby said. “We like to have fun on stage, and hopefully that comes across to the audience as well. We’re really looking forward to Hangout Fest. I don’t think any of us have been to Alabama before.”

Superorganism
2:30-3:30 p.m.
Friday
Pandora Surf Stage