Superorganism’s Mark ‘Emily’ Turner On Smashing Genre Boundaries & Why Being A Musician Is Just Like ‘Flight Of The Conchords’Written by Riley Fitzgerald on March 2, 2018
Superorganism. A melting pot of producers, songwriters, visual artists and performers. Eight in total. Two parts Australian.
While they’re currently bunkered down in an East London terrace, there’s an undeniably Aussie spark which sets the group in motion. Both Emily (Mark Turner) as well as backing vocalist Soul spent their childhoods in Sydney, Oz fixating on Rage and triple j. A world where Britney Spears, The Avalanches, Regurgitator and ‘Mambo No.5’ were never too far apart.
Emily credits this diet as sparking a fascination for seeking common musical threads. The kind beyond genre. Stripping away the context and tribalism of culture’s past, he chases stray melodies to connect feeling.
Superorganism’s weird cavalcade of influences is less a product of postmodern idealism than a simple reflection of the musical world as is.
As one of the chief creative forces in the collective, Turner’s chequered musical past casts a fantasy spell. It’s a mindset where Blur and Oasis get along. Post Malone and The Magnetic Fields march in lockstep. Okay, we’re getting a little carried away, but it’s an ambitious headspace.
With singles ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ and ‘Everybody Wants to Be Famous’, Superorganism traced music’s hidden threads to formulate their own viral success. The big anthemic flashes of their debut LP, out today, give the impression that the group inhabits the innocence of pop. Yet concurrently, they’re broadening their horizons.
Delivered by 17-year-old frontwoman Orono Noguchi, technological anxieties and euphoria sit at the centre of their lyrics. Combining Orono’s wordplay with an affinity for ear-worming production, it feels like Superorganism could be more than simply an empty ambition. A creature custom-made for life within the slipstreams and endless shuffle of the streaming present.
Catch our chat with synth player and production guru Mark ‘Emily’ Turner, below.
Music Feeds: In the last few months Superorganism has transitioned from this online collective of artists to not only a band which is playing live and producing music as a unit but also housemates! What has it been like for you?
Emily: Amazing man! It’s a crazy, crazy experience. It’s like you put a song up online with a group of people who – we didn’t even know if we could ever all be in the same room together, in the same country as each other! So it’s like this crazy kind of experience. It’s mad man! It’s a trip!
MF: A large portion of the group were New Zealanders or living in New Zealand prior to migrating over to London. New Zealand is well known, notorious even, for their quirky sense of humour. Is it something that’s feeding into the Superorganism alchemy?
E: Yeah, I think so. It’s like an antipathy and a view on the world. A slightly different kinda thing. I feel like all of us grew up with Flight of the Conchords. I feel like that’s actually a really accurate depiction of being a musician. I know it’s a funny thing to say because it’s so absurd, but it IS that absurd! It’s exactly like that! [Laughs] I do think that when you come from a slightly outside-of-the-world perspective you tend to try and make sense of it in some way. I think it’s the same with Australians as well, we tend to find the humour in all of this stuff you know?
MF: Superorganism has some Australian connections. Is it true that one of your backing vocalists, Soul, was living in Sydney recently?
E: He’s actually Australian and I’m Australian. He was born in Sydney and so was I. His parents are South Korean and he’s lived in South Korea and New Zealand as well. Now he’s over here in London. So he’s been all over! We’ve kind of have this experience, most people in the band have this experience, of being born somewhere and moving somewhere else, then moving somewhere else, and then moving somewhere else. It becomes less of a geography thing, but I do think this Australian connection is reasonably strong just because growing up with Rage and listening to triple j.
It’s funny because people talk to us about eclecticism and lots of different genres but it’s funny because if you grew up watching Rage. I realise now that that’s a really eclectic show. They’ll put Britney Spears next to The Avalanches and then next to ‘Mambo No. 5’ or whatever. I feel like it’s built into an Australian mindset in a certain way.
MF: Superorganism have often been mentioned in the same breath as groups like Avalanches and The Gorillaz. Is it a valid comparison?
E: I think it’s extremely flattering. Those are two bands which pretty much all of us have grown up listening to. It’s flattering for me personally because both of those bands do this mainstream, widescreen, full-on and intense thing. It’s mainstream pop music but it’s also quite clearly slightly strange or the personalities involved were unusual. I really relate to that. I would also say that a band like Regurgitator from Australia…
MF: The Gurg!
E: …they’re heaps like that as well. And from New Zealand, The Mint Chicks. You get this kind of like strange humour but there’s also a love of full-on mainstream pop music. A weird double-sided thing of full-on strange weirdo indie stuff and cool mainstream pop music.
MF: You have a fairly ballistic Spotify Playlist going we’re you’ve got these outsiders like Ween, Ariel Pink, Hannah Diamond, Girl Ray and Charlie XCX sitting beside Kanye, Todd Rundgren and Britney Spears…Is it indicative of this shared eclecticism you’ve been touching on?
E: It’s funny, to me I feel like lots of people listen to that range of music. When you’ve grown up with access to the internet, with Napster, and now Spotify it takes away a lot of the context and the petty beefs of pop culture. Things like the Blur versus Oasis beef or the disco versus rock beef – that doesn’t necessarily come through in the music when you listen to it.
That eclecticism just kind of comes from listening to just all this music from every era and you start drawing these lines up, you start finding these threads throughout music history that aren’t really genre based. They tend to be more along the lines of an outlook. A kind of unique personality or a strange personality or an ability to do crazy pop hooks!
People like Ariel Pink are a great example of that or people like Ween do it super, super well. Magnetic Fields do that really really well too. That’s something that we all share.
It’s funny, I talk to a lot of people and lots of people listen to music like that now. I love that. That people aren’t necessarily hung up on a trap hi-hat or whether or not it’s a guitar or something else. I think that’s cool.
MF: Being part of this melting pot of producers, songwriters and artists there must be a lot of ideas bouncing around. Was it difficult reducing them all to a single 10-track album?
E: What was difficult was that we had to draw the line. We’re writing so many songs all the time and coming up with so much visual art. But you just kind of have to be a certain point, “This is this record.” Then you just keep making stuff every day. That’s the fun thing, that’s all we like to do. Now that we’re doing it full time we’re doing it ten times the pace.
It was super helpful to have Laurence Bell, who’s the head of Domino Records and the founder – super awesome guy. He sits down with us and will be like, “Guys this feels like the end of this song and the next sort of thing is the next sort of thing.” That kind of perspective is really valuable when you’re eight people living in a house altogether. Perspective can go out the window too when things should end!
We just keep making more stuff, that’s what we do. We just keep making it, how to group it all is sort of an art form all within itself. It’s something we think of later, after we make stuff.
MF: We’re plugged into online networks most of our waking lives. Why do you think modern pop has tended to shy away from cyber culture in favour of more traditional staples of love and loss?
E: That’s an interesting perspective but I don’t really see it like that. If you look at anything that was a massive pop hit last year, just off the top of my head like Post Malone or Lil Uzi Vert, the biggest most explosive pop stuff tends to deal a lot with the modern world in a really literal way.
So I don’t know, I don’t really feel like that. I feel that good music tends to reflect the world around you and for us, I feel like we’re not really commenting on all that stuff as much as just reporting what we see. Sort of trying to show both sides of all these phenomena like social media or whatever it is. There’s always a really great optimistic side to these things and a really dark side to them as well.
MF: What’s next? Do you have any plans on coming Down Under that you can share with us?
E: Absolutely! We’re definitely coming Down Under this year, we’re just confirming it all up but we’ll definitely see you for a whole bunch of shows. We’re touring the whole world this year non-stop and Australia is, personally for me, super-super important. That’s my home! That’s where I come from, the same for Soul.
Superorganism’s self-titled debut album is out now. Grab it here.