How did the concept for Submotion Orchestra come about?
The band grew from a one-off concert that marked the reopening of York Minster. The arts council in York wanted to fuse live traditional instrumentation with new electronic music. Ranking Records, who was a local Leeds dubstep label, got asked to write and put on this gig, which incorporated a live rhythm section, African choir, horn section, classical pianist, cathedral organist, opera singers and MCS. It was a pretty special night. That got the ball rolling with the main core of the band to carry on this idea of recreating electronic music with real instruments and bridging the gap between genres and instrumentation.
How did that translate to live band?
The main core of dubstep is the 2-step garage rhythm and lots of sub-bass played at around 140bpm, so we were using live drums and synths and pedals to recreate this alongside our producer Ruckspin, who controlled the desk like an old school dub engineer adding lots of delays and reverbs to the sounds. We then added vocals and trumpet to bring a nice jazz element to the sound, which also gave it more of an organic texture and complemented the heavy nature of the rhythm section really well.
What do you call the bands genre?
We started off playing a lot of dubstep nights, so would always be playing at around 140bpm so I suppose it was dubstep but at the same time we would also try and change other elements of the music so it wasn’t so generic. At the moment we are experimenting with lots of different textures, tempos and experimental ideas, so I would say we are just a band playing electronic music.
How do you approach this with your playing?
I learned all I know from producers mainly and married it with my bass playing and feel. I mainly learned about synthesis and how to create electronic music and how the basslines are constructed within production. I then took this concept and mixed it with my knowledge of pedals and came up with a pedal-board that would allow me to make those sounds via lots of stomp boxes!
Submotion, James Blake and So many others are really making sound the new “British Sound”…. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s great, Britain is amazing to grow up in because of its forward thinking notion in music… a lot of the world-look towards London in particular for the next sound or big thing. In terms of dubstep, it grew out of the UK and the scene down south with nights like DMZ and up north with EXODUS, which meant that there was a strong unified sound that was being played in the underground clubs.
How did you meet the rest of the band?
I was on that very first cathedral gig, so was in it from the start but we were all part of the Leeds music scene and were all very much actively gigging around so knew each other really well; it was a very organic process.
What percent of the music do you actually play live?
We play everything live… there is no click and no backing tracks, no syncing and miming. That’s how it should be!
As a bass player what is different from playing this kind of music from something in the pop idiom?
It’s a different kettle of fish, you play a lot differently in terms of the sonics; you are creating textures more than lines within your playing so you usually have a producer’s head on in terms of what you play. You can play one note that can make everyone go nuts. The secret is how you manipulate that one note via waveforms, EQ and modulation.
Obviously this music is hugely jazz influenced but is there any room for improvisation?
Yea… we move the lines and arrangements around when we play, that’s the beauty of doing it all live.
Do you sample or create your own samples?
We do sample yea, but we mainly sample ourselves in terms of synth lines that can be fired off on the MPC.
Where did you study music?
I studied at Leeds College of Music in northern England and did a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Studies, which was a lot of fun and great training in terms of harmony, writing and improvisation.
What’s on the agenda for the rest of your year?
We are about to embark on the summer-run of festivals, but we have just finished recording an EP, which will be released in November and then we go on tour in Britain and within Europe.
Do you find people need to warm up to your music or that it’s more “love at first sight”-ish?
Yea I think most people hear about us from word of mouth and because of the live element, it’s a bit of a talking point about how we create everything.
Do you see a change in electronic music? Or are you trying to create a change?
Electronic music is always changing whether its for the better or worse. I think you have to keep on making challenging and credible music, and make sure you put out the best you can. Within our writing sessions ideas get moved around so much and scrutinized so heavily so that the material that comes out the other side is the best we can all make it. Unfortunately some music nowadays does not have that much thought and love put into it.
In 1982 the UK Musicians Union attempted to ban the synthesizer and drum machines use of any kind in fear that it would take away work from musicians… 31 years later how does that make you feel? Since you are in the 1% of musicians that can actually say they play electronic music, do you have an insiders view?
Wow that’s a great fact. I’m glad they didn’t ban them. It’s such a massive part of modern music and you can’t stop change, you need to learn how to get along with it and use it for what you need. I think learning about synths waveforms and modulation is just as important as learning your modes if you want to make interesting music in the electronic genre.
In order to recreate the sound of a modern record live it takes a ton of manpower that most acts can’t afford. For instance, I saw Kendrick Lamar a few months ago and he had a bassist playing bass, synth bass, a synth player playing bass and then three keyboardists on the opposite side of the stage. Is this the case with Submotion? Do you find that you actually need more members to make it sound sonically like your record?
I don’t think that’s a problem with Submotion as we play everything live on record, so when we play gigs it’s exactly the same, but with more improvisation and spontaneity, which is what makes live shows so exciting
Are you involved with any other projects?
Yea… I play with Alex Clare and tour regularly out in the US with him and I also have a lot of small up and coming projects that are more niche and weird. I try to cover a lot of different ground within the electronic music spectrum, as there is so much good bass music around to take influence on.
Have you always wanted to be in a band or were you aiming to be more of a session player?
A mixture really, and I’m covering most bases at the moment, variety is the spice of life so I’m always playing lots of different gigs with different people.
Do you play any other instruments?
Well a bit of keys guitar and drums, could possibly get my grade-one in those but that’s about it… ha-ha.
How do you find the local music scene?
London music is scene is amazing, so much going on, and so extensive within most genres as well.
Do you go to any jams? If so which ones do you recommend?
I don’t go to jams no, not really my vibe… ha-ha.
If you could be anyone and in any band EVER who would you be and what band would you be in?
I would be in RATM, that’s my favourite all time band, in terms of power, meaning, forward thought, concept, and sound. They were and still are top of their game. Their self-titled album and Evil Empire still sound as fresh as the day they were made, not many albums or bands achieve that!