Art dance pop tunes born out of improv
Inspiration arrives from unexpected avenues. And so, as Stuart Bogie assembled musical friends and collaborators to write music for the first full-length album by his art-dance-pop outfit Superhuman Happiness, he found the biggest influence was his recent experience in the world of theater.
Bogie, an accomplished saxophonist, composer and arranger whose full-time gig as member of Afrobeat interpreters Antibalas (formerly Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra) was supplemented by work with some of the more interesting and respected artists in the world of indie rock, had been a featured soloist in the original New York production of FELA!, the musical based on the life of Fela Kuti.
Eminent choreographer Bill. T. Jones helmed that show, and Bogie watched his rehearsal techniques carefully.
"The way he chased ideas -- he was like, ‘Show me what it is, show me the artistic moment right now,'" Bogie recalls in a telephone interview from his home in Brooklyn. "He wasn't afraid to pursue something even when he didn't know what it as. He wasn't afraid to run blindly into a nebula of uncertainty. And what he was searching for wasn't always describable in words."
Bogie brought some of that sensibility into the rehearsal room as he worked out new tunes with Superhuman Happiness, which plays at Mass MoCa on Saturday. The eight-piece dug into musical games and exercises suggested not only by Jones' collaborative process, but techniques from improvisational theater and improv comedy.
"The exercises were to get the group-mind thinking together, to get our instincts moving together, to play music without thinking. To follow our instincts, like a basketball team or an improv troupe," Bogie explains.
When things got rolling, ideas would emerge from the unstructured interplay and the shape of a song would start to form.
"Now I'm not even having to suggest ideas. They're coming up from the ground," Bogie says of the process. "The seeds are bearing fruit. So I decided the goal was to create a fertile artistic ground over the course of a year of recording."
The results are hardly meandering. "Hands," the group's full-length follow-up to a series of EPs, will be released in March.
It's packed with danceable rhythms and pop structures encased in an environment where rhythm is predominant, and electronic textures and beats -- plus bold horn parts -- add to the personality.
(The band also features guitarists Luke O'Malley and Ryan Ferreira, bassist Nikhil Yerawadekar, drummer Miles Arntzen, and keyboardist Jared Samuelcarray plus Eric Biondo and Colin Stetson collaborating with Bogie in the brass section.)
Bogie left Antibalas in 2008, focusing on Superhuman Happiness and a freelance docket including extensive work with TV on the Radio, Iron and Wine and a cluster of emerging groups; recently he scored the soundtrack to the film "How to Survive a Plague."
Most of the songs on "Hands" clock in at more than five minutes, but the pop form still feels more cogent than hazy. Still, with an emphasis on collaborative creativity and an eagerness to progress from existing forms, Bogie says he's not sold on the pop song, as it's been understood in the age of mechanical reproduction and mass media.
"I don't think it's necessary, the way that music and creativity are going, that we live in terms of songs for another century," he says. "I wanted our fans to connect with songs, it's about what we see as a song. You could see ‘Love Me Do' as a quintessential pop song, but hundreds of years before that, quintessential pop songs could have 30 minutes of verses without a chorus. I'd like to be in a position where I could allow the process to change."
What: Superhuman Happiness physical, cinematic, dance rock, ‘80s electro-meets-Afrobeat.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Club B-10, Mass MoCA, Marshall Street, North Adams.
Tickets: $12 advance; $16 day of the show; $10 student.
Information: (413) 662-2111 or www.massmoca.org.
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