If the band’s penchant for bright costumes doesn’t draw you in, Superhuman Happiness’s peculiar yet enchanting genre fusion will. The band’s mastermind Stuart Bogie’s roots in Antibalas are evident as he leads the group into a an ever-changing musical adventure through funk, afrobeat, pop, folk, jazz and rock. This dabbling in various genres may have to do with the impressive laundry list of artists Bogie has worked with including TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
How did you recruit other members of Superhuman Happiness?
It took about three years to find the members of Superhuman Happiness each member has a special trait that made them perfect for the team.
With the first record, it basically was made by meeting with musicians one at a time in my friend’s friend’s basement, where I had an informal studio. We worked on an 8-track tape machine, and musicians played things that would replace parts I had laid down as demos. This worked great, because I was able to work intensely with each musician and it felt like an extension of our friendship. From that group of musicians, three remain active in Superhuman Happiness: Luke O'Malley, Ryan Ferreira, and Eric Biondo. Eric, Luke and I have all worked in Antibalas together, while Ryan came from Eastman and had worked with many mutual friends. Working with Luke is critical to the spirit of the group, because he has a humorous and playful lust for rhythm and melody. His ideas have traction and stick in your mind, and his approach to work is highly engaged and unhindered by ego. Anyone who has worked with Luke knows this about him and will tell you: Luke is a blessing to every project he touches. For these reasons and more, we have become partners in Physical Music, the production company responsible for producing Superhuman Happiness tracks, among other things for TV and film.
Eric is a rare human in every sense of the word. His understanding of humor, melodic exploration and poetry of both notes and words makes him an essential member of the band. He can be doubtful, but you can be sure his faith and confidence means things are on the right track. Eric has a deep catalog of solo work, under the name Beyondo, that are incredible. They are disarming, consuming and addictive for the willing ear. His singing voice is like no other.
Ryan is the guitarist whose sounds create the sky and space around a sculpture. His attention to sound detail is unmatched, and his work is that special something that goes unnoticed but never unheard. Ryan is a fine engineer as well and has worked with us in shaping sounds. It’s always when someone hears the band a few times that they come up to me freaking out about Ryan's style, and how he is there in the back cooking up storms of sound.
Shortly after we began playing out, Jared Samuel approached me at a Joe McGinty karaoke session. He had apparently seen me embarrass humanity with a Beatles song and came to see a Superhuman Happiness set shortly after. He liked the group and offered to join so after working on some sessions for Jeremiah Lockwood together, he began playing with us. I was impressed that such a great musician would offer to play with us that I couldn't refuse. Jared has an understanding of music that has a lot of classic style in it, and he brings this to the band. Jared can dissect any song he hears in terms of harmony and melody. He has a chilling singing voice that is featured in our track “The Hounds” as well as on the upcoming LP.
After working with a few friends on bass, we invited guitarist Nikhil Yerawadekar to come and play with us. I knew him through the afrobeat world, and he had played with Antibalas as a guitarist. I asked if he had played bass, he had a little experience, so we jumped right in and started working together. Nikhil is extremely inventive and fast about it. His mind is so fast that I often stutter like a racecar in a spinout when I work him. He instantly grasps forms and always knows where we are in a tune, which is valuable if you are person that likes to get lost – like myself. His musicianship is spot on, and he excels at all the music games we play.
The last member to find was Miles, our drummer, who I met over Facebook. He made YouTube videos of himself playing an Antibalas song I wrote called “Beaten Metal,” and he sounded good. He was persistent in meeting me and came to some shows, so we began to meet for meals and duet sessions with only sax and drums. We worked on playing music with amplified intention, which is kind of like acting. Playing musical phrases similar to the way we speak in conversation – to communicate something (only a musical idea, not a verbal one). After a few months, it was clear the band was finally complete with a powerful young drummer making those beats. Miles deeply loves playing music, and his vibe is the engine of the band.
Members of Superhuman Happiness have worked with all sorts of bands. Do you find that these groups leak into Superhuman Happiness' sound?
I find every artistic utterance that crosses our paths can enter our music, whether it’s a line from a favorite record or something your best friend said. That being stated, the groups we all play with affect our music, because we are always learning and growing. You can hear a piece of each group we have ever played with in our music. One of the things you do when you play with people is share your style and habits, so you grow to gather as artists.
Do you find it difficult to work with people of all different musical backgrounds?
I only find it difficult to work with certain personalities, never different musical backgrounds.
Your music touches upon a variety of genres. Do you feel like you are part of any scene in NYC?
Absolutely, I think we are part of many scenes, but trying to describe them sounds funny, so I can’t do it. People love to dance to our music. They love the improvisation, they love the songwriting, and they love the sense of joy we share with each other and the audience. Maybe they don't love all of it, but you know, that gives them a break to get a drink.
What goes into the songwriting of Superhuman Happiness?
We are finishing up our first collaboratively written LP this summer. The writing process was Intentional Collaboration, which means we formally batted ideas around together to make the songs, much like when a team of writers writes a TV show. Each musician pitches in, and the best choice is almost always evident to us all at the same time. The trick to this process is letting go of control and letting the group mind generate ideas. We also spend some time developing the group mind through a series of musical and extra musical exercises. It is a liberating and exciting thing to see a song come together this way.
How much of “Fall Down Seven Time Stand Up Eight”is improvised?
Very little of that record is improvised, basically just the horn solos. On that record, I wrote the music and brought each musician in one by one to develop and record their parts. It was great to work with each artist that way we got to address their specific role in the music and explore it together. Through this process I became very close to both guitarists Luke and Ryan and decided they must be in Superhuman Happiness, as the yin-yang guitar team, one focusing on ambience the other on funky lines.
When playing tracks on “Fall Down Seven Time Stand Up Eight” live, do you improvise or do you stick to pretty much the sound on the record?
When we perform these tracks live, we improvise all over them, but for the most part, we have retired this repertoire and have created a new set of tunes through our Intentional Collaboration. We also freely improvise together, weaving in and out of our compositions. Many of our songs have rabbit holes we can jump into for some spontaneous invention and then return back to the song to end.
What is the band working on now?
The band has made four videos for our songs:
“The Hounds” (Directed by Tatiana McCabe)
“GMYL” (Directed by Tatiana McCabe)
“Mr. Mystery” (Directed by Tatiana McCabe)
“The Market” (Directed by Steph Ching and Pamela Karp)
The band has released three 45s and has another one coming out this summer on Royal Potato Family. We plan to release our vinyl catalog on an EP this fall with the new LP coming out after that.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Flying would be cool, right? Also super strength, X-ray vision, blah blah blah. I guess I’d like to put my mind on ice and simply enjoy the beautiful life I've been given and all the wonderful people that surround us. I'd also like the power to throw my farts, like miles away, even through time. So next time I’m watching Fox news, I could will a nasty cloud of butt gas into Sean Hannity's face. That would be a waste of a wish though, wouldn't it? Scratch all that, I'll take flying.