So So Modern

Rhian Daly 01/03/2010

There's a strong case to be made for So So Modern being one of the best things to come out of New Zealand in, well, ever. Take the Friends and Fires + 000 EPs collection and it's characteristic intelligent math rock/experimental electro sound. Add in the beyond amazing range of hooded outfits they used to sport for live shows and first album proper Crude Futures (a remarkable progression from all that has come before from the SSM camp) and it's pretty obvious the opening statement is true. So on a cold January day, GIITTV's Rhian Daly sheltered in the warmth of Transgressive Records' offices and SSM's temporary bedroom to talk about the past, the present and why Lady GaGa is a monarch mind slave (yes, really).

It's been a little while since you were last over in the UK...

Mark Leong (guitar/synth/vocals): We got in a couple of days ago...
Dan Nagels (drums): A year it's been since we've been here last. October 2008, we were here last time. We did some cool stuff. We did some summer festivals, we did a BBC session at Maida Vale, which was cool, then we went back to New Zealand and recorded an album. We did a few shows last year but mostly we were working hard on that. But it was great because we got back and we were really overwhelmed with the summer tour we'd done in 2008, and we were excited about working on the album. We used that as a kind of vehicle for the album and we wrote most of it on our return. We had a load of ideas building up, fresh in our minds that we could adapt but I guess we wrote it and then we recorded it so it was kind of a six month process of writing it and then a six month process of recording it.

Is coming to the UK something you enjoy? Are we nice to you at your shows?

Grayson Gilmour (guitar/synth/vocals): Yeah, we like touring over here and in Europe, as well. Being a Commonwealth country, the UK's very similar to home. It just feels like a concentrated version.
Dan: New Zealand is kind of the new world version of the UK. It's kind of weird.
Mark: It's the new world. It's the colony.

So, your album, Crude Futures - did you record and produce it yourselves like with the EPs?

Dan: No, this is the first time we've recorded... well, in a recording studio.
Grayson: All of our other records have been just fairly... 

Dan: ... DIY
Grayson: Yeah, recorded in the living room, or in my bedroom... This time we decided to up our game and actually record properly.
Dan: Proper job
Grayson: I think everything we've done in the past would amount to a fourth of the cost of the album and done in a weekend.
Dan: I think I can approximate how much we spent on everything previous to this album. It would've been like...
Mark: Wouldn't it've been like $400, $500 or something?
Dan: We just hired out some mics...

When you were recording DIY style before was that a sort of conscious ethics based move or just down to costs?

Mark: We weren't really thinking too much about the production or anything, it wasn't a huge priority in the band at the time. We were kind of ultimately a live band who wanted to share our work... well, basically just document our work and then share the product of it.
Grayson: The outcome of those recording sessions was kind of like “OK, yeah, that sounds like a song.”
Dan: Looking back now, it was very early days...
Grayson: But we recorded in spur-of-the-moment weekend bursts and only two tracks at the time, which is why our first four EPs were just two track EPs. So, they just sort of happened as we wrote the songs, so it didn't really occur to us to spend that much money recording two songs. We just thought “Let's set a weekend aside and record these.”
Dan: Yeah, just to document them and move on.
Mark: We're not that band that would be “Let's write an album in the studio before we've played one show and send it out to all the press before anyone knows about us and we'll be in the press before we've done anything”, kind of thing.
Grayson: We're the kind of band that a month from our first international tour, we didn't have anything recorded.
Dan: It was like “Come on guys, let's just get something together.” It was just about having something to share with people really and so that people could identify with us. But after doing all the touring that we did, we really just wanted to write an album. After doing so much live touring, we were just like “Let's spend ages in the studio and not play any shows.” It feels good to be doing it live again, though.
Mark: In a way, we're testing the songs out again in a new context after making the album.
Dan: So, yes, we do enjoy UK audiences.
Grayson: In answer to the question you asked us before this one. We're going to wrap up this question in the next one.

Don't confuse me! So anyway... what were you listening to when you were making the album? Anything radically different to when you recorded the EPs...?

Grayson: Hm, probably. I know our tastes go through a blender all the time. We all come from quite different tastes that meet somewhere.
Dan: Our tastes have kind of interwoven over the past few years but I guess we're still coming from different places.
Mark: What have you been listening to?

Dan: Me? Lady GaGa.
Mark: Genuinely?
Dan: Lady GaGa.
Grayson: Yeah, Dan's latest fascination is Lady GaGa...
Dan: As of last week.
Mark: He thinks she's in the Illuminati.
Dan: I think she's a monarch mind slave.
GIITTV: Why do you think that?!
Grayson: Don't get him started!
Dan: Just watch her music videos. Grayson, what have you been listening to?
Grayson: Probably the Soul Jazz Tropicalia compilations, I've been listening to a lot of them and almost just trying to find anything that was instrumental. Basically just Soul Jazz Tropicalia and post-rock. I was listening to heaps of polyrhythms and languages I couldn't understand, and on the other end of things quite minimal stuff that was really concentrated. Which is probably why, to my ears, the album's quite varied and when I think about what we were listening to...
Mark: I was taking a trip back into the days of hardcore...
Grayson: (laughs) Whatever!
Mark: I was! I was listening to Rites of Spring and Fugazi and I was having a grand old time. And then on the other hand, I was listening to minimal music as well. That was a big inspiration for what I was trying to do with the album. And I was also really interested in documentary stuff as well, and trying to apply that to music, and our music. It was a kind of interesting exploration.

So So Modern - The Worst is Yet to Come from Simon Wilson on Vimeo.

And are you pleased with how the album turned out, considering it's your first? Is it what you wanted it to be?

Mark: I'm not sure how I wanted it to be... but it's pretty cool! I like it.
Dan: Yeah, I think it's awesome. I guess in a way I'd love for us to have maybe had a couple more songs on it. Not that we didn't have the songs but if we'd taken the direction of the album further than what we did. But that's that nature of never feeling that something's complete. But I think it's totally awesome.
Grayson: I don't think we need anything else on it. It's going to be interesting to record post this because it's so open to any direction at the moment. But yeah, it's 9 songs but it's 40, 45 minutes long, which is long enough for a good album.
Dan: That's long enough.
Grayson: I think what the next one could sound like is kind of set up by the last few songs on the album. It kind of starts where you think we might be and ends somewhere completely different.
Mark: It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Amazing. That's pretty much all...

Dan: No, no. Ask us a random question. Anything!

Argh... um, okay, boring but who's your favourite band to have toured or played a show with? You've played with some really ridiculously cool bands like HEALTH...

Mark: Ooh... probably somewhere between Deerhoof and...
Dan: Zombie Zombie.
Grayson: My favourite all time show is probably one we played with Dirty Projectors and Deerhoof in Paris on the night of this festival. There was one other group but I also forget their name. But there was four bands at a really nice festival in Paris.
Dan: Yeah, that was an awesome show and then the other one was another festival with Why? and Zombie Zombie.
Mark: There's a Youtube video of us playing with [Robert Aaron] the saxophone player from James Chance's band. He's awesome and he's like jamming on sax to The New Internationale. He started free jazzing, like this new wave saxophone player (imitates sound).
Grayson: Someone left a comment saying “When in France”!
Dan: Robert Aaron, he's the man. He was loving it, he was like (puts on old man voice) “You make me feel 18 again”.
GIITTV: Was it his idea to play with you then? 

Dan: I think it was, actually.
Mark: The context of this festival, Midi festival, is it's three nights and each night there's four bands. It's in the French Riviera in the courtyard of a Modernist villa, on a hill overlooking a French city. And this is where Dali used to hang out so it's this amazing historical place, and it's beautiful as well. The crowd hangs out at the beach in the day and then come out at night. It's kind of just like a show, every night for three nights but totally awesome. It's not like Reading festival with 500 bands and 490 of them are shit.
Dan: And bottles of cider. 

Mark: Yeah, and mud and vinegar and shit.
Dan: It's just this awesome, small festival in the centre of Europe. And it's really all about the promoters as well. It's all the forgotten bands, the awesome bands that time forgot plus all the new, amazing, to be huge bands. The promoters don't book bands that are hyped up in the media, they book bands that are yet to kind of be found or were found 25 years ago, like with James Chance.

Grayson: So on to Lady GaGa...
Dan: Yeah, she's like... she grew up with Paris Hilton and her parents are millionaires. She's a really good musician but I think she had hypnotherapy. I think she was brainwashed, basically.
Mark: Why do they call it monarch mind control? I had a monarch caterpillar in my garden, I've just been watching it grow because it only eats one plant. And it was getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and then I left my home and it was gone. It left like the day after. It might have been eaten because it hasn't turned into a chrysalis yet.
Dan: You know the chrysalis? That's the hypnotic process. They have programmers and they program them, and they kind of do electro shock therapy...
Mark: Why is the chrysalis the hypnotic part?
Dan: Because when they come out of the process, they're kind of like butterflies.
Mark: The monarch are amazing butterflies.
Dan: They use the process for controlling assassins and shit like that.
Mark: This is like Zoolander...
Dan: It's totally true! Check out monarch mind programming and check out the court case in the 1990s.
Mark: What was that program called... the Mickey Mouse Club?
Dan: Oh yeah, the Mickey Mouse Club was total mind control. Hey Mickey! 

So So Modern release the album 'Crude Futures' today (1st March on Transgressive Records).