Creative Mess Podcast #4 – Submotion Orchestra

Submotion Orchestra have been known for pushing boundaries with their experimental sound. This podcast is a selection of tracks from one of the founding members and producer/engineer for the project, Ruckspin. In true Submotion Orchestra fashion the track selection draws from many different genres and you can certainly hear some of the music that has gone on to influence their sound. Stream and download the podcast and also read our interview with Ruckspin about all things Submotion Orchestra.

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1. Howling – Howling
2. Jose Gonzalez – Stories We Build, Stories We Tell
3. Lapalux – Sum Body
4. Menik ft. Vainsmith – Authentic
5. Author – Innovate
6. Submotion Orchestra – 1968
7. Roots Manuva & Machinedrum – Like A Drum
8. Count Basie & His Orchestra – A Night In Tunisia
9. Jehst – England
10. DLR – I Found Out
11. Wayward – Waver ft. Elderbrook
12. Submotion Orchestra – The Hounds
13. Quantum Soul & Medison – Metropolis ft. Ill Chill
14. Audialist – Poke Poke
15. Quasimoto – Jazz Cats pt.1

I’m sure you are probably tired of explaining the origins of the band but for people that don’t know can you give us a quick explanation of how the band formed.
We formed back in 2009 after a classical-meets-dubstep commission for Ranking Records at Yorkminster Cathedral brought myself and Tommy together initially. We began to form a band and started out doing low-key improv jams at a restaurant in Leeds.

People seem to find it hard to define your music into a genre, you often see arguments on Youtube comments about what you guys are. How would you define your sound?
We have a lot of influences. Initially we were trying to bring a more soulful live sound to the dubstep genre but I guess we soon realised the futility of limiting ourselves to one tempo. We still hold true to much of the characteristics and mindset behind early dubstep but I think we have since taken very different paths. I can understand people wanting to put stuff in boxes, but I think when genres have come to mean almost the complete opposite of what they originally meant, it can be really difficult.

Despite there still being credible artists pushing dubstep many people automatically hear it as a dirty word after its main stream popularity in the EDM scene. Have you felt the need to distance Submotion from the word dubstep having originally been touted as a dubstep band?
The only reason we began as a dubstep band was because I was making music at 140 and much of what we were doing was an extension of that. I don’t think we distanced ourselves from dubstep, but we did stop trying to associate ourselves with it, or limiting ourselves to that tempo soon after we realised we couldn’t influence the direction it was going. We have had discussions about Dubstep many times. We have also had discussions about Jazz, Soul, Jungle, Electronica, Hip Hop and all the other genres that influence us. I think they all can be ‘dirty’ words to people who maybe only know a surface-level amount about them. While some producers and bands might try to fit themselves into a genre and stick with it and enjoy success because there is already an audience, I guess we prefer to associate ourselves with the people trying to do their own thing regardless. Trying to build an audience from the ground up of like-minded people who just care about good music regardless of ‘genre’ or ‘scene’ or whether it’s fashionable or not.

When you first started out were you unsure if people would accept what you were doing or when you started jamming did you instantly feel you were onto something?
I think both. I think it’s healthy to be unsure if people will accept what you are doing. It makes you try harder, and also means it’s a nice surprise if people like it and not so disappointing if they don’t get it! At the same time, we really enjoyed playing together so it felt like we were doing something we were all happy with.

With 7 of you in the band do you think the creative process is more drawn out as everyone has a different opinion?
Definitely. It can be difficult sometimes. I think the end result is that our sound is more diverse because we’re all pulling in different directions. It’s a tough job engineering and producing something so diverse to make it sound cohesive but I do my best. I also think it’s a real strength that we have – being able to keep on evolving and progressing while taking on influences from different areas. That’s what I enjoy about the podcast I did. It goes all over the shop!

You are now on your third album, do you have a concept and direction for each one?
Over the course of our releases, we have experimented with a few different directions, some have been worthwhile and we have wanted to develop, some haven’t worked so well. I think either way we aren’t content to stick to doing the same thing over and over. We learn where our strengths lie but we also push ourselves to experiment more. I don’t think there are specific concepts for each – it’s hard sticking to one concept when there are 7 of you – but I think how each album has come together has been different every time, and I think we are always trying to do better than before.

Your role in the project is the engineer/producer, are there any differences for you in engineering/producing a project like this compared to your solo work as Ruckspin and work in Author with Jack sparrow?
There’s a huge difference between all three. With Submotion, there’s a lot of consideration for the live element within the studio production. I always have “how are we going to perform this”, and “does this sound like a band or just a producer using acoustic sounds” in the back of my mind when I’m putting it all together. I also have to try and make the tracks sit comfortably together which can be really difficult when you’re balancing out so much diversity. I really enjoy a challenge, and I have probably learnt more about engineering and production doing the Submotion project than any other work I have done. With Author, I think me and Sparrow are so similar in terms of what we are trying to achieve it’s really easy to build a cohesive sound. The tricky part is that we seem to be in a kind of cinematic limbo between club music and home listening. I would like to think it is the best of both worlds but some might think it makes us inappropriate for either! Making tracks by myself after having done so much collaboration can be really daunting. I can go in any direction I like at any given moment. It’s like giving a painter unlimited canvas and materials. I have all kinds of nonsense stuck on my hard drive!

During your shows you are on stationed at the front of house rather than on the stage, if you could swap roles with one of the band members for one night who would you swap with and why?
I don’t really want to swap with anyone. I’m not really one for the limelight. Even when I’m DJing I barely look up – I’m too focussed on what I’m doing. I guess it’s a little bit OCD – having to have control over the sound at all times – but that’s what I love. I don’t do music for the crowds or attention. If that was my thing I would have got into EDM style electro-house a long time ago. There’s nothing like being able to control and dub out 6 talented musicians live on a huge festival sound-system…

Not many people know but you did the artwork for the Alium LP? Whats the story behind the artwork and do you paint a lot?
The artwork is just a detail from an old oil painting of mine which is currently hanging up in my parents house. I used to really enjoy art at school but haven’t really found the time or resources to do it since. I’d love to take it up again at some point – maybe when I retire I’ll get into watercolours or something!

We heard you say in another interview that you will produce full tunes and they will then get taken in by the band or interpreted by them. Can you give us an example of a song in the Sub mo catalogue that came about like this and say what process the band goes through to interpret it and how it changed from what you had initialy written?
Well initially ‘Sunshine’ and ‘All Night’ were tracks of mine pretty much exactly covered by the band. Tommy does the majority of the other songwriting so sometimes he will add a vocal line to an instrumental of mine, like in the case of ‘All Night’ and also ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’ which was a cover of my track ‘Jibber’. Other times we might take an idea from one of my tracks like ‘Secrets’ which appropriates the beat and bass from ‘Atomise’. Or sometimes we may take ideas from unreleased tracks I have on my hard drive, like 1968 evolved from a really dark instrumental track I had made. We don’t really have any strict way of writing – we all bring ideas to the table so for every track that has made it onto an album there will be loads that haven’t.

What are your top 5 Submotion Orchestra tracks and what is it about them that you like?

Sunshine – It’s a cover of a track I wrote with Ed Quark many years ago and was one of the first tracks we did as a band. The fact it has stood the test of time and we still play it often means a lot to me.

Worries – I wrote this track when I had come out of a long term relationship and was finding it difficult to get back into the swing of things. It took almost no effort to write – it pretty much all happened within a couple of days. Usually I struggle with lyrics and melody but not with this one. The end result is a track that starts from nothing and builds constantly to the point where it is almost an unbearable cacophony of noise. I love that!

The Hounds – I love all the Submotion instrumental tracks but this one for me was really special. It came from a jam we had while songwriting in Wales and it just stuck with me. I kept nagging the band the following year to try it again and it ended up on the album. Perhaps because they are so accustomed to playing Jazz they thought it was too obvious, but I think that’s why it works – they are naturally great Jazz musicians and I think this track shows off their talents really well.

1968 – You would never have guessed what it eventually turned into after hearing the initial demo. We actually now play the initial demo as an intro to the track when we play live. It sounds completely different but sets a really mysterious tone for the eventual track to come out of. The track itself is a lot about protest and hope for change, so I think by emerging from the angular discordant intro it makes you feel positive too.

All Yours – It’s a firm crowd favourite, but actually we weren’t completely sure about it when we first heard the demo. We thought it was a little too sugar-sweet but actually it really works and is a very powerful track to play live. It gives Bobby room for a huge trumpet solo too which is always excellent.

What have you got planned for the future?

More gigs, more albums, more tours, more songwriting, more collaborations more festivals, more more more! We’re working on a few new EP ideas at the moment actually – I can’t say much about them other than we are exploring very different ways of working – it might raise a few eyebrows!


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