Superhumanoids: "We try pretty hard not to make something that's too nostalgic."
Superhumanoids (due this Friday, February 21, at the Ogden Theatre) formed in Los Angeles in 2009, when friends and multi-instrumentalists Cameron Parkins, Sarah Chernoff and Max St. John came together over a mutual interest in R&B and '80s pop music. Though much has been made of the group's connection to the first wave of synth-pop, the music it makes is actually based in R&B and soul, using modern production sensibilities and techniques more often associated with hip-hop.
Within a year of forming, the trio released its debut EP, Urgency, and followed it up in 2011 with the Parasite Paradise EP. The outfit then spent some time honing its sound and developing material for 2013's Exhibitionists. Although it possesses the gentle, dreamlike quality of yesteryear's electronic pop, Superhumanoids' sound has the energy and urgency of the present. We recently chatted with Cameron Perkins and Max St. John about their affection for Jonwayne, Trent Reznor and how they are not, in fact, aiming to resurrect and reinvent sounds from yesteryear.
Westword: Cameron, you have said that you were more into pop punk and emo and that sort of thing when you were younger, but by your late teens or so, you had become interested in '60s pop.
Cameron Parkins: I was into Beatles and Beach Boys and stuff like that in my late teens. It was what was around me at my time. My dad and all my friends were into that sort of thing.
Were you in punk bands before doing the kind of music you're doing now?
CP: I was in bands all throughout high school and into college. The bands in high school were not very cool. At the beginning stages, they were all sort of what you do when you're a teenager. Then I got into more interesting music, and the bands changed. In college I messed around on a bunch of stuff, and it wasn't until I met these two that I started doing anything more interesting electronically.
Was there a catalyst for that?
CP: I think it was just having a computer of my own, probably, and being able to play whatever sounds and whatnot that you can within the computer -- that was pretty cool.
You did an interview with Billboard in which you said your first favorite band was Oasis. Looking back as an adult, why did you love Oasis?
CP: One of my sister's friends made me some tapes of their first couple of albums when I was nine or ten, and some older cool kids told me this band was cool.
There's a perception outside of Los Angeles, and perhaps in Los Angeles, that it is a competitive town for music. But in that interview you did with The Wounded Jukebox, you said that the electronic music scene in Los Angeles was encouraging and supportive. How did you find it to be so early on and how do you find it to be so now?
CP: The L.A. scene, just in general, seems pretty supportive. We're always on tour with our friends. We're on tour with Lord Huron right now, and they're good friends of ours. I think it's a situation where people try to prop up the people that they know. They tell people about our band, and we have friends who will...
Max St. John:...wear our band's T-shirt on stage at Coachella and stuff like that.
You have your own music imprint, Hit City USA, and Exhibitionists came out on Innovative Leisure, another indie label. Being in Los Angeles where there's a lot of music industry, why was going that independent route preferable.
CP: Working with Innovative Leisure is preferable because they're great at what they do. They're nice and supportive and they believe in us, and they have long term vision for working with us, which I don't think you always get with bigger labels. If something doesn't click right away, they kind of move on to whatever's next. Innovative Leisure is interested in growing us as a project over time, which I think is really cool and inspiring and a good situation for us and where we want to be.
How did you get into Future Islands, and how did you get into that band?
CP: Friends were playing us their music, and we just kind of got obsessed with it. We were able to play a show with them pretty early on, and at the time, it felt like a pretty rad accomplishment because they were one of our favorite bands, and we were still pretty new. They're great, and we still love listening to them and watching them. I went to their show before we left town. I find their music visceral.
MS: There's a pretty wide dynamic range in Future Islands' music. One of my favorite songs of theirs is called "Little Dreamer." It's kind of delicate and beautiful. They have more anthemic, driving songs. You can listen to their music in a wide array of circumstances.
"So Strange" is reminiscent of one of those '80s R&B groups like Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam or something like that. Would you say there's any validity to that observation?
CP: Honestly, I've never heard of that group. But maybe through the collective consciousness of music it's possible. I will go check them out.
Your music often gets compared to '80s synth pop. But a lot of those synth pop singers were influenced by R&B and hip-hop in their vocal style. And those R&B and hip-hop had some excellent synth work going on in the music. Would you say your own music resonates with both R&B and hip-hop and synth pop?
CP: Yeah, I think so. We're definitely pulling from both worlds and trying to make something new that's interesting. We try pretty hard not to make something that's too nostalgic or looking back. It can be kind of frustrating when you get compared to music from three decades ago but it is what it is either way.
You've expressed an appreciation for hip-hop artist Jonwayne. What do you like about his music?
MS: He's an amazing performer. He's kind of a one-man show and triggers a lot of samples. He's a talented lyricist, and I think we resonate with his personality in general. He seems like a pretty authentic artist that's interested in music and making music and not a lot of the bullshit that surrounds it.
What is his show like?
MS: A lot of rappers will perform with a DJ or a band, but it's just him and a sampler, and that's it.
CP: I think it's also that he's just an interesting dude because it's so unexpected when you hear his music. The you got see him live, and he's a very towering figure. A white dude with a scraggly beard, he wears Tinos and khaki shorts. He does not give a shit about creating this image.
MS: I follow him on Twitter, too. It seems like he's always working and making music and a true artist in that way. I think we also like his album art.
What is it you love about Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor's film scores specifically?
MS: What don't we love is a more applicable question. We like how he blends synthetic and organic sounds. The film scores seem very current. Like Cameron mentioned, the way his music is so current and has been current through the '90s up through now is something that's inspiring for us, and it's something we try to implement with our music and our mentality toward life in general.
What do you take away from his stuff that you apply to your music?
MS: I think the way that he approaches synths, specifically. A lot of his synthesizers on the Nine Inch Nails records or on the scores that he does don't sound like synths, they sound like drums or they sound like voices. You can listen to that music and go back and rediscover new things six months down the line, a year down the line.
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