Submotion Orchestra

Lucky Number Seven: Exposed Meets Submotion Orchestra

Sat in the box-sized dressing room of the Sheffield Student Union’s Fusion and Foundry, I wonder how all seven members of bass-heavy, electronica jazz band, Submotion Orchestra can fit in here. It’s no wonder then that four members have popped straight out for food after soundcheck. Hanging about for a chat before their gig at legendary hip-hop night, The Tuesday Club, however, are percusionist Danny Templeman, trumpeter Bobby Beddoe and Submotion’s in-band producer Dom Ruckspin. Phoebe Seymour talked to the guys about the making of their new album ‘Alium’, whether being mainstream is a good thing, and how their first EP was used as warm up music at a Take That concert.

Are you guys looking forward to Tuesday Club tonight?
Danny: Absolutely! What is this? The fifth year we’ve played here?
Bobby: Sixth year. I think we missed it last year though.
Danny: Yeah, and it’s usually around my birthday. I remember coming here and getting really drunk, singing along to hip-hop records with the promoter in the van all the way home to Leeds. It was awesome!
All: [Laugh] Danny: Not everyone in the van’s into hip-hop. I think they were quite astounded that I knew all the words to ‘Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde’.

I imagine you’re all into different types of music…
Danny: Yeah, definitely, there’s a lot of headphones that go on in the van.
Dom: Everyone’s got varied tastes, but everyone appreciates what everyone’s bringing to the table. Sometimes people want time to themselves, but generally if people want to play tracks, then everyone’s up for it. Apart from maybe when I start sticking on really hard drum’n’bass mixes.
Danny: Yeah!
Bobby: I’m not a fan.
Danny: I’m down with that! See we’re split already.

What keeps you coming back to Tuesday Club every year?
Bobby: It’s the best place to play in Sheffield!
Danny: We’ve got a really good relationship with this place.
Dom: It helps being on a Tuesday as well cos hardly anywhere does a regular Tuesday thing. It’s like, “What are we gonna do on Tuesday?” Well, Sheffield.
All: [Laugh] Danny: It’s worked out really well for the album tour because, we’re literally going north to south. Like every date we’ve got, it’s Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, London, then Brighton.

Your new album, ‘Alium’ is about to be released on 24th November. How does the sound of this album compare to your previous two albums?
Dom: I think it’s a progression. I think people who liked the first two albums are not going to be disappointed, well I hope not. It’s not a radical shift to what we do generally, but I think it’s more finely tuned. I think the first album was pretty rough, but in a nice lo-fi way. It was a new thing we were experimenting with. It all sounded very live. Then, the second album, we tried to make it more clinical and perhaps, too electronic and too precise. This one is somewhere in between. It’s got all of the good acoustic stuff of the first album, as well as the electronic aspect of the second.
Danny: A lot of reviews are saying that we’ve “found our sound”. It was quite unusual, you know, the first and second album. It’s that famous thing with a band, the second album is a really difficult spot and this is my first experience of being in a band long enough to have a second album, nevermind a third, and now I know what that’s all about. I can see why bands struggle with the second album. We did okay, but it’s gone further now and we’ve settled and we’ve found out what we can do together.
Dom: We’ve discovered a different way of working together. With this album, we all go off to Wales and jam. It’s really good for pooling all our ideas together. We recorded like, 30 tracks and we’ve got plenty of stuff that we can revisit later.


I heard that the album was written in a remote part of the Welsh countryside…
Danny: Yeah, two years in a row, we’ve done that. We all live in various places, so we could do it any city, but there would always be distractions.
Bobby: There’d always be wi-fi or phone calls.
Danny: In the countryside, there’s no girlfriends, husbands, wives, and no mate at the pub down the road waiting for you to finish. There’s none of that. There’s nothing!
Bobby: Just sheep! We almost got snowed in one time.
Danny: The first time we went. It’s not very pleasant unless you’re prepared for it.
Bobby: We’d just eat tinned food for a bit.
Dom: [Laughs] Or boil the leather of our shoes!
Danny: Or eat some sheep!

How long were you out there?
Danny: This was like two weeks. For the first week everyone brings all their ideas they’ve been workshopping at home. Maybe in groups of twos and threes. In that first week, we will have literally demo-ed…
Dom: Three or four tunes a day, I think.
Danny: The next week we’ll narrow it down and put them into A, B and C lists of what’s going to work.
Bobby: I prefer A, C, B…
Danny: Yeah, massively dyslexic! [Laughs] Anyway, it’s a good way to narrow it down and then we can take them to the next stage.
Bobby: Because there’s seven of us with different ideas, it gives everyone a chance to get involved. It’s usually easy to tell when something’s working.
Danny: It’s like when we were talking earlier about musical tastes. When you put seven people in a room together, it’s going to vary. With these tunes there’s always a middle ground. So, we all like all the tunes on the album.
Dom: I think we had a spreadsheet at one time to keep it fair.
Danny: Sounds like we work in an office! Sometimes, people think it’s good to have one pinacle figure to make all the decisions in the band. It was the drummer, Tommy in the past, working with Dom. They had this vision. It was difficult to get seven people together to write music. Someone had to keep steering us in the right direction. Dom’s the founding member of the band.
Dom: Yeah, I think three albums in, even two albums in, we knew where we were going and what kind of sound we wanted. We started out sticking to our roles. Bobby was originally just a trumpet player, but now he was an understanding of technology the rest of the band don’t. At one point, Ruby was doing her own backing vocals, using loop pedals. Our bassist, Chris Hargreaves uses something that’s essentially, open, cut off synths and he was the only person at the time who did that.
Bobby: The more time people take part in it, the more creative input we wanna put into it.
Danny: You know, we’re considered electronica, but you’ll see a sign saying “Joe Bloggs Live”. He’ll turn up and open his laptop, and that’s considered live.
Dom: Well, that’s the thing, pressing buttons is considered “live” and then there’s what we do, which is doing as little pre-programmed music as possible.
Danny: It’s how you define live, really.

‘Allium’, is a flowering plant, Latin for garlic. Why did you call your album Alium?
Dom: It’s the family of garlic, which covers lots of different plants.
Bobby: We chose it because it looks like the Submotion logo. It’s not particularly deep.

Has being surrounded by nature had an effect on your music?
Dom: There’s a song called ‘The Hounds’ that has a jazzy freak-out.
Bobby: It’s about being out of everyday life and how that gives you the space to have perspective on the tunes, so I think that comes across.
Danny: It’s great being in Wales and being able to walk into the wilderness.
Dom: Even tracks like, ‘City Lights’. It’s about the city not being all it’s cracked up to be. You get there and think it’s going to be amazing, then realise you would prefer to be in the country, doing nothing, rather than being surrounded by people, doing stuff all the time. But, I don’t know if the whole album is about that.
Danny: We didn’t actually spend much time there, but the barn has this glass wall where you can look out at this beautiful landscape and valleys. But yeah, we were looking at it!


I heard you played 14 festivals in 7 countries this Summer. Which stood out for you?
Danny: Pukklepop, but partly because we played a festival before which was our worst ever festival experience!

Which festival was this?
Danny: We shouldn’t say, but Pukklepop is in Belgium and it’s like their version of Glastonbury. It’s a huge festival and all about music.
Dom: Fink was there, FKA twigs was on after us…
Danny: Portishead!
Dom: Yeah, Portishead was there and it was just awesome. The moment you got there, you were looked after properly, there was this artist’s village where there were loads of other acts. Foreign Beggars were there.
Bobby: But we’ve also got to mention Outlook Festival. We were supporting Lauryn Hill and we were like, “Do you ever think we’ll play a better gig?”
Dom: How many thousand people was it? Something stupid…
Bobby: And the fact they let us in to play a bunch of bass music. We’re lucky we didn’t topple the thing.
Danny: ‘Cos we crank the bass quite high.
Dom: We’ve been doing Outlook since about 2009. It’s one of those festivals where there’s loads of people you know and like playing music and it’s a kind of family of people who want to push bass-orientated music and that’s really nice. If you feel like you’re having a bad year, you go to Outlook and you’re reminded of why you did that year and you look forward to the next one.
Danny: Back in 2009, it was a handful of people, but now it’s thousands and thousands of people. It’s incredible.

With the success of drum’n’bass and dubstep inspired bands such as, Rudimental, do you feel this has paved the way for you guys to become more mainstream? Do you want to be mainstream?
Bobby: It depends who you speak to!
Danny: It depends what you define as mainstream. Is success in music you enjoy making, considered mainstream? Well then, yeah. That’s what we’re doing.
Dom: That’s something we battle with. It’s difficult because you know how you can just make programmed stuff and poppy hooks, repeat the chorus five times and shove it on the radio. I’m not saying that’s what Rudimental do! I’m just saying, half of these artists bootleg some tune, everyone knows it, like ‘Crazy Frog’ and it’s got a lot of marketing behind it, it goes to number one, then you never hear it again. That’s not us. We do have the grass roots fans. Every gig we play, we’ve got people that genuinely, give a shit and they’ll say, “Why aren’t you promoted here, there and everywhere?” At the end of the day, that doesn’t matter because as long as we’ve got an audience to come see us play, we’re building up to bigger and bigger venues.
Danny: Some of us don’t give a damn if we’re played on Radio 1. I’ve got my opinion and other members have theirs.
Bobby: I just wanna play weird jazz.
All: [Laugh] Dom: There’s big acts like Bonobo. You don’t hear them on Radio 1, but it doesn’t matter. Portishead, Massive Attack, 90s trip-hop was a grass roots movement of people that liked the tunes. It wasn’t a big label, plugged, chorus-five-times, thing.
Bobby: They just set out to make great music and that’s where we come from. We don’t set out to make a hit.
Danny: What about that collaboration with Peter Andre, we’ve got coming up?
All: [Laughs] Danny: But, yeah. Not to diss Rudimental because we gigged with them and that was really impressive. I’m a drum’n’bass fan anyway.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some music advice, what would it be?
Bobby: Pay attention in school! [Laughs] I’ve got no regrets. I’m happy where I am.
Danny: We all studied jazz and various things, and a year into studying music, I realised I had huge musical blinkers. And for me there was this thing of what was and what wasn’t cool, what was and wasn’t acceptable, and it shapes you as a musician. I really wish I could go back in time and tell myself, “Forget that! Listen to it all!” You know. Make your own mind up whether a piece of music moves you or not.
Dom: Part of that is age. Like, “I’m part of this group. We wear this and listen to this.” But, when you’re grown up, you see other people’s situations and listen to what you want. So, you can’t have regrets about that. I was in orchestras, but I listened to jungle and DJ-ed, which was weird.

Speaking of weird, where’s the weirdest place you’ve heard your music being played?
Dom: In a restaurant, at the top of The Shard.
Danny: On the rugby. We were on a montage at the beginning. A few years ago, my wife’s mum went to see Take That and they were playing our EP before Take That came on!
Dom: [Laughs] Who was in charge of the CD player?
Danny: Not to say they’re fans, but our EP was played to a packed arena.
Dom: You’re the Robbie of this band.
Danny: I definitely am. I’m gonna go solo.

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