[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
When you meet a band for the first time, they inevitably try to impress upon you their all-for-one, one-for-all mentality. This generally lasts for the duration of an interview, until the lead guitarist and singer start squabbling over songwriting credits later that afternoon.
Superhumanoids were originally sold to me this way — as a synth-pop trio with no one lead singer or principal songwriter — making music for a theoretical Breakfast Club remake directed by Sofia Coppola.
I was skeptical until I saw the Innovative Leisure-signed group perform.
The live show isn't exceptionally kinetic. No one banters or moves much, but there's something meticulous to the construction. The pieces align perfectly, and when singers Cameron Parkins and Sarah Chernoff interlace vocals, they exhibit chemistry usually seen only in playoff basketball squads or romantic comedies.
“Everybody has an equally important role, and that role isn't narrowly defined. We're always jumping around doing different things,” Parkins says at the band's rehearsal space in the Warehouse District downtown.
“We're completely a working unit,” Chernoff adds.
There are enough guitars, microphones, synthesizers and pedals arrayed in this 10-by-10 space to furnish a small vintage gear shop. This is where they meet five days a week, for hours on end, to rehearse and write together. There's an Andrew Wyeth print on the wall, and couches covered in Navajo patterns. The group — all in their mid-20s — explain their history beneath wooden scaffolding supporting a drum set, speakers and other sonic appurtenances.
“Our previous bands always had one member trying to be a heavy-handed leader,” Parkins continues, as Chernoff and keyboardist Max St. John nod their heads. “It feels like we're greater than the sum of our parts.”
He's not alone in his sentiment. Last month, Superhumanoids sold out the Troubadour for the album-release show for their debut LP, Exhibitionists. The chef behind the Kogi taco truck, Roy Choi, recently catered a private release party and raved to the crowd that they were one of the few non-rap groups to monopolize his car stereo. The New York Times' T Magazine called “So Strange” a candidate for song of the summer.
It's been a steady, slow ascent since the group formed in 2009. Parkins lives in West Hollywood, while the other members reside in Silver Lake. The Eastside clubs offered a canvas for the gestating band, particularly the Echo. National tours alongside close friends Active Child and Local Natives helped sharpen their stage show. This month, Mayer Hawthorne tabbed Superhumanoids to open for him on the road.
“They're our Eastside version of a 4AD electro dream-pop band,” says Mitchell Frank, founder of the Echo and Spaceland Presents. “You can throw the record on, shut your eyes and pretend you're making out with someone from the 1980s or 2010s.”
The dream-pop of the '80s is an immediate touchstone, but closer listening reveals intricate layering. The group cites major inspiration from local classic hip-hop station KDAY (93.5 FM) and R&B outlet Hot 92.3 FM. Flecks of Krautrock and contemporary dance music occasionally pop up out of the dulcet melodies.
“We'd have day jobs and always listen to KDAY in the car,” St. John remembers of the 2010-11 period when they wrote Exhibitionists. After finishing the record, the band spent a year searching for a label and finalizing the terms of the deal. “We'd get back to the practice space and mess around with synths and try to make them sound like something from KDAY.”
That's the idea that lingers — the feeling of experimentation for its own sake and for the fun of creation in close collaboration. “We're really just best friends who happen to make music together,” Parkins says.
I actually believe him.
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