The Invisible: interview

London trio The Invisible have produced a seductive and highly danceable debut album, says Sharon O’Connell, who chats to frontman Dave Okumu

  • The Invisible: interview

    The art-skronk talents dive into the pop world

  • We’re going to stick our necks out a bit here and declare that the last casually cool and impossibly groovy, UK post-house-cum-electro-soul-cum-rave-pop act to shimmy its way into our affections and stay the course was Hot Chip. Their third album, 2008’s ‘Made in the Dark’, was a tour de force of bleeping, buzzing, banging, blinking, booming and (briefly) piano-ing that emitted an engagingly warm, humanised glow. So it’s maybe not surprising that, 13 months on, our heart has been kidnapped by The Invisible, since they have not only a membership link with Hot Chip, but also an aesthetic empathy.
    The brainchild of guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and Jade Fox linchpin Dave Okumu, the London trio are about to release their self-titled debut album which reveals them as fiercely individual, postmodern fusioneers of an intellectually sharp, sensually inclined and exceedingly funky kind.

    Okumu has played with the likes of Courtney Pine, Roisin Murphy and Matthew Herbert, while bandmate Tom Herbert (bass) is probably best known as a member of post-everything outfit Polar Bear and drummer Leo Taylor from his Hot Chip duties. All three are members of London’s febrile F-ire Collective, a galvanising force on the UK’s cutting-edge improv jazz scene. That’s a dazzling heap of varied experience and more impressive chops than Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s butcher could ever dream of. The Invisible’s combined talents have produced a seductive, highly danceable blend of arty alt.rock, nu-soul, electronica, avant-pop, Afrobeat and punk-funk that suggests they could be our very own TV On The Radio. Strands of Prince, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Bilal, Scritti Politti, The Police, Burial, Liquid Liquid and Arthur Russell are all detectable, which poses the question: Given the fact that it’s something of a dirty word, are The Invisible happy to have what they do described as ‘fusion’?

    ‘There are definitely some terms that bother me,’ laughs Okumu. ‘It’s like the feeling you might get if you put on a wet tweed suit or something – all wrong. If you take the word in a literal sense, then yes, our sound is a fusion of a lot of different things. But in jazz terminology the term “fusion” doesn’t really ring true for us. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of that music that I really love, but slapping a label on something can either serve as an introduction for people or it can alienate them. And I don’t really want to alienate anybody. I want people to feel they can make their own journey into this music. Hopefully the fact that there’s a breadth of reference points makes that possible.’

    Okumu reveals that the TV On The Radio comparison has been made quite a lot of late and although ‘it’s nice to be compared to a great band who are doing something interesting, unique and personal’, he sees it more in terms of aesthetics, approach and attitude than sonic similarity. ‘I think TVOTR are committed to sounding like themselves and we share that ethos,’ he says. ‘They seem to be a band that have a lot of different influences and synthesise them in a similar way to us. They’re also using song forms and seem to want to connect with a wide audience and we share that vision.

    Leo met them at the Big Day Out in Australia and hung out with them a bit and they described themselves as "free-thinking”. That’s something which certainly resonates with us – we like to leave the door wide open, stylistically.’That much is obvious, since ‘The Invisible’ is set to blow an invigorating blast of fresh air through the convention-bound halls of pop. It was produced by sonic adventurer and Accidental Records head honcho Matthew Herbert, who Okumu says is ‘never creatively complacent and will never do something just for the sake of it. How Matthew uses a studio is really remarkable and there’s a sense of endless possibilities.’ So it would seem.

    During the band’s recording sessions in a medieval cottage in Suffolk, Herbert was up to his trademark experimental tricks, such as using Okumu’s vocals to create a synth sound, rather than using an actual synth, and recording the sounds of a creaking door, a resonating lampshade and Okumu’s finger-tapping (among other things), so that the band had a palette of sounds particular to their experience to draw from. It’s a method well suited to the band’s attitude. Says Okumu, ‘None of us approach The Invisible with an agenda – it’s more about exploring ourselves and trying to do that with some sort of integrity and authenticity. It’s about creating a context to express whatever we want to express. For us all to have really known each other well for years and to share such a diversity of reference points and have such strong, individual identities, but with a shared passion… it’s a rare and privileged position to be in.’

    That The Invisible have managed this without any destructive push-me-pull-you of conflicting ideas or the Herculean wrestling of egos says a great deal about where their music comes from. Even their name suggests the backgrounding of three selves to serve the whole. As Okumu sees it, ‘Expressing our humanity and warmth is how we connect – I’m not very concerned with having an edge or being cool. But perhaps that’s the coolest thing you can do – just be yourself and express your humanity.’

    ‘The Invisible’ is out on Accidental on Mon Mar 2. The band play The Lexington the same night and Rough Trade East on Tue Mar 3. See Music listings for details.

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