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February 19, 2007 | by  | in Features |
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So So Modern

Drawing inspiration from robotic love and baking, Wellington’s indie darlings So So Modern have won hearts and a massive fan-following nationwide. Salient music writer Tom Baragwanath caught up with Aidan, Mark and Grayson on the brink of an upcoming international tour, to find out more about the men beneath the jumpsuits.

It’s early on Saturday afternoon, and Grayson, one-quarter of Wellington’s favourite punk/dance/rock/funk band So So Modern politely declines my offer of home-baked brownies. “I’ve actually already had some today,” he explains, leaving me wondering how this guy is so skinny.

His Mt Cook bedroom is set up for the week’s recording session: drums are nestled in the bay window with keyboards arranged around them, forming an inward-facing halfmoon, serenely anticipating the thrashing that could begin at any time.

Since the band’s inception in late 2004, these dudes have risen to national fame with their contagious blend of Kraftwerk-esque synth, post-punk guitar licks (At the Drive-In comes to mind), ridiculously solid house-inspired drum beats and manic vocals. Asked to explain how the band formed, various answers are given, some more cryptic than others. “It was the festive season, and we were all feeling the vibe. So So Modern was born out of love on that fateful summer’s day,” explains Mark, to which Grayson and Aidan respond with conspiratorial snickering. “We were all desperate to be in a band, and we knew each other through various social networks.”

“It all just sort of imploded,” says Aidan.

Imploded is the right word. In the past two years, So So Modern has garnered a reputation as one of Wellington’s most-revered live acts. They play with a focus and intensity not often seen, combining their frenetic performances with full-bodied white jumpsuits, the odd spot of rafter-climbing, and, more often than not, baked goods for the crowd.

As Grayson explains, “We’ve done iceblocks, fruit kebabs, chocolate strawberries, biscuits, cake…”

“Yeah, the cake got messy,” says Aidan. “We were trying to cut it on the dance floor and it didn’t really work out”.

“But since when were our performances ever clean?” Mark asks.

“Yeah, the cake got messy,” says Aidan. “We were trying to cut it on the dance floor and it didn’t really work out”.

“But since when were our performances ever clean?” Mark asks. I ask the guys to what extent they plan their antics beforehand.

“We never really set out with a specific set idea in mind, to do certain things or act in certain ways,” explains Aidan.

“Apart from when I go behind Mark with my guitar and we both swing the necks up and down in unison, that’s definitely specifically choreographed,” says Grayson.

“It happens all the time. Actually, we should probably stop doing that so often,” Aidan continues. “I think it’s just the natural outcome of our feelings on stage at the time, being caught up in the music we’re playing and seeing people having fun.”

“When you perform, you have to be the fi rst to give, to participate,” says Mark. “Some performers expect things of their audience. We don’t really have that expectation. We write songs with the audience in mind, and we write songs to move to or react to, but really in the end it’s about us giving and hopefully we’ll get something back”.

Their sound is hard to define, even for the band themselves. “It’s a very mish-mash sound” says Grayson. Mark explains further: “If anything, we like the idea of drawing from a context where the music that’s generated isn’t genre specifi c, where there’s an inclusive attitude. There were times in the past when punk and house music and hip hop were actually the same thing. Since then they’ve branched out into separate scenes, so it’s nice to try and return to that attitude and say, ‘ok, where can we go from here?’.”

For a concise definition, head to their myspace page (www.myspace.com/sosomodern) and have a wee gander at the video for ‘Loose Threads and Theremins’. About 1 minute and 35 seconds into the footage we see a guy completely lost in the absolute mania of the band’s performance. His nigh-on epileptic stomping defines So So Modern better than any genre marriage ever could.

I ask them about their song-writing process. “It’s fairly organic,” explains Grayson. “It just tends to come out in the practice room, we all bring our ideas in and work with them. We’re all and equal part of the hierarchy, no one takes the podium”.

“There’s a really great kind of quality-control that goes on in the band dynamic. Everyone has input into whether or not an idea works from their point of view,” says Mark.

I ask where their inspiration comes from. “We sometimes create elaborate stories to help us out with songs,” says Grayson.

“One example is ‘The New Internationality’. The whole song has kind of a loose narrative to it,” Mark says.

“It’s basically a story about love between a robot and a satellite”
explains Aidan.

Grayson disappears from the room, returning shortly with a small canvas upon which a brainstorm for the song is scrawled. Thus the key to So So Modern’s song-writing is revealed: phrases including ‘light for the ladies drum beat’ and ‘drop the Bill Cosby, freak out the squares’ are written from top to bottom, allowing for a loose song-structure. This canvas truly reflects the band: ambiguous, possibly mad, but mostly just fun.

Interestingly, it is this last word which has been the source of some criticism of the band. Some say that their music is solely for fun, that it lacks depth. How do they feel about being labelled a ‘party band’? “It all depends on how you define party,” says Mark.

“What’s a protest if it isn’t a party or a celebration? What’s your funeral if it isn’t a party? Celebration and social solidarity is such an important part of what we do. We’re definitely not associated with the self-destruction that some kind of partying entails. I don’t have a problem with us being labelled as a party band.”

An overseas expedition has always been on the cards for So So Modern. Sadly for us, they plan to leave in a matter of weeks, taking their crafty synth-punk goodness to Los Angeles, Germany, the U.K., and hopefully elsewhere. “I think we’ll just be getting our feet wet,” says Grayson. “This is a first time for all of us to actually take a band overseas, so it’s very much a case of finding out what it’s like”.

“Whether we’re playing to small crowds or big ones, I’m going to be equally stoked,” says Mark. “We’re heading over there and nobody will know us, but that’s ok. We’ve always liked the idea of building ourselves as a band from the ground up.”

These guys are not your typical art-rockers; there are no inflated egos, no effort at being cool and detached, and no pretension of any kind. They are warm and genuine, and their music deserves every accolade handed to them. Chances are they’ll be releasing the fruits of the impending recording session shortly, so be on the lookout.

Before I switch off the tape, I ask them why Salient’s readers should come to their orientation gig. “To partaayyy…” offers a sarcastic Grayson.

“No, no, please don’t put that in,” pleads Aidan.

“It’s our last show in Wellington before we head overseas. We’ll put in 110% effort,” says Mark.

“No, 120%,” counters Aidan.

Grayson promises even more: “Infinity percent.”

So So Modern play Orientation week with My Disco, Disasteradio and Frase+Bri on Tuesday 27th Feb at 8pm at the San Francisco Bath House. Tickets are $10 on the door.

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