Like Hot Chip? Then prepare to fall in love with The Invisible. Vocalist and guitarist Dave Okumu talk to Time Out
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, little more than a year on, our heart has been kidnapped by The Invisible, a band that not only has 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 have released a self-titled debut album that reveals them to be fiercely individual, postmodern fusioneers of an intellectually sharp, sensually inclined and exceedingly funky kind.
Okumu has played with the likes of Courtney Pine, Róisín Murphy and Matthew Herbert, while bandmate Tom Herbert (bass) is probably best known as a member of post-everything outfit Polar Bear. And then, of course, there’s drummer Leo Taylor of Hot Chip. That’s a dazzling heap of varied experience and more impressive chops than Gordon Ramsay’s butcher could ever dream of. The Invisible’s combined talents have produced a seductive, highly danceable blend of arty alt.rock, u-soul, electronica, avant-pop, Afrobeat and punk-funk that suggests they could be Britain’s answer to TV On The Radio. All this poses the question: are they happy to have their music 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 he appreciates the comparison, 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 that certainly resonates with us – we like to leave the door wide open, stylistically.’ That much is obvious. The Invisible 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.’
During the band’s recording sessions in a medieval cottage in Suffolk, Herbert was up to his trade-mark experimental tricks, such as using Okumu’s vocals to create a synth sound (rather than using an actual synth) and recording a creaking door, a resonating lampshade and Okumu’s finger-tapping 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. ‘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’s self-titled debut is available at www.7digital.com.