Superdrone’s Space Travel Rock’N’Roll
In the Spring of 2018 Southampton, UK trio Superdrone released their Two album, ten tracks of spacey rock’n’roll for fans of Verve‘s A Storm In Heaven and Pink Floyd at their most lysergic. Tien Ren’s guitars float and shimmer and undulate throughout Edward Richards’ often hazy vocals, keys and warm bass. Timmy G.’s percussion is the anchor that keeps the whole album from drifting off too far into the atmosphere. Superdrone‘s lush, often epic compositions are suitable for inspiration for creative endeavors and to just lay under the sky and the stars and dream. I contacted Tien and Ed to learn more about their band and this is what they had to say.
When did Superdrone form?
What were some of the bands and styles that you’d played before?
Ed: Tim and I were in a heavy blues sounding band called The Missiles which kinda went a bit Queens of the Stone Age. I was kinda in a bad place around that time so the material wasn’t great, although there are two tracks that a pretty successful band may or may not have “borrowed”. Won’t go into too much detail but I was listening to the radio and like WAIT WHAT?! Not going to do anything about it as its bad karma. If they did hear and lift that track then it’s kinda nice, its our turn now. It’s all about the double helix. When one thing is on its way down then another is on it’s way up. Got that from the movie 24 Hour Party People. There was another pretty successful band that lifted a whole sound that Timmy and I were doing that got pretty successful, like I say, its out turn now. It’s all good! Through The Missiles we did manage to meet Them Crooked Vultures and they had listened to a cover of one of their songs, to hear Dave Grohl say “Oh you’re The Missiles?!” was pretty awesome… He was in Nirvana!
Tien: I played in Lien. Lien had been listed in the Beautiful Noise shoegaze documentary as one of the new breed of bands to watch out for but I fell out with the other member after two LPs and a failed Levi’s deal. I was also in Dahlia FX who had a USA deal but that fell through after two tracks got released but I wasn’t credited. The LPs and vids are on the net some place.
How is Superdrone the culmination of your past experiences, past songs, past bands?
Ed: I guess I have always loved psychedelic music so it’s always been a theme running through what I have done, it all came from buying Piper At The Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd. That album changed my life. I remember playing it to my mum and also Gong, Angels Egg and she was like “these songs are like they are in 3D, you don’t know what’s going to happen next”… there was a deep ingrained need to make music that had that… “head” kind of sound… My mum and dad died when I was very young, 20… and my life was on pause, I was always the kid who was supposed to “make it” but never did. I always wondered why I couldn’t create in the way I know I could be after my folks died.
In early 2015 I was diagnosed with GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and severe Hyperchondriosis and it wasn’t until I got treatment I was slowly able to (in this case musically) come back to where I left off. My creativity is finally off pause. Everything has lead to now and I am finally free and playing want I want to. I’m loving life and feel like I have got ten killer albums in me. Maybe more. I hope more. I’m not saying imagine if I don’t know, Bowie had started in 1980 then systematically started releasing his albums all at once. I’m not saying *that* but… That. I’m joking of course (am I?). I guess that’s what I will make sure happens. I’ve been in a cocoon of sorts but I’m here now and I will make sure that I live up to where I know I can get to. I feel like Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless now so who knows where this will end up.
I can imagine you two together and apart just blissing out late at night in a smoky haze with some psychedelic song playing loud enough to annoy the neighbors and you both realized that’s how you’d like to sound.
Ed: Kinda wish that was the case but not really. It all came from a jam session that Tien lined up where we got together. I was recently well again and I came up with four songs that Tien just layered this incredible galaxy of sonic flavours over. That was essentially almost half of Superdrone One written in one evening 2-hour session. It was totally organic, the love of music we have doesn’t really sit in any particular camp or scene, we don’t really belong together musically maybe? We are like Yin and Yang, I’m Paul and Tien is John and we create something that we love. So it all came organically from a jam with no expectations or preset direction and I think that’s kinda cool!
What bands and musicians have you enjoyed and how have they affected your life?
Tien: I suppose I’ve always enjoyed the early Nick McCabe work and Gary Ramon’s stuff. Both chat with me on FBK every now and then. Nick has let slip a few hints on his early sound. He called me “young Grasshopper”. Both great guitarists and both great people.
Ed: It started off with Cliff Burton, the original Metallica bass guy. He was pushing the envelope with his fuzz, delay and wah, then Early Floyd. I touched on it earlier. Essentially I was hanging out with this girl and she was super cool, dressed in 1960s-looking Carnaby Street clothes you know? She was unlike anyone I had ever known and I was a self-taught music geek, so I followed her into town one day and she found a Piper at the Gates CD and I was – I’m buying this, I grabbed one too and raced her to the counter. We got back hers and she put on the movie Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, that crazy 1967 movie, then afterwards while she was getting ready – Piper went on and I was transformed… I went from Metallica to Floyd, The Nazz, Nuggets, Gong, early Beatles. Oh my goodness. Everyone bangs on about Peppers but Magical Mystery Tour – WOW. That record… THAT’S my favourite Beatles record. But then there’s The Warlocks. I heard that band on a listening post, it was Pheonix and my girlfriend HATED it, but it did something to my mind, the “head” thing that just took me to a different place. Then there’s Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Nick Drake, Brian Jonestown, Beck, John Coltrane, The Pretty Things, The Verve, Miranda Lee Richards. So many.
There’s lots of space in your songs. I realized that just a minute into Save the Feeling that you were going to take me on a journey within the song and over the course of the album. Was this a big thing for the band, to be subtle and build up the songs imperceptibly?
Tien: the songs tend to take on a life of their own once we put all the bits (guitars, etc.) together.
Ed: We wanted to make an album that almost got better with each song, introducing new instruments, new elements, and create kinda soundscapes in a big stereo space, the album was predominantly recorded on my laptop at home so we had to be clever about the way we went about it. I personally learned a hell of a lot during the process of recording Two. The less is more vibe, my goodness you should heave heard Save The Feeling originally, we shredded about EIGHT guitar tracks out of the song, sitars, mellotrons, tabla, drones. We listened to a few tracks as a guide and I for one was really surprised how empty some incredible songs are. Then you have other songs on the album with almost an orchestra’s worth of guitars on them so it’s a lot about not getting bored of what you’re listening to. If every song is everything in all the time then it’s tiring to listen to. That;s why you can be listening to a Two song and you’ll hear a piano that you hadn’t before on that track, I think Rain On has a mellotron choir in it for maybe eight seconds and a sitar for one bar at one point.
I hear plenty of sustained guitar and maybe synths, strings and layers of things floating around. Is that all Tien?
Tien: It’s funny you ask. When we rehearsed we often could hear string sections being played that were obviously not being played with us in the room. The reality is that some sounds are added but some just happen as a result of combining the tracks when recorded.
Ed: I love synths A LOT but Tien’s guitar sound can be very reminiscent of a synth so maybe! There are a lot of instruments on there, backwards noise, drones. We were at Abbey Road mastering the tracks and we couldn’t work out where a lot of the sounds were coming from, who laid them down or even what the hell they were and long may that continue.
You sound like a much bigger band on record. How many pedals and effects do you have onstage?
Tien: my pedal board is actually quite minimal now. I removed the bits I didn’t use enough such as the Jen Wah pedal and early Russian Muff. I’ve kept my Spaceman 3 (Vox Percussion) even though I don’t use it much live. It just looks too cool to remove.
Ed: We have select sounds on backing track for live, like we wouldn’t want to be without that string section on Save The Feeling or the Moogs on Wake Up live.
What are some of the instruments used on Two? Anything new since your first album? If some of the same instruments, was there something you did differently this time around? I hear some sitar sounds on Universal.
Ed: We embraced everything, no restrictions of what instruments were used. We will keep on with that theme too. We like to stick to very simple songs with a very complex sonic tapestry. I have been experimenting with 360 Atmos mixing so prepare for some mind explosions on the next record which we are working on now. We want to get two albums out this year. Or three?!
Tien: I used a Gibson 335 instead of the White Falcon. I also changed from Rat Distortion to Boss Overdrive. That’s about all. LP Two is just us working out what had worked well on LP One and pushing the sound to be as good as we can make it.
You mentioned Miranda Lee Richards is on one of your songs? What did she contribute and how do you know her?
Ed: I made Miranda’s website and helped put together her CD and Vinyl sleeves for her Echoes of the Dreamtime album. Got to hang out with her, she’s totally one of the coolest people I have ever met, we are on the same label so I just asked her and she said yes. I am a big fan of her singing and to have her voice with my voice on Lava. Well, its epic. To me she is in the same category as Jonestown or even Jeff Buckley, she’s a genius. My goodness, the song Lifeboat she wrote and Lucid I Would Dream… just wow.
Tien: Miranda is on the same label (Invisible Hands Music) as us and is Ed’s connection. We first met at one of her gigs in Winchester and she is very cool. We had a moment to talk after her gig in London. Andy from Ride was there and he noticed us all talking. She was happy to do a bit of backing vocals for us on LP Two.
Please tell us about Timmy’s playing style and personality and why he makes Superdrone awesome.
Tien: Timmy G just slipped right in without any worries or hassle. He added that extra dimension to LP Two and we have started swapping the drums over on LP One.
Ed: Timmy is the best drummer I have ever been in a band with, from back in The Missiles days. Again one of those musician that you think “why the hell are they not pro?!” and we were in need of a drummer and I just asked. Just asking is cool! It works. I suggest people ask for things more because when people say yes, beautiful things happen. He is also just simply an awesome guy and drinking with him, you know you’re gonna have a time when he’s about, he’s a cross between Bonham and Moon – not in his drumming – in his drinking. He was in a QOTSA tribute band I saw live and he was just nailing it. So awesome.
What is a live Superdrone experience like?
Ed: Very very very epic, thanks to the musicians, the songs but also the time and effort that has gone into the backing tracks, onstage equipment, FX. It’s on a level where I always wanted to be.
Tien: Powerful and filled with danger. My old Vox AC30 has blown up a few times. People never really notice though which is odd.
What venues do you prefer playing and why?
Tien: I like small venues but to be honest as long as the sound on stage is good then I’m happy!
Ed: Any because I love playing music. I want to come to LA this year.
When can we expect your second album to be released and how? CD, vinyl, digital, streaming?
Ed: Out now! Digital only, just need to prove to the record company that we are worth a physical release which WILL happen.
Do you have a label and can you tell us about it?
Ed: Invisible Hands Music and the owner, through working with him has become one of my greatest friends. Such an amazing bloke, we can talk about ghosts, aliens, conspiracy theories, schwarma, everything and then realised that we have forgotten to discuss business! I worked for the record company for about eight months doing the website and digital marketing and it was one of the best times of my life. They just LOVE music on a level that I am even behind on!
Ed, before this interview you mentioned Barnies Beanery in my home of Burbank, so I’m guessing you’ve been there and drink beer? If so, what is your favorite beer or type of beer?
Ed: Currently it’s a beer by a company called Brewdog called Jet Black Heart. Oh my goodness… its like drinking… no, I cant describe it! A bit like Murphey’s Chocolate Stout… but not. Kinda!
BrewDog sprang up out of nowhere with maybe the best beers ever tasted, in the same way we plan to spring up out of nowhere and provide people with music that is accessible to the masses but has a layer, like a popup book, like holographic music. There are layers, different depths of Superdrone that I’m not even going to divulge, maybe one day. Paul is dead… Long live Paul… Long live Superdrone.
Superdrone‘s One and Two albums are now available for download on Bandcamp.
(by Bret Miller)