INTERVIEW: Superego discuss their new era as a band
I first saw Superego play live in the back of a tiny Fremantle cafe in 2015. From the first beat, frontman Nelson Mondlane’s ferocious rapping style and the band’s raw sound transfixed the small crowd. It was the group’s first show as POW! Negro, who went on to gain notoriety as a forceful young band with vigorous live energy, blending hip hop with jazz, electronic and rock’n’roll sounds.
After two consecutive sold out shows at Mojos in June 2018, the band shocked the local music scene with the sudden announcement of the end of POW! Negro. A few weeks later, the group re-emerged as Superego.
With the release of the explosive ‘Burn’ in early April, Superego has embarked on a dynamic shift towards a polished electronic sound, flawlessly displayed at their recent headline show at Freo.Social. After the gig, I caught up with the band to discuss the new era of Superego.
After playing your first show in 2015, you quickly built a strong following and went on to win Most Popular New Act and Most Popular Live Act at the 2016 WAM Awards. How does it feel to look back at what you achieved in those early couple of years?
Nelson Mondlane (MC): I don’t think we thought that would happen. It was sick, I think that was so much fun. We felt like underdogs.
Lachlan Dymond (Guitar, Sampling, Vocals): It was really surreal because there were all these things that happened so close, like The Big Splash as well. It was as if all these things locked into place.
Kaprou Lea (Saxophone, Samples): Most of us had never been in bands before.
Toby Batchelor (Bass, Drums, Vocals): We got all this attention really quickly, but we didn’t really know what to do with it.
Nelson: I think we did the best we could have done at the time. Those first years were dope, people were really nice about what we were doing. But I kind of felt that we were always in the shadow of Koi Child, I always felt like we had something to prove. I was so stoked that we had them around, they almost tested the road.
Rhys Hussey (Drums, Guitar, Bass, Vocals): They had the machete cutting through the bushes, and we were just following behind them.
Did the band start off as a solo project for Nelson?
Nelson: That is what the first gig was supposed to be and then it just stayed as us. Originally, it was supposed to be with Ben Aguero as a solo show at Hussle Hussle, because I had been playing with Casual Sets for a bit, which is what happened before Koi Child. And then Koi boosted off, so Casual Sets didn’t really happen that much. So I thought I should do a solo show, so I needed beats and a producer so I asked Ben to do it. Then Rhys was like ‘no, we should become a band’.
Kaprou: That’s how Nelson and I met, at the Casual Sets improvisation shows.
In June last year you announced the end of POW! Negro and a few weeks later, the beginning of Superego. What prompted the change?
Nelson: I think we just became a band, really. It was never really said, but POW! Negro was more about me. I’m still POW! Negro, so it was a bit of a solo thing. Superego is all of us as a collective, equally contributing and putting out music.
Toby: It’s also a psychological shift from it being reflective of Nelson’s experience to it being reflective of all of our experiences. We can all contribute vocally and make music.
Rhys: It seemed that when we were getting more and more attention, there were some messages around of people being like ‘it is quite strange to see five Caucasian males and one African-Australian male as POW! Negro, how can you stand for that name?’ People were being offended by us trying to use that word. And I totally agree. We actually hadn’t really thought about the name too much. It was the name that Nelson had and we just went with it because we weren’t really too concerned with the name, we were all about the music.
2017’s Jasmine & Licorice EP captured the raw live energy of your shows at the time, whereas 2018’s ‘I Am The Judge’ featured a more polished electronic sound. The new release ‘Burn’ moves even further in this electronic direction. Is this the direction you will be going in as Superego?
Kaprou: I think ‘Burn’ is a great example of trying to get that raw energy, but having more of a produced polished sound.
Lachlan: There was a big shift when we realised that we were constantly stuck with this paradigm of two guitars, bass, sax and drums. Everything always, no matter how you played it, turned out like rock music. And then we had the shift, when we thought ‘actually, we don’t have to do that, we can do whatever the fuck we want’.
Kaprou: We had been making beats the whole time, so we released a couple of mixtapes. We had this weird thing where we would have to try to make a live version of it, but it always felt like the beats sounded better. And now we have finally got to the point where if it sounds better, why don’t we just use the beats?
Most of your new songs are based on electronic beats. How do you approach playing it live?
Rhys: The process has changed. We [previously] had the beat, made it live and then played it live on instruments. Now, we make the beat, record the beat and play the beat live.
Kaprou: Instead of replicating a sound, you just play the sound… [The live show] is still different to the beat. But it’s much closer. The core of it is still there.
Toby: Instead of making a synth sound and playing it on guitar, now I just play the synth.
The Freo.Social gig was one of the first times you have played in Fremantle for a while. You must have played a lot of shows over the years in Freo. What did you think of the gig?
Toby: It felt good.
Lachlan: It was reassuring knowing that, by doing this big transition to an all-electronic live sound, we haven’t fucked everything up and people still dig it. That was a big concern.
Rhys: It was so surprising. Before the show I was freaking out, I was scared, because there were big changes and big things and I was worried about if people were going to come, if people were going to like it.
Toby: At the same time, I think we are a lot more confident internally in what we are doing. With POW! Negro and maybe at the start of Superego we catered to what we thought people wanted. Now it’s just doing what we want to do.
What has been your favourite show that you have played so far?
Toby: The last shows as POW! Negro at Mojos. That tripped me out, because we sold out Mojos twice.
Nelson: When we went to Exmouth, that was a really interesting gig. It’s such a regional place; they had never had anything like that before. So many people were actually super shook from it. When we played ‘Flesh’ a lot of people resonated with that song. People were coming up to me crying, saying that ‘all that about toxic masculinity has been happening up here for so long and no one ever talks about it, we really needed someone to say that’. It was crazy.
Toby: That was big, because you realise the impact you can have talking about these things.
You played a lot of new songs at Freo.Social that no one has heard yet. We also saw a lot of vocals from Lachlan and Toby, whereas before it was primarily Nelson with some vocals from Rhys. Was this a conscious decision?
Lachlan: A lot of it was because we had a whole bunch of new songs in a short period of time, and it was unrealistic to ask Nelson to write all of them. I had recently just got my solo set together so I had a bunch of surplus material.
Toby: It just makes it more dynamic. Even though it was out of circumstance, it was what we wanted to do.
Since you are all making music and have diverse tastes and musical backgrounds, what kind of music do you all bond over?
Everyone: MF Doom, Madlib, BADBADNOTGOOD, Run The Jewels, early Tame Impala, A Tribe Called Quest, Flying Lotus, Gorillaz, Portishead.
Rhys: It’s left field hip hop that we all connect with.
Nelson, in past gigs you have worn the clothes that your father would wear when he used to perform. How has your family shaped your music?
Nelson: They definitely shaped my taste to a certain degree. I really love afrobeat and reggae, and my dad played all that, he had a pretty diverse taste.
Rhys: I would say your family definitely influenced your performance.
Nelson: Also morally, I think my dad has had a huge impact on that. I’m trying to keep my heritage involved in what I do. And my mum, for the Freo.Social gig, made me a whole get-up to wear the night before. They have always been creative and encourage me to be so as well. I was just lucky.
The lyrics in ‘Burn’ reference “a system’s history of violence” and the song features some violent imagery. The video clip also has a very frantic feel to it. Is there a specific message that is being conveyed in ‘Burn’?
Nelson: The world is ending and Mars isn’t where we are going to be able to find refuge. There was a whole lot of talk about Nauru at the time and it made me think about refugees and the status of our country as a ‘welcoming’ country and the double standard that we have. We do have a long history of violence and it’s not really talked about and keeps repeating itself, particularly for Indigenous Australians. The song’s first verse is looking into the future with the kind of scenarios where the world ends. In the second verse, there is already a colony on Mars and people are trying to flee to Mars as refugees, and they get blown up on the way. Then there is someone spinning off into space and trying to come to terms with that they are going to die. It’s a hierarchy thing, and anyone else that is going to come is going to ruin the order that they have.
Toby: So, it’s the same system still in power on Mars, that reflects the exact same attitude towards refugees.
What does the rest of the year look like for Superego?
Nelson: Finishing the EP. We are mixing the second song at the moment, and there are four others and an interlude that need to be mixed and cut up. There are a couple of shows here and there.
Rhys: Revisiting the live set again. When we were doing shows as POW! Negro, we knew the ins and outs of every song. We knew when to rise together and drop together. All was connected in this bubble, which we had at our gig at Freo.Social, but we just know it is going to get stronger and stronger.
Kaprou: Now we are taking more of a deliberate, thoughtful approach. At the moment, we have all the concepts of things rather than specific dates. I think once the EP comes out, it will all start rolling out!