It’s been worth the wait.
Three years after their excellent debut She Was Coloured In in 2010, Solar Bears are about to release a career-defining album, Supermigration.
Solar Bears is the band name for talented duo John Kowalski and Rian Trench, who have spent the past 18-months at studios in Wicklow, Ireland, working on Supermigration. It’s a long way from their debut recording in a bedroom in Dublin.
The difference is not just in the recording but in the quality and diversity of tracks. The interest in Science-Fiction is still apparent, but rather than the outward urge of space travel, Supermigration is more concerned with inner space and hints at dark, personal narratives that are often analogous with the genre.
I contacted John and Rian with some questions about the new album, Supermigration, and they started-off by explaining the influences on their recording:
John: We were listening to a lot of Eno and forgotten soundtracks which we had discovered on vinyl. Sampling these led to unusual routes for some of the finished songs on the record. It is largely dependent on what happens during a day session or a night session. The seasons played a part also. Often cases it can be something as simple as a string sound.
Rian: Its never a conscious effort to work in a set style, so in a lot of ways, the direction is determined by whatever riff, bassline, drum pattern, texture we start out with. New things definitely filtered through this time. We’d often have Al Green on in the kitchen in between sessions. We researched a lot of recording techniques. Steely Dan records were a constant reference.
Dangerous Minds: What was it like to spend so long in the studio and what was a typical recording day like?
John: It was really positive for me. One thing that did affect the recordings was getting our hands on new gear like a Korg MS-10 which a friend lent us. There were no typical days as I came down to the studio with either an idea intact or nothing at all. Rian had ideas dating back years so we concentrated on them for some of the tracks on the album.
Rian: Typically we’d bring something to the table, and just approach it in our different ways. Usually took a day to write the song, and then several days of tweaking. It was a great experience to be able to think about the tracks for long periods out of the studio. Writing time was interspersed between touring in Europe, so we had the advantage of talking about song structures and sounds etc while away.
Dangerous MInds: What is the back story with the title, Supermigration?
Rian: We were initially considering it as a track title, but then realized it kind of summed up the experiences and process surrounding the record. Its marries the journey the album takes itself. We always want to go somewhere we haven’t been before.
There is a pattern we discovered after the writing process that hadn’t been considered. We tried to vary the style and execution as much as possible, and then try to shape a very abstract narrative gluing it all together. If the composition is ready in our minds, it should allow you to invent your own story.
’Cosmic Runner’—Solar Bears, from ‘Supermigration’
John: It is far more about inner space than anything external. The name itself was the only thing that made sense with the collection of songs we created together. We traveled a lot during the making of the record, seeing all that foreign scenery fed into the expansive sound of the LP somehow. My main ambition is to become more skilled as a music maker.
Looking back on the song titles there emerged a kind of science fiction psychedelic short story, starting with “Stasis” and ending with “Rainbow Collision”. We feel very unproven, that’s why we continue to work as hard as possible. Taking any of this for granted would be incredibly foolish. The label believed in us again and we love to work with all of them. Their advice and experience is invaluable to our group.
DM: What are the film references to Supermigration? And would you like to write a film score?
John: The White Ribbon, La Jetee, Gandahar and The Fountain. There is a little known Buddhist fable from Korea called Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring that has a unique soundtrack. It contains acoustics and electronics and has a very glacial sound to it. That would be one that I would like to re-score.
Rian: One of the things we want to do next is write a film score. We would love to work closely with a director on their project, try to elevate the images. Sometimes we feel that we are already scoring when writing together.
DM: What was your personal lives like during recording? Did your relationships with loved ones have a influence?
John: I went through quite a dark period during the making of the album. Some things should remain private. The support we get from family and friends is a great source of strength to me. Everything you experience in daily life influences you, everybody is a product of their individual environment whether it is slight or long standing.
Rian: I went through the hardest period of my life as the record was being finished. It just made me work harder.
DM: You performed some of the tracks live before recording them, did you find this a good experience testing/developing tracks through performance?
John: Testing tracks live is one of the reason it turned out harder and more aggressive than our debut. Watching people’s reactions meant we had a direct indicator of where to take the music afterward when we returned home. It gave us a chance to test out new synths and drum machines which accelerated the learning process.
Rian: We would try new things at every gig. The stuff that payed off went straight onto the tracks in the studio. We kept finding ourselves naturally drawing as much intensity from the songs as we could, trying to create a real experience for the audience.
DM: Can you talk about the collaborations with Keep Shelly in Athens and Beth Hirsch on the album?
Rian: Sarah’s voice beautiful to work with. We loved the character she has when singing, and thought it perfectly complimented the sound of the record. Beth was someone we talked about a lot in reference to Air’s Moon Safari. She had ideas almost instantly. We see “Alpha People” and “Our Future Is Underground” as sister songs in many ways.
John: The track with Keep Shelly in Athens happened after we did a remix exchange. Sarah has a purity that is pretty rare in my opinion. She was really open to suggestions as was Beth. When we wrote “Our Future is Underground” we felt that Beth was ideal and we are so grateful to her for what we created almost instantaneously.
DM: When will you be touring Europe and the U.S.A.?
Rian: Really excited to tour this album. We have a band of serious musicians now. Members of I Am The Cosmos will be joining us on tour. Check out their record. We haven’t stopped listening to it since they released it on the Noisey site.
John: We are touring Europe from May onward and America later in the year. It’s crucial to be able to present your work to people regardless of geography. Our hope is to play in Japan as it’s a place I have been drawn to since I was very young.
Bonus: DJ Pangburn’s film on Michael Robinson’s making of Supermigration
Previously on Dangerous Minds