In Conversation with: The Invisible
The Mercury Prize underdogs may have missed out on the top accolade but stand unfazed as they continue to break through with a forthcoming second album. Jehan Harding talks to singer Dave Okumu.
The Invisible are delightfully difficult to place. The critical acclaim showered over their self titled debut album, nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 2009, hasn’t changed them in the slightest. Soulful frontman, Dave Okumu was even asked to join the panel of judges this year, an honour surely bestowed only upon those with certain credentials.
“It’s really made me appreciate even more the significance of being nominated. What it actually takes to make that shortlist, having been on both sides of the fence, which is really peculiar, a bit like going behind enemy lines in the most positive way.”
“There’s something tokenistic about a winner, an overall winner. I think the most significant thing about the Mercury award is actually the shortlist. It provides an overview of what has happened in British music over 12 months. I think if anyone wanted to look back at a particular year or period in music, they could look at the Mercury award and whatever you think about that shortlist, it’s kind of there to promote discussion in a way. It’s never going to cover absolutely everything.”
The trio, consisting of Okumu (vocals / guitars), Tom Herbert (bass / synthesizer) and Leo Taylor (drums), continue to immerse themselves in other projects. Hot Chip’s recent album, Made In The Dark, featured contributions from Taylor, whilst Herbert and Okumu are working with long-time Zero 7 collaborator, Tom Skinner, under the name of Crump.
“I think space vs distraction is always a challenge, it’s the challenge of the modern age. It’s seems like so many people are so often in flux just trying to get things finished, get things done and it can be really difficult if you haven’t got a structure that automatically provides that. We’re always juggling various things, whether it’s live commitments or our involvement in other projects that are important to us. The Invisible feels quite significant and we’re really proud of ourselves for just creating our own structure.”
Whilst sessions for their debut were overseen by avant-garde electronic pioneer, Matthew Herbert in secluded Whitstable, the follow-up has been more half and half. The foundations have been laid in London at The Pool, under the watchful eye of Ben Hillier, esteemed producer behind Blur’s Think Tank amongst other classics.
“I’d never been there before [The Pool], and I always wanted to record there. I’m a real fan of Ben’s and I love the studio, so it was great to do some tracking there.”
The trio have now decamped to Brighton for overdubs and tweaks and good times all round with Rich File, formerly of UNKLE, calling the shots and keeping them sane.
“It just feels like he’s exactly what we need. The role of a producer can mean so many things, it can be very ambiguous, some producers are glorified engineers, some producers are fascist sort of imposers of their vision which is kind of how I see Rich. Obviously we really need someone who can help us realize our ideas fully and bring that extra dimension and continually keep us focused and inspire us. Rich is doing all of the above, and he’s also just making it really really fun. So many people make records and it can be quite a miserable place, tortured and painful. There’s a lot of agonizing and insecurity and concern about what people are going to think, that’s just totally absent from this process and that has a lot to do with Rich. Just the energy that he brings to the table, the types of dance-moves he selects at certain points to express the meaning of the song. It could be in the way that he marinades the bacon with chilli sauce, at just the right moment when you really need that little pick-me-up. Or when he introduces Maynards Wine Gums to proceedings. Or through the way that he produces sound through an array of really quite high-end equipment. It’s just a whole range of things really, it’s just a joy. I feel like I could just carry on doing this forever, I hope we’ll make lots of records together.”
Their debut album remains a joy. Hushed pop vocals drift over a world of acoustic warmth, filtered through electronic meanderings tinged abrasively and tenderly. So many ideas dwelled upon, but never for too long. The melancholy zest of London Town’s no-no-no hook and the cop-car siren solo at the end of Constant for example. The total effect is one of urgency and immediacy belied by a casual charm, that of a group totally on top of their aesthetic.
Bolstered by touring and the ensuing reaffirmation of their identity, the follow-up is definitely a record to be excited about. More captured hearts and critical fanfare will head The Invisible’s way. I know this because they are on the right path. One of their own making.
The Invisible will release their second album this summer.
Words: Jehan Harding
Images: Mads Perch