Super Massive have just released a video for their infectiously-funky disco single ‘I Like It’. With COVID impacting their initial plans, the band filmed the 70s-esq doco-comedy clip at the band members’ house on the Gold Coast.
Tomatrax caught up with Malina Hamilton-Smith, the band’s lead singer, to discuss Super Massive’s latest and upcoming adventures!
- It’s been over a decade since you were last featured on Tomatrax, what has happened since then?
Well, we spent half of that time after we released our debut EP solidly playing shows. We did a few east coast tours and played lots of music festivals. We also put out another three singles – ‘Late At Night’, ‘Get Me Out Of My Head’ and In The Twilight… and then did some really big festivals in Vietnam. We played to crowds of over 10,000 people there a couple of times. It was quite extraordinary. One of the shows was on a stage built on a gigantic, famous, red sand dune at Mui Ne. It was an amazing experience.
We also did a lot of writing and recording. We were working towards an album, but the music industry and the live music scene in Sydney started shifting beneath us and going into decline really, between the rise of streaming and the Sydney lockout laws. The lockouts introduced in 2014 in Sydney had a profound and immediate effect on the live scene and by the end of 2014 we felt like we needed a break.
Making music felt too much like a lot of effort for little result. Avenues for getting heard and reaching people were seriously drying up. Around that time we also found out I was pregnant with our son, so we happily took time off from live shows and focused on our personal lives for a bit. Saved up, bought a home, moved out of Sydney to the Gold Coast and chilled out for a few years. Spent some time away from the music scene to stabilise ourselves and recalibrate life to make it more sustainable to be creative.
We kept tinkering on music during that time though, writing and recording for the enjoyment of it. We developed our home studio set up to become more self-sufficient. Glenn kept honing his music production skills and I worked on improving my video editing. That all ended up serving us well when Covid-19 came along, because we didn’t need to work with anyone else to be able to put new music out last year. In 2019 we came out of hiatus and started playing shows again, up here on the Gold Coast.
We released two singles in 2019 – ‘Meltwater’ and ‘We’re Taking Over’. We were planning to tour in 2020, but when the Covid shutdown happened we decided to throw ourselves into being as creative and productive as we could at home. Glenn produced a disco track for Murray Cook & The Soul Movers and the Original Wiggles called ‘Circles Baby’, which I sang backing vocals on, and then we released our own single – ‘Invertebrate’ and were lucky to play some fantastic sold-out shows in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Then at the end of last year we released our current single, ‘I Like It’. I spent the Christmas lockdown editing the video for ‘I Like It’, and it was a really enjoyable time because it was such a fun and light-hearted song and seemed to bring out the funny side of everyone involved. I spent a lot of time laughing while I was working on it.
- What was the inspiration behind the video for ‘I like it’?
The video concept for ‘I Like It’ was one of those creative things that feels like it was channelled from beyond. It seemed to evolve almost of its own accord. The video was always going to look very retro, because the song is so strongly 70s disco sounding, but we didn’t have a storyline when we started filming. The psychiatrist character was a spontaneous idea that happened on the first day, but once we had that character a whole lot of ideas just started tumbling out, and then it became a matter of picking the ideas that served the lyrics of the song best, because the song tells a story. Glenn’s inspiration for Dr S. Massive was Sir Les Patterson, with a bit of Ron Burgundy. I thought a lot about 1970s comedy – the acting, filming and editing style, to make it feel like a flashback to that era. The sexual naughtiness/ inappropriateness of the era too, but subverting it and putting a modern spin on it by making the female characters equal drivers of the story rather than passive sexpot sidekicks. I did some research on sexual fetishes for our psychiatrist’s clients that gave us some ideas, like Flossie Monroe, the showgirl with a feather tickle fetish. Luckily our wardrobes were already filled with 70s costumes, and our home is decorated in wild wallpaper and mid-century modern furnishings that made it the perfect 70s location, as we filmed right in the lockdown and it would have been hard to source things if we hadn’t already had what we needed.
- What made you take on the 70s-esq style in the song?
The 70s disco funk song style came about early on in the writing phase, while Glenn was working on the bass line with John Young, our original bass player. Glenn had programmed a basic bass line and he and John were recording ideas to develop the bass. John played a much more syncopated part that was very 70s disco. And once that was there, Glenn decided he had to go all the way. Glenn and I are both massive fans of 70s disco and funk so this song became our way of paying homage to all the disco music we love from that era. Acts like Chic, the Brothers Johnson, Sister Sledge, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Diana Ross’ Diana album was my initial touchstone for the vocals, which were a bit softer and smoother and Diana-esque in the demo. I made them a little more exuberant and feisty in the final version, after we had started playing it live and thought about the track as something fun for festival audience interaction and put the crowd call and answer into the chorus.
- Why did you decide to sell underwear with the single?
We have been secretly harbouring a desire to do Super Massive underpants for a very long time. Years! We have joked about how this is the perfect merch for us – Super Massive, where it counts, fellas, heh heh! We did need new merch. We were running out of our classic black and silver glitter T Shirts, and this single, with its risque “I like it, I like it a lot” title and chorus was just a perfect fit for undies. I confess I had a strong compulsion to do it. I spent days traipsing around Big Ws and Kmarts all over the Gold Coast and Tweed sourcing the underpants to print on, because this happened when postal deliveries and supply chains had just about come to a standstill due to Covid-19 impacts on shipping and ordering things in was risky. It has been a great success though. Everyone loves the underpants! We sold half of them before we went to print. We still have a few pairs left, which you can purchase through our Bandcamp at https://supermassivesounds.bandcamp.com/merch.
- You said how you had to film the video largely at your homes due to the COVID caused shutdowns, was it hard to come up with an alternate arrangement?
Yes, well originally, I had a very different concept for it. When we had recorded the call and answer chorus to the song, we’d invited all our friends around for a BBQ and recording/pool party at a house we were renting that had a big swimming pool. This got me thinking about doing a video set at a funky 70s pool party, full of dodgy characters getting up to risque things. But when it came time to film, we couldn’t get everyone together to shoot because of the Qld border shutdown and Covid restrictions. Glenn and I and our guitarist, Tyr, were on the Gold Coast, while everyone else was in Sydney. So we did what we could and invited the people who’d sung or played on the song to film themselves – just on their phones at home, and I imagined putting together a Covid/Tik Tok style video collaging lots of people dancing along to the song. But there’s a strong narrative in the song lyrics that kept crying out to be used creatively, and it nagged us that we wanted the video to be more unique than just a series of images of people dancing. We had a strong urge to find a way to make it more compelling. Then, in a wonderful gift, the first footage that came back to us from our friends Dan Bruce and Marc Malouf was insanely funny. I laughed so hard watching those takes. And that upped the ante. It got me racking my brain for anything funny we could do between Glenn and Tyr and myself here at home. It was quite tricky at first. We weren’t sure how we could piece together footage of different quality sent in by the group of people, all self-filmed on different gear in different lighting situations. I was worried it could end up looking unwatchable – A frankenvideo. The way we made it work was by putting the video footage shot by Dan Bruce, Marc Malouf and LoveShark onto the psychiatrist’s laptop, as if it were a Zoom meeting. That way it didn’t have to look the same as the footage we shot at our house, which was all filmed on a higher definition camera. Zoom meeting images don’t look so pretty anyway, so it actually worked perfectly by doing it that way.
- You’ve been putting out a steady stream of singles out, are there plans for an EP or LP release?
I have hopes for an EP later this year, all being well. We actually had an album’s worth of material sitting there, recorded and mastered and were thinking about putting out an album a few years ago, but the decision to drip feed out singles instead of putting it out in one chunk means now I think we’d rather put together a fresh collection that is more tied to what we are enjoying writing and playing now. We tend to work slowly – our songs are very multi-layered and nothing is looped or sampled, so our usual process involves shaping songs up over a period of months – so a whole new album this year is a bit ambitious. I’m aiming for an EP.
- You also co-stared in Flickerfest 2021 short film “Pools”, how did that come about?
Yes! It was an unexpected opportunity that worked out really well. I’ve been acting on and off for a long time – even longer than I’ve been doing music – and I was looking for acting work on the Gold Coast when Pools came up. Pools’ director and producer, Luisa Martiri, found my profile on a casting website and sent me a message inviting me to audition. She prodded me to apply. I wasn’t really looking for a short film project at the time, so I wouldn’t have applied if she hadn’t prodded me and sent me the script to read, but I am so glad I read it, because the script was exceptional. It was very powerful and brilliantly written, and hooked me in from beginning to end.
The subjective matter is pretty full on and very emotive, but beautifully handled – it’s about unplanned pregnancy and the decision to terminate the pregnancy. The story centres on a teenager and her reluctant Mum and it was the relationship between the two of them that really pulled me in. By the end of the script I had tears coming up and I thought, I really want to be a part of this!
Once I met Luisa and the writer, Alex Philp, it was obvious this was a really talented writer / director / producer team. So, thankfully they chose me for Emily, and I put a lot of work into doing the best performance I could, because I wanted to do their script justice. I think everyone on the film felt the same way, because there were a lot of talented people involved and everyone did an incredible job. It was a thrill and an honour to see it premiere at Flickerfest, and I really hope it gets picked up for more festivals, because it’s a very special little film about an important yet unspoken topic.
- How does performing in a short film compare with performing music?
It’s a much longer day! You’re often on set from early morning ‘til after midnight filming shorts or features. With a gig it’s load in mid-afternoon, on stage for an hour or two then hit the bar and cut loose. Touring is more gruelling of course – more like a film shoot – the old red eye flights then riding in a van for hours before doing a show in another town every night is just as punishing as film work. The performing work itself is different in that it’s a perhaps little more complex.
Actor Henri Szeps once said to me that you have to think of like, at least seven things simultaneously while you are acting. You have to think of your character – where they are coming from, what has just happened prior, your lines, your motivation, your super-objective, the action you are playing on the other actor, your tension level, where the camera frame is, where the light is on your face, and you have to come into the scene loaded up with an emotion. The only other person who has to think of more than seven things at once is a rocket scientist.
The other differences are that you are guided by the script, and you are working with a director, who is in charge of what is shown to the audience, and there’s no audience actually present. The audience are essentially voyeurs, looking through a widescreen keyhole. There is a big difference in this to performing music live – it is freer and there is feedback from the audience and if you work hard to interact with the audience it allows a communal, cathartic experience to happen, which is a beautiful thing. A great gig feels like a religious experience. It’s the modern church. A group of people transcending everyday life together, the music lifting us all up together. That’s what we are all missing right now with the suppression of the live music industry. Some folk in Government think its non-essential, but I think cultural activities are really important to peoples’ spirits and well-being, especially in tough times.
- You’re planning on touring in June and July, what can fans expect from your show?
An entertaining, fun and exhilarating night out! The show is a blend of theatrics and pure hedonistic catharsis. Our sound is a 50/50 blend of rock and electronic dance elements, and with live funk-rock drums and guitar as well as our electronic soundscapes, it’s pretty huge and energetic live. It’s music for dancing to, so I dance a lot and we encourage the audience to dance and get involved, even if that means dancing in your chair and joining us to shout out “I Like It!”. It’s escapist and we wear glam, glittery outfits and perform in a theatrical style.
Our favourite entertainers are the ones who bring showmanship into their shows and I approach performing on stage in Super Massive with the same mindset I do with acting – Each song is written with a specific character in mind and is its own little world, so the show is a rollercoaster ride from catchy synthpop songs into euphoric, disco driven songs into darker, more atmospheric, more alternative songs. That said, the shows in June July will be celebrating the release of ‘I Like It’, so we are planning to bring more of the upbeat, slamming disco we love into the set.
- Do you ever listen to your own music?
Well… it doesn’t bother me to hear it. Because we usually work on each song for a decent period of time at home, massaging it into shape as a production, we’ve usually heard it a million times by the time we’ve mixed and mastered it and all that listening in the writing / recording stage makes it super familiar, like a baby. We have the luxury of taking our time and ironing out most of the bits we might not have liked so much that we probably would have been stuck with if we didn’t self-record. Recording was quite different generally in the past, especially if you went into a professional studio. Things were laid down live and laid down quicker, so if you didn’t capture it how you wanted to on the day, it would drive you mad forever.
It’s still kind of like with film acting, where you shoot it once and then wait months or years for it to be edited, and then find yourself at a premiere screening, cringing and dying inside as the opening credits roll, in fear of how terrible you think you’re going to be!! I know a lot of actors find it agonising to watch themselves. It’s pretty daunting. But Super Massive has always been about us exploring our own creative vision, and we are in control of it, and so by the time a song comes out, we’re usually pretty proud to put it out there. I’ve usually heard it enough by then not to want to put it on! But not because I’m not happy with it.
- What music do you listen to?
We listen to a lot of funky music and classic pop, because that’s what all three of us like (including our 6 year old son). Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder, Pnau, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, anything involving Nile Rodgers, and Elton John are household favourites we all agree on. Music with melody, groove and memorable lyrics is the general recipe. Glenn’s number one go-to artist is (enduringly) David Bowie. He has 25 of his records on vinyl. He likes listening to a lot of his favourite bands from the 70s and 80s – New wave bands like Duran Duran and Sparks and the full spectrum of funk from Larry Graham to Giorgio Moroder to The Machinations. I tend to appreciate music by singers who are amazing interpreters, like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Beth Gibbins, Jeff Buckley and David Bowie, more so his mid-career and later stuff.
My favourite music to chill out to is Morcheeba. They are also just a super bliss-out out experience live. I was a big trip hop fan in the 90s, deeply into Portishead and Massive Attack. These days I like discovering new music, usually that fits the old mould with new ideas and sounds. Usually far away from the Top 20 Chart. I will fossick around, find the new gems and play them to Glenn. A handful of favourite catchy finds of the last few years that come to mind would be Ladyhawke and Broods ‘Guilty Love’, Lime Cordiale’s ‘Money’, Chaka Khan’s ‘Like Sugar’ and Olympia’s ‘Smoke Signals”.
- What do you have planned after your upcoming tour?
Working on our next single. It’s a toss-up between two songs at the moment, so we’ve got to decide on that. Hopefully both songs will end up on an EP or mini-album together with I Like It, which we would love to tour nationally later in the year, depending on how things are tracking in the outside world. It’s hard for anyone to make solid plans at the moment.
Who knows whether we’ll be allowed to play a show interstate or even allowed out of the house, from one week to the next? Back in 2019 we had plans to tour overseas this year, because our singles have been getting play in the US, the UK, Germany and Mexico, but that is definitely off the cards. It looks like there’s three years of restrictions on international travel ahead of everyone now, so we’ll be doing as much as we can to play shows locally and introduce our music to people here at home for the next while.
For the past year Glenn and I have been dreaming about a renaissance of local content, with everyone getting behind the cause of reviving and elevating Australian music/arts while Australia’s international border is closed. I’d love to see that happen.
Check out Super Massive’s Bandcamp page to find out more!