early sans's psychedelic dream-pop will expand your mind
Superorganism's Earl Ho goes solo with 'Buzz In,' a beautiful psych album written between London, Australia, New Zealand, and a mountain in Korea.
Photography Laura Walser Boserman
Last year, when a song called “Something For Your M.I.N.D.” appeared online, the indie music world erupted with a fanfare not seen since 2010, when a mysterious cartoon band named The Gorillaz first made a splash on MTV. Much like the British artpop band that came before them, by the time the full identity of Superorganism was known, its first song had already gone viral. Early Sans (whose real name is Earl, but who’s known as Soul to Superorganism fans), may no longer be a mysterious figure, but his debut solo album Buzz In (out today via Fantasy Fiction Records) is one of the best kept secrets in pop music.
The songs that comprise Buzz In are taken from a collection of songs that Earl recorded over the past five years, as he shifted between New Zealand, Australia, London, and various destinations in between. They pivot between dream-pop and sprawling psychedelia, but never travel too far from either axis, sticking mostly within the scope of psychedelic music that’s come before. But that’s not a bad thing. Earl’s influences include Pink Floyd, Tame Impala, and The Beatles (and the solo projects that came after), and his own music contains ideas that many of them would have been proud to have come up with themselves.
Earl’s obsession with The Beatles began when he was a child, and they became his primary influence when he started writing and recording music — first with his rock band Sherpa, and then as Early Sans. You can hear this influence throughout Buzz In, first on “Ballad of Mary Drone,” which recalls the unchained melody of John Lennon’s Mind Games, and later on “Western Hour / Eastern Day,” a stomping rock and roll song full of tambourine, harmonica and accordion, which takes inspiration from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
He describes listening to The Beatles as “a form of escapism”; first turning to the group for relief from anxiety and depression, but over time their influence on him transcended music. “I really delved deep into The Beatles, not only the music, but also the history, the production, and the socio-political context,” says Earl. “I just wanted to make music in that world.”
“Through The Beatles you get the whole spectrum of what you can do in life, and what you can do with rock and roll,” he continues. “I was introduced to meditation through The Beatles. Them being spokesmen for a better way of living, and opening doors to Eastern mysticism, spiritualism, and transcendental meditation. That alone I thought was crucial. And then there’s the whole thing about experimenting with drugs; taking LSD and ketamine. That’s definitely going to have a big influence on your development as a creative person. I don’t actually know if The Beatles did that, but it gave me an outlook of using songwriting as a way of discovering myself, of life and the universe, and then collating it all into songs.”
When Earl left New Zealand for London four years ago, The Beatles and the books he’d read about Pink Floyd and the swinging sixties were on his mind. “The UK is attractive to a young person who is obsessed with rock and roll, and who is a bit of a nihilist,” he says. “Syd Barrett had a house in central London with just a mattress on the floor.”
In some ways, Superorganism is mimicking this lifestyle. They all live together in a house in East London, which acts as a kind of creative incubator for their multi-flavored pop music. But Earl, who was the last member to join the group, has been forced to live elsewhere. Not that he minds. “Orono [vocals in SO] moved in and she took the living room, and after you take the living room you can only take the dingy basement,” he explains. “I actually did live in a basement, but it was a little bit of a nicer basement down the road with a bed. But yeah, there’s just not enough space.”
Despite living in such close quarters, Earl says much of Superorganism’s music is born from individual members working alone in their bedrooms, and it’s how he prefers to work, too. But working alone on a solo record presents different challenges to working as a group, especially when you lack confidence. Earl says the reason for the low-key release is “because my confidence in myself isn’t too high at the moment with my work.” It took Fantasy Fiction label manager Mitch O’Sullivan to say that his music was good to convince him that an audience might like it, too.
“When the prospect of other people hearing it comes into my mind, I kind of retract. I don’t really believe in myself,” he says. “It’s kind of a weird complex I’ve built up, but that’s the way it is. I hope one day to be more confident in myself and to strive for bigger things, but at this point I’m just happy to put something out for a little audience that might enjoy it.”
If you’ve seen Earl on stage with Superorganism, his admission of lacking confidence might come as a bit of a surprise. His personality is a central part of the Superorganism live experience, and he has developed a fan club of his own that he says is inspired by seeing him having a good time on stage. “I have kids messaging me on Instagram and [approaching me] at live shows. A lot of the time they are Korean, and they come up to me and they are really inspired by me just doing my thing,” he says. “I think it’s important for a Korean kid to see me up there on stage.” One fan even messaged him on Instagram and asked when his solo record is coming out.
“Easy Love,” the second track on Buzz In, has a Korean connection. Earl wrote it at a traditional house in the Korean mountains, and the video depicts a style of traditional Korean dance and costume. But of the overall record, Earl says, “there’s not too much of a Korean influence, because I’m more of a New Zealand person than a Korean person.” Having primarily channeled his influences rather than exploring his identity, Buzz In reflects his decision to leave home and not look back. It’s a record of mind-expanding music, written by someone whose mind was expanding while making it.