“I always run into the thing of thinking, ‘OK, once I get over this I’ll be set’ or ‘Once I solve this problem, I’ll be happy,’ ” says Stuart Bogie from his home in Pittsburgh. “But, really, I don’t think that’s the nature of life at all. That’s a mental and spiritual trap, to think that once a problem is solved you’ll be set. It’s like a garden: You’re always planting and weeding.”
For about a decade and a half, before Pittsburgh, Bogie called Brooklyn home. He is a saxophonist and clarinet player who has worked with the likes of Angelique Kidjo, David Byrne, Iron & Wine, TV on the Radio, and Arcade Fire, but he is perhaps best known for his tenure in the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra.
But presently, his attention rests on his longtime, sometime project, Superhuman Happiness. Happiness seems hard enough to achieve, so who on earth gets themselves a dose of the superhuman variety? “It’s super, so it’s above; it’s not super as in really really happy,” he explains. “It’s super as in it’s above what a lone individual can feel. You can feel something greater than yourself. That goes back to what excites me about music.”
Bogie began thinking about Superhuman Happiness around 2008, when he started working on songs in a little studio basement in Brooklyn. “I wanted to investigate music that really excites me,” he says, “and figure out how to plant seeds to combine all the music I’ve worked on and create music that really thrills me. Along the way I found all sorts of collaborators. I started making tracks with anybody who wandered in. I thought social serendipity would create the songs.”
To a certain extent it did evolve organically — “I’d just say, ‘Do you want to come over and record tomorrow?’ and they’d find their place in the song” — just like that. But it wasn’t until the Pittsburgh move with his partner, who was offered a job there, that the space opened up for him to complete the mini-album Escape Velocity, a hazy dance-pop record with bright tones and soothing melodies topping organic beats. It’s a sort of indie disco for the disenfranchised, and will be released via Royal Potato Family on September 18.
What excites Bogie, who did a stint playing in the cast of Fela!, the Broadway musical based on world music legend Fela Kuti, is what he terms the communal aspect. “It’s a physical shared experience between people. It’s abstract, the social and emotional aspects. I’m very interested in protest music, dance music, music for mourning, much more than I am music for intellectual stimulus, but that absolutely plays its part, too.”
That statement might seem to run counter to the initial idea of Superhuman Happiness being a one-man studio project, but Bogie says it is far from that: This is a band, and besides himself and founding member Eric Biondo, Velocity’s players include singer Andrea Diaz, saxophonist Colin Stetson, violinist Sarah Neufeld, and drummer Joe Russo.
“Superhuman Happiness is an evolutionary thing, like…King Crimson is a good example. I like that model; it was highly collaborative but involved gradual personnel changes. Superhuman Happiness has always been very collaborative.”
As we chat, Bogie is dismantling his life in Pittsburgh, packing up and moving to New Haven. After fifteen years in New York and some time in the Steel City, he has enjoyed a break elsewhere. “I found myself a little bit in Pittsburgh, and lost myself in other ways,” he muses. New Haven will put him nearer to the city, nearer to this band, which is based in Brooklyn, and nearer to the community he misses. Or at least what’s left of it. “A lot of my friends are spread out now. If you want to develop communal art, it’s difficult to do it there now,” he says of New York. “It’s like the city is working against you if you want to find a rehearsal space or do a casual gig with your friends. The disparity in wealth is the main disease we’re suffering from, and other things are symptoms of it,” he adds.
“When I moved to Williamsburg in 2000, you’d wake up and you’d go to the café and talk to the person you just met and the next thing you know you’re in a recording session in [TV on the Radio’s] Dave Sitek’s studio playing on something for Foals, or Holly Miranda, or Zack de la Rocha. Now you can go into that same building, but you’d be getting a J. Crew jacket or something,” he giggles. “It’s interesting — the culture of Williamsburg doesn’t add up to J. Crew. I don’t think that nurturing a musical community is anywhere in the J. Crew dialogue. That’s not in their mission statement.”
Superhuman Happiness perform August 13 at the BRIC House in Brooklyn.