An interview with Ruby Wood from Submotion Orchestra.
Jazz and soul meet electronica at Submotion Orchestra, a seven-member band that claims a genre that is truly their own.
Described by Giles Peterson as ‘Cinematic Orchestra meets dubstep’, the band is a kaleidoscope of music genres, backed by its beautiful melodies and the incredible voice of Ruby Wood, lead singer. The band was formulated in 2009 and quickly captured the attention of fans locally in the U.K., and the global stands shortly after.
A few years on, Wood has expanded into numerous new musical ventures, including collaborations with The Naked Eye, Franky Wah and Glxy. Plus, a Submotion Orchestra concert is in the pipeline for October this year – which can hopefully come through with if and when the COVID situation is stabalised.
We catch up with Wood to talk about new songs, jazz and staying creative during lockdown.
What have you been up to over the past year – has COVID and staying home brought different inspirations in songwriting?
I’ve relocated. From London, back to my hometown of Huddersfield. Moving house at the best of times is stressful enough, but mid-COVID was extra hard. I’ve only recently started to feel creatively inspired again, to be honest.
I’m renovating my house currently and I’ve finally got a whole room I can dedicate to music, (as opposed to my set up being squashed in the corner of the living room). COVID has made me feel a bit disconnected, I don’t think I’m ready to write about it yet, as I think I’m still trying to work it all out.
You were born in West Yorkshire, a great place for independent bands and live music venues. Could you tell us about your influences growing up in the city and what music scenes you came across?
Yorkshire is amazing! I was actually sat in my local park today with my daughter, and looking around and thinking how beautifully multi-ethnic it was. Everyone was using the park together and getting along. My first musical experiences growing up were in a steel band in Huddersfield. So I was playing at a carnival from a very young age. There was an amazing jazz scene in Leeds too whilst I was studying at uni. I’m not sure what it’s all like now, since moving back after a decade in London. Hopefully, it will all pick back up again after COVID, and if not I would love to try to start something.
Both of your parents were jazz lovers – and you studied the music genre in university too. Could you tell us how jazz has influenced your life and your music?
Jazz, for me, is more of a mentality and an approach to making and performing music. And an approach to life too, I guess. I love its sense of freedom and spontaneity. I haven’t done much ‘jazz’ music really since leaving university, however, I feel I have always applied the approach throughout my career. And if I ever feel like something is becoming too stagnant or predictable I try to switch it up. I’m grateful to my parents for always having it played around the house and in the car whilst I was growing up and for taking me along to gigs such as The Art Ensemble of Chicago etc. as a baby and for always giving me the freedom to explore and create.
Besides Submotion Orchestra, you've worked with Bonobo too! What kind of other musical collaborations have you worked with?
I’ve done a bit of everything haha. For a long time in London I was singing in a 1940’s trio called The Sugar Sisters, we started out busking on the streets of London for a bit of extra cash and then got spotted by Terry Wogans producer on Radio 2. From there we got loads of high-profile gigs such as playing at The Royal Albert Hall, Chelsea Flower Show and singing on The One Show too.
I’ve been doing a lot of feature work too. I had a song out recently called Brave Hope with an amazing singer/songwriter called The Naked Eye and talented guitarist/producer Femi Temowo, and also I’m a featured artist on both Glxy and Franky Wah’s most recent albums.
Your voice is incredible, without a doubt! Who were your influences growing up, and now?
Aww thank you! I listened to a lot of jazz growing up, Ella, Sassy, Billie of course, then I discovered Jill Scott/Erykah Badu. I really used to love trumpet and horn players too, as I found their way of playing very vocal and enjoyed transcribing their solos and singing along. People like Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis. I honestly think just listening to, and fully internalising a varied selection of music really is the best teacher. You can’t beat it!
More recently I’ve been listening to Alex Isley. She’s incredible and so talented.
Submotion Orchestra is a beautiful blend of different genres, classic and modern. How would you describe Submotion Orchestra's genre, in one sentence?
...Jazzy live dubstep...? Haha (I always find this question so difficult to answer)
Are there any up-and-coming artists to look out for on your radar?
I mentioned earlier The Naked Eye. Her voice and songwriting is sublime, and I genuinely think she is the nicest person in show business!
An amazing singer/songwriter from Birmingham called Rosie Tee, who is supporting us on tour in October. Fatty from Submotion has another project called Pengshui. I didn’t realise I like heavy rock music until I got into them! They’re amazing and I hope they get the recognition they deserve!
What's next on the agenda for you, and for Submotion Orchestra?
Well, fingers crossed, a UK tour in October 2021. However, the skeptic in me won’t believe it’s actually happening until I’m stood there on that stage. It’s been postponed twice already thanks to COVID. We are rereleasing Finest Hour on vinyl, finally! It’s been 10 years since its release and we’ve just got the rights back so we thought it would be appropriate to release. The tour will be featured around Finest Hour, the album.
We have some new tunes ready to go which we were planning to release last year but we held off due to the uncertainty of everything.
For me, I’m looking forward to getting into a more creative space and started to write for myself again. I’ve been having guitar lessons too for the first time in my life and it’s really unlocking things for me. Here’s to a brighter future for all!
Listen to the full album The Finest Hour below: