British electronic band Hybrid, composed of Mike and Charlotte Truman, have undergone many evolutions in sound since forming in 1995, at the height of the UK-led Breakbeat era. Formed by Mike Truman, Chris Healings and Lee Mullin (Chris and Lee have since left the band), they started primarily as a breakbeat collective, overlapping into progressive house and trance music. Charlotte Truman joined the band on vocals in 2007. Hybrid have always been considered pioneers of electronic music and are known for their cinematic approach to their production, specifically with the use of orchestral recordings. They have collaborated with a wide range of artists ranging from Cypress Hill, Perry Farrell and Peter Hook from New Order and have released 6 studio albums, 1999’s Wide Angle, 2003’s Morning Sci-Fi, 2006’s I Choose Noise, 2010’s Disappear Here, 2018’s Light of the Fearless, and their latest album Black Halo, released today. Aside from writing and recording their own music, they have also produced over 100 remixes for over 40 artists including U2, Moby, R.E.M., and Rob Dougan, as well as scored music for films such as The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Total Recall. A deep emotional narrative runs through all of Hybrid’s music, and is especially evident in Black Halo, which was written during the turbulence of 2020 and celebrates the perseverance and triumph of the human spirit. They’ve created three conceptual videos with writer/novelist James Scudamore and actor Edmund Kingsley that weave sci-fi themes with the stark, hard-hitting reality of the 21st century. The first video, released in March for the track “Flashpoint”, is a sci-fi mini film that was filmed on the couple’s property that includes a farm with over 60 animals. “Mike [Truman, sound design/producer] and I shot the video ourselves as we’ve been fascinated and thrilled by cinema since we were teenagers and have been making our own shorts for over a decade,” she muses. “Granted, filming a video during lockdown was a bit of a challenge but we made use of every possible local location that we could. No farmers were maimed or injured during the making of this film, although one of them was concerned that our smoke effect was actually us setting their barn on fire!”. Their second video, for the track “Nails”, was released in May. “’Nails’ is a continuation to the story of the ‘Flashpoint’ video and also echoes the message of the song which is fundamentally the internal turmoil of battling your inner demons and the struggle to silently regain control,” explains vocalist/songwriter Charlotte. With the First Act focusing on the arrival of the “beings,” the moodier and atmospheric Second Act zooms its focus on a mysterious crystal chained around Charlotte’s neck. “The meaning of the amulet will follow in the next part of the story,” she hints demurely. In June, the band released “Sky Full of Diamonds”, the third single from “Black Halo”, along with an accompanying video. Lyrically, “Sky Full of Diamonds” speaks of overcoming the darkest moments of life and reminding us to always search for those glistening sparks of happiness, shining bright amongst the blackest of skies. Hybrid is Charlotte Truman (vocals, piano, synths, guitar), Mike Truman (sound design, producer), Stu Morgan (vocals, guitars, bass), and Simon Hanson (drums, percussion, backing vocals). You can connect with Hybrid and stream and purchase their new album via the links below. Photo credit: Steve Gullick.
Hybrid was formed in 1995 at the height of the UK-led Breakbeat era and Charlotte, you joined in 2007. Having grown and evolved in your sound over the years, what can you tell me about that sonic journey, and what can you tell me Charlotte about feeling free within the creative process these days and finding that musical flow and dialogue?
Mike: We’re especially enthralled by technology and that has influenced our sound more than anything over our career. The tools to make music have changed somewhat over time but the basic need to tell a story and create textures that have surprises within still remains the same. We’ve been using strange bits of code from various university-based projects to granulize sound since around 2002, way before granular synthesis was ‘a thing’ because it made a sound that we couldn’t achieve by any other means. That’s what personally keeps me enthused about using technology to write music, the pursuit of something unique.
Lottie: I couldn’t really say I ever feel fully ‘free’ in the creative process. It’s never easy. I do write what I feel but you always know you’re going to get judged on it in the end, which is a good thing because it pushes you to try harder. I’m very self-critical of what I do and am always conscious of trying not to repeat myself. When I’m writing, I don’t listen to any music whatsoever so I don’t accidentally pick up on someone else’s ideas. I always try to innovate and put things in a different frame. However, it’s usually the simplest things that are the most difficult and sometimes more meaningful. Sometimes it’s the opposite. It’s the journey that teaches you the most and each song, each album from start to finish is fascinating. Sometimes I wonder if a piece of work is ever finished, but I suppose it’s just learning when to stop and move on.
You are great fans of technology and innovators in that field, and electronic music has a long history of growth and innovation with regards to technology. What do you see as some of the most exciting technological innovations over the years and how have you applied those to the music you write and live shows?
Mike: Perhaps the control over sound making has been the biggest advances for us recently. It always used to feel like a bit of a battle to get computers to do what you ask them to do for making music, no matter how many times you threaten to sell them if they don’t do as they’re asked! The integration between analogue and digital is far more frictionless these days. The idea of taking a modular rig on live shows would have been lunacy (unless you’ve got platinum funding of a 70s rock band behind you), but now it’s commonplace to have a euro rack rig with cv data to and from laptops on stage. Even our visual show is synced and controlled on stage so we can interact with it and can trigger effects while playing.
Having talked about the importance of storytelling and using music to amplify it, in what ways is storytelling important to you and what is your process of incorporating it into your songwriting?
Lottie: We try to treat all our albums as a story and I suppose when you’re writing an album in a ‘relatively’ short space of time (this one in particular took just over a year to write), you’re in the headspace of the themes and the journey. Not only that, but we all go through different stages of our lives and albums tend to sync with where you are at the time, which is why the mood changes and the atmosphere is different in each one. Our albums are arranged to be heard from start to finish, as they carry through a journey, which we know is kind of out of date as steaming means that most people will just play whatever is trending at the moment or most popular. But if you don’t hear the album, tracks can be taken out of context to what actually represents the album as a whole.
Since 2010, you have been producing scores and music and production for film, television and games. What can you tell me about your progression from making orchestral heavy albums into scoring music for film, television and games? Is that a field of the industry you had been interested in before 2010?
Lottie: We’ve actually been involved in film scoring since 2004 when Mike worked on Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. Both Mike and I have had a huge fascination with film scores since childhood. In a way, it’s a lot different to writing your own material because there’s already a roadmap of where you have to go musically, but also a beautiful balance in reverse psychology in finding how to guide an audience or make a moment more thought provoking without killing the moment by going over the top. It’s something we both love. When I was a kid and my friends were buying albums, I was buying film scores.
You have talked about how the long period of time between your 4th album Disappear Here and your 5th album Light of The Fearless was due, in part, to wondering what you wanted to sound like after having written for others in the film, television and gaming sectors for so many years. What can you tell me about that journey for you in transitioning back into writing for yourselves as opposed to others and the challenges that presented?
Lottie: Actually, the long gap between albums was because of a few reasons. Firstly, my Mum passed away after a really tough battle with breast cancer. My Dad and brother (who has special needs), Mike and I and our 3yr old re-rooted ourselves somewhere far away from our memories and that took time to get used to. Chris left the band which was fairly traumatic, I was diagnosed with serious depression and we were also up to our necks in film scoring so it was a hell of a rough ride. By the time we got back around to writing our own material, by all accounts it should have been the most miserable album of all time but actually what came out was something more euphoric. Something that my Mum would have liked. She always used to say ‘Just do your best’ and that’s what we did. That’s where Mike and I were there and then. This next album isn’t the same. And as I said, film scoring is different to writing your own stuff. The map is already there. The director usually has a clear vision of what he or she wants but when it’s your own stuff, all you have is where you are in that moment and how you feel. You don’t write music with your fans in mind because it has to be honest, it has to come from you and in that sense, it’s terrifying because there’s no map, just your instincts and your experience which is what Mike and I try to put together to form a solid piece of work that represents us at that time in our lives.
You will be releasing your 6th album, Black Halo, on July 9th, which was written during the turbulence of 2020 and celebrates the perseverance and triumph of the human spirit. What can you tell me about your year last year and how you took care of yourselves and your mental health? What was the process like in writing and recording the album?
Lottie: We’re incredibly fortunate to live on a smallholding. We have about 60 animals here ranging from alpacas to pigs, to horses, sheep .. parrots.. ducks.. I have Ostrich eggs incubating under my piano at the moment in my studio (much to Mike’s amusement). When we’re not touring, we stay at home. So aside from the financial implications of movies being cancelled, scoring work drying up, live gigs going out of the window, no option to furlough and no financial help whatsoever being self-employed, very little changed except from the fact that we saw the struggle that everyone else was having and honestly, we know how lucky and fortunate we are to be in a wide-open space in all this. We’ve seen the struggle of families in flats when they couldn’t leave and kids that couldn’t see their friends. Families that were on rocky roads before the pandemic and then thrown together 24 hours a day. I have medication to counter my depression but I’m in a beautiful place. I’m so fortunate and have nothing to complain about. My husband, my family, my animals keep me balanced (and ever so slightly bonkers). So, nothing really changed in the recording process. Mike and I have separate studios. Mine looks like a music shop exploded and Mike’s is the serene paradise of the command deck of the Star Ship Enterprise. We have the same computer set up in both studios and both systems are matched so we can swap programming at any time, so either Mike or I would start something and then we’d swap. Turns out this was one of the fastest albums we’ve ever done. Probably because we had no other distractions with score work or anything else but it did seem very natural flow on this one. Nothing forced.
You have described Black Halo as a sum of all of your strengths as a 4 piece. What can you tell me about your fellow band members Stu Morgan and Simon Hanson and in what ways do you feel that the album reflects your respective strengths?
Mike: I had known Simon for a decade or so, continually bumping into him at festivals and getting up to mischief together, so I called him out of the blue and asked him if he’d be up for getting involved. Charlotte had been friends with Stu from when he played in her band back in the mid 00’s and she called him similarly out of the blue to ask if he wanted to come and work with us. They’re both brilliant at reading what we do and adding their personalities into the track. Simon literally fizzes with enthusiasm so his sound is really invigorating and powerful. There’s a track on the album called “Truth From The Lies”, which we sort of envisaged a sound like Beth Ditto partying with The Chemical Brothers in the bar at Fabric (I’ll leave you with that mental image : ), and Simon makes up 90% of the drum sound, raw and insanely funky. Stu has a really beautiful and considered approach and he sends us Pro Tools sessions with these gorgeous, intricate layers of guitar sounds that he puts together exactly the same way we layer synths or orchestrate a section. He’s also a Jimi Hendrix expert so we’ve had the opportunity of letting that genie out of the bottle on a couple of the tracks, the huge riff in Flashpoint for example. We’re very fortunate to work with such talented buggers.
You released “Flashpoint”, the first single from the album, in March, which sets the tone and story of where the album will take its listeners. You released the second single “Nails” in mid-May, which is a sequel to “Flashpoint”. What can you tell me about the songs, as well as the forthcoming 3rd single, and the story arc of the album that they set up?
Lottie: Interestingly enough, the third release wouldn’t have been our preferred choice as it’s the last track on the album and is supposed to sum up the journey, so it’s a lot brighter in tone than the rest of the album and doesn’t necessarily represent it as a whole. Because of that, we’ve treated the third release as a performance video but was recorded during lock down so all our performances were recorded separately and our very talented director friend Matt Westrup created the whole environment and built everything you see in the video. It’s taken him several months to do and just looks amazing.
You also released conceptual videos for “Nails” and “Flashpoint”, with a third video/single coming up. How did you meet and come to work with writer/novelist James Scudamore and actor Edmund Kingsley on the cinematic music videos for the singles and what can you tell me about weaving together the Sci-Fi themes with the stark reality of the 21st century? How did your longtime fascination with cinema and making your own shorts for over a decade influence the process? Having filmed the videos at the farm on your property, what can you tell me about making the videos and shooting them during Covid?
Mike: We first heard from James Scudamore about three years ago when he sent us a beautiful hand written letter and a copy of his book Wreaking. He told us that Disappear Here was on repeat while writing it and wanted to send us a copy. We were slammed with a scoring project at the time and didn’t get round to reading it until about six months later, all the while being very anxious that we couldn’t reply until we’d actually read the book so this embarrassing length of time passed before actually getting a chance to read it on holiday. James has this intense way of writing that puts you firmly in the story to the extent you can literally smell the surroundings. We approached him about a year ago with a nearly finished album to ask him if he could write an opening monologue for the first track, “Flashpoint”. We then needed to find the right voice to set the tone and do justice to his monologue and Charlotte suggested Edmund Kingsley, who she’d worked with on set on a Mozart biopic called Interlude In Prague. Edmund’s delivery had such an adroit and detached feel to it and it reminded us of David, the android from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, so the extra vocal processing framed it to feel like a broadcast from far away.
We’ve both been long time admirers / obsessives of cinema and recent advances in technology can get you reasonably close to the look, if not the content of the greats that we watched as teenagers. I had a close eye on the DSLR video revolution about a decade ago and my YouTube search history is mostly camera equipment / anamorphic lenses / lighting tutorials, proper nerdy stuff. We started making our own music videos and shorts about 10 years ago and it feels like an extension of the music making process and one definitely influences the other. Stylistically, it’s no secret that we’re known for approaching composition from a very filmic point of view but to have the opportunity to actually make the images to go with the music (or is it the music to go along with the images?) was something we couldn’t resist getting involved in.
You have said that with Light of The Fearless, you wanted to let go of any constraints you might have had about what people wanted you to sound like and follow your own sonic vision. What can you tell me about those past pressures and in what ways you freed yourselves from them? How did it impact your writing for that album, as well as for Black Halo?
Lottie: Well, as I’ve said, the albums seem to naturally come from a place where we are in that moment. It is of course a huge consideration and worry when we put something out that our amazing fans won’t like it or think we’ve changed but we have to hope that they realize that the music always come from an honest place. We’re not purely writing music to please people; we’re writing music because that’s what we do and we’re always trying to write what we believe in rather than what might be the most popular or the most saleable. Having said that, we’re always learning new techniques, building our skill set, we’re constantly evolving what we do and the music evolves with it. We have always said we never wanted to make the same album twice, so we hope that our fans can come with us on that same journey.
Mike: Hopefully a large glass of something celebratory because it’s Charlotte’s birthday tomorrow!