Smartphones, social media, streaming services… it’s easy to feel a little overloaded by technology these days. We’re offered a hundred options for every decision, are bombarded with information and constantly playing catch up with the latest trends, music, TV shows and news. It’s no wonder that Sarah and Ruth – aka dream-pop duo HUMAN – decided to retreat into their bodies, using only their voices and robotic choreography to connect with the world during their live performances.
The pair have just released their debut single The Ground – a beautifully produced track showcasing their intricately-crafted vocal harmonies and songwriting skills. Annie Rew Shaw caught up with HUMAN to learn more.
Congrats on the release of your debut single The Ground! What’s the story behind the song and video?
Thank you. We’ve been working so hard to get this single ready so it’s wonderful to finally be able to share it.
We both went through some really difficult stuff personally the last few years but helped each other get through it and come out the other side.
The Ground is about hitting rock bottom but not being afraid of it. To pick yourself up and try again.
How did you two meet and form the band?
We first met at a mutual friends party and bonded over the struggles of a male-dominated music industry. After that, we decided to start playing the same open mic nights for moral support. Not long after that we started our own music night called Girls Night Out at The Lucky Pig in London. The aim was to create a supportive environment where women could feel comfortable to play, where their music would be heard and where they would actually get paid for playing their music. Shortly after that we dumped our solo projects and became HUMAN, as we loved working and performing together but also realised we had the same goals and passions about music.
Talk us through your music-making process – from writing to release…
HUMAN is a collaborative project and although we come from very different musical backgrounds, we really wanted to combine our musical influences and passion for harmony and lyrics to create an interesting sound.
Our individual voices are quite different but when we sing together they mesh so well we sometimes don’t know who is singing what.
We love to co-write together and we also co-produce with our friend Felix Matthews, who helps us to perfect our electronic dream-pop sound.
You have such an interesting concept as a band – two women taken over by technology. Why did you decide to take on these characters?
We both feel inspired and a little scared at the rate that technology is developing and crossing over with humanity. At some point we all feel a little left behind or bewildered by it.
It’s such a confusing online world to live in at the moment, and confusing to identify what is important to us as human beings. Are we becoming so disconnected with reality that we’ve forgotten what it is to be human?
In being so outwardly trapped by technology – and portraying this through our movements – we are able to find a stillness that helps us shut out the noise and connect with the music, helping us remain HUMAN.
Your live shows are mesmerising to watch. How do you choreograph it all?
We spend a lot of hours choreographing our movements in front of a large mirror. They seem so simple to look at but each arm or head movement has taken hours and hours to perfect. At first we felt so strange and thought, ‘this is never going to work’ but with a little perseverance and courage we got through it.
Although there are a few subtle differences in our movements, we tend to move at the same time which we felt visually looked more powerful.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
We are big fans of electronic, folk and pop music, so there are many musicians that have influenced us over the years. I guess the ones who stick out would be Queen for their unconventional songwriting structures and mass harmonies, Joni Mitchell for her stunning melodies and storytelling, iamamiwhoami’s eccentric style and Austra’s electronic sound.
But to be honest, we love music and listen to so many artists, including Kate Bush, The Knife, Prince, Tori Amos, Lykke Li, Methyl Ethel, LCD Soundsystem, Grizzly Bear, Beach House, David Bowie, Sampha and so many more!
Are there any particular challenges you’ve had to face as a band?
Soundchecks can be a bit of a nightmare… because we perform with a backing track, the venues have a tendency to give us only half the time to get our levels sorted. Our set is so much more complicated and there’s a fine balance to insisting on a decent soundcheck but not being seen as being “difficult”. There is a misogyny that exists from producers to sound engineers (Bjork wrote a good article about this). We are hopeful though – the new generation has a fairer outlook towards women in music, and we want to encourage this equality.
Being in a band in general is also hard. It’s certainly not an easy life. There’s a lot of long hours, rehearsals and determination that come along with it. But if you can find someone who can support you, who you work well with and who has the same work ethics, drive and principles, then it’s the greatest experience ever. Like all friendships, they take a lot of care and work. You have to respect each others ideas and feelings, but there is a lot of sisterly love and it’s an amazing feeling to work with your musical soulmate.
What advice would you give to upcoming female musicians?
Be strong about your vision and don’t be afraid to do something a little out there. It’s good to be open to collaboration but also to be truthful to your sound and point of view, whether it’s something like Lady Gaga’s meat dress or Madonna redefining perceptions about age. Above all, be persistent. The easy bit is making the music; you have to develop the tenacity, bloody-mindedness and perseverance that you want to put your music out there.
What’s up next for HUMAN?
At the moment, we’re getting our singles ready for release and are about to shoot the next music video for our song Stay. We were so lucky to find our video director, Piers Bailey, who produced The Ground – he really gets our vision and we can’t wait to work with him again!
We will be celebrating our single launch on the 16 October at Camden Assembly.