Chillin’ with a Supreme Being

My conference call with a being known as Ramin starts at 12pm, EST in Sydney. He’s in LA – it’s late afternoon LA time. Ramin Sakurai is the keyboardist/programmer for US ‘genre-crossing’ outfit The Supreme Beings of Leisure, and quite intrigued when I mention that Vibes – the event with which his band will tour – is on the beach at times. But more on that later.

Like many things in life, the Supreme Beings of Leisure began life by chance. Before there were ‘Beings’ there was a band called Oversoul 7. Ramin and friends Rick Torres and Kiran Shahani were working under this heavily hip-hop based moniker when they asked friend, and band vocalist, Geri Soriano-Lightwood to record some vocals over their tracks in 1995. Working on her own solo record in a nearby studio, Geri’s chemistry with the guys was immediately obvious. “We came out with something you’d describe as trip-hop I guess,” says Ramin. Their ‘trip-hop’ was good enough to be featured on compilations released by underground US dance label Moonshine Records, receiving critical acclaim.

In a country quite heavily dominated by ‘pop’ and ‘rock’ the band managed to develop a sound somewhat comparable to British contemporaries Massive Attack and Portishead – albeit with a distinctly west-coast, LA feel. I mention to Ramin that their sound has been described as “a kaleidoscope of elements”. He’s happy with the comparison “the band draws on really diverse backgrounds – Indian, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Irish, Iranian – we bring traditional elements from all over the globe to our sound and fuse them with modern technology.”

Diversity of background is not the only factor which contributes to their kaleidoscopic sound. With influences as disparate as Bjork, A Tribe Called Quest and Pink Floyd, the band was always going to be one not easily categorised. Sultry, funky, sexy, delirious, seductive, glamorous, haunting, soulful – the band’s bio reads like a thesaurus, each adjective remarkably similar. Basically it’s a sound which you’ll warm to, but find difficult to describe – drawing together hip-hop, smooth house, funk, breaks, drum and bass, atmospheric instrumentals and the incredibly beautiful voice of Geri.

Tracks such as ‘Strange Love Addiction’, ‘Always the Sun’ and ‘Golddigger’ have received more than their share of airplay since the album was released last year and a re-release, timed to coincide with the band’s tour of Australia, has just hit the stores. It contains a remix of Strangelove, which a friend described as very ‘Kylie-esque’ (Impossible Princess era) and a previously unreleased track ‘Naughty Boy’. Aren’t record companies smart?

I ask Ramin whether he thinks that being so non genre-specific has been beneficial to the band “Oh definitely. We appeal to a really broad spectrum of people..I received a letter on our web site from a fan in Iran the other day – they’re all over the place.”

Studio-wise Ramin seems to contribute a lot to the finished product. “We’re currently working on a new album. Geri writes the vocals, and I’m writing a lot of the rest of each track.” The band’s debut album was put together at a much more leisurely pace. Ramin notes that they’re planning to make their next effort a little bit livelier than an extremely laid-back debut. “The last album took us a few years to put together, this one will be much faster, we’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio lately. We’re drawing on a few retro influences for this one, it’s a little bit disco, 70s vibe.”

Ramin lists quality tune-smiths such as Thievery Corporation and previous Vibes headliners Basement Jaxx as his current flavour of the month, as well as some more obscure Icelandic musicians, in the same vein as the idiosyncratic Bjork.

On to ‘Vibes On A Summer’s Day’, the reason for Ramin’s visit to the land of Oz. “I don’t really know much about it,” he laughs guiltily “but I’m always the last to be filled in on these things.” I give him a brief run down using descriptions such as ‘laid-back’, ‘funky’, ‘summer’, ‘beaches’ and he seems suitably impressed. The band will join the event for the Melbourne, Sydney and Perth leg of the tour.

Having been treated to some rather unexpectedly lively performances from many local ‘dance’ acts lately I ask Ramin whether their sound is any different live. “Hmmm no, we tend to do something quite similar to the album, a bit more tripped out if anything.” He comments that crowd reaction is really important to the band. “If they’re having a great time we’ll feed off that and put even more energy into our performance.”

I think he’ll be suitably energised by the Vibe at Vibes.

If you’re into slick Flash work, or keen to source a little more info, cruise to the band’s web site, which was put together by Geri’s husband.