On Ninja Tune
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Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert (bass & synthesizer) and Leo Taylor (drums) have been working together as The Invisible for the last six years, though their musical collaborations stretch back much further. The trio met as teenagers, and, over a decade or so, they crossed over again and again, gigging, jamming, working as session players and supporting each other’s band projects.
It was only in 2006 that they coalesced as The Invisible. “We became a band backwards,” says Okumu. After a year out on the road playing in Matthew Herbert’s band, Herbert said he wanted to produce and release (via his label, Accidental) Dave’s solo record. But Dave instead decided to recruit his longtime friends for a genuine collaboration. The Invisible’s name arrived after the three began writing. The moniker is a nod to the writing of Irish philosopher and poet John O’Donohue, whose simply articulated notion that humans exist in parallel worlds – the visible and the invisible; one physical, one spiritual – is a relationship, a balance, that comes through loud and clear in the band’s aesthetic.
The result was their eponymous debut, which was nominated for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize and was many people’s tip to win it. It was also critics’ choice as iTunes' album of the year. Unafraid to challenge themselves compositionally, The Invisible's boundless approach to arrangement flows effortlessly between the texturally rich and the rhythm heavy, the ethereal and the visceral, taking in unique and subtle electronic dancefloor rhythms as well as deviations into experimental rock. It's a mixture that's won peer level praise from the likes of Radiohead's Ed O'Brien, Foals, Hot Chip, Wild Beasts, Anna Calvi and Everything Everything.
Their new album, Rispah, is, in the words of Okumu,”a love letter to grief.” Mid-way through recording a follow-up to their debut, Okumu’s mother passed away and the band’s plans and aesthetic were thrown into turmoil. As Okumu remembers it, “"I couldn't engage with music for a long period. The moment it returned to me was at my mum's funeral, which lasted several days. One evening, during the wake, my grandmother Zilpa, my mother's mum, arrived at our home accompanied by a group of women singing traditional spirituals. They approached my mother's body and sang over it, dancing around her coffin. It was the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. They transformed the atmosphere with sound and the spirit they brought to it. They were celebrating life and death, grief and hope, all things. This act was allowing everyone present to express themselves. It served as the most potent reminder of everything I believe about music. It's there for everybody, it's inclusive and transformative. I'm so glad these voices are stitched through our record."
When not working on The Invisible, they are involved in everything from co-writing and producing Jessie Ware's album (Okumu), playing as a member of British post-jazz legends Polar Bear (Herbert) or drumming on much of Adele's world-crushing second album 21 (Taylor). They have also played live and recorded with a dizzying roll call of musicians that runs from St Vincent in the Tom Waits tribute Rain Dogs Revisited, the Britten Symphonia, Jack De Johnette, Matthew Herbert, Hot Chip, Zongamin, Gramme and many others. The Invisible remains closest to the heart of what the trio are about as musicians, though, as the beauty and emotional intelligence of Rispah clearly demonstrates.