London-based trio The Comet Is Coming build a trance-like euphoria of brass and deep electronic beats before exploding into an interstellar blasts of wailing neo jazz.
Keyboardist Danalogue (Dan Leavers), saxophonist King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings) and drummer Betamax (Max Hallett) shot into the stratosphere with debut album Channel the Spirits, dazzling critics with its dramatic fusion of brass and electronica, earning them an illustrious Mercury Prize nomination.
Their success continued with sensational sophomore record Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery which includes their scorching single “Summon The Fire” plus the epic track “Blood Of The Past” which saw them team up with BRIT Award winning poet Kae Tempest.
Last year saw the release of their latest mind-blowing LP Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam before heading out on a world tour, performing headline dates right across Europe, plus Japan and Australia.
The Comet Is Coming now return to the U.K. to play shows all around the country in support of their new album throughout March. Plus, they’ll be headlining Down At The Abbey festival in Reading this September. Tickets are on sale with Gigantic – CLICK HERE to book yours!
We were lucky enough to catch up with Danalogue having just returned from Mexico where the band had just played their first show of the year at Parque Bicentenario. We spoke about their meteoric ascent, the meanings behind their cryptic song titles and what to expect at their exciting spring 2023 shows.
What have you been up to lately? The world tour must have been exciting!
I just got back from Mexico. We did a show in Mexico City. I took the chance, and the flights, to take a little break out there, down by this beach town. I was working in the hot hours. I've been working on a PlayStation game soundtrack. And then when the sun got a bit cooler just going down swimming on the reef, and it was just insane. I'm a lucky, lucky guy.
What game is it?
It's a cosmic kind of futuristic sports game. So, it's like a little bit like squash in space or something, you know. It’s great. They came to the right guy for the cosmic sounds. It was a no brainer.
How did you guys meet and form the band?
So, me and Max have been playing since we're like 18, which is over half our lives. We're like brothers, in a lot of ways. And we have a duo called Soccer96. Shabaka used to come to our shows as a fan, and he asked to jump up on stage and play. Then one night he did in Brixton, and it just went off, and the crowd were just ready for it! And we're like, “Well, we better hit the studio!”
It was as casual as that. We’ll go in the studio, record a few bits and then next thing you know, we've got a new band. And then you're nominated for a Mercury and stuff. It all happened kind of really fluidly. Really organically if you like. But really, it just went well.
It must have been such an incredible experience to come straight in with a debut album and immediately get such a colossal accolade as a Mercury Prize nomination. What was it like going through that?
It was fantastic because before finishing our album Channel The Spirits, me and Max were doing the production in my bedroom in Brighton at the time, where I lived. It was so lo-fi, so DIY. For the first time we decided, having had a bad experience of industry stuff, let's just do EXACTLY what we want and maybe be a little bit more risk-taking than we'd been before. Not give too much of a monkey's about being too commercial and try and push it doing exactly [what we want]. Live our dreams, make the album we really want to make: not second guessing ourselves, not worrying about an audience in our head or any of that. And yeah, it landed really well.
If anything, it was a real validation of just actually doing the music that you hear in your head and not try not to worry too much about what you think other people want.
That’s such a triumph for the DIY spirit and so good to hear you’re free to work on your own terms. When listening to your music, there does feel like a lot of improv in there, and there’s a freedom of spirit to your sound. Do you just go into a bedroom studio and wig out or do you have a song structure in mind?
We completely improvise. We don't have much planned when we hit the studio. But then we arrange it and edit it in post, more like a movie kind of thing. So, you get all your shots, and then you try and edit it down into a narrative. And I think as you're doing that, that there's a bit of your mind which kind of organises things maybe a little bit more than you could possibly do when you're improvising.
I think when you're improvising, it's really live. You get that energy of excitement... of this the first time you played something. So, I think you can hear that in the records. But then it's just very carefully moulded and sculpted after the fact.
Another thing that’s really striking with The Comet Is Coming is the song titles, the album titles – even the band name! Everything is very esoteric and a little bit mad. Do you have a concept in mind, or do you just lay down the track, capture a mood and think “I’ll title it that”?
A little bit of both. We've got a tune on our last album called “Summon The Fire,” and I think just listening to that track in the studio - when we're mixing it - I was like “this feels like some kind of call to action, call to arms, some kind of encouragement, like courage or hope.” Feeling your own kind of power. And I was just like, we need something like that. And I just came up with “Summon The Fire” [as] it was like summoning this energy.
But then sometimes, it's just from a kind of a little bit of philosophy or something. Something more pretentious, that we're just all thinking about or talking about. There’s a track called “Timewave Zero” and it's just based on this kind of philosopher guy called Terence McKenna, who's a bit of a mushroom psychonaut guy. And he just had this theory about the way time works in cycles, which is slightly based on Mayan stuff. But he'd gone to this ridiculous degree of like working out mathematically. And he called Timewave Zero this point which we're all going to arrive at. And the track just kind of arrives at this like moment where it just goes into absolute chaos... maybe that's like Timewave Zero.
Suddenly the insanity of that song makes more sense now! And speaking of “Summon The Fire”, I’ve always considered that your signature song, especially after it exploded on the airwaves and got so much airplay on 6music. What was it like when you started to get more mainstream attention after that single dropped?
It’s awesome! I've always liked people hearing my music. Even though we can be put into a jazz camp because obviously Shabaka plays the saxophone, I don't feel like it's a jazz band, really. So, a song like that encapsulates what we're doing because it's got elements of pop and punk and like rock and all this stuff, you know? It's got catchy melodies, chopped up in a three-minute structure, you can like digest it.
Yeah, I kind of expected that to be our single to be honest. We made it thinking “This would be good on the radio” and I feel like, I'm not ashamed of that at all… same as everyone probably.
I love a lot of different bands that you hear on the radio, but we also like really weird avant-garde stuff. I think it's cool doing a bit of both to be honest.
And last year saw the release of latest LP Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam – another absolutely wicked, totally out there title! Where did that name come from?
Both that title and the previous album title, we wrote collaboratively, kind of like how we write our music. The whole band is really communal kind of thing, which is semi rare. Especially with the connection to jazz and whatnot, I think people would just normally attribute a group to one member. But, from the beginning, I wanted it to be like everyone writes, everyone leads in different ways. Everyone manages different elements of it. Everyone gives suggestions for videos, and artwork, and titles and whatnot.
We actually do this thing before we go on stage where we say three words, one each to set up some kind of like, communication between us, also set the vibe, the tone of the gig. And so, I think Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam actually comes from one of our (times) before we walk on stage. Someone would have said “Hyperdimensional”… Oh no! Someone would have said “Hyper”, someone would have said “Dimensional” and someone would have said “Expansion Beam” or something like that. We basically say [something] every night and over the course of a year's touring, you can imagine you'd probably come up with about, you know, 200 titles. And that was one of the best ones and it also seemed to kind of ring true with the kind of the impact of the record what you're trying to do. You're trying to like bring people into a different dimension with your music, into a different part of the brain different bit of your consciousness. And yeah, and it's hyper, you know? It’s adrenaline charged!
That’s so interesting. Because obviously the more you play, you can discover new facets of your own music. But even then, it’s still easy to get into a rut. So, when you come up with these words, do you try and think of something totally random, and then incorporate it into the music that night in some way?
Yeah! If you've been touring for a long time, keeping unity is really important. If you just have that one moment where you go on stage, and you look each other in the eye, so it’s a camaraderie thing.
And as well, it's a little bit of creativity, under pressure with each other right there. And maybe for the first two, three minutes of the set, you'll be thinking about it. It'd be like, “Oh, wow! Max said “pterodactyl” tonight” – which he did one night! Sometimes it's just fun, you know, someone will say something really deep and meaningful, and then someone will just come in with something hilarious. And it's a good way of like balancing each other out. Sometimes someone will say one thing and inspire someone else. And to say this other word. And I know it's just a weird ritual that we'd go into. It does seem to set the tone somehow.
So, its spontaneity that makes a show special to you?
Yeah, there's a bit of that, for sure. Like some shows, just something happens where you're like “That was awesome and that's not happened before.” And you come off and you go “Oh, what was that bit? That was that was good.”
I was always into - maybe they're not that fashionable anymore - but I was always really into Led Zeppelin when I was a teenager, and I watched a lot of their live concerts. And their live concerts, they go off on one with improvisations and jams, to the point where I think after about four years, that one of the tunes is like 25 minutes long. And it was all built on these different improvisations.
I've always been really inspired by that as you don't have to just play what's on the record, you can make a whole new experience for live. And so, I've definitely been influenced by that, and we've even got bits in the live set that are not on any record, you know, but we've played them a lot and I love that.
You guys have never done a live record, or have you?
We haven't yet. But yeah, watch this space there might be something coming out. Exclusive!
Then the crowd, honestly, gig to gig, is like you can have a really magical, special time because of the people there because it's just like a crowd of people and it's just amazing.
And your U.K. headline dates are coming up really soon. What can we expect from them?
We've just toured America, Japan and Australia, right at the end of last year. So, we've been honing the new set, which is some of the old and some of the new because I'm not about throwing out old stuff. That's why I play like old analogue synths, you know, you got to keep remodelling old. So, we've got bits from all of our albums, but definitely with a lean towards the new album now. New set is epic. It's robust.
Obviously, you must have awesome new track “CODE” in there. What is the secret code?
Well, exactly! We actually open the set with “CODE” right now, we just start with a bang! The code? A code is like a secret language, isn't it? And so, our whole bodies made a code like DNA, you know? It’s under the surface, we don't ever think about it. But it controls everything about us. It's the memory of our grandparents, we're literally walking around with this code. And you speak in code. In different subcultures people say different, telling words, and you (give a) little wink, and you're like “I see, right.” We're the same in some way.
It's weirdly, like invisible, but also the most important thing in life. I'm fascinated by stuff like that. Things that no one ever talks about, or describes, or you can't even see it or touch it or taste it. But it's almost the most important thing.
Are you burnt out after playing so many countries?
Yes, I'm not gonna lie. I'm not having a go at anyone, but I have seen a lot of groups drop out of doing tours over the last few years. And it's been tough coming back from COVID I think... different expectations. I think everyone thought coming back from COVID “Let's just do as much as we can, because of all the time we've missed from playing.” I think a lot of people have dived into doing absolutely colossal tours, us included.
But I think we're very strong group as individuals, and also as a collective. And I think we push each other. I think of us a little bit like a sports team or something like that, you know? Like in The Last Dance, Michael Jordan is just like pushing everyone to the limits. I feel like we all like gee each other up, and we're slightly competitive. “Have you like been to the gym today? Have you like had a cold shower today? Have you like, done 10 press ups when we go on stage? And we've done like Wim Hof breathing? Have you like eaten a really good meal?” We're kind of at each other to stay healthy, and I think that's really good. We're not one of those bands who like, “Oh, have you drunk 10 pints tonight? Wahey, we're on tour!” Actually, to actually survive it's almost like competitiveness, how well you're looking after each other.
I’ve heard people from long term established bands say they’ve experience something similar. That when they started out, they couldn’t get on the stage unless they were drunk. But now, they’re addicted to only ever playing sober.
I wouldn't say I have like a deeply sober life, but… (laughs) I'll probably won't go into details about that. But yeah, I just think there's burnout for sure. You’ve just got to focus on the positives really. Try and enjoy something about the day. The gig is always gonna be amazing. So, if you can just work out some way of enjoying the day around that even if you're travelling all day and you've only had a few hours’ sleep, there’s little pleasures everywhere. Whether it’s a coffee or reading a bit of a book or having a good conversation. We make it through.
And what are you reading at the moment?
I'm actually reading, it sounds too pretentious, I'm reading this book called The Gulag Archipelago by [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn. It’s a book about the gulags and communist Russia.
What I like about it, is almost like the humour. He’s got this lightness about discussing really dark stuff. And I think you get that when you're actually IN the moment. I think sometimes when you critique stuff and think you look back on stuff, it becomes really severe, and heady, and academic. But actually if you're just there you just like getting through it like a normal person then it's kind of interested in seeing humour applied to like something so dark.
Are you quite an optimistic person in general? Because you seem to have a tenaciously positive attitude that’s always looking for the good in any situation. Is that how you would describe yourself?
Thank you very much! That’s a nice observation man, thanks. I am an optimist, yeah. You kind of just got to be an optimist, I feel like what's the other option? I don't know. I don't know if I always am in my own head, but it's probably my outward... just my habits, speech, or whatnot. I'll probably go to as dark a place as anyone else.
I feel especially with touring, and just living in this country as well and with the government we've got, if you don't have optimism, you get drowned. You just gotta find a way to stay positive.
Talking about being positive, summer is on its way? What’s the plan for the rest of the year? Playing any festivals?
Yeah, we're basically going to be touring this whole year. So, just watch out for where we’re coming! But this this month coming up of March is going to be U.K. only.
Across the summer, we're doing tonnes of festivals across Europe and some in the States and in the UK as well. So, yeah, we're gonna be probably in your town wherever we go.
It’s been a little minute since we came, came around the UK. So, it's like coming home in a way, you know?
Any special messages to your fans ahead of the U.K. leg?
Yeah, buy tickets! (laughs) It's an awesome show. I think like, if you're there at the gig, you'd be like “I'm glad I didn't miss this”. So, make sure you're not one of those people that miss out basically. It’s a killer show and we're super proud of it. And we want to we want people to experience it!
07/03 The Comet Is Coming – Waterfront, Norwich
08/03 The Comet Is Coming – Cambridge Junction, Cambridge
09/03 The Comet Is Coming – Rock City, Nottingham
10/03 The Comet Is Coming – Stylus, Leeds
14/03 The Comet Is Coming – Engine Rooms, Southampton
15/03 The Comet Is Coming – Chalk, Brighton
16/03 The Comet Is Coming – KOKO, London
17/03 The Comet Is Coming – KOKO, London