Two years on from playing Jæger’s courtyard one sunny summer’s Wednesday evening, a lot has changed for Harvey Sutherland (aka Mike Katz). The project has expanded to a trio, featuring Tamil Rogeon on strings and Graeme Pogson on drums. They go by Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda today and have captivated audiences with their dynamic Disco/House hybrid live performances going from clubs to festivals the world over. They’ve managed to channel that energy on two records for Katz’ Clarity Recordings, a label which is the exclusive vehicle for Harvey Sutherland creations, marking yet another chapter in the extensive Harvey Sutherland project.
With Bermuda Katz has opened up a whole new dimension to the Harvey Sutherland project with a very human trait expounding on his own improvisations at the keys and relays an entire different energy to the club floor. With Rogeon’s processed string arrangements – which we first encountered in the recorded format on Harvey Sutherland 2015 hit Bermuda – and Pogson’s stoic four on the floor / syncopated hat rhythms, Mike Katz has found a vibrancy in Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda, that has eluded the project from the cold aesthetic of machines as a solo project. .
With an intense focus on an improvised form, and merging that grey area between a live performance and a DJ set, Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda have carved out a very succinct sound and show in the draconian world of electronic music, one that is winning audiences over to the stage without taking anything away from the club experience.
Before their performance at Jæger as part of a six week European tour, I catch up with Mike Katz, Tamil Rogeon and Graeme Pogson to grab a drink and talk about touring, the live show, the records and Jean-Luc Ponty. Mike, Tamil and Graeme are gracious enough to accommodate me on a rare free day, and we carry on from where we left off two years ago, when Mike last played at Jæger as Harvey Sutherland and our last interview together.
Two years ago you were in Oslo all alone and now you’re back, with a band. Tell us a bit about the ideas behind the band, Bermuda.
Mike Katz: Yeah, I just got a bit tired of travelling on my own, tired of playing club music in that form so I thought I’d do this thing for awhile. I’ve always wanted to put this kind of vibe together. We got a couple of interesting bookings at home, which allowed me to expand the project into a stage show. Tamil and I had been working on stuff for a while before then at least.
That’s right Tamil had been on the track from which the band’s name was taken, Bermuda.
Tamil Rogeon: Yeah, I did a few sessions on that and then we did a couple of gigs where we’d just dip our toes in the water with a few club shows, to see if it worked, and it did, and then we got a drummer.
Yes, Graeme of course. How did you get onboard with this project?
Graeme Pogson: I’ve got another band and we kind of worked in the same circles. I had met Mike a few times.
Mike: We were on a lot of line-ups together.
Graeme: I got a twitter message the one day and I was stoked because it was a request from Mike to play at Meredith, a big stage at a festival with 12000 people and my band was booked to play there anyway. I had gone to see Mike and Tamil do a few shows together before that, and it all just kind of happened organically.
Tamil you come from completely different world that these guys with a film and classical music background. How did you arrive at electronic music?
Tamil: I studied Jazz, and I started doing film scores and music production, which got me interested in music technology. Jazz and technology then naturally came together. I did a few records under the Raah Project, which is a large scale orchestral pop remix project, so I’ve always been interested in that merger between modern production and orchestras from my background as a violin player.
Whenever I see you perform as Bermuda Tamil, I notice that you also do a lot in the electronic realm. What exactly is the purpose of that secondary process?
Tamil: Yes, I grab samples and loops and just manipulate them, which is far more in line with the aesthetic. It was always our idea to do that, and Mike and I spoke at length about that in the beginning. If I played the same thing over and over again, that’s not really the aesthetic of electronic music. I can only evolve it a little when I play, but it doesn’t give me much flexibility. I can play with it more in the electronic realm instead of just having to be locked into the same thing repeatedly.
Mike, what do you believe this adds to your show that might not have been there before as a solo live performer?
Mike: It’s just a completely different dynamic. The solo show was very club focussed, and I always treated it more like a DJ set in the way I interacted with the crowd, so the improvisation and the movement of the set was very pre-determined by the audience. It still exists in what we do in terms of the band, which is very flexible and we treat it like a dance floor, but I think the biggest difference now is that it’s also an interaction between people on stage. It’s another level enjoyment for the audience, but it’s also another level of enjoyment for us, because the more we play, the tighter we get.
We know that Disco goes down well here in Norway and people here still like to go out and see bands, but is this something that you find common in Melbourne.
Mike: That is the impetus for the idea of this crossover between the club and the band. In Melbourne, a lot of the venues are multi-purpose and they’ll do a band show in the same space as a club night. There’s a lot more space for crossover and there’s a lot more acceptance for that. It just fits, and that kind of cross-pollination between the scenes is a real mark of Melbourne.
Improvisation and the live show was an integral part to Harvey Sutherland before Bermuda too. How has it changed with the band?
Mike: It’s more subtle. I’m not crafting as much new material on the fly as I am with this project. It’s more about taking what we’ve been doing and playing with arrangements and some new things might come of it, but not quite like me just looping up a new idea.
Talking about new ideas, there have been two EPs that came from this project. Why make the move to the recorded format at all, why not just keep it a live show?
Mike: It gave more of an effect to what we were doing as a group. The recording processes for those records was completely different to how I had done my previous records.
Tamil: It makes sense to tour a record that reflects what the ensemble is.
Mike: Yes, and I wanted to push this as the project, and having a record with our name on it, helps. I wanted to have a different feel to what I was doing and stepping away from House music as this strict electronic music.
Graeme: It might not make sense to (Mike), but maybe his taste in music is changing too, and he’s not listening to that much electronic music anymore. Whenever I hear him listening to music, it’s always Jazz.
Were the records completely improvised in the studio?
Mike: No they came out of jam sessions. I had a few ideas before we had come together and we had a really good three day session of recording drums and the rhythm bits, and then I kind of took it away, pieced it together, and took back to the guys. We revised it, and added the strings later on.
Tamil: We did some string writing together, actually.
Mike: It wasn’t really recorded in a classic fashion, it was still very much recorded as an electronic music recording.
Is the live show fixed around specific songs from these records?
Mike: Yes, It’s the material we’ve done, it’s a couple of old tunes, which we interpret and a few open ideas. We have live arrangements that are not studio versions which is true to the spirit of the project.
Graeme: There are parts in the live set that are not on the records. We’ll make the song by improvising, but then it will be turned into a form thing.
Mike: The live forms are far more consolidated than the records are.
For you Graeme and Tamil who come from other, more organic musical worlds, do you feel constricted at all by the ideas of House music?
Graeme: I don’t personally, because I love playing repetitive music. When I play, I only use a kick/hat and cymbal arrangement. I never really studied much Jazz and I’ve always loved playing repetitive grooves. For me it’s ideal, because it’s all four on the floor, so I can embellish a little bit, but there’s nothing I hate more than having to do a drum solo. (Laughs) Yeah that’s one of my fears in life, that and playing brushes.
Tamil: For me, there’s a couple of times I get to play a Jazz solo, which is great. I’m a firm believer in that all music is about improvising. In Classical music the way you turn or shape a phrase is an entire world, and it’s the same while playing with Mike. The scope might be a little bit narrower but you’re still improvising.
Do you think that going on tour has an effect on how you work together, being in such close quarters all the time, and becoming more of a unit, than three individual musicians?
Mike: Yeah you learn a lot more of each other. (Laughs)
Tamil: I learnt that Graeme and I both love Jazz rock fusion and that we’ve been sleeping on it for a long time. (All laugh)
Graeme: I found myself being drawn to Jean Luc Ponty all of a sudden and I don’t know why that is.
Do you think that working so closely together, getting to know each other, and consolidating these ideas in the live context, might affect which direction you go in your next record?
Mike: I think any record I do will have a strong live show behind it, whether it’s with these guys, or some other project or some expanded idea of Bermuda.
So no Jazz fusion project.
Tamil: Not if we want to keep touring. (Laughs)
Mike: I want to stick to groove music, whether it’s in the House idiom or something else that I don’t really know at this point. There are a few directions I could go in.
How about you, Tamil and Graeme, how far do you see Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda taking you?
Graeme: I’m involved in a few other projects and last year was my first tour in Europe, so I’m really stoked about doing it again a year on. Mike and I have a studio together and whatever happens with Harvey Sutherland, I feel that we created a strong musical relationship. I feel that we’ll keep working together in any capacity. Judging by the reactions of people, we’re all amazed. There are no lyrics to this stuff, but people are singing along to the melodies in the crowd, and they seem to be enjoying this kind of music at the moment.
Tamil: It’s a really good moment. It’s weird when everything clicks and that click is on a number of levels with Harvey Sutherland and Bermuda: How much people buzz off what we do and how much we buzz off what we do. There’s an “x” factor and at the moment it’s got a lot of momentum and no-one can really define it.
The last time we actually interviewed you Mike, we asked you what was the next step, and your answer was to record some drums in a dry room. Now that you’ve done that, what’s next?
Mike: It’s going to be a six person female choir… I know that much.