December/January 2019

by Ben Ruegg

Early Sans: All Abuzz About Earl

by Ben Ruegg

Early Sans: All Abuzz About Earl

You might well recognise Earl Ho as the charismatic singer in Sherpa. Things have changed dramatically for him in the last 24 months. Also known as Early Sans, CHIA or Soul when in his Superorganism outfit, Earl talked recently with Ben Ruegg via Skype from London. Having just dropped his debut solo album ‘Buzz In’, it was a great opportunity to find out what led to him coinciding that with his life as a budding super- err -organism/star.

Earl Ho was one-fourth of the band Sherpa which enjoyed quite a buzz amongst the NZ alternative/indie scene from 2009 – 2014. Having studied the art of songwriting at the University of Auckland, he provided vocals, guitar and synth for Sherpa. With songs like Love Film and Samsong, lyricist Earl showcased his unique take on pop.

“For me, Sherpa was successful. We had four releases and about 10 videos. We were able to get funding from NZ On Air as our music was catchy to the listener. What hindered Sherpa was the reality of life, the 9 – 5 grind.”

As Sherpa unpacked Earl decided to head to London – just for a change. He found it suits him well.
“London is the epicentre of music for me. It feels similar to Auckland to me, you know? Very multicultural, I felt like I was home.”

There on a two-year visa, Earl ended up shifting focus from his own music and started playing for other bands, including playing the drums for others, something he hadn’t done before.

“I played for a lot of different people, playing all different things. I played the drums for a band called Tsuki, synth for Mass Datura and guitar for Night Games. I only played three of my own solo shows in those two years. I was always writing,” he says.

“I had a very bohemian lifestyle. I lived in a warehouse with a lot of creative people. At one stage I was living in the attic above a studio. And all this time, I would just be writing my own music.”

Leaving London, Earl returned to his homeland of South Korea for three months, working in exchange for accommodation and food through the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms) association. There he found peace and happiness – which gave way to his music.

“It was an artist village in the midlands of Korea, surrounded by mountains and bush, run by an old poet dude. I’d get up at 5am do a bit of gardening and weeding, and from 9am I’d have the whole day to work on music.

“There was a piano in one of the rooms, which was amazing, especially in the special setting. When I was humbled and not trying too hard, the songs poured out. The melodies and harmonies found me while I was there,” he recalls enthusiastically.

Fortunately, he also managed to record it all using the limited gear he was travelling with. The drums, for example, were played on his laptop keyboard. With the experiences of thinking about songwriting from other perspectives, Earl was able to explore his own sound and spend time getting it to where he wanted. There were no plans at the time for a release, it was, he says, more just being able to write those songs that had “found” him.

It was while visiting his family, who had shifted from Auckland to Sydney, that Earl reconnected online with members of what would become Superorganism. They were in London but taking on the Superorganism character name of ‘Soul’ he became a backing vocalist for the group. Living away from the other band members meant he would be sent the music for him to add his parts. Despite that, he describes it as being “…still a special process,” creating the music, and the journey that being a member of Superorganism has subsequently taken him on, has been “exciting and unreal”.

“We are touring the world. I’m making a living! We’re signed to Domino Records who have Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys signed to them. In Sydney, I was on stage jumping around singing Take Me Out! It is a dream come true,” Earl/Soul beams, adding the band also recently played on Conan O’Brien’s show.

That success might have meant leaving those songs in his laptop, but early in 2018 ,Earl met up with a friend who wanted to start a label. After sitting on a lot of songs that had been written during his time overseas and since finishing university, it was this unlikely set of circumstances that led to the August release of the debut Early Sans solo album ‘Buzz In’ on Berlin-based Kiwi ex-pat musicians Mitchell O‘Sullivan and Will Rattray‘s new Fantasy Fiction label.

It’s evident from the album’s first song Ballad Of Mary Drone that he still has his pop sensibilities intact. Wonderful bass lines accompany the gentle strum of acoustic guitar, strings and wavering horn arrangements helping to fill in the sound where needed. Accompanied along with a video of a woman dancing in a Korean Hanbok traditional dress, first single Easy Love showcases Earl’s arrangement and instrumentation skills while also reflecting a little bit of his culture in the moving image. Lush arpeggios sweep when the chorus kicks in, turning into a classic sound of staccato piano chords that are catchy and clever, while still easy to listen to. It’s the kind of song that reveals something new with each listen.

The funky Travel is a stand out. He takes a bass line and builds guitar riffs and melodic ideas around it; an example of how his influences ring out into his music. Discovery exploits lo-fi and distortion to give the song its character before moving into a clearer sound, reminiscent of later Radiohead, a big influence for Earl. Another standout with a lot of character is Western Hour/Eastern Day, and you can’t help but think Beck must be another artist he has listened to a lot.

“I sent Mitchell 20 songs. He arranged them in order for me and I feel it’s perfect. And once Superorganism’s touring schedule isn’t so busy I will have a release show for it.”

2018 has been a big year so far for Earl Ho/Early Sans/Soul. Along with the release of his own debut album, the out-of-the-box success of Superorganism has meant that he has experienced a wide spectrum of emotions. Remaining humble is important he contends.

“I am grateful for everything that has happened, good and bad. It has taken me all over the world and placed me into Superorganism.”