Bright Tunes for Dark Times
Super Fantastics live up to their name with a bright sound that combines the most upbeat elements of modern rock music. The tunes on Home, their debut, bounce along with hints of Motown, samba, reggae and bluegrass, adding spice to their exuberant stylistic blend.
“I loved our name for the band the minute someone suggested it,” said Daniel Scharff, the band’s drummer, lead singer and main composer. “It describes how we are – big and cheesy, fun and positive. I immediately started imagining the superhero colors and images we could use on posters. Even songs that deal with anxiety, longing and loneliness have a lot of joy in them. When you confront your problems, you have to do so with understanding and positivity. What else can you do? That’s always been my approach. People who know me personally will tell you that’s my vibe. I’m forever trying to be upbeat, supportive and real.
“When I started playing Home for people, to get their reaction, someone said, ‘It sounds like the soundtrack for a Romcom movie from 2002.’ At first, I took offense. Then I thought it fit. The songs explore various emotions and need to be in different styles, to match the mood of the topics I’m looking at. I’m open to all styles. Our bass player, Robynne Merguerdijian, can play any instrument, in any genre you can think of. She helps me jump from one style to another and still make it sound like us.”
Scharff grew up playing drums, but his early drum teacher told him it wasn’t proper for drummers to sing and play at the same time, so he put music aside. Two years ago, he jumped on stage to sing lead, for one song, for a cover band. When the band’s singer quit, they asked him to join. “When the drummer quit, I became a drummer and singer,” he recalled. “I started booking gigs for us and suggested writing original songs, which I did. We became the Super Fantastics and got a residency at the White Rabbit and refined the songs.”
The band decided to make an album and booked time at Hyde Street Studios, with Chris McGrew, drummer and producer of Griddle and the Neverlutionaries. The quartet – Scharff, Merguerdijian, guitarist Udi Lazimy and electric violin player Sevan Suni – finished recording most of the album the day the COVID lockdown went into effect.
“Since we’re an indie band, putting the album out on our own, we planned to get it done for an album release show we had booked,” Scharff said. “When it became clear live shows weren’t going to happen for a while, I worked hard in my home studio, improving the songs and the vocals. I re-recorded every tune and had time to gain perspective on the overall sound. I worked on vocals and expanded the arrangements. I went back to Hyde Street to add horns and keyboards. I worked out the rough ideas I came up with at home, then Chris (McGrew) helped me flesh them out in the studio and tie everything together. I sang some of the horn parts I wanted to hear and Chris hired pros to come in and play them, one at a time, due to the lockdown. Then we layered them up. I got better as a vocalist, as I was learning the art of vocal recording, and redid some of them. Chris is a great drummer, so he played drums on the album, allowing me to concentrate on my singing. He’s going to play with us when we can play live again.
“Towards the end of 2020, I’d been home so long, by myself, I got inspired to write ‘Home.’ It was a lonely time for me, working on the album. The song came pouring out of me, thinking about the emotions I’d been feeling during the isolation. I wrote the song at home, but it’s also about finding a calm space emotionally, physically and musically, and helping myself and everyone else to feel at home.”
“Home” is the opening track on the Super Fantastics’ debut. It deals with the serious emotions of enforced seclusion and the frustrated desire for connection. It rides an upbeat tempo that’s part gospel, part horn driven Mardi Gras romp. Scharff’s warm tenor expresses the belief that better times are on the way. Stax, Motown and ska collide on “Beautiful Day,” a salute to sunshine, hot coffee and good feelings. Scharff drops a dizzying interplay of rhymes and hip-hop rhythms into the vocal bridge between verses. Acoustic guitar and electric violin add an ambient feeling to “Dreams,” an ode to the healing power of memory and love. Halfway through, Scharff’s mother Jill recites her favorite poem by Robert Burns, ‘John Anderson, My Jo.”
“When we play that song live, we add an open space in the music and ask people to come on stage and recite a poem, or talk about a dream they had, or a memorable trip they took,” Scharff said. “We like to create an environment that creates room for the audience to participate. I asked my mom to recite on the album, because she’s been a model for how to pursue artistic passion, while having a successful career. The poem, and epic violin, celebrates my parents’ love for each other. She performed it with us, live, the day before we went in to start recording the album. It was an incredible experience.”