A mullet comparable to that of John Stamos. A crew neck paired over a collared shirt. A single cross earring dangling from his left ear. This is Robert McCurry, frontman of Superbody. He walks through the door of our local coffee shop, looking like he stepped right out of a DeLorean before walking in.
Funky synth beats and electronic voices blare into my headphones as I sip coffee, waiting for him to walk in. I’ve been listening to his album on repeat for the past 24 hours. Expecting to see the 23-year old clad in typical college kid attire, I blink multiple times in disbelief as he walks through the door.
Small Town, Big Dreams
Superbody is the creation of Robert McCurry and Caleb Dills, two kids who made their music debut in the rolling hills of Chattanooga, Tenn. As an eclectic mix of Tears for Fears meets Joy Division, Superbody epitomizes the revival of the ‘80s maximalist. McCurry describes his upbringing as typical, suburban, and middle-class. “But I started, of course, playing in different punk and rock bands when I was in middle school, like everybody else.” Bass guitar is his instrument of choice, noting that a lot of his favorite music “actually has bass lines on it as opposed to synth bass lines.”
The duo released their first album, Hades Land, in 2015 and featured a lo-fi vibe. “We didn’t even know what we were at that point. We had no idea how to mix, so we ran a bunch of stuff through tape machines. We were scared of people calling us out for doing everything with software because we didn’t know how to work the software that well.” This explains much of the experimental sound incorporated into their first album.
“I’m not scared of that anymore,” says McCurry, “like, that’s so pretentious that I would think that anyone would do that. But at the time, we were so scared of people calling us out because we never produced something.”
The days of hesitant music production were long gone after Hades Land was released. Technology and software quickly became integrated into their newest album, Youth Music. Once this album dropped, a few national magazines, such as the Office Magazine and The 405, picked up on Superbody. They went on tour up the East Coast and into Canada.
From the looks of McCurry, you would never guess he was a pop artist in the 21st century. In fact, you might assume the exact opposite; he resembles someone from an 80s movie. When it comes to his appearance, McCurry shares a funny story about how the mullet came to be. “We started recording, and I started singing with that weird, deep voice, and I was like, ‘No one’s gonna even believe that this is me.’ I looked more freaky with the fact that I just looked normal. So for the first record, I grew the mustache and bleached my hair. We started writing the second record, and I was like, ‘I have to grow a mullet for this.’”
McCurry’s whole persona is an antithesis of the DIY punk artist. The entire “I-look-lazier-than-you” personage is the exact opposite of what he wants to portray. “I just wanted to be expressive in whatever way I can because the music is extremely expressive and bright.”
From Indie to Pop
After being in countless punk and indie bands, McCurry has developed a very distinct pop music philosophy. “Caleb and I just set out with this: we wanted to make the most creative, accessible pop music that we can stand by. That anyone can listen to and anyone can have an opinion on as well.” After seeing how indie music can play it a bit too safe, McCurry ran to the opposite extreme with his music.
His drive for distinctiveness led him to create Youth Music. The opening track, Real Luv, is a conglomeration of techno vibes and robotic ‘80s voices. The entire album flows in this manner: extremely pop dance and extremely ‘80s. “It was very intentional for the rhetoric and everything to be, like, oh-so-80s because that’s what we were obsessed with. Maximalist early ‘80s music. Everything about that. That’s the explosion of creativity to me.”
Though Dills recently left the band to pursue other endeavors, McCurry is still prepared to take on the pop scene with fresh ideas and content. McCurry labels himself a poptimist– someone who spread positivity through pop music. “As soon as I started trying to actually write pop songs, I was like, ‘This is the highest form of art. Period.’”
With the release of Youth Music, the return of ‘80s pop has never been more apparent. McCurry drew much of his inspiration from the ‘80s hit band Wham! “They just found a way to affect youth culture with pure positivity,” McCurry says. “The fact that there were high school kids walking around with ‘Choose Life’ shirts and ultimate positivity in their lives when most of the youths, especially boys, seek out darker things almost always.”
Modern Love: Synth Pop in a Digital Age
The fact that ‘80s pop is making a comeback is actually very significant. Music production has completely changed in the past 30 to 40 years. From analog to digital, some artists are still adapting to the process. Many prominent “indie” artists– BØRNS, Bleachers, LANY, and The 1975, to name a few– are re-inventing this ‘80s sound in the modern music world. “We [Robert and Caleb] were so obsessed specifically with one hit wonders. All of that early ‘80s pop and dance music still stands up today, and they didn’t have computers. They were doing all of that shit on a tape reel. They didn’t have any of the software that we have right now.”
Another aspect that makes ‘80s music stand the test of time was the pure quality with which it was produced. With the rise of MTV, it was almost impossible to get on the charts without a music video. Ironically enough, even with the rise of social media, music videos are on the decline. Many #1 singles on the radio don’t even have a video to accompany them. “[With] things like Instagram stories and Snapchat, I try to stay away from it as much as possible. Actually, with the small fan-base I do have, surprise people. I like that.”
McCurry admits that the shift in music is continuously changing. “In this day and age, people can arrange and compose without barely even knowing how to play music. When you’re sending stuff off or recording, you just leave someone to work on it for weeks and then you get it back. There’s no excuse for that anymore. You need very minimal money, minimal experience to produce music on your own. Now you can make anything sound like anything with just the software.” McCurry is somewhat of a paradox: he loves the vintage sound and the modern technology.