The electronic, orchestral, compositional group known as HYBRID got started back in the ‘90s, initially creating remixes of songs. Their career now spans several full-length albums and countless compositions for film; notable movies that feature their music include the Fast and Furious franchise and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The band is fronted by Mike and Charlotte Truman.
The group’s latest album, Black Halo, will be released on July 9.
Read on for our interview with HYBRID, where we discuss musical inspirations, songwriting, and the new record.
What was your initial journey with music, and what inspired you to get started with remixing?
Mike Truman: The very beginning of actually playing music to people other than my family, I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan forever, and I took it upon myself to do a bootleg mix and I’d never been into the local nightclubs before, and one evening, I sort of went up, banged on the DJ booth and said “I’ve got this mix, do you mind playing it?“ And they graciously said “yes, sure.“ They played it and the reaction was really, really good. For years, I’d been playing with bits in the house, making tracks up, trying to imitate drum sounds and trying to work out how records were built, but to actually hear it in front of a crowd changed everything for me instantly. The reaction made everything. So that’s how I ended up being more into the club culture.
Having got your start in the ‘90s, what’s it like creating this latest album in 2021, purely technologically? Is there a difference in the way you construct your soundscapes now, compared to what it was like at the start of your career?
Mike Truman: Yeah, definitely. We’re very computer based in the sense that we record everything into a computer and then manipulate. I think the difference, before, we used to sample records. If you wanted a break, you’d literally get a piece of vinyl, you’d find a break, you’d find a loop, whereas now we invest quite heavily into really beautiful microphones; it’s more computer based. Before, a lot of it was hardware.
Charlotte Truman: If anything, we’ve reverted back to using more analog equipment. The recording, the DAWs that we use, obviously they get more and more technical—but, essentially, the music we’re making, I mean for me, it doesn’t really change. I just play instruments and sing and then I affect them with synths and stuff. I love taking instruments and turning it into something really bizarre, something very atonal. Something that does something that your noggin can’t really get. Essentially, the only thing that’s really advanced is how the music gets recorded and what you can do with that sound once it’s processed.
Mike Truman: There’s more possibilities, as well. On the last album, we managed to do an orchestral session thanks to the record label. But with the orchestra we used, we used multiple layers of it, and each time you record the orchestra, there’s about 60 microphones. So we had 180 tracks of just orchestra, so we can end up with literally 500-odd tracks to choose from.
Charlotte Truman: We write in a very multi-layered way. There’s loads and loads and loads of tracks going on at the same time. We do massive arrangements. So that has actually really helped, and technology as well. Imagine going through a pandemic without the technology we have at the moment—we get to do zoom stuff, remote orchestral sessions, we get to do everything, just because technology’s gone as far as we’re at.
What inspired you to take the leap to working on film composition and how did it happen?
Charlotte Truman: We’ve always been hugely into film scores. When my mates were buying New Kids On The Block, I’d be buying film score CDs. I was fascinated with the way that music guides a plot and helps lead the audience into certain feelings and guiding the storyline.
Mike Truman: I think, for me, there was a huge realization about the same time we started releasing records, that when you listen to film scores—club music has a certain way of putting things together, pop music, you get a certain feel, it’s relatable—whereas film score, especially when you listen to it in isolation, just takes you somewhere else. It’s got a completely different meaning for why it’s being written, which was just fascinating for me.
Charlotte Truman: You get to write in any style, you don’t have to stick with the stuff you’re known for. And it pushes you as well, musically, to use different instruments, use different techniques. It’s a fascinating journey. It’s absolutely fascinating. Musically, I find it incredibly exciting.
Mike Truman: We were very fortunate when we were on tour in 2004, I think, we were in L.A., and our lawyer who we had just met recently, she also represented this composer Harry Gregson Williams. We got introduced to him and we played each other loads of tracks and we realized that the way he goes about film scoring was he used very distant, very harsh, very brutal sounds. He invited us to come work on some scores and we did more and more together, and things kind of snowballed from there. We were very fortunate and he was very gracious at giving us a bit of a shot. That got us in that mode.
What does your creative and songwriting process look like? How do you develop these big arrangements, and is there a difference in the way you create music for an album versus for a score?
Mike Truman: I think it’s the freedom in the arrangements. If you’re writing for yourself, then you’ve only got yourself as the listener to write for, basically. It’s like, “would I be bored at this point, would i have turned it off?“ Whereas, it’s a bit more structured and probably a bit more rigid because you’ve got the actual picture and you know that the scene is a minute and a half long or you’ve only got twenty seconds until that happens—it’s more of a jigsaw on film. It’s more the structure that’s the main difference. Some process, but you’ve got a structure.
Charlotte Truman: Yeah, it’s like somebody punches someone in the face, or somebody’s about to cry, you’ve got to build up the emotion. We do different things, so when we’re coming up with the tracks for Black Halo, usually the title comes at the end. So we started off with the title first. That sort of started off the whole story for the album. Sometimes Mike will come up with a few different textures; a lot of the time, I just start writing songs or making strange noises in my studio, as does Mike. It’s hugely collaborative. The band’s sort of become a little family now—we’re a really solid group. It’s brilliant, everybody gets to fling ideas and it’s been really cool to vibe off them. This one’s got a bit more guitar in, Simon’s drums are all over it. It’s been really fun writing it. It’s one of the quickest albums we’ve ever done.
Mike Truman: A lot of it, as well, we love taking something, if Charlotte’s written a very personal or intimate song, no one knows the original demo of that starts of as an acoustic guitar and you and it’s quite close and it’s a very intimate sounding track. But then we’ll add these layers around it and sort of tease it out and you get these really cool juxtapositions that you wouldn’t expect. We try to make sure there’s always surprises along the way.
You’ve released several intense music videos/short films for the album so far; can you just talk about how that concept for the videos came about and what it was like working with Matt Westrup on that project?
Mike Truman: Matt popped up on social media and he was just one of those really nice, supportive people. You notice people that come and put nice comments regularly. He sent a little link to some stuff he was doing. He’s got quite a dark take on sci-fi and we got to chatting and he’s a self-taught CGI artist—we had a vague idea of what we wanted to do with “Flashpoint.” We started shooting in the middle of lockdown—luckily, we’ve got some fields and barns around us. This time, we were like “well, let’s try doing a short, and we’ll have a very off-kilter, David Lynch vibe on things.æ It’s very home grown, but then Matt, he gave himself a bit of a tall order. We wanted this alien hand appearing out of the goo, and he did that. We shot the background in a friend’s barn.
Charlotte Truman: Because we’re in a rural location, we had to make do with what we had. We’ve got some farmer friends down the road who have this amazing milling machine, and it just looks bizarre, it’s brilliant. Mike got the smoke out and lighting and made it look all creepy. It was fun, it was good.
Mike Truman: It sort of draws on a lot of films that we really love. That sort of neo-noir feel to things. David Lynch is a massive touchstone. A lot of the films we watch have got a dark undercurrent to it, and we just get off on that, we think it’s really cool. And we’re huge sci-fi nerds as well. So between us all, it was kind of stitched together. We had a vague arc and we just kept adding to it.
The album is bookended by this very interesting voice-over—where did this part come from and what inspired you to utilize it as a way to enter into and leave the album?
Charlotte Truman: We met, just out of the blue, we had a letter in the post from an author called James Scudamore, and he sent us a copy of his book called Wreaking and it was based in an ex-mental asylum that had been shut down which he did his research and actually went to a mental hospital. He said that while he was writing, one of the main things he was listening to at the time was Disappear Here. Andhe basically wanted to say thank you for inspiring him. I read it and I was totally blown away—we’re very close friends now and we started the album with the title in mind, and then we wrote all the tracks and we thought it’d be really nice to open it with a monologue to set the tone for the album so you know where we’re going with the story. So, he wrote the monologue for us—he heard all the tracks and I spoke to him about what it all meant, what the songs were supposed to portray, which is technically getting through your own personal troubles and situations, situations in your life that you can’t control and trying to find the spirit to get through it. He came back with the opening speech. We also have a friend called Edmund Kingsley, we thought he’d be perfect to do it; his portrayal sort of comes across like David from Prometheus. It’s not totally emotive. The way he says it means something.
Mike Truman: When we got the recording it felt like more of a broadcast than a conversation. We really like the idea of communication and how that connects people.
Charlotte Truman: It could be voices in your head, or it could be something that you’ve misread the signs. This will get back to being the full story in the next video. You’ll figure out what’s going on. Because we’ve written the album as a story, because that’s the point where you’re like, ‘no, I can get through this,’ and you have to remember adversity is one of the things you have to go through in life and you can’t avoid it, but it’s how you go through it that counts. I wrote the end one—there was the sort of curveball of starting with him and ending with him. It made sense.
Can you explain where the title Black Halo comes from or what it means to the story of the album?
Charlotte Truman: We can’t say where exactly it came from. The black halo is basically saying you can be a good person and still have bad bits in you. Nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes, but you can still make it right. Nobody has a halo, nobody’s perfectly beautiful. The idea of the halo is kind of dumb, but the visualization of it says that you mean well, you want to do good, you want to help, but you don’t always get it right. Life’s a mess, and it still is a mess. It’s kind of saying that there are people out there that are a mess, but they’re still trying to do good.
Mike Truman: Triumph from the darkness. But also, as well, from a visual point of view you have all this wonderful iconography of angels and halos and adding a sci-fi twist to it.
I want to bring up a specific song, “End Of The World,” off of the album. It feels very different sonically—what was the writing and recording like on that track? How did you create a soundscape to play against that idea of the end of the world?
Charlotte Truman: It’s interesting how people listen to that track, and who’s sort of taking it one way or the other. I think It’s really good when you end up doing some writing that people aren’t too sure exactly which way you mean it to go, but everybody takes it a different way and that means you’ve done a good job. I wanted to take that whole armageddon statement and basically just strip it back to its basics. You lose people, people have to go, people have to fade away, but at the end of the day you just hope that at some point you might see them again. It wasn’t supposed to be this sort of armageddon-style meaning. It was supposed to be quite reverential, sort of a piece of yourself knowing that this is what life’s all about and you don’t have to spend the rest of your life in a grief-state. Time will go on and you will get over these things. From my own personal experience, losing my mom, you don’t have to spend every waking moment feeling torn apart inside. You can breathe a sigh out and go, “right, okay. I know that at some point, hopefully, we might see each other again.“ Whether we got spiritual, religious, anything like that. I’m not very religious, but I think it’s really nice to come to a feeling that you’d hope at some point you might see them again.
Mike Truman: That’s what I always got from it. It’s a very personal kind of song about somebody’s own viewpoint on mortality; it’s hiding in plain sight. It’s not the end of the world, it’s the end of somebody’s relationship with being alive.
Charlotte Truman: It’s almost like, from a sort of spiritual point of view, that when you’ve had enough time that you can function again, you can re-asses and sort of soak in memory so much that they feel like they’re with you anyway. All those experiences you had, they become sort of with you anyway. It’s that kind of feeling. It was basically about twisting one of those phrases that you’d hear in a Hollywood film and making it more emotional.
Mike Truman: From a production point of view, we wanted to keep the verse and the first chorus very piano and acoustic guitar. It felt very intimate, sort of like a symphonic folk song, really. But then that twist when it kicks off, we wanted it to feel more like the ‘70s protest songs, just something that’s got that beautiful stacked harmonies over the riffs. Everything’s playing the same riff; it’s all about the riffs. And then the very end of it, as well, it should really have gone back into the chorus and been a huge outro, but we wanted to bring it all the way down again. The way we saw it visually, we saw this gigantic pan back from an apartment or somebody sitting by themselves, a huge pan back that goes back out into the atmosphere. So it was written from a visual point of view.
That’s fascinating, the way your music and your art can be reinterpreted in so many different ways.
Charlotte Truman: If everybody interprets it the same way, we haven’t done our job properly. It’s so important that everybody can see something different in what you’ve made and I really, really love that. It’s just incredible.
Mike Truman: It depends on the listener quite a lot, as well. If youve got an intimate, darkly themed song but it’s got quite a bright, shiny vibe around it, you can trick a lot of people. It’s part of the fun. You get to hide little messages and divert the attention over there, when in fact, what it’s really doing is over there.
With the album on the way and the pandemic lifting, what is coming up for you that you’re most excited for?
Mike Truman: Basically, it’s putting it in front of people, which everybody’s really missed out on, the reaction of listening to music collectively as an experience. It’d be lovely to get out and start playing that. We’ve got a lot of new material as well. I think we’re gonna do some smaller chunks of projects, large EPs or mini LPs. For us, it’s really quite invigorating to just be able to come up with four tracks or five tracks and have a small theme rather than not do anything or not have any visibility for about a year. We’re gonna do a lot more frequent releases.
You can check out HYBDRID’s music here.