When we sit down to speak with Cubicolor, the conversation is split across three countries. There’s the dashing Tim, from his home in London, and Peter and Ariaan on a houseboat in Amsterdam. “Still floating,” Peter assures us, cigarette in hand as tendrils of smoke escape his lips. It’s a bit of an aside, but that statement holds a lot of weight considering the sort of existential musings Cubicolor have recently found themselves ruminating on. It’s striking at first to think that the legendary electronic music trio (or three-piece band, as they prefer) spend most of their time so far apart. You’d be hard pressed to feel this sort of distance in their music. There’s an impressive sense of cohesion to what they create together. “It’s a little bit of a miracle, because we really are three different dudes,” says Ariaan. “We haven’t just connected across cities, but also across genres,” Peter explains. He and Ariaan are stalwarts of Holland’s house and techno scenes, while Tim, a poet and playwright, comes from the live band scene. “I’d been playing gigs since about 2012 with my first band,” Tim explains, but it was when a demo landed in his lap six years ago that the tones that would eventually make Cubicolor began to blend. Produced by Peter and Ariaan, that demo became Falling, one of their first records and the litmus test for the synergy of this three way collaboration. It’s a synergy that proved so effective, Tim was soon on his way to Amsterdam. “We started writing Brainsugar, our first album, pretty much that day. And that was that.”
This ease in their creative process has allowed Cubicolor to create a stunning spectrum of melodic house steeped in emotional gravitas, and it’s the differences between them that Peter credits for making the formula work. “Tim was much more from a live environment, and a different sound as well. He didn’t really know the music we were doing but I think that contributed to something special,” he tells us. Tim agrees. “It pushed us outside into a new kind of space, the combination of our musical styles and backgrounds. It created something we now see as distinctly Cubicolour.” So distinct, in fact, that they’re arguably pioneers of a whole new movement in electronic music. Since 2016’s Brainsugar, we’ve seen a wave of artists adopt Cubicolor’s fusion between acoustic and electronic, from England’s Elderbrook to Australia’s Rüfüs Du Sol. “The guys from Rüfüs Du Sol actually told me that [one of their songs] was inspired by ‘Falling’, and that became their biggest record,” says Ariaan, likely referring to 2019’s Treat You Better which shares much of Falling’s DNA. “They progressed with it, but Tim and Peter don’t like repeating so we’re a lot more diverse.”
This constant drive to evolve is likely what’s made the process behind their upcoming album Sometime Not Now a comfortable one, despite being remarkably different from how they usually make music. While they’ve navigated being separated geographically by finding time to work together in the same space, be it writing together or recording, it was lockdown which proved to be the catalyst for a new era in their approach. Due at the end of October on Anjunadeep, Sometime Not Now marks the first time that the band started making an album in complete isolation from one another. “I was suddenly by myself… It took a while to adjust to writing totally by myself,” Tim reflects on the experience, which for him was both a challenge and a necessary step in his own growth as a musician. “I had to work with just my own energy in the studio everyday. But then once I got into it, I really learnt a lot from working that way. But we work much better when we’re all in the same room.” One of the most significant challenges for them was considering what to write about within and on the other side of the pandemic. “I was inspired at the start of lockdown by the imagery,” says Peter, recalling the somewhat dystopian sight of a desolate airport, aeroplanes lining the deserted landing strip.
“We were kind of forced into a state of recollection,” says Tim, “it was a time of reflection, and that’s what we’re trying to translate into the record,” a record which for Cubicolor is directly informed by what Tim calls an “intense time of waiting, when the world was just suspended.” Sometime Not Now is a collection of songs that had been left in various stages of completion, which the band revisited over lockdown and decided to release. Like the formation of Cubicolor themselves, there seems to be an element of destiny at play here. “One of the special things that happened was that we made a bunch of tracks before the pandemic hit and shelved them. But then when the pandemic came, a few of these tracks made so much sense all of a sudden,” says Peter, singling out one song in particular, All Tied Up, as a premonition of sorts. “It was exactly about what was about to happen.” These epiphanies would spark further inspiration, and Tim reveals that Sometime Not Now is “a really nice combination of old and new ideas all formulated together.” He muses for a moment on that aforementioned Beckettian period of waiting, and all the time he had to sit inside his own thoughts. “I started thinking about all these things I wanted to do in life, and how as you get older you realise you haven’t even begun to do what you wanted to do. That was kind of the main energy of the album.”
It’s a sort of pensive introspection present on songs like Summer & Smoke, with its poignant reflection on self-destruction. “It was from the middle of lockdown, that tune,” says Tim. “And I remember struggling with it a lot, with André (&Me) who we wrote it with.” &Me also co-produces Summer & Smoke, the first time the band has allowed someone from outside the three of them to contribute in such a significant way. Its lyrics, ‘I’m the one [who] never sleeps through the night,’ are contrasted by the music itself, which has an almost psychedelic, meditative quality to it. On the subject of this song, we ask them if there is a notion of catharsis that comes from confronting your darkness. They’re quite coy to answer. “Well, first of all I love the word catharsis,” chirps Peter.
We move on to Cowboy, a song from as early as the Brainsugar sessions. Full of bravado, Cowboy compares being at war with yourself to a great Western adventure with the promise of leading somewhere exciting. “It was a stream of consciousness for me,” says Tim, “but I’d never like to, or would want to, explain the lyrics in a way that would give them any specific meaning once they’re out in the world.” Mostly, they prefer not to subject their songs to over analysis. For them, there’s more magic in leaving things open to interpretation. “There’s people who will interpret it in ways you wouldn’t think to have,” says Peter, “and that’s the way it should be.”
They do agree that there’s a thematic through line to Sometime Not Now, particularly as it relates to confronting yourself and the complex contradictions that arise from this experience. “There’s a beauty in these contradictions that are true but can’t be true,” Peter explains, “like, ‘I’ll start a war for peace,’ there’s still truth in it, but how could it ever work?” For Tim, it’s about facing your demons to find your truth, a concept that sees them finding the light through a lot of darkness. “There’s very positive ideas,” he says, “but also a kind of warning that you don’t have forever.”
The latest single from Sometime Not Now, Easy Mark is out now. Watch the music video below, and stream it here.