An Interview with The Sunshine Underground
Backstage at The Black Flag Warehouse, Wakefield, interviewers, Chris Dabbs and Nate Wisniewski met with the Leeds-based indie-dance band The Sunshine Underground. The lads have been working on their third album and had a few things to say about the state of the current UK music scene, touring with The Happy Mondays and the discovery of their new sound…
How was the tour?
Matt: We haven’t really toured as such, we’ve done the odd sporadic gig; the festivals, but we’ve basically been quiet, toiling away on the new record. We find that the more gigs we do the less writing we get done.
How’s the record sounding?
Stew: We’re pretty happy with it; we’ve just finished the writing process, and we’ve been demo-ing it, so now we just need to get back into the studio and polish it off – we’re happy with how its sounding though.
Craig: It’s pretty much made.
Stew: We’ll probably re-record the vocals again…
Craig: I thought I did a pretty good job… Great. (laughs)
Would you say it differs a lot from the last stuff?
Matt: It’s a much more programmed sound.
Stew: More electronic.
Craig: The only feedback that’s come through from the label was a single email that said, “well, that’s very different.” We presumed it meant in a positive way…
Matt: We were always a dance-orientated band, our influences were heavily in dance music. I guess we just couldn’t do it before. Now the trick is, with songs like that, is that we need to incorporate the live element with it.
Craig: There’s four new ones in the set tonight and we’re actually learning how to play them. It’s like, who’s going to play that bit? Oh god knows..
Matt: It’s like we make an electronic song and then we’ve got to do a cover of it.
In the studio before you’ve done some experimental things, like on the last album you set up a tent in the studio to create a ‘stadium rock’ feel.
Stew: We found a studio that had a great sounding live room. Chairworks Studios.
Craig: It was still being finished off, there were still people in there putting in electrics.
Matt: The day we turned up there was even a carpet fitter in there.
Craig: It’s probably why we got it so cheap, the choice was two weeks in one studio, or five weeks at Chairworks.
Matt: And we got both rooms as well, two studios.
Craig: We tried loads of different things in there.
Stew: There’s a song, ‘In Your Arms’ and we thought it should be huge sounding, stadium rock as you said, now to do that we put panels up, and by the time you’ve put the panels up and built the ambient sound…
You’ve built a fort?
Stew: You’ve got a fu**ing tent on the go, yeah. You built a man-fort?
Matt: (laughs) Right, and you’re not coming out until you’ve done a song.
Craig: We spent so long doing album two that we knew exactly what we were doing. Again, we just got better at making demos. I don’t know if you could ever release them because they sound kind of awful but they had an energy about them. We knew exactly what we were doing.
Stew: It was kind of fun in a way. We know how to record ourselves now, but back then, at Chairworks, I remember finding a good sounding hallway and I said to the producer “we need to do the drums in here,” so he stuck this one really expensive mic at the top of the stairs and said: “right, play away.”
Matt: (laughs) Don’t stop, I’ll tell you when to stop.
Craig: We went home.
So now you have enough experience to judge; do you prefer writing or performing?
Matt: We love gigging.
Craig: I really crave the attention.
Matt: He does, yeah (all laugh). Yeah its fu**ing great playing live, you know, when it’s a buzzing crowd. Tonight should be pretty mad. And with the last record, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like coming out of a big system.
“Necking sambucas for breakfast”
Craig: We’re actually looking forward to hearing it.
Matt: You know, you’re making it up in your headphones, but when the system’s fu**ing cranked – it’s gonna be great, yeah.
Do you have any favourite gigs?
Stew: Glastonbury was a really good gig for us.
Craig: We were on at one o’ clock and camping backstage at Glastonbury, you know,the backstage area that is – we were 45 minutes from the stage. And we woke up and there was 40 minutes to go before our set. You think that when it gets to that point they’d call you up or tell you that you might need to be somewhere but, ha. We were necking sambucas for breakfast.
Stew: Just trying to feel a little bit drunk, you know.
Craig: It’s like, what do you do, you know?
Matt: Disgusting. (all laugh)
Matt: We had a fu**ing ace show in Ibiza with LCD Soundsystem last summer. We had a few days out there as well, didn’t we? We had our little apartment as well, there was our balcony with a hot tub on it, stuff like that.
Craig: Mexico was cool, as well. We only had one gig to do and we had a whole week out there.
Matt: I got diarrhoea out there though. (laughter)
Matt: (leans right over the mic) If you ever go to Mexico, don’t drink the water. (laughter)
Matt: It came on as well, we were at the top of this pyramid and it was like, fu**ing hell. Literally, there was no toilet on the top of this pyramid. You’ve never seen anyone run down the side of a pyramid so fast. I wasn’t even using the handrail… (laughter)
“We’ve always done it on our own”
So you’re big on live gigs. Does it make it better when you’re touring with another band that you like?
Matt: It’s always fun, we haven’t really done it that much.
Stew: I think we’d always prefer to do our own gig, wouldn’t we?
Craig: In all our years of playing gigs, I think we’ve only supported two bands. That could have been because we never got the gigs, I don’t know, but we’ve always done it on our own really. We did tour briefly with The Subways, Happy Mondays and a bit with LCD Soundsystem but that was it really, the rest of the gigs have been ours. I don’t mind it in a way, but being a support act adds it a fair bit of pressure.
Happy Mondays was – well, we’re used to having typically lad crowds, but The Happy Mondays have more of a rude 45-year-old man kind of crowd. I remember we were playing at Liverpool and – this is like an advert for not doing support gigs – there was just one guy right at the front, folding his arms, like that (Craig shows us his impression of a very unimpressed arm-folder) all the way through. Before we even played you know he was like, you need to really impress me. And then after the first song he just went, “shit.” (laughter)
Craig: “Thanks mate, thank you very much.” I think I dedicated every song to him from then on.
Do you get many heckles? Do you have a particular way of dealing with them?
Craig: Not really.
Matt: Find out where they live and burn their house down. (laughter)
Stew: “Play us summat we fu**ing know.” (laughter)
Stew: What’s that about? OK, we’ll play Borders again then…
Is there anyone you particularly despise in music?
Matt: Nah, I don’t hate anyone.
Stew: It takes a lot of energy to hate something, or someone.
Matt: Snow Patrol. (laughter)
Is there a style of music that grates on you?
Craig: Yeah, I don’t mean to pick on Snow Patrol, but because you said that, it’s like a category of bands that you almost feel like they’re not getting together and bouncing off each other and making anything exciting, it feels like it’s ‘what’s the next record,’ you know and like, I don’t despise it but…
“The worst thing ever”
You mean there’s no chemistry?
Craig: Yeah, it feels like, you know, ‘let’s do another song.’
Matt: I tell you what though, who did I hear the other day? Fu**ing Metallica. It was the worst thing ever.
Stew: It was Lou Reed, as well.
Matt: Yeah, they’d teamed up with Lou Reed.
Craig: So Lou Reed was singing, well not singing, talking over Metallica.
Matt: Trying to be quite arty, you know.
Craig: As if he was reading some sort of poem through the microphone, like this (he pretends to hold up something near his face whilst holding a mic) with the sheet music.
Stew: It was terrible.
Matt: The thing is everyone in the room was thinking; “is that actually happening?”
Craig: How did that get to TV? How did it get to a microphone? So many people went, “yeah.”
Matt: I tell you what though, if they were a new band, they would not be getting on telly with that. They got on there because it was Lou Reed and Metallica but… No, I don’t hate anyone. (laughter)
So you’ve played a million gigs, you’ve had time in the studio. What piece of advice would you give to the younger versions of yourselves, just starting out?
Stew: Get a normal job.
Matt: Yeah, get a proper job (laughter). Nah, I think once you’ve got your guitar and that, everyone’s got a computer these days in one form or another and I can’t strongly advise enough to get a music program on it. There’s plenty out there. Cubase, Logic or Pro Tools, these are the tools a producer’s going to be using if you get into a studio, but if you can learn all that yourself and get savvy on it it’s going to be so much easier to record. Recording yourself instead of trying to explain to a producer what you want, if you can record yourself doing it then, you know – and it’s so much cheaper if you do it yourself. Honestly, just get yourself a music program and a nice microphone, you know, and just go from there really.
How about you?
Craig: Always wear lycra. No, if you really believe in something, you should just fu**ing do it. That’s not advice at all. I don’t know what I’m talking about (laughs).
Stew: You’ve got to be the best you can be at your craft. Whatever it is, whatever instrument it is, practice, practice, practice, and be amazing at it, because if you are amazing at it then…
“You can only make a first impression once”
So you reckon don’t spread yourself out, choose what you like and go for it?
Craig: I think we played gigs well before we were any good. We played gigs when we were horrible. We just made a noise. And it was just the love of making music together. If I were doing it again now, I’d say go away and wait until you sound amazing and then you can just come in and, you know.
Matt: You can only make a first impression once so come out and blow everyone’s socks off.
So stay in the practice room until your songs are down?
Matt: Yeah because everyone’ll make their mind up about you. If people see you play and you’re rubbish, it doesn’t matter if you’re brilliant a year later, they’ll be like, nah that was dog shit. They wont come see you the second time.
What’s your view on the UK music scene and do you think it’s changed in any way since you started?
Craig: I guess so, I mean we really came to Leeds at a time when it was really kicking off. I can only say that for Leeds because that’s where we were but there’s always amazing music out there. We all get wrapped up in our own music so much that we haven’t really listened to anybody else.
Matt: I suppose since filesharing and MP3s became more popular it’s kind of almost shaped which bands you hear on the radio now because record labels just don’t sign acts that aren’t guaranteed to sell a shitload of CDs anymore you know. It’s really sad, really strange.
Craig: Then you get radio stations like 6 music, because we’ve been finished with writing and I’ve been at home I’ve been listening to that a lot. You can listen to it all day and they don’t play a bad song. All the best bands are on there. All the best DJ’s are on there. Music’s great at the moment but if I turn on Radio 1, fucking hell. I guess it just depends what you’re into really. I mean, there’s a market for everything. Downloads have had a massive change in the music world.
Do you think the best bands are still getting through?
Matt: The bands that are getting through are the bands that just sell a lot, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best bands, it’s about who can shift the most units in Tesco’s.
Craig: You can get through in an indie way.
Do you think it’s harder or easier now?
Matt: It depends what kind of music you want to make. If you’re like Scouting For Girls you’ll probably do really well but if you want to do something a bit more underground you’re gonna get nowhere near the radio.
Craig: But you know what, like ten years ago you could tell me a band and I wouldn’t be able to listen to them, you’d have to go into a shop or wait for them to release something or go and watch them live. Now you can tell me any band and I can go and download all of their songs. Music’s become more accessible, anyone can be heard by anyone. It’s just that that’s opened the floodgates and it’s difficult to break through.
Matt: It helps if you can record yourself. The cost of recording man, if you want to go into a studio every time you want to release a song, and then once you’ve made that song no-one buys it because everyone steals it, you know.
Craig: It’s why labels don’t want to give you any money either. It’s because they’re not willing to put up the recording costs. If you’re not going to make any return then what’s the point in them throwing 40 fu**ing grand at you.
Matt: Exactly, the only bands that make a return are Kings Of Leon or someone who sells half a billion records in Tesco, you know. So any new band they’re just going to get ripped, downloaded for nothing. There’s no point in investing in them you know.
You can get updates and listen to the latest demos by The Sunshine Underground from their website at tsuarmy.blogspot.com
pictures: Danny Payne