the ijamming! interview:
UNDERWORLD
KARL HYDE
talks with TONY FLETCHER page 2.

THE INTERVIEW

-TONY FLETCHER: I only got A Hundred Days Off last week, but I have two immediate observations: In many places it's very chill, and in other places it's very bright and optimistic and summery.

KARL HYDE: Optimistic, that's a fact

- As a casual observer, I'd be tempted to say, Have you fallen in love?

I stopped drinking. Four and a half years ago. And it's had a massive effect on my life. And the lives of those people that come in close proximity to me, not least of all Rick.

-That's what the optimism is down to?

Without question. The thing for me is I spent 25 years using that stuff to run away, and all of a sudden you're clear of that and you've got your day back, and there's all this stuff going on during the day that's really exciting and interesting.

-Getting your day back. . .

Time opens up. Suddenly I've got loads and loads of time. Then I start filling that time with stuff I enjoy doing. And also, not living in tomorrow or yesterday, but really trying to live in today. And that was a struggle at first. But when I started doing that, stuff just started – there was so much electricity. It was like when I was a teenager and went to art college for the first time, like 'oh my god there's all this stuff' and it was great! You have to calm down sometimes so you don't get too euphoric.

-And potentially even 'born again' on it.

Oh yeah. That would be a bit nauseous, wouldn't it? That's not for me.

-Not knowing you personally, I wouldn't have known (you were alcoholic). I mean, we all know the 'lager lager' lyrics, but I wouldn't have known you had a serious problem.

Oh yeah. The only reason we ever printed the lyrics to 'Born Slippy' was because it became a drinking anthem, and I was so gutted because it was in fact a cry for help. And that's why I was really happy when Danny Boyle used it for Trainspotting, because the way he used it, it was pointed at a scene where the guy who was shit faced on booze was the violent one. I thought, 'You see what I'm saying? This is some of the places where it takes your head.'

Karl Hyde on alcoholism:

"I'd done a pact with myself where I felt I was very ordinary, very middle of the road, and the only way I could contribute anything that was extreme enough was if I got ranging drunk, wrote everything down and handed it over to the recovering one in the morning. And he put that on the records."

-Was there a key incident that got you off alcohol?

It was a strange incident, one of those moments of clarity: I had a very clear picture that I was going to die, that there wasn't anything other than that up ahead, because nothing's ever enough. No thrill or dark place is ever dark or thrilling enough; there has to be more. The serious addict can't stop, needs more. So there was that very clear moment of clarity. Then I was sat on a beach, quite close to that period, and had this idea of phoning up my mate, out of the blue and saying this. And my mate understood how I felt, and we got talking, and took it from there really.

-Were you able to get off yourself?

I needed people who felt the same way. And that's important. Because the other thing that starts with it is the feeling of being alone. And the only one who thinks like this. When I discovered I was one of millions, oh, the weight lifted.

-Was it just the booze?

I never did drugs in my life. No, never did.

-I pretty much knocked spirits on the head, and moved some of that over to enjoying a good glass of wine. (Regular readers may have noticed the second part of this statement!) But from writing about Keith Moon, I'm very aware of the dark side.

I loved all that, you see. Moon was a total hero to me. Back in Freur, we specifically went out and looked for a drummer who was like Moon, and we got Bryn Burrows from the Fabulous Poodles, who would head-butt cymbals and knock himself out from trashing his kit. We would have asked Keith had he been alive to join freur. Because it was this balance of very considered electronics and the costumes, with a complete animal on the kit. In fact, we used to smash everything up in the early days.

-There's this thing in rock'n'roll, and dance music is just as guilty, where you idolize the hedonism of it, yet it’s living vicariously through other people. It's what a lot of people did with Keith: 'I want Keith Moon to jump out of a hotel window because I'll never do it.' Or 'I want Keith to drink himself to death because I live a boring life. So when I come home from the office and I'm unhappy with my boring life, I want Keith Moon – or Fatboy Slim, whoever - to be talking about how ridiculously out of their heads they were.

I got very angry about it all. I got very righteous – wrongly, but I got very righteous. Like "I'm out there, living on the front line, bringing all these words back," Because I'd done a pact with myself where I felt I was very ordinary, very middle of the road, and the only way I could contribute anything that was extreme enough was if I got ranging drunk, wrote everything down and handed it over to the recovering one in the morning. And he put that on the records. And I got very angry towards people like Rick and my family, who I thought were just living a nice life while I was out there killing myself. It was a very warped and distorted and wrong point of view, but that's where it took me. Things like 'Born Slippy,' in fact most of the first two albums were 'This is hell, this is a nightmare, do you like this?' And it made me even angrier when people said, 'Oh the lyrics are great.' I was like, What do you mean great? That's the truth. Can you imagine what I'm singing about? That actually happened to me.' People thought they were just stream of consciousness, nonsense words. No they were actually happening!

Karl Hyde on lyrics:
"The little details fascinate me: like a photograph, you look back, you can say, 'Well it was a beautiful day, we sat in the Botanic Garden and there was some big greenhouses, and you look at the photograph and you say 'There was that woman who had the t-shirt on . . .and the little girl and the woman with the push chair,' and those are the things that interest me. Not the big greenhouses that are fantastic and impressive.' It's the detail."

Karl Hyde at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, July 16 2002.
Photo
© Tony Fletcher. Design by Posie Strenz.

-You're also talking there about the classic artist's misunderstanding that you have to go through hell to be a valid artist.

-The method actor.

-So now what you're saying is you're happy, and I'm saying it comes across on the record.

We've got a family and that's got a really good point of view, and I'm enjoying working with my partner. The upside from a purely aesthetic point of view is I was burned out on cities. I'd written about New York, London, the bloody train into Romford. I was totally sick of it. A lot of those early albums were started lyrically here in New York. Now I'm discovering these cities like I've never seen before, because I'm taking a different perspective.

I was inspired by a couple of things in the late eighties. One of them was Sam Sheppard's Motel Chronicles, because he was writing about these snippets. And I thought, I can't write beginnings and endings, but I can write middles, I can tell you little slices of my day. That impressed me. And then it was Lou Reed's New York album. I thought, How the hell did he write that? And I thought, well if that was me, I'd be sitting in cafes and bars and on trains and just writing down conversational English. Because that's the way he's singing on that, he's singing conversational American. It was about details, tiny details, not these sweeping statements. And that fascinates me. The little details, like a photograph, that when you look back, you can say, Well it was a beautiful day, we sat in the Botanic Garden and there was some big greenhouses, and you look at the photograph and you say 'there was that woman who had the t-shirt on, of course, I remember, and the little girl and the woman with the push chair,' and those are the things that interest me. Not the big greenhouses that are fantastic and impressive.' It's the detail.

-I've always thought that Underworld works as this multi-media enterprise. The visuals come at you one way and the words come at you another way. [And of course, the music another way too.] It's one of those acts where I don't think I have to understand every word of every song; you just get a vibe, you get a feeling.

And you might listen to it years later and go 'Bloody hell'

-There's a lot of lyricists who say they don't understand their lyrics until years later. I don't know if that's happened to you?

What tends to happen is that Rick re-presents them to me. He chops stuff out, moves them around, he preserves the essence of something and then hones it down. That shocks me sometimes, I'll do something that's got 200 words and he'll cut it down to 20. And after I've listened to the album for a year I'll think 'That really says it an awful lot better and he's bringing out that underlying thing I was trying to say, or that I was thinking at the time, but I wasn't even thinking about how I could put it into words.'

-So Rick's your editor?

Yeah. He's a fantastic editor.

-Do you work as Rick's editor as well?

No. I more kind of watch his moods. I pull off to the side and watch him. After 22 years I've got a very strong sense of 'You shouldn’t go there Rick.' For example, after the DVD, I said 'I won't let you do that again, You'll have to fight to do another DVD.'

-Because?

Because it was such a strain on him. He's a perfectionist and when you've got something where people are telling you 'it's all possible'…it was such a really complex project. In my understanding the amount of complexity had never been done before. It wasn't like we were multi millionaires and we could pull in all these resources, and yet he managed to pull in all the resources. He'd call up All these manufacturers and say, 'Look your product's great but it actually doesn't do what you said it would do' and they'd say 'That's because it does it to the degree that most people want it; you're asking it to do more,' and he'd say 'No, I'm asking it to do what you said it would do. And it won't do it. Come and listen.' And eventually he convinced people. He got something like six months into that project and had to start again. I remember him phoning me up and saying 'It's all fucked. We've listened to it and then we mono'ed it and we found a fault in the desk and it's not something they would normally pick up on a normal album, it's just it's to this degree.' It nearly killed him. We had to finance it ourselves in the beginning because nobody believed in it. And then, consequently, it went on to be the fastest selling thing we've done and the quickest thing to go into profit - and started picking up awards. And then after that it was vindicated and he could smile!

-I've only seen the barest of interviews about the new album, but what I read was that it was a very relaxed atmosphere. Did you work with what you already had?

No! Smith never does that! Jesus. He'll do something fundamental like . . . this time, he changed the desk. He went from a Solid State desk to a Valve desk. And then he changed the monitoring. We work in a very funky environment so that's got its own problems, all these fundamental things changed, and we're 3/4 of the way through the album, and he's wondering why, when he A-Bs things they sound like they do. And I say 'I can't put this into technical terms, but you changed your favorite instruments. You changed your speaker and your desk and they sound fantastic, but they're going to take a while to get adjusted to. Don't kill yourself, this is to be expected.' He'll do it fro the next one. For the next one, we're moving buildings…!

-You find plenty to occupy yourself while he's doing the minutia? I know you're very heavily involved, but I always get the feeling that Rick doesn't need to see daylight.

He loves to see daylight, but he's very conscientious, and there's an awful lot of work that needs to be done to produce something that is the way all our albums are. He'll come back in at night whereas I'll do 9-6 and then my brain needs changing. But he'll come back in at 10 o'clock and work through till 3 in the morning.

-Looking at the bio, it says that this is your 'first time' as a duo. I guess then that you went straight from the old Underworld – the one that was on Sire – to bringing Darren in. There was never a time where you recorded as a duo prior to bringing him in?

There certainly was a point where we cut loose, after that Eurythmics tour where Sire dropped us. I stayed out in California and worked on (former Berlin singer) Terri Nunn's album (Moment Of Truth), and Rick came back to England. There was never a sense that the band was over, but there was a sense of 'let's see what happens.' For Rick at that point, that as enough, I think he'd had the idea all along that groove was what he was into, this was what he wanted to do, so he was going to come back to the UK and do that. And to do that, he needed to work with somebody who understood the dance scene. So he came back and started asking around for Darren.

UNDERWORLD INTERVIEW PAGE 1 2 3 4

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