the ijamming! interview:
talks with TONY FLETCHER page 3

-I've always felt that you could not be where you are now if Rick had not asked around and found someone like Darren.

Yeah. (Pause.) But that's down to Rick, down to him as a producer - and a visionary, if you like. I don't know how he does it. I don't think like he does. He's someone who's pushing all the time, and it can be a pain in the arse, but it always pays dividends. So today after 22 years I'm looking for him to be a pain in the arse, and if he's not. . . There's been a couple of periods in our history where he's apparently accepted what's going on, and I've taken him to one side and said, 'Look I'm a bit worried, because you're not agitating.' And he's said 'well that's because I'm kind of happy' And I've said 'this is not going to work for us, I'm quite serious, It doesn't work like that. You agitate, you say 'I'm bored', you start turning things upside down. Otherwise we start stagnating.'

-So in that sense, Darren deciding to move on is healthy?

Oh yeah. That would have happened anyway. What I'm saying is if Darren had stayed, we'd arrived at the point with the DVD where we'd got this brilliant opportunity to not be Underworld like that if we didn't want to. It was one of those Miles Davis moments of reinvention – I've read both him and Picasso saying, The artist has to reinvent themselves otherwise they become irrelevant, they become just a little history lesson. So really to maintain any vitality at all, you have to be unafraid to destroy your past, walk away from it. And Miles did it so many times, upset his fans. But because of that he did what he did.

Photo by Simon Fowler (who also took cover pics for Jamming!)
When we were five: 1989 Underworld. (Smith second from left, Hyde with guitar.)
Then we were three: Emerson, Hyde, Smith 'begging for it' in the 90s
Two for 2002: Karl Hyde and Rick Smith as they are today

-All the best bands have done that, whether it's the Beatles, R.E.M., the Who in their early years. So I see what you're getting at there. . .There's some ambient stretches on the record that are very different.

Rick and I have been doing some installations for several years now, and he's really into sound installation. And in the first few months of making this record, we'd had three years of touring basically the same music, which was banging, up for late at night. We started saying 'let's not think about underworld, let’s not think about live' and I know when we tried to write for banging, it just wasn't coming. What was coming naturally was very chilled, beatless stuff. And even though Rick has written nearly all the grooves on all the albums, the spirit just didn't want to go there for a bit, it wanted a break. And I was refusing to sing. I was like sick of the sound of my voice. Rick suggested that I go off and get some singing lessons, see where my voice was at. He turned me on to this amazing woman in London, and the pair of us just started thoroughly enjoying things. Rick was encouraging me to play the blues, which is what I like doing, buy more guitars and get into that. [Check 'Ess Gee,' presumably named after the SG guitar, on the new album for results.] And I was encouraging him to do art. And then, I think really because we understood that we didn't have to be Underworld any more, it started to come again. Rick started grooving again, and I started reluctantly – at first - singing again.

-So that's how you came by the tracks 'Two Months Off' and 'Dinosaur 3D' - they represent the Underworld we know and love. 'Two Months Off' I think is proving really catchy.

I'm really pleased with it. We got a message from Sasha the other day saying he's dropping it at 4 in the morning in Ibiza and it's raising the roof. Tongy's saying it's the first time in 20 years he's had to stop a record during a gig and tell people what it is and then start it and rewind it again. [Which is odd, given how obviously it sounds like Underworld.'] You start saying these things like 'we're going to cut loose and whatever happens happens.' We both knew that if in six months time after starting the record there were no grooves on it, that would be extremely different and we would have to take the consequences of that. But then when you hear there's a tune that's going off in Ibiza you go "that's great" because that's really important to us, but at the same time it’s really important to us that we’re making some obscure movies on the internet.

-I've seen your summer schedule and it looks like you're doing the Cream tour of Europe.

Yeah. I don't know how that happened.

-For a band that's trying to reinvent itself and get away from its past, you're playing some pretty banging parties. So is it still going to be the intensive?

Yeah. Rick always says we'd be suicidal if we chose to go ambient at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night. We're not going to do that. So there are tracks on this album like there are on all the albums that we won't do live. We have talked for a few years about doing a theater show, like the South Bank in London, and do all the non-banging tunes. As near to unplugged as we could get, I imagine.

-Every time I've seen you it always seems incredibly improvised. It is, right?

Yeah. There's no tapes. We run two G4s. We've got this enormous new desk now that you can program snap shots, so we can work out lots of possible dubs. We learned a lot from watching DJs. And Miles. And putting the two together. It's great when DJs can just go with the flow, and we were always in bands that rehearsed to do the same set every night – and I just can't do that any more. You take someone like Miles, who was breaking stuff down and taking a theme for a walk. Something like that can fall to bits and go terribly wrong. But what's exciting is watching an artist pull it back, that starts to become filled with energy. Rather than seeing them trot out something that's very professional. We thought that if we could have a band that's based on disaster and that spontaneity that the DJ can bring in, but with live musicians playing live and digging deep, that could be worth doing. So there aren't any set lists. I'm rehearsing in my hotel room. Rick's rehearsing in England. I think we'll come together for a couple of days and then just go off on tour!

-The first time I saw you was back in England, at Brixton Academy. Darren Price was DJing in-between. And I think you came on at midnight, played two hours, then Darren Price came back on. And then you came back on for another hour and a half. I think I got out at 4.30 in the morning. It was like Led Zeppelin or something!

I remember that tour. The Chemical Brothers came on in the middle of a couple of those shows that we did up in Leeds.

-That blew my mind. Even though I'd toured with Orbital and felt that music was changing, it really had an effect on me. I felt like, 'Wow, there's a whole different way of doing a live show that can take you a different place.'

That was an extraordinary tour for us. It was something we’d wanted to do for ages, to start playing as the doors open. All that thing from being a kid: 'Don't turn up to see the support band.' Well, we are the support band – and we're the headline band. And if anyone else is playing, they're in the middle. So you won't miss them because you've got to get here to see us do the tunes in the first part of the show. When we did that thing at Glastonbury with the Experimental Sound Field, playing for 18 hours, that was …totally blew us away. And that's still our blueprint. We want to go back to doing that one day, just to play the whole day the while night, walking on walking off, playing other people's tunes, having other people cut in between us.

-You see, what I love about Underworld is this idea that there are no rules. . .

Just don't get bored!

Karl Hyde on how not to be a pop star:

"We're not swayed. Somebody will say, If you do this, you'll get on telly. And we say 'That's really not a given – and I don't like the odds. I'd much rather do something that I believe in, and if you like it, that's fantastic, and if you don't like it, I can live with that.'"

Karl Hyde at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, July 16 2002

Photo © Tony Fletcher

-. . .But as the years go on, does it get harder to keep things interesting? The classic pattern of albums-singles-videos-tours- is something you've worked around for so long with things like Tomato and the way you've done the live shows. But are you still finding that interesting in terms of not being sucked into how the industry expects a band to present itself.

Well we've grown up with a really cool group of people like Geoff Jukes, who comes from a background of putting things on at the Roundhouse in the sixties, with poets and painters and musicians. And Steve at JBO comes from his own idiosyncratic, single minded, putting parties on background. I think we've gathered a group of misfits around us who won't let us get into the norm. Because some of them have tried it and don't really like it that much, and they're up for a laugh. Not in a trite way: it's having a laugh serious business. If you want a laugh, you have to really work at it.

We’re really grateful for the 80s because we tried all that, failed miserably at being pop stars, and doing it the industry way. And when we came to do this part of the group Rick and I consciously made the effort to not have this as our career. Fortunately Tomato afforded us the opportunity to make money doing music for beautiful commercials that we believed in. So there was no pressure on us. When record companies said things to us like, Get a drummer, or You can't do this music without a singer, we just thought, Well we're not the right people to be working together with you, and we'll just keep doing our thing. And the dancefloor enabled us to do our own market research. At one time marketing people were telling us "this is what the kids want, this is what the charts need, this is what TV needs," which was such a headfuck. And then . . .actually, again people were telling us 'This is right, This is wrong.' And we would say 'Well Darren played this at the Soundshaft last night and the dancefloor was rammed. So we're thinking different things. You're not wrong, but there's a group of people we associate with here that we get off on.' And that's remained the same ever since. We play the tracks to people as we're making them, people we trust, get feedback off them. Rick assimilates that. And you just try to stay outside all the time. You are always offered the Queen's shilling – always. But we went through that with 'Born Slippy' when we were offered millions to lie down and take it.

-Were you unhappy at that point?

No, not at all. We looked at our bank balance and how things were going, and just went, This is great. The records were all selling better than the one before. That one went incredibly well. So we said, 'That's nice,' but it's not going to change anything. Because we don't know how to write another 'Born Slippy.'

-And you're old enough and wise enough that the sudden stardom …

We're not fooled into thinking that that's anything more than a transient moment for us. And it was good for the people who do business for us. Because they could walk in with more clout, and there's no doubt that since then our clout has continued to rise, but that gave us a real boost. For the people who were around us doing business, it was a great thing. For us, it got us across to a lot more people and some of them stayed. Some of them weren't just singles buyers. They discovered us through that. There was never any sense after that of doing it any other way.

Rick will often say to me, 'What do you want to do? What do you fancy doing? What will make you happy?' And particularly on this record, that's come through a lot. The two of us, saying after 22 years, looking at each other going 'Are you alright? are you ok? Because if not we should talk about it. There shouldn't be anything you're unhappy about - and if you are, we can deal with it.' The rows now are just like two grumpy old men. 'You got out the wrong side of the bed today did you Karl? Fair enough, make us a cup of tea and shut up will you, and we'll talk about it later when you've calmed down.' I know today that my problems are me, they're not anybody else. And we both pretty much feel the same way.

-Again that's the maturity coming through, rather than being a young aggressive group.

I think so. And we're not swayed. Somebody will say, If you do this, you'll get on telly. And we say 'That's really not a given – and I don't like the odds. I'd much rather do something that I believe in, and if you like it, that's fantastic, and if you don't like it, I can live with that.' Because Rick and I have experienced the other side of it where we've done the things we were required to do to apparently guarantee certain things happening, and it hasn't got the results - and we've thought, 'well we really let the side down here.'

-And what you've got from all that is longevity. I watched Vanilla Sky on an airplane, and 'Rez,' which is not on the soundtrack - because I already had the soundtrack – is in the nightclub scene. It sounds amazing there. The few times I DJ out I can still play 'Rez' and it will raise the roof. It's ten years old now!

I know. It still does. When Rick wrote that and played it to me I said 'That's fantastic, I don't want to sing.' We discussed it, I did sing and it became 'Cowgirl.' But I was just blown away. And I felt exactly the same when he played 'Two Months Off.' I just went 'there's something special' - and he's winging and moaning, going 'the kick drum's not right, the hi hat is off.' I'm going 'for Christ's sake, there's something gong on here.' But the thing about Vanilla Sky, I got a tape of it and I'm watching it with the wife. What blew me away was at the end, 'Doot Doot' came on: Tom Cruise is in the elevator going up to the roof.

-That's 'Doot Doot'?

Yeah. I was in tears. I was like, Please end the film with 'Doot Doot,' With the big drums and the orchestra…I thought this is going to be the best way to end this film. He (Cameron Crowe) didn't. But it blew me away. Because I still think that of the 80s, that was the best tune we wrote .

-So why aren’t they on the soundtrack?

'Rez' couldn't be edited down. They were like, 'Can you edit it down?' and Rick said, 'No.' They said, 'Well it won't get on the soundtrack.' 'That's okay.' 'Yes, but think of the sales.' 'Yes, but think how shit it will sound!'


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