After being bumped into the poison chalice of the nu-rave category, The Sunshine Underground dissolved with the eroding Alka-Seltzer of a flash-pan genre, and all its fluorescent smiley faces.
On a bold contrary, the Shrewsbury four were actually saturated in promise, following slots at Glastonbury and a headline role at the T In The Park Future Tent. Their 2006 LP, ‘Raise The Alarm’, deserved much more critical acclaim than the initial feedback suggested, with singles like 'Put You In Your Place' and 'Borders' sounding more Rapture than remotely rave. Later release 'I Ain't Losing Any Sleep' even managed to jump ship to appear on an episode of The O.C..
Over two years later, relative obscurity has only been broken for an unlikely tour with The Happy Mondays and a few single track leaks, most notably the speeding funk of 'What You Like'. So after whispering rumours of a return to the studio, Clash decided to track down the elusive Leeds quartet, and pry for solid information...
(Answers from Craig Wellington.)
Let’s get straight to a gritty question. The nu-rave label: help or hindrance?
Anyone who saw us live never thought that. Obviously we like a foundation of energetic beats to our music. So I can see where people are coming from. I mean, at the time we were grateful because it got a lot of people interested. But as always with trendy genres like that, people are going to change their minds and it’s going to be come 'uncool' as such. You know, I think the worst thing we could of done is to try and adhere to that label and create 'nu-rave' music. We have steered clear of that. We're not trying to be the KLF.
Very true. Are we hearing correctly that you’re back in the studio?
Yeah, we are finally doing our second album. We've been here all month, at a studio near Leeds.
Where on earth have you been for the past two years?
Good point. We've been taking our time in writing the album. We planned for November, but by then we were too late to book the studios we wanted, and had to wait until now. It will be worth it, I think. We didn't want to rush the album. But two years is a long time. Feels like starting over again in a way – we’re playing loads of little gigs. I figured not a lot of bands get the chance to make a second record, so if you do, you gotta nail it.
With labels dropping bands left right and centre, is there a lot of pressure to perfect your second?
Yeah, I think so, there was. But our label were very cool about things. They gave us a lot of time to write. There’s definitely some pressure lurking, though. If you’re forced into the recording studio by a record company wanting a single, you get into the mindset of trying to write a single. Whereas I think most of our best stuff was never even intended to be singles.
A quick look back to ‘Raise The Alarm’ – it received a lot of critical acclaim but many thought it just wasn't put out there enough. People just didn't get encouraged to go buy it?
Yeah. We were independent right at the start, though. Then we swapped labels halfway through releases. And by the time the press caught up with us, we had already released everything. Twice. It was a slow burner for sure. And by the time we were doing our bigger tours we were already on single five of the album. We gambled on releasing early and it didn't pull off as well as we thought. You learn from your mistakes.
What can we expect from the new album, then?
We want to amplify what we already have. ‘Raise The Alarm’ never sounded exactly how we wanted it to. But I think you learn things as you go when you're making your first record, whereas now we are determined to get it exactly right. We have always been much better live then we ever were on record, but we're changing that now I think.
Any strange happenings in the studio?
We put a tent around our drummer Matt while he was recording – to get that big stadium rock bellow, instead of the studio sound. We have tried all sorts of weird little experiments. The album is very expressive and dark, and a lot heavier. We were really influenced by Queens Of The Stone Age with our guitars, and we are trying to mix all that with the other side of what we do as well, which is the earlier sort of dance connection. All our beats are now a lot heavier though, they sound like a step-on. Its what we dreamt of doing last time, really. We're not afraid of mixing it up on the writing side any more. This record aims to be the complete album.
Can we squeeze the album title from you? Or are you playing your cards close?
There is no name just now, actually. I'd love to say there was, but it’s always something we come up with last. Even with the songs themselves. There is still a song now called 'New Song'.
Numerous tracks have begun to appear on your MySpace – are these album previews or just plain demos?
No, none of those will be on the album. That’s why they are there. They took so long to write and they are important to us, but they just slightly didn’t suit the whole tone of the record. They are possible b-sides once we record them properly. We wrote almost 40 songs for this new record and we didn't want to just waste our material, but we also didn't want to plague people with LPs and stuff. So we just thought we would simply put them out there. At least people can hear them that way.
And what about a release date for the album?
We are hoping to get it out around May. We are going to try and put quite a bit of stuff out before the record is released. We are hoping to work with a producer down in London to knock up a one-off song for free for everyone before we get stuck into the new singles, to try and build up a little interest in us. You can't just come out and release a record these days. We have to do a bit of groundwork.
So are these initial non-single releases going to be download only, or something to that effect?
Yeah. Well, that’s what we were wanting to do. Just give them away for free to give people a taste of the sound of the new album. It's just an idea at the moment.
So what tracks have you guys been banging out in between recording?
Well, we all have such completely different tastes actually. It’s quite weird. All four of us write together but we don't necessarily listen to the same stuff. In fact, the other night, we were all listening to some oldies. We got really pissed and put on a compilation, but we often end up sticking ‘Sledgehammer’ by Peter Gabriel on repeat. It’s a guilty pleasure.
Any favourites from 2008?
I can't think. Oh, I loved that Neon Neon album. I like the stuff everyone likes really, as that’s for a reason. The MGMT album, for instance. And I just jumped on the Fleet Foxes bandwagon recently too. I love a lot of pop music. I'm really into Kanye West's new album. With the vocoder, obviously he can't sing very well, but it’s quite cool that he did all that. It gives it a unique sound. And ‘Love Lockdown’ is an absolute tune!
So with a summer release, I imagine you’re going to be hitting the festival season hard?
Well hopefully, yes. We're trying to sort out the live side of everything now. There is nothing actually booked yet, but the plan is to tour a lot, even before the festival season. We missed it last year, which kinda upset us. But it gave us valuable time to write.
Any preferences on the festival front?
I have a special attachment with Leeds, of course. It’s Leeds, and I have been there ten years running. However, Glastonbury is just brilliant. I really love Bestival, too; that’s one of my favourites for sure. Personally, I will play any of them... All of them!
You have previously supported LCD Soundsystem and The Happy Mondays. Fun?
The Happy Mondays aren't as hardcore as they used to be. They used to give us their booze, actually. But, I mean there are only three of the original members; the other guys were session players. They were still cool though. But they would just knock on our dressing room door and hand us their crates of Stella. Thank you very much. There were a lot of people lying stoned in the corner, but not as hardcore as I had prepared myself for.
The Sunshine Underground (MySpace) tour in May, dates as follows:
2 Brighton Digital
3 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
4 Gloucester Guildhall
5 Oxford Academy
7 Stoke Sugarmill
8 York Duchess
9 Barrow Canteen
10 Dundee Dexters
12 Dunfirmline Velocity
13 Glasgow King Tuts
14 Carlisle Brickyard
15 Hull University
16 Manchester Moho Live
18 Preston 53 Degrees
19 Wolverhampton Civic Hall Bar
20 Bristol Cooler
21 London Scala
23 Leeds Metropolitan University
Buy tickets for The Sunshine Underground HERE.