Underground Lovers are Australia’s answer to the likes of Joy Division, New Order and the Cure, bridging the gap between traditional drums and guitar rock, and electronic beats and atmospheric melodies. And while Wikipedia describes their commercial success as “minimal at best”, it seems almost irrelevant to bring that up at all, as the band made an enormous impact on Australia’s alternative scene in 1900s and remain one of the country’s most influential and celebrated alternative acts.
The band formed in 1990, released nine albums over a career spanning over 12 years and received a 1992 ARIA award for Best New Talent. After a seven year break the original line up reformed to play exclusive performances this December and is even re-releasing some of their best known albums digitally.
Daniel Clarke caught up with Glenn Bennie as the bands prepares for the return of the Underground Lovers.
Music Feeds: Now, listening to the Underground Lovers, I get the feeling that it’s really kind of a bridge between the 80s era, kind of the New Order, The Cure, Joy Division, electronic influenced music, I suppose you can call it, and the new generation of electronic, indie music that’s coming out today, do you think that would be fair to say, kind of the bridge between to those two?
Glenn Bennie: Well, both Vince and I, who started the band, our teenage years were through the 80s, and that’s where the influence of all of those bands you mentioned, and you know, the local bands at the time we’d spend a lot of time going to see them, and I guess our writing and our music was based upon that, but as we moved through the 90s and worked with particular people, there were different influences that came in, depending on who we worked with at the time.
The last album we did, Cold Feeling, we worked with one of the guys from Sonic Animation, and I’m not sure what they’re doing nowadays, but at the time, they were big on the dance thing and did all the Big Days Out and whatever, so just bringing that more modern technology and working in the studio, we started to work with on the last couple of albums. But at heart we loved that 80s stuff, we loved using drum machines and sequences as they did with early New Order and bands like OMD and all that sort of stuff that we loved, and I guess that just sort of filtered through our sound throughout the years.
MF: I really have a feeling that with this new generation they are reverting to that same aesthetic – like you said, drum machines and electronic influence, do you think Underground Lovers helped influence the sound of this new generation, or do you think that would be too grand of a statement to make?
GB: Probably. But I know from day one we were sort of incorporating a mixture of real drums and electronic sort of sounds, and you know, there were a lot of bands who loved our organic sort of stuff, and if we’re not that taken by them we’d use electronic stuff but for us it was always important to blend the two. And at the time, I can’t recall that many local bands using that combination.
MF: Exactly. That’s what got me about it.
GB: I don’t sort of get out to too much music nowadays, but from the things we see on the TV, that’s like the key to stuff now, and I think people are so much better at that now than we were. We were just really experimenting, and trying things out as they came, but people have all the equipment now and we were doing it on no budget and trying to work out how to use samplers and that sort of stuff, but nowadays, that’s what bands sort of start with and they grow from there. I think they’ve realised that, if you look at a lot of, who was I watching? Pnau, or someone like that, I think they’ve realised the importance of live drums as well for a live audience. Because I think all of their recorded stuff would be technology based, and the live aspect of having live drums is really important, I think.
MF: That brings up an interesting point too; you were saying you guys wanted to be able to explore these kind of sounds yourself, and you did dabble with the majors in the early 90s, do you think if the Underground Lovers were to be an up-and-coming band these days things would have been different? Do you think the sound would still be the same, or the access to cheap instruments and recording equipment these days would have influenced the way you guys have gone?
GB: I think you’re right in talking about the instruments that are available and technology that’s available certainly would have helped us at the time, and what was the rest of your question, sorry? (laughs)
MF: Do you think it would have influenced the way you guys developed, do you think you might have, I don’t know, I get the feeling, there’s a lot more opportunity these days, do you think the Underground Lovers would have panned out differently?
GB: I think we were never restricted recording wise; we just did whatever it took to put whatever ideas we had and if that meant the songs had drum machines, had electronics, or even a string section, or we had to bring in other musicians or whatever, we always had that granger scheme of recording, I think we would have been helped today with the technology we would have been able to replicate that live a little bit more, that’s the only thing, I think. We sort of fondled through it a bit, in a live sense, some things worked, some things didn’t, and some things we just didn’t play at all, and I think we’d all be opened to it now. And we found that coming back now, that Phillippa’s got some new equipment and it would be an easier thing to do now than what it was when we first started.
MF: How is it to get back with the band after so long? Particularly, being the original line up, cause I imagine you guys haven’t played together for a while, except on your solo project, where you worked with a bunch of the members.
GB: That was kind of in a minor way, just in terms of getting people to play different parts, but most of us have kept in touch anyways, and so it was really a matter of just making the decision whether we wanted to go down that track again and meet up to play. Once we were off with something exciting to do, something like Homebake, and we felt wanted and loved, it was an easy decision, and after ten minutes all together, we remembered how to play everything, it all came easily, which was a real surprise.
No one’s really had to struggle to remember things and I don’t think we’ve lost any feel or intensity even though we’re a lot older now. We did a warm up gig the other week and it was still as wild as it used to be. I guess it’s just what perception people outside of the band are going to have about the stage that we’re at and what their expectations are of it, but for us it sounds as good as it ever did.
MF: On the age thing, you were saying you don’t listen to a lot of new music these days, why is that? Did that just come with age, or did you just get sick of following pop music, or did you find the albums and the songs that you love so there’s not much left to look for?
GB: I think, as a group, we’re always a bit cynical about the state of the music industry, and we had the bands that we loved as teenagers, and we held them close and wanted to emulate their sounds and anything else paled into insignificance. But over a long period of time there have been things that have influenced us in different ways. There are still bands going that we played with, bands like Gaslight Radio, that we always loved, and Empire of the Sun, we’ve talked about how great some of their stuff is. SO we’ve got things that we’re interested in, but gone are the days where we go out and buy lots and lots of records, cause other things have taken over our lives.
MF: Well, what are those things? What are you doing when you’re not recording a GB3s album and touring with the Underground Lovers?
BG: Well everyone’s got their own stuff that they do, Vince is still very involved in the film world, his life took quite a different turn, he made a feature film a couple of years back and he still works in the film industry and in development projects, that sort of thing. Maurice works in the TV industry, he’s involved in animation and Phillippa’s building her own studio and in Dandenong, up in the mountains here, and she’s still dabbling with her own projects. Richard, our drummer, ever since he left the band for the first time, he’s run his own record label, Pharmacy Records, and I think his latest thing is Princess One Point Five that he’s worked on, so out of all of us he’s probably the one that’s remained the most involved in music. And I make ends meet, put in for grants and try and do as much music as possible.
MF: So obviously we can expect quite a show when you guys are back together on stage, are there plans to do any more, have you considered possible pr recordings or a bigger tour?
BG: We’re only doing Melbourne and Sydney but there are other places we’d like to go to, but it’s kind of like, we’ll just wait and see how these shows go and what response we get. I think everyone’s really positive about playing again, and it’s a matter or seeing where this goes and whether we want to do more. So we’re not pushing it, we’re really trying to just enjoy it. And I guess we can assess it at the end of the year and see if we wanna take the shows somewhere else or if we want to work on some new stuff. We haven’t gotten that far yet, we’ve done very few rehearsals, because we found that we came together quite quickly and for the other thing, we wanted to keep it fresh and not get into the boredom of rehearsing and it seems to have worked alright. Who know, it might all fall apart when we get on stage (laughs) but at the moment it’s all going OK. Our plans are sort of unknown at the moment, as I said everyone’s busy with their own thing and enjoying doing that, but at the same time we’ve really enjoyed coming back together and doing what we do.
MF: Cool, that’s good to hear. I must ask as well, is there any word about a possible re-release of the first three Underground Lovers albums cause I was reading that everything else is pretty much coming out but the first three.
GB: It’s mainly the second and the third one, which are Leaves Me Blind and Dream It Down, they were both on Polydor at the time, which is Universal, and they still own all of the rights and it’s a matter of negotiating that so to get that all done before the shows, we weren’t able to make it happen, we’ve got someone trying to do that for us, though. In the meantime we’ve got the Rubber records released digitally, which is available from the 21st of November, I think, that’s all happening soon, actually some of it may be available on iTunes now. But as for the other stuff, hopefully sometime next year, might be something like that that will give us another reason to go out and play.
MF: It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it, you tried to get away from Polydor in 1995 and they’re still on your back in 2009.
GB: Yeah, well, it’s the whole money thing, they don’t part with things easily and they wanna get their cut, but at the same time they’re not gonna see any more money till they do something with the records. It’s a bit frustrating, but we’ll see what happens.
The Undeground Lovers play their last announced show for the year on Saturday. See details below.
Saturday 19th December
East Brunswick Club Melbourne VIC
With: Special Guests
http://www.eastbrunswickclub.com/bookings.php?gigid=13 or The East Box Office (03) 9388 9794