Consistent output from The Underground Youth is as dependent as the break of dawn. In terms of modern day U.K. artists, the only other that springs to mind with an equal hunger for producing new music is Hey Colossus.
Having to cancel their first tour of North America midway through due to COVID-19, instead of retreating into a corner and nursing their wounds, The Underground Youth, as always it seems, pressed on, recording what would be their tenth album, The Falling.
Led by Craig Dyer, the Manchester-born Berlin-based collective have been going strong since their debut album, 2009’s Morally Barren, and while they are deep into their body-of-work which has always leaned towards a rich post-punk aesthetic, The Falling is a welcome departure for the four-piece.
Incorporating elements of folk into their dark burgeoning framework of sound, The Falling is like a soundtrack to Dashiell Hammett novel. That searing noir-ish landscape that’s enveloped in mystery.
Strings play a vital roll on The Falling and the songs are better for it. To the point where The Falling will be seen as a vital thread woven into the band’s patchwork in years to come.
We asked Dyer some questions in the lead-up to the release of The Falling.
Sun 13: The band was in the middle of your first North American tour when the pandemic hit. That must have been a strange moment for the band?
Craig Dyer: “Honestly, it was a nightmare. Aside from the obvious disappointment and heartbreak at having to abandon a tour we’d only just begun, we were also dropped into heavy financial loss. Then like everyone we found ourselves in this uncertain lockdown situation. It took some time to get over. But it could have been worse, so we won’t dwell on it.”
S13: Tell us about the inspiration behind The Falling?
CD: “The majority of the songs were written back in 2019, unlike the previous record, Montage Images Of Lust & Fear, which was written by the band together in the studio, this was a more personal set of songs I wrote on my own. Then Leo [Kaage] and I started on the development of the album, bringing in this new sound direction, string arrangements, different instrumentation. It grew out of what we started working on prior to the North American tour and was finished during the isolation of lockdown. A few of them took on a slightly different sound during lockdown, but primarily they existed before that came into play.”
S13: Sound wise, it’s probably the biggest departure that you have released so far. Did the songs tend to shape themselves that way, or was it an intentional decision to move in this direction?
CD: “I had the idea to create this more orchestral sound to the record, I felt it would suit the nature of the songs that I’d written, but it wasn’t until Leo and I sat down to discuss how that would work that it made sense in my head. Then the direction sort of set out and developed itself into what we have here as the finished album.”
S13: Violin plays a vital role in the album. You waste no time in letting the listen know from the get go with the title track. Did you envisage strings being so potent on the album?
CD: “Absolutely, we decided early on that if we were going to have these string arrangements and a focus on violin then we wouldn’t hold back, it was going to be at the forefront of the album sound. Our violinist, Astrid Porzig, also added to that, not just playing over Leo’s string arrangements but feeling free to play whatever came out in the recording session.”
S13: Egyptian Queen is a song that jumped out at me. It almost has a cinematic feel to it. Can you tell us a bit about this one?
CD: “This is definitely one of the songs that the violin sits at the forefront of. It’s a dreamlike love story that even from the earliest acoustic demos had this slow strong build. We didn’t hold back from capturing that in the full sound of the finished track.”
S13: While it’s the single, I would say A Sorrowful Race underpins the album, both lyrically and sonically. Do you see it as one of the key songs from the album?
CD: “Very much so, for me it was the key to unlocking how the album would sound as a whole and it sort of incorporated the mood I had envisioned from the early demos, both in lyrical content and with the instrumentation. Whilst it doesn’t really feel like a ‘single’ to me, it does encompass the overall feel of the album.”
S13: For You Are the One I think mixes the elements of both past and present. While you have a cult following did you ever think by producing something so different from your previous releases that it may leave a certain section of your listenership feeling slightly alienated?
CD: “Well that’s an issue an artist always has to broach if they don’t wish to stagnate and dish out the same thing time and time again for fear of losing their ‘fanbase’. I’m confident that the fans of the music I’ve been creating all these years have a similar taste to me, and I like what I create, so hopefully they will too. If not, the old material still exists and who knows what we’ll end up creating in the future.”
S13: How much do you see Berlin as an influence to the music The Underground Youth creates?
CD: “An artist is undoubtedly influenced by their surroundings, that would be the case in whatever city I would choose to work and live. I think sometimes people tend to romanticise that fact more when the city has a revered musical history, when we lived in Manchester I’d find myself being asked the same question. I’d be interested to know if anyone would ask that question if I still worked and lived in my hometown of Blackpool.”
S13: There are only a handful of bands that formed back in the ’00s who have released as much music as The Underground Youth. Is there a secret to such a consistent output?
CD: “I wouldn’t see it as a secret as such, but I do think it’s a product of surrounding myself with inspiring people, both within and outside of the band. If you enjoy creating art and you have the ideal setting in which to do so, it’s hard not to be so prolific. I work when I’m inspired to and fortunately I find that to be a consistent state for me. I would never force it.”
S13: Talking about the early ’00s, you’re a band that has seen the culture shift from physical to steaming platforms. What are your thoughts on how people consume their music these days?
CD: “I think there are healthy and beneficial aspects whilst there is also a lot of room for improvement. The reach provided to artists, especially new acts, is a positive element. The ability to discover music is truly at the listeners fingertips and it’s never been easier. But we should also see the money across these platforms being evenly and fairly distributed to the artists. That should be clear for anyone to see.”
S13: With touring looking more and more likely each day, are there any plans to get over to the UK before the end of the year?
CD: “Yes! We have a European tour booked for later in the year and with any luck this one will actually go ahead.”
The Falling is out now via Fuzz Club Records. Purchase here.