Andrew Field of APF Records: In January 2017 I decided to finally launch the record label I’d been planning for some time. Conversations were had with bands who might be interested, but I never thought to approach Under. I assumed they would be tied up with someone else. Somehow the stars became aligned and I found myself in discussions with them about becoming my first signing. Those discussions turned into blatant begging from me after the band gave me their newly recorded album “Slick” to listen to in February of that year. “We suppose you ought to hear what you might be releasing” they said. After the first listen all I could think was “Oh. My. God. I want you”. Slick became the first release on APF Records – catalogue number APF001.
I had admired the Stockport trio since first seeing them blow a tiny venue to smithereens in Fallowfield in 2015. Like all the best power trios they created a sound that was more than the sum of their parts. The combination of incredible technical ability, their desire to push the boundaries of heavy music further into left field, and the immense noise they made when they settled on a big riff immediately piqued my interest. Its rare to come across a band who sound like no one else, but in Under I had found one. Their debut self-released EP “First Attempt” captured some of their magic, and served as a reference point for their stunning live shows – because it was on a stage that Under really shone.
The last few years have been incredible for underground heavy music in the UK, but a handful of albums have stood out and set the bar for those following in their footsteps. I’m talking about the likes of Boss Keloid’s “Melted On The Inch” or Elephant Tree’s self-titled LP. Under’s forthcoming album “Stop Being Naive” (Out on 26th October) is one of those kinda records. It’s something very special.
At the core of Under’s sound is the singing of all three members. Lead vocal lines are sometimes clean, sometimes growled, sometimes shouted, culminating in points in songs where they come together in the most sublime three-part harmonies. The nine songs on ‘Stop Being Naive’ (ten on the vinyl version) are all progressive, in the best and truest sense of the word: containing odd, angular rhythms and time changes with melodies going off at tangents unexpectedly. Moments of noisy dissonance are followed by sections of unparalleled musical beauty.
Ahead of the album’s release I spoke to the lads about the new record and much more…….
APF: Before Under there was Halfling’s Leaf. For those who weren’t around at the time can you tell us how you three first met, what the score was with Halfling’s Leaf, and how Under was then born?
Andy Preece – Drums and Vocals: “It goes back even further than Halfling’s Leaf as a matter of fact. Before HL we were a very, very stylistically confused progressive death metal band called Flesh. I turned up to watch a practice as my mate was playing bass and I’d heard they were cool dudes (I later learned I’d been lied to). Anyway their drummer didn’t show up to practice so I told them I could blast at 450,000bpm and the rest is history. Halfling’s Leaf later emerged, a sort of wacky tech band which was all about showing off, and after that band went defunct we decided to do something with a bit of taste and vision. We actually originally wanted to do hardcore punk a la Dead Kennedys but it quickly and organically became something very different…
APF: When you look back on First Attempt and Slick, what are your feelings towards them? Your live set has featured very little from either release over the last 12 months – does that tell us anything about your view of them?
Simon Mayo – Guitar and Vocals: As the engineer for both ‘Slick’ and ‘First Attempt’, I have very mixed feelings towards them. Particularly to do with the production style and the approach i took towards them as an engineer and what I would do differently. Only recently have I been able to fully appreciate both releases.
Spending hundreds of hours listening to the same tracks, going over the same sections sometimes seconds at a time, is enough to drive anyone insane. Once they were finished I was exhilarated to be done with them. I couldn’t really appreciate them for their artistic merit and I had to rely on other people to tell me it was good to feel any sort of gratification. Now I think they sound amazing and I have a newfound appreciation for what we achieved with those releases.
In terms of playing very little from either release, we have a hard time sticking to anything for too long a time. Before ‘Slick’ was released we already had another album’s worth of material written and we just want to keep pushing that preconception of what people think about our music. We really fucking love the music that we write, but we love more the newest material at it closer to where we’re at, at that point in time.
APF: To these ears, opening track “Malcontents” is where Under was always heading musically – the elephantine riff, the three part harmonies in the verse, the dissonant (and quite stunningly discordant guitar work in the) chorus, and the jazzy improvisational bridge. How was this song born and how did you develop it into its finished version? And is it the natural conclusion of “Under – Phase 1”, considering where your writing is taking you next?
Preece: The main riff for Malcontent was one of those great lightbulb moments. I was in Primark, a truly mind-shreddingly awful place, waiting for my then-girlfriend to come out of the changing rooms, and started hearing this groaning, warping riff with this enraged heart-palpitation thrashing at the end of each phrase, and I knew it had to be our next tune.
As ever (we never find it difficult to get on each other’s wavelengths) it sounded exactly as I had heard it my head. I fucking love tunes that develop that way. ‘Innards’ from Slick was another one like that, and they always turn out to be your best tunes. The problem is you have to be in the right place at the right time to receive the inspiration, so tunes like that only come along every now and again. That unsettling, obnoxious vibe really got us tumescent though so it’s definitely something we’ll be pursuing as far as we can humanly push it in future.
APF: I had the pleasure of listening to the vinyl test pressing with Rian Gamble, who recorded the album and captured your sound magically. What did Rian bring to the recording process that wouldn’t have been there without his input?
Mayo: Being the first Under release that I wouldn’t be engineering, I was excited to purely be playing on the album and stepping back from the production process. In hindsight this was the best decision as a whole, for my own peace of mind and for the quality of the recordings as Rian just seems to be an absolute natural with his ideas and efficiency. The quality that he has managed to achieve is several leagues and bounds above what I could have done. And no doubt from here on out, once our fans hear it they will understand that Rian is as integral to the ‘Under’ sound just as much as we are the musicians. Absolute Legend!
APF: The three of you are very creative as individuals. When you are writing and recording as Under does that creativity flow together easily, or does it cause sparks and heated debate?
Matt Franklin – Bass and Vocals: Our writing process is my favourite part of this band. On occasion one of us has a riff or a section prepared and we all jam on that, more and more these days however we just get in the room and start playing.
We’ve been playing together so long that we often have the same ideas with very minimal communication. There aren’t any arguments as we’re all brutal and undemocratic – if one of us isn’t keen on an idea then we keep moving and find something else.
APF: The vinyl version of ‘Stop Being Naïve’ has a bonus track. What was the thinking behind this – why is it not on the CD and digital versions?
Preece: I proposed leaving “Soup” out of the official track list. I actually love that song but after obsessively listening through the album and a few different re-jigs of the running order I just couldn’t find a place for it where it didn’t seem to disrupt the flow of the album. It’s a great hard little banger with loads of attitude though so people who buy the vinyl will be pleased they get to hear it I think.
APF: You openly fight against categorization of your music. So…… you meet a bloke in the pub, tell him you’re in a band, and he asks what you sound like. How do you describe Under to him?
Franklin: Categorization doesn’t keep us up at night, people will try and describe us with familiar terms and that’s fine. What we want to avoid is feeding into a lack of imagination – if we think we’re doom or avant garde or whatever there will be people that disagree and then it’s just a boring dialogue about genre.
The “man in the pub” scenario is a good one as I often find myself in it… I find adjectives work well; we’re “heavy” or “weird” or “unsettling” by my descriptions. I also find this gives a more accurate description and you sound like much less of a cunt than saying “progressive avant noise sludge” or something like that.
APF: For bands to make a living these days they have to go on tour – and tour heavily. Would that life suit you? Playing the same songs every night for a year. Or would your desire to be continually creative be frustrated by road life?
Mayo: I think life on the road would be a welcome one for us. We have countlessly fantasized about being able to go full time with the band as our lifestyle and primary source of income. Unfortunately, because of the competitive nature of the industry and the unorthodox style of our music this has not been and will not be an easily achievable goal.
We do our best and accept whatever publicity or success that our music achieves. And I think that living on tour would not jeopardize our creative output, if anything it would inspire us more and our music would just veer off onto another tangent made possible by the touring lifestyle. It wouldn’t frustrate us being on tour, we will continuously be writing music whether we are on tour or not as we are mostly inspired by our personal lives and current goings on.
APF: Does being from Stockport, Greater Manchester in any way influence your writing, and who you are an individuals?
Franklin: I think it is impossible to not be influenced by where you’re from. Stockport is one of those weird northern towns that aspires towards grandeur but is ultimately a bit of a backwards shithole. It makes for lots of sardonic lyrics and a very special blend of off-kilter strangeness with just enough chavvy bravado to stop us turning into walking berets.
APF: Finally, anything you wish to declare?
All: Fucking love your label mate!
UNDER’s “Stop Being Naive” is available to pre-order now on “piss yellow” trans vinyl, CD and digital download from the following links: