Celebrating their thirtieth year, the duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, aka Underworld are set to release their first album in three years to an unsuspecting public. Barking is a collaboration of sorts between many producers young and older and they showcase the duo’s tunes in a much more commercial manner, possibly introducing Underworld to a new demographic. Karl answers the questions.
Barking is a departure from your previous albums in that you have contributing producers on all but one song. What do you think of each of the producers’ contributions? How did you decide on them? Did you send them all finished tracks and say have at it?
We pretty much sent them all the finished tracks and left it to them to respond how they wanted, but we asked everyone to enter into it like a jam.
We didn’t want remixes, we wanted the ideas to flow back and forth between us and them and got excited when everyone really got off on the idea and threw themselves into it.
Every contribution was inspiring in ways we’d hoped when we started the project.
Looking at Underworld through their eyes and ears has been brilliant.
Will we hear the originals on CD? How will they be presented live?
Yeah, the original CD, along with a DVD of films of all the tracks and the commercial release album are in the special edition box set.
I last saw you at the Hollywood Bowl and enjoyed the balloon fingers and in the past you’ve projected words and lyrics on the walls of the venues. What can you tell us about your upcoming tour set up? You’re playing in Los Angeles for Halloween. Will there be anything special about that show? Any costumes involved?
Ha ha ha! Costumes would be a laugh hey? Maybe one day……
The show has got a whole load of new visuals and lighting ideas since we trashed the last show and started from scratch on a new live jam with the crew.
As ever it gets very physical with Hyde who gets off on the vibes coming off the audience and has to be dragged off stage at the end of the night just to stop him dancing.
The lyrics on Barking are refreshingly up front in the mix and you’re singing voice is more melodic than ever. Was there a conscious effort to sing less abstract/found poetry?
Yeah, that idea came from Rick. He suggested I give a few more clues as to what I’m singing about and kept pushing me to re-record the vocals until he got what he wanted.
I thought there’d be more instrumental tracks on the album, but he had different ideas!
In Los Angeles you’ll be one of the few performing acts on the bill for two nights. Are you as comfortable in a band line up as being surrounded by record spinners?
When we started Underworld mkII our first gigs were from the DJ booth of clubs where there was no stages and you didn’t want to upset the crowd by making them stop dancing to watch some band or a singer with a backing tape.
We’ve learned a lot of what we do from being around DJ’s and putting it into the way we write, think and play.
Performing at DJ events is brilliant, it feels like coming home.
With your collective Tomato what about doing visuals is different or the same as creating music and performing? What are some of your most recognizable achievements? Are you putting your handprint on the world in ways people don’t even realize? Like the city names in Quantum of Solace, Tomato is everywhere…
The other guys in Tomato are the ones who do all that graphic vibe and they make some beautiful things that crop up all over the world.
Check out their work on the tomato website http://www.tomato.co.uk/ if you want a taste of what they do.
I just saw the little film with John Warwicker creating visuals for your tour and thought it was interesting seeing what goes into making the things that go on behind you while you’re performing.
Yeah, we’re making new visuals as we tour the world, picking up ideas and running cameras all the time. Toby Vogel is in charge of all the live video jamming and he’s always filming and capturing slices of every city we visit and building them into the live show.
You have to watch what you’re doing on tour cause its gonna end up on a screen somewhere in front of thousands of people.
You’ve worked together for 30 years now. What are some of the things that contribute to your friendship and music partnership?
My partner Rick’s huge capacity for tolerance! For me, its the fact that I still find him the most inspiring artist I’ve ever worked with, he’s constantly pushing us to go further and explore new places – its still a huge buzz.
When we spoke last you hadn’t yet released the Riverrun Project and were about to work on a soundtrack, I believe for the Breaking and Entering movie. After this album what avenues of musical expression do you look forward to? Perhaps an all acoustic album?
After those projects Danny Boyle got us to score the movie Sunshine, then Hyde started recording and performing with Brian Eno.
Then he (Hyde) opened his first one man painting exhibition in Tokyo called ‘what’s going on in your head when you’re dancing’ where Rick also put out the first release on his new label “Bungalow with Stairs”.
Touring barking is pretty much consuming every waking minute but we’ve got a few more ideas up our sleeve to explore in the coming months.
Thanks for all the great music over the year Karl and Rick! I’ll see you Halloween at Hard Fest (www.hardfest.com).
Thanks for the support – really looking forward to jamming live on Halloween.
Here’s an excellent article about Tomato’s involvement with Underworld’s album art: http://madebyhk.com/19/08/2010/underworld-by-tomato/
Explore Rick’s bold and rhythmic art: http://www.underworldlive.com/art/gallery.asp
(Interview by Bret Miller)