Having been on the receiving end of widespread dancefloor hugging and acclaim for each of their last few albums, Underground Lovers’ lead singer Vince Giarrusso tells ADAM CONNORS how they pulled out of the record company apparatus for their new album to keep their sound as pure as their swirling, sweeping sounds.
The stage is bathed in a single green light. Flickering behind the deeply shadowed figures and LED-adorned apparatuses is a large video screen … textures, water-borne movement, slow pulsations of colour. The bass and drums simultaneously kick in loud and smooth, a groove which is to flow unabated for twenty-odd minutes – the inwardly epic Your Eyes.
Underground Lovers’ 1993 signature tune, a definitive example of dance’s flirtation with electro-goth vision, was to eventually touch on all of the relevant charts worldwide. But it wasn’t until 1995’s album Dream It Down and its single Losin It that Underground Lovers fully made their long-term presence felt. Going Top 20 on the US Billboard Dance Chart with Losin It, the Melbourne band certainly looked set to conquer their next task, the Brits – a nation which you would swear that the Undies originated from if you hadn’t read the press.
But maybe the Polygram fax machine ran out of paper – hell, something went wrong – and their last album Dream It Down has still not been released in the UK by their now-departed label.
“It’s just sort of embarrassing after the roll we were on”, says Vince Giarrusso, chief lyricist, lead singer and guitarist of Underground Lovers. He is still baffled about the record company shun, a situation which saw them pack up and leave to become truly independent on their own label, titled paradoxically, Mainstream Recordings.
Their latest release, Rushall Station, certainly doesn’t suffer musically from the bureaucratic bumble.
“That’s the main reason we left the major label too, they just want to make it all too easy for people. I want things to be hard. I want people to have something to think about. The majors could be selling hamburgers just as easily as they could be selling a song, we just don’t want to be part of that.
“We’d rather make our own little gourmet treats for people who are interested (laughs).”
So while Vince’s personal/company fax machine ticks away in the corner, the new album Rushall Station slowly filters around the country to the shallow-breathing adoration of many. But it really should have been many, many more in the UK too.
Is there a Rushall Station? Did Vince spend his school days sitting there, student pass in hand, listening to the piped music, hoping one day it would be his CD on train station rotation?
“Yeah it exists! It’s a little old station near me with lots of trees and no-one there. An eerie sort of place.
“There’s been a few weird goings-on down there and it’s such an unassuming place that it really suits my interest in lyrics and songs. You know, how something so unassuming can be evil at the same time.
“Skinheads sometimes roam the grounds there and a kid was killed there a while back. But it’s such a quaint little station.”
Evil? Trains? ABBA? Rushall Station certainly has the appropriate head candy for many great tales. The first two images somehow summon up the classic noir tales of both the Undies and Twin Peaks, but my ABBA reference comes from an ABBA song title being similar to that found on the new Underground Lovers album. On and On and On and On is a classic ‘Undies droning lope’ – erm, that means the rhythm section rocks way back, laying a simple three-step beat, while a timid little guitar riff sits nicely in one’s head for days. Oh, there’s “bah bah bah’s” as well. And On and On and On and On it goes …
“Well On (you get the picture) was a song that we found by playing around, something that sounded like a train, that repetitive nature of the bass and drums and the guitar line that’s really catchy.
“Really, we wanted a more straight-forward record this time, not too many layers of sound. It’s something we’ve always flittered between from way back – we’re really attracted to the technological aspect of music, sequencers and computers, but nothing beats the sound of old valve amps and drums played by humans.
“We want to have both. It’s good every so often to get into a bit of remixing, a real techno fest!”
So how will the corduroy and cardigan-wearing Undies crowd deal with another chapter of sorta-pop, sorta-dancey/drone coming from these Melbournians? “They usually freak out. But you’ve gotta dance! I think we do alienate some people because each release is different, even the singles are different. We don’t want to make it easy for people, I get bored too you know.”
One major difference though in the ’96 Undies line-up is the departure of co-vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist Philippa Nihill. While she sings on two tracks of Rushall Station – the earth-moving Song of Another Love and the album’s title track – she will be conspicuously absent live because of her incredible input into the on-stage sounds. “It is a different feel losing Philippa. Without her sampler the band has loosened up a lot because we’re not playing to time codes and loops, so we can play around with time more. Slow things right down or thrash it out. Whatever.”
But one thing will certainly remain – the all-enrapturing live ambience of an Underground Lovers live gig. “We still have a super light show, it’s very dark, and if people are willing we just wander off on a tangent. Sometimes it’s very hectic and overdriven or sometimes we just slow it right down and it’s very quiet and atmospheric.”
Indeed, just like Rushall Station, where evil may lurk or solace be found amongst the sweet trees, bushes and arty kiddies clutching train passes.