Further proof that music is the art form most closely tied to emotions, electronic music pioneers Underworld's new release feels like reconnecting with an old friend. Barking is their eighth studio album and their first in three years, making for a welcome return from guys who have been recording together for 30 years. Join them on Morning Becomes Eclectic at 11:15.
Jason Bentley: With a creative and professional relationship that has spanned nearly thirty years, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde are a pioneering force in music and arts as Underworld, and are joining us this morning. They are on tour in support of their latest album Barking. Joining us now, Underworld. Rick and Karl, good morning! How's it going?
Underworld: Good, good. Great. [Laughs]
JB: First of all, I want to say how profound your music has been to me and to really all of us over the years. You're such an important act, and thank you for all that you have done.
Karl: No, thank you. We don't get to hear that. We've kind of shut away in a little box.
JB: Well, it's true. So you have been touring – in fact, two consecutive nights as you join us today, that must wear on you a little bit. Karl I know you are a little bit under the weather…
Karl: That's just a permanent state of mind with us.
JB: Do you have to be careful about how many nights in a row you perform?
Karl: Yeah, you do. Normally three or four, three really is pushing it, but we did three back to back on this one. Quite often it's the flying that really kills your body and you never really regain it when you're working such strange hours.
JB: You've also got to stay fairly athletic because you bring so much energy to your performance.
Karl: Yes, I'm not quite sure about that. That's vaguely embarrassing. “Hey, you must work out a lot.” Um, nope. [Laughs]
Rick: I noticed you weren't looking at me when you said athletic, Jason. But what a mind!
JB: Well, I guess the performance is the workout. We're watching you work out.
Karl: It is, it is. It's interesting you say that, I've seen Rick do the same, be really under the weather. Something happens when you're performing that kind of music in front of an audience, giving off so much energy. You get some of that energy, and you get through it. Quite often you rise above it and have a fantastic time. You crash and burn about an hour later, but you do have an amazing time and you're lifted out of any slump you've been in.
JB: I can tell you that the connection is made on the other end as well. On the receiving end, because it is a magical feeling to see you two perform. With the album Barking, you've also taken on somewhat more of a collaborative approach, welcoming a few other people into the fold. Describe that process and name check a little bit, the people you worked with.
Rick: It felt like such a right thing to do, something that had been growing with us for several years.
The desire to work with people, enjoying jamming and collaborating off the back of a couple of film scores we did for Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle. Working with different teams of people and what it did for Karl and I for our writing practices and processes - it was just a joy.
With this album is just seemed time to grab the bull by the horns and go okay, let's go for it. And we were very, very lucky. Everybody we approached said yes, immediately, which was a surprise. And all it left was really the organizing and hitting deadlines together. It was a great experience, helped a great deal by the Internet. A lot of file transfers going on, around the world, but a marvelous experience. Dubfire, Mark and Dean Ramirez, Paul Van Dyk, and Darren Price is with us today, you know we've work with [him] for so long. [It was] a joy, and one we'd love to repeat, actually, in the sense of the collaborations.
JB: Did the creative process differ with each track, or was it kind of the same template?
Rick: It differed for each track, I think. We chose the material that we were sending to the collaborators, material that was in the area that we felt they had particular expertise. These guys are out every weekend doing their thing, so there was a choice in the first place. And then the actual process unfolded depending on the dynamic, and the desires of the parties we were working with. And the differences in the way they worked, and approached it, was fantastic.
JB: Part of your base, you creative foundation, has been Tomato, which is the correct pronunciation, right? I shouldn't say Tomato?
Karl: You can say that if you want.
JB: Oh can I?
Karl: Keep it local.
JB: Okay. So with Tomato, it's an art collective, a design firm. But that's given you a platform to express yourself in different ways over the years. But for those who aren't aware of that side of it, tell us about Tomato. [laughs]
Karl: Tomato was set up by, was brought together by John Warwicker, who is a friend of ours back to the early 80's. He was a member of our very first group Freur. He used to play video screens on stage in '83 when people told him it would never catch on.
And from then on he's been a mentor, a friend, a teacher, a confidant. He's great, he's the silent member of everything Rick and I do.
And at the end of the 80's we'd all had different experiences, some of us pretty bad, as mine and Rick's were. And he brought together this group of artists, some students, some who people who were already doing quite well in their own right, and just said I think you'll all get on quite well. He's absolutely brilliant and stuff like that, kind of like a producer of people.
And so we formed this company called Tomato. And what was it about? I don't know? But we liked each other's work and that was it. We liked each other's work and we found each other's work really inspiring. Great to be around. And that's where it evolved.
Rick: Still do. The guys of Tomato, for the extra special version of the new album Barking, there's a whole pile of videos. Each one of them picked their own piece and took an approach and it was really lovely to get a chance to work on Underworld with them again.
JB: It's just interesting to me, I don't know if everyone appreciates this fully, but how well rounded your expression is. There are different forms, and maybe people only know Underworld or the records, but there are also these other aspects of expression. Does it feel like it's coming from the same place, creatively, that there's kind of a creative core? And whatever the outlet may be, it's sort of related to the same core idea?
Karl: It's being inspired by conversation and proximity to people that inspire you. It's what Tomato came around. Jamming -- whether it's on Barking with other producers, writers or with John Warwicker with Rick and me, or with Rick and Gabriel Yared -- it's about conversation and the dialogue that goes on that creates unlikely scenarios and situations.
Rick: And after having the conversation you just feel like you have to do something. It just has to be. We've been very fortunate you know, with our career. We've had the opportunity to express ourselves in so many different ways and still pay for a roof to go over our heads. And so we're blessed by having a choice that not everything we do needs to be financially driven.
JB: Do you also feel – you touched on having the conversation and needing to express yourself – is that something that's driven you creatively? Just being compelled to express?
Rick: Yeah absolutely. And going back to what Karl was talking about with the origins of Tomato. For me, that was an extraordinary time and an amazing thing that John did for us all as individuals, by drawing us together.
JB: It seems like you were at a breaking point, a little bit, at the tail end there in the 80's. It was like a downpoint.
Karl: Absolutely. We had fallen to pieces, we were dumped from our record label, and we were bankrupt. Rick was salvaging what he could of our studio and selling off what he could to pay the debts. It was a time. But like we were talking about, hard -- it can go one way or it can go the other, can't it? There is something which is really seemingly bleak, and out of it came 20 years of good times.
JB: And the first album to come out of that period was dubnobasswithmyheadman, which was brilliant, amazing. That was just an amazing turning point I think for everyone. Do you play much of that material live, when you go out?
Rick: Yeah, yeah we do. Absolutely. We still, we mix things up.
JB: Do you plan a set the day of, do you leave it wide open?
Rick: You know Jason, we've done all sorts. I mean, for the longest time, for about 15 years, we didn't have a setlist at all. We'd just scribble something down…I think, or actually that was 10 years without even doing that. And then five years of scribbling something down, as we kind of peek out at the audience before we go on.
And we're trying something a little different now, we're fixing things a little more to find a different way of expressing ourselves, within what we do. And randomizing is one way to stimulate, but having randomized [laugh] the setlist for, as I say, about 15 years, we're kind of enjoying taking a much more delicate approach for the moment. It's interesting.
JB: So the album is Barking, Underworld, our guests on KCRW. Last thing I want to note is there is a great track which was, for whatever reason, left off called Downpipe, which is a single really. And actually may not even be credited to you guys. It's Mark Knight and Dean Ramirez. But… slamming. Slamming record. Great stuff.
Karl: We open the show with that.
JB: You did. Now why did that not end up on your album? Was it just a separate project?
Rick: I think because it had been released about nine months to a year before the album. We tend to do that. It's time for the now and the new.
JB: Last thing, promise. [laughs] Film work….we are here in Los Angeles, a lot of people listening who are in the entertainment world. Is that something you are interested in continuing to do?
Rick: Oh yeah we love it. We love film work. We've been really blessed with the people we got to work with so far. It's extremely challenging, demanding. I mean I've never come across a process that's so completely all-embracing and will grind you into the ground. It demands everything of you.
JB: But also you've got to step outside your own identity because you're serving a whole separate…
Karl: Yeah, part of it is, that's the whole beauty. Because you've got a director who's got an opinion, you've got a script which tells you stuff, you've got rushes, which show you where the music should go and where it shouldn't go. So it's almost been slightly written for you.
The shock is when you've done a film score, going back to make an album, because it's like you're looking at just a blank canvas. And that's quite a shock. Because first of all you've maybe worked on a film for two years with all these cues coming in and people and the director. You must respect the director and support him. And then all of a sudden, it's just Rick and me. Alright then, what should we do? [laughs]
But film scores, we grew up listening to films. It was one of the things apart from electronics and dub reggae that we always agreed on, was our love of film music. And we see our music as being the music of films, or the music of driving. So when an opportunity to work on a great film comes along, we're really keen.
JB: Rick Smith and Karl Hyde are Underworld, They're our guests on KCRW. It's been a pleasure and a joy, thank you so much for joining us today.
UW: Thanks for the opportunity. Thanks for your support.