Under‘s practice room in Stockport… Never have we seen a more wretched hive of scum and villainy! Astral Noize were lured into Under’s web of decay and despair. Nervously, we were blindfolded and forced into a rickety old lift, possibly at gunpoint. We couldn’t tell whether we were ascending, or perhaps plunging into the depths of hell. We were lead by a peculiar minion in a black cape, holding a candlelit lantern, saying nothing. Occult symbols and crass graffiti spread the dirty walls, drug paraphernalia strewn across the floors. A figure in a gimp suit slumped chained to the ceiling, possibly not even breathing. The smell of incense struggled to mask the revolting stench of viscera and vomit. This is the dark and seedy world in which Manchester noise-doom trio Under inhabit.
The minion lead us through a secret bookcase that revealed a vast spiral staircase that stretched on for an eternity. Finally – exhausted and disoriented – we reached a small, dank room in which Under were waiting for us. After forcing us to hear two brand new songs, we got to chatting about their brand new sophomore album Stop Being Naive.
Under were the very first signing and release for APF Records, and now you are releasing your second album with them, Stop Being Naive. How does it feel to be such an integral part of the label?
Simon [Mayo, Guitar and vocals]: Heartwarming!
Matt [Franklin, bass and vocals]: We’ll have to see how this album goes. When we did the first one [2017’s Slick], Fieldy [Andrew Field, label boss] was really honest with us about not having a clue about putting a record out. But with this, it’s been nice to see all the buzz that has generated around APF. It’s grown a lot.
Andy [Preece, drums and vocals]: We had a choice originally, before we went with APF, to go with someone bigger who wouldn’t have gave a shit about us at all…
Matt: We’d have been one of about fourteen releases that label was doing that year…
Andy: It was a bit of a no-brainer in the end to go with someone who actually gave a shit about us and was excited about it. It’s impossible to really give a shit about all the bands on your label when you’ve got hundreds of them!
Matt: [Fieldy] is so crazy supportive about us.
Andy: He does it for the love of music, but now he has got better distribution and reach, so it’s the best of both worlds for us now.
You guys like to think ahead. Some of the songs on Stop Being Naive had been performed live before even the first album came out. What is the methodology behind the way Under present their music?
Simon: There isn’t!
Matt: We were just really fast for the first few years and then we caught up with ourselves!
Andy: We have no sense of holding stuff back, we just get excited about new material and want to play it live. There are a couple of tunes from Stop Being Naive that haven’t been played live yet. It’s been really strenuous trying to hold them back!
Matt: Say with a tune like ‘Malcontents’, that’s been going since before Slick came out, but it’s been gradually refining. We recorded something recently and it was the first time we’ve recorded a tune where we’ve just about written it. It has been nice to sit on those tunes for ages because you’re definitely getting the best versions of them on Stop Being Naive.
Andy: We end up developing the tunes so much. A lot of the really great nuances develop by playing them live loads of times and become part of the song that wasn’t before.
Matt: People always comment that there’s a sense that it’s jammed or improvised. There is a lot of stuff that might seem improvised because it’s been a gradual process.
Andy: There is a lot of stuff that was probably improvised at first that gradually becomes part of the song.
Matt: We shouldn’t have told anyone this…
You’ve ruined the secrets of Under!
Simon: The songs change. Even when we are in the studio, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. So even if you’ve heard them before, on the album there will still be some surprises!
The album was recorded and produced by Rian Gamble who also helmed the Tronald record [Tronald features Matt and Andy in their lineup]. How did your recording experience differ from when you self-recorded the debut album?
Simon: I was really glad to step back and just be the musician, rather than being the engineer and the musician in the band. It was really nice. I’m quite looking forward to this one, whilst with Slick I couldn’t listen to it for months, there was too much emotional involvement and stress in it. I’m genuinely excited for an album for the first time in my life!
Andy: We were all a lot more relaxed with this one
Matt: Rian is so fucking organised. He’s got that rare venn diagram between being mega organised, yet still being totally laid back to let you try things and experiment with the way we record stuff.
Simon: He’s too efficient. We would go in, smoke a joint, and then ask what we were doing. He’d open up a spreadsheet and go through everything! Honestly man he’s so much more on the ball than me.
Matt: He’s a proper natural. Before we recorded Stop Being Naive, he came here to watch us play through the tunes. In that first session, he had a side of A4 for every tune with notes he’d made.
Simon: He printed out our lyrics to make sure we got everything down correctly. He’s too efficient!
Were there any parts of the record that Rian helped to tighten up for you?
Andy: [Hurling a mouldy pie in my direction] THAT’S NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW! [The gimp chained to the ceiling starts screaming and moaning]
Matt: All the stuff that’s not in 4/4 was done in post [laughs]! It originally just sounded like Down until he pressed the magic button!
So you guys have played in many different bands together over the years. What is your relationship like as musicians and do you feel completely in tune with one another?
Simon: Yeah man, absolutely! We’re so in tune that we don’t really need to talk to understand what we need to do.
Matt: We’re at that point where like a certain expression of the face can be like, [with childlike excitement] “aaahhh we’re going to do that thing now!”
Under have a lot of strange and esoteric lyrics. Can you reveal any particular inspirations behind songs such as ‘P. Irving’ and ‘Malcontents’?
Matt: ‘P. Irving’! It’s called that because it sounds like the word perving!
Yeah no shit… We got the joke!
Matt: I never fucking know, a lot of the stuff doesn’t start with a clear concept. It’s just some emotion or vague bitch about something that I gradually refine until it’s about something. ‘P. Irving’ is about this guy I used to work with who would drive passed a woman and would hang out the window and be like “PHROAW!” He was really creepy and gross. ‘Malcontents’ is just about people debasing themselves to get ahead, on whatever level you want. I was also playing a lot of Dark Souls when I wrote it…
Andy: You can’t leave that in there!
Matt: Video games man! I don’t have any particular source I get inspiration from, it’s just like something funny I find in a video game, or something weird somebody says…
Simon: A lot of our conversations end up as songs! We enjoy our own company too much!
Matt: We like to chat utter bollocks!
One of Under’s trademarks is playing with abrupt time signature changes. Is it fun to work these moments into songs, and do you feel like it’s Under’s USP maybe?
Andy: Honestly, it’s not something that is expected or deliberate at all. I guess the way we experience rhythm is different to how most people do. We just hear a riff, and it’s like, that’s what the rhythm is. It’s not like, “hey why don’t you play that in 11/4, that’ll sound cool” or anything. For me rhythm is all about small grooves. It’s not about the amount of bars, it’s about microscopic parts which are added together to create a groove. It’s so not about trying to seem flashy or proggy.
Matt: Yeah the riff always comes first, and then we go “right, what’s that in?” [Laughs]
From a doom or sludge perspective, there aren’t a lot of other bands in the UK who are doing that…
Matt: We’re not really doom are we! We’re gradually being exposed!
Andy: We don’t listen to a lot of doomy stuff…
Matt: It was an early influence, when we started the band I was listening to loads of Electric Wizard, and we got into Swans around that time, which made us want to slow down a bit. In our old band we would never stay on a riff for longer than eight bars, so with Under we learned to let riffs breathe for a bit.
Andy: We like to develop riffs as well. So we might have something that is a bit simple. One thing we really like to play around with is how much you can get out of one idea. And one way of doing that is to change the rhythm and to add more, or take off more, pervert it a little bit. So it’s much more something that is fun for us, rather than deliberately trying to be prog or challenge people.
You’ve played shows all over the UK, especially in the doom/sludge/stoner realm. How do you feel Under fits into that scene?
Matt: We seem to be received well enough, so it’s worth doing.
Simon: We fit in very, very well. It’s helped us out a lot.
Andy: We do like doom and sludge.
Matt: We’ve got enough of it in there. I don’t want to sound like one of these pricks who are like “oooh metalheads are actually very intellectual!” [Laughs] But most metalheads have very eclectic tastes. I used to play in punk bands and it’d be like “I noticed you had a bit of a pop-punk vibe in that tune, that was shit!” [Laughs] But people tend to come up to you at metal gigs and say “oh, I’ve never listened to stuff like that, but you guys were sick!”
Andy: I can’t remember the last time I met someone who just listens to metal. Are there still people like that?
There are… But a lot of metalheads love electronic music, folk and hip-hop too!
Matt: They like pretending they like Toto as well!
Simon: You’re doing a disservice to yourself if you are militant and pigeonholed.
You guys teased some pictures in the studio with Kurokuma, is there something going on there?
Andy: No, no… We weren’t in the studio with Kurokuma. We just want to declare that they are false metal.
All Together: FUCK KUROKUMA!!!
Andy: Fuck Barbarian Hermit as well!
Matt: Fuck Mastiff!
Andy: I’d like to challenge the singer from Diesel King to a fight!
Matt: Fuck Tronald too!
Who the fuck are Tronald!?
Andy: Fuck Hyena Kill!
Stop Being Naive is out now on APF Records.
Words and photo: Chris “Frenchie” French