Sydney foursome Underlights took a while to find their feet, along the way embracing their diversity. Having just released their debut EP, vocalist/guitarist Jack Friels and bass player Johnny Took talk to Michael Smith.
Kicking around now since 2008, Underlights are school friends lead singer and guitarist Jack Friels, guitarist Darius Navidzadeh, bass player Johnny Took and drummer Tom O'Dell. The time taken to hone their music has obviously paid off, with their first single, Now That You're In Love, getting plenty of airtime, which was the perfect opening gambit for the recent release of their self-titled debut EP.
“I think with any band,” Took explains, “it takes a few years… I think you have to do the mileage around town, you have to play, you have to try recording different styles until you really find your feet and what you want to do. And it seemed like every time we'd do some demos or recordings, we were never quite happy with the sound that we had – it was nearly there but not quite.”
“Yeah, it took us a while to consolidate with each other and kind of gel,” Friels agrees, “so we could make an EP that sounded consistent I guess. I think musically that's what was driving the songwriting. I mean there's the lyrical content, which is personal, but musically it was finding that cohesion with each other that was really driving it, which I think we always had – we just didn't really know where to focus it for a particular record or EP.”
“When we started working with [producer] Paul McKercher,” Took adds, “it was great timing, 'cause as musicians we knew where we were at and Paul was able to execute that in the recordings.”
That very Beatles-esque debut single certainly showed off their obvious love for big, '60s four-part harmonies.
“We love 'em man. For me, musically, it's one of my most favourite things to listen to, sonically,” Took outlines. “I think the human ear really loves to hear harmonies like that, especially recorded well and tight. That's what we loved about working with Paul, because he was very precise when it came to those kind of things; pitch perfect in everything. We probably had fifteen or twenty songs we were umm-ing and ah-ing about and ended up writing some new ones as well and the one that stuck out for Paul was Now That You're In Love, which he really wanted to work with us on, so that was the song we recorded.”
“It was knowing which songs were going to work in the studio as opposed to live, which is always very different,” Friels expands. “We were more piecing it together, which we hadn't done before, a totally new learning curve for us. Paul really kind of sparked that off.”
One thing that's obvious with the EP is that Underlights aren't interested in being pigeonholed into one particular style. They're very much about letting the song decide its own style, even if the influences are sometimes still pretty close to the surface.
“Of the newer songs, Violent Day has an almost spaghetti Western feel I think,” Took suggests, “the big drums and the guitar riffs and whatnot. Jack and I grew up listening to lots of, like, Dylan and Neil Young and Crosby Stills and stuff like that, so it was kind of nice to have a blend of kind of Brit Pop slash Black Rebel sound with influences from the stuff we used to listen to when we were younger. That's one of the first songs that we wrote all together as a band as well.”
“I guess the diversity is partly because we've got two different songwriters,” Friels adds, “with me and Darius, the other guitar player, but I think we kind of embrace that as well.”