It was hard not to feel wary about the prospect of doing an interview with don’t-call-them-a-buzz-band band WU LYF during their visit to Australia earlier this month.
It was easy to assume that WU LYF (pronounced woo life meaning “World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation”) were consciously avoiding playing by any music industry rules including speaking to any press. Until their recent visit to Australia for a brief tour that included three shows for Vivid Live, the band had eschewed interviews, PR companies and record labels – despite gaining attention a heap of steadily rising positive attention.
The hype (‘hype’ is a word the band can’t stand) started growing after WU LYF had been playing their tunes in front of an audience of friends at jam nights they called Heavy Pop. Soon enough, people were traveling to the band’s home town Manchester just to watch them play after word of their infamous live performances spread.
And the music does deserve the attention: exuberant, chest thumping, anthemic indie jams with crashing percussion and lead singer Ellery Roberts’ unintelligible howl (along with Tom McClung on bass, guitarist Evans Kati and drummer Joe Manning). Local music writers started paying attention and all of a sudden WU LYF was one of the most name-checked bands appearing on the panoptic indie blogosphere.
The fact that WU LYF was a virtual enigma having spoken to the press a total of zero times only added fuel to the fire.
Many people interpreted the band’s silence – or simply their lack of speech – as an intentional attention-seeking marketing ploy. The Guardian wrote: “This is a band who seem to matter because they hide: they do not list their members, they do not pose for cover shoots, they do not accept press requests, and they always speak in riddles. It’s a tactic of deliberate obfuscation: a handful of MP3s, a string of shows and one single that’s fetching $80 on eBay.”
This accusation – that WU LYF were deliberately controlling some sort of mystery-fueled hype campaign – was something the band addressed immediately in their very first Australian interview.
Roberts’ told The Australian, “It was never about being mysterious. It sounds cliched and boring but we’ve ignored the press to an extent because we were just trying to get on with what we do rather than yapping on about it, empty words. We’d rather have something to talk about.
“We weren’t trying to present ourselves as a cool, mysterious band that nobody knows about. We were just getting on with it.”
I watched WU LYF perform their debut Australian gig at the Sydney Opera House [watch footage here] and spoke to bassist Tom a couple of days later in a surprisingly candid and revealing chat about what the band is really all about which ultimately is making good music that people like…
Pedestrian: How have the shows been so far? Tom: Pretty much they’ve been how I expected them to be. I know people haven’t perhaps heard of us so much as many in other countries – the album’s not out [in Australia] so there was a little bit of a static audience response but the way people were coming up to us afterwards and saying that they really enjoyed it… you know, it makes up for it.
I went to your show and it was so uplifting a really joyous show, and I guess that’s the kind of reaction you want to get out of your audience. Definitely. It’s quite hard to make music that can be uplifting so it’s always good to hear that we’ve been successful in that way.
Australian crowds can be pretty reserved. They stand back a bit and there’s a self-consciousness so I can imagine that compared to some of your crowds back at home it would have seemed more sedate… D’you know what, the only really crazy crowds were back when we did our first Heavy Pop shows and it was like just basically shows for our friends and some other people who had heard of us in Manchester; and then as we did more of those shows and we got a little hype bubble around us and, every time we put it on every month, there were people getting on a train from London just to come and like see this “indie cool” band or something, and it kind of lost the point. Y’d be surprised, most of our audiences are a little bit reserved and it’s just the stage we’re at right now and I don’t have a problem with it (chuckles).
You mentioned the hype that had built you as this cool ‘it’ band. The band obviously has quite a bit of resistance to being considered an ‘it’ band or a cool and fashionable band. Why is that? Why have you been resistant to that kind of response? The problem is with being like a “cool” band is that you’re almost predisposed to be liked… If you’re like this cool band it’s like everyone has to like you as almost a…
Like a trend, regardless of whether or not they like the music? Yeah yeah. And also it can turn a lot of people against you before they even listen to the music. That’s the reason we’re doing this: so people can just listen to the music so much and really feel a part of that. It’s a lot harder if you have people telling you to listen to it in the first place. It should just be something you stumble upon.
You’ve got this history of not speaking to the press – whether that’s been intentional or not or if you haven’t done it because you didn’t have something specfic to say – but is it a cathartic thing to be able to do a few interviews and explain what WU LYF is about? Definitely.. I mean when Ellery did the interview the other day, I think it was with the Australian Press (Interview here), I was looking over it and the way we covered things that people were speculating over and making their own minds up through some strange Chinese whispers thing.
It was a really nice feeling to reach through it and think that you’ve settled some demons in a way. So yeah it’s good to speak to people when you have something you want to talk about, that you can talk about apart from people just saying you’re cool and try to explain it. More like “we have an album and it’s coming out” and I’d like people to be as excited about it as we are.
The album comes out here in June [Friday, 17 June]. Tell me about the process of getting the final track list for Go Tell Fire To The Mountain together and how you feel about the finished product. The actual track list came about through Ellery’s lyrics and stuff. It follows a real loose, ambiguous narrative that runs through; and so the song titles and the order of them is just the way that the narrative is supposed to feel. It was actually decided quite a long time ago… I don’t know if you’ve read in other interviews but Ellery wanted to make a film about the narrative but it was [not possible because] of a resources thing. It’s a lot easier to try and make that connection through the music rather than, you know, through a big budget film script.
So tell me a little bit about the narrative. I think … the narrative… it’s a kid [at this point a voice in the background – presumably Ellery – can be heard dictating the words to Tom] and his dad. He’s a rich man. He stands for a big ideal. And then the kid sees the falsity in his dad’s ideals and metaphorically kills him. And then he’s made an outlaw. He has to make a gang of outlaws like Clint Eastwood, and then they try coming back to get rid of his dad’s land. But they’re violently crushed. They regroup all broken and bruised. And they realize.. the real change is in your heart. And that last vision, that’s “Heavy Pop” right at the end of the album.
It’s a very romantic concept and I suppose it’s a classic story of rebellion – fighting against negative authoritarianism, which is I guess seems to be a pretty common thread in WU LYF – on the band’s website and in the lyrics… I always think that that kind of rebellion, it comes about in everybody’s life when they reach a certain age; you know, you feel a certain way when you’re coming out of your teens and you have to think about growing up and you have to start making choices, and a lot of those choices might not end up being ones that you wanted to pick, and the LYF of everything started out as the way that we could choose our own destiny, you know – choose their own lifestyle. The open armed involvement is that one day we want to create some sort of atmosphere that anyone who supports us can do it if they want to, so that makes up the foundation.
I guess you’ve got this very strong philosophy that you’ve just explained and when I watched the show there was almost a spiritual vibe because it was a very communal experience for the audience and [from the audience] you can tell that you as a band are experiencing that. Are you spiritual people? It sounds like a totally wanky question… I don’t think it’s a wanky question to be honest. I think everyone in the band likes to believe in something bigger than themselves, and whether that’s like a spirituality in togetherness or it’s a spirituality in… Buddha there’s just kind of an agreement.
The soulfulness and connections within people are important, and the music and the way we present ourselves and the way that we want to be part of other people’s lives – not just this insular, little, nihilistic dream almost. It’s just the way a lot of bands present themselves it’s like they don’t even want to be a band at all in the first place… So we try to never seem like that.
Tom is the visual part of what the band does pretty important because obviously you use a lot of beautiful photography and the design is really interesting and you’ve got the symbol. Who oversees that visual element of the music and how the band is presented? I guess it’s all of us. I mean nothing’s ever decided by one person and then he tells the rest of them how it’s going to be. It’s like somebody will have an idea for a photograph or on the morning of a shoot and then we’ll just go ahead with it. I think it’s important for us to present the band’s image in a way that suits the music – because the music’s so important to us you know. Properly representing ourselves, especially as it’s gonna be of almost equal importance, but it’s always in a way that suits the music and not the other way around. It’s not a Lady Gaga spectacle thing.
WU LYF collage:
The video for “Split It Concrete” is a great example of that, and a really fits in with the band’s philosophy. Do you have another video that you’re making or that you’ve got coming out soon? We’ve just released the video for “Dirt”. That one features a lot of footage from the student protests and riots in London I think it is, and it’s kind of edited to the song in a way that kind of – like you were saying before – really fits what the song is about because with the lyrics it’s reflected in that it was actually going on at the time and it shows in the music especially I think.
WU LYF’s debut album Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is out Friday 17 June through Liberation Music.
All Photos Provided by WU LYF