I got rather excited at the prospect of interviewing The Sunshine Underground in their dressing room. Optimistically envisioning that it would be a pristine white room covered with light-framed mirrors, I am rather surprised to be ushered into a room at the top of a narrow staircase that could only be described as bearing a striking resemblance to a college’s JCR kitchen. There is a metal sink built into a tabletop surface that is close to falling off the wall with a small fridge underneath it. There is a little table and a couple of frayed sofas on which the band sit.
Nevertheless, the Sunshine Underground are cheery and are making use of the facilities by stockpiling the fridge full of beer. Knowing relatively little about the band, I set out to discover exactly who they are and what they’re about.
Perhaps impertinently, I begin by asking them whether they are aware of a band called Underground Sunshine who hit the US charts in the sixties with a cover of Beatles hit ‘Birthday’; ‘No!’ is the emphatic reply that this is greeted with from singer/guitarist Craig Wellington and drummer Matthew Gwilt. They then explain that their name comes from a Chemical Brothers song. ‘We met Ed from the Chemical Brothers once actually. We asked him if he minded us being named after one of their songs and the only comment that he made was that in the sixties there was a band called Sunshine Underground.’ A mystery solved, it would seem.
We chat about how the band got together (‘We went to college together and started to play; we’re old friends’) and Matt and Craig struggle to remember how long they’ve been focusing all of their efforts on the band: ‘We’ve been seriously doing the band full-time for about five years I suppose. When we started touring… when we got a deal… it’s been about four and a half… Four, no, four and a half? It’s been a while.’
I wonder whether, in all that time, the band have carved themselves a niche amongst the throngs of other Indie bands that occupy the charts at the moment. ‘We just do what we want to do; I don’t know if that makes us different’ Matt declares. Craig agrees: ‘Well, we don’t really listen to the stereotypical Indie kind of bands out there at the moment; that jingle jangle guitar. We’re pretty anti-Indie.’
‘I just don’t like those bands that like to think of themselves as The Libertines. I do love The Libertines but it’s not what we do.’ The band’s unique selling point? ‘We’ve got quite a strong dance element to our music that we’ve developed since we first started to tour and I think that sets us apart from the bog standard Indie band. People tend more to dance at our gigs than mosh.’ I can’t say that I picked up this dance aspect in the band’s songs that I have heard and I was left still scratching my head slighting during that evening’s gig.
I ask the guys about the new album. After learning that, although finished, the record is yet to be named, Matt and Craig tell me that they expect the christening of the album to come about in the same way as that of their 2006 release Raise the Alarm. ‘It was only called that because our manager called me up and… it was always a contender and he was like, seriously, it’s got to go out now. We asked him if we had a couple of days to think about it and he said no it’s got to be today and so we said… Raise the Alarm?’ That’ll probably happen again at some point in August.’
With the band disappearing off the radar for a couple of years following their sophomore effort, I wondered how the writing and recording process went for this album. ‘We were writing for so long, for about two years on and off, writing this album and trying to get it right and by the time we were ready to go into the studio and do it, it was like a weight off really.’ Craig tells me. Matt seems to find the whole thing slightly more intense: ‘Kind of,’ he mused, ‘but at the same time we only had three weeks allocated to do it in and so the pressure was on to do it well’.
The band are clearly very proud of how they made use of the demos that they recorded on a four-track when in a cottage in Scotland where they’d gone to write songs. ‘We ended up actually putting quite a lot of the original demo back into the song because they were right, weren’t they!’ Matt exclaimed. He went on to explain that recreating this sound was one of the most difficult parts of the recording process: ‘we ended up co-producing the album in the end because the demos ended up being the sound of the album we were trying quite a lot of the time in the recording and mixing to get back to the original sound of the demo.’
They tell me how they always felt that they were going to go down the route of producing or co-producing the album themselves and talk about how there are still some songs on the first album which they’re not entirely happy with because they took too much advice off other people, thinking that they’d know more than the band themselves. ‘You trust people to do it for you and then you get it back and think… is that any good? You’re just as well to do it yourself.’
Sensing that the band could talk about all of this for some time, I change the topic somewhat by asking the band about why they have a blog rather than a website; I wonder whether they think it important for musicians to have this sort of communication with their fans alongside the music that they produce. ‘I don’t see why there’s a need for a website as such – with a blog you can do an everyday update. Like now we’re adding a tour diary to it, which might be more difficult on a website. It is just easier for us to update it really.’
I ask their thoughts on Twitter which, as far as I am aware, is a condensed and intensified blog of sorts. They seem to be very wary of Twitter, finding it odd enough when fans add them on Facebook: ‘I had fans sending me messages saying how sorry they were when I broke up with my girlfriend!’ Daley Smith, the band’s bassist, laughed.
I’m interested to know whether, alongside the heavy recording and touring schedule, the lads have time for any hobbies. The answers surprise me. They range from dog-owning to jogging to tending to vegetables. Concerned, I ask who looks after the vegetables and the dog when the band are on tour. I’m reassured that both have extended family who tend to them.
The only advice that The Sunshine Underground had for Cherwell readers was to ‘listen to more Sunshine Underground. Apparently it helps you focus’. The band’s (inescapably) Indie offerings are enjoyable in the main, and are indeed worth checking out if you want some music to play when revising that won’t distract you too much. Nice lads, nice music.