As the name of their band suggests, Underground Lovers are an enduring presence on the Australian music scene – possibly not always visible, but always there, hidden away and ready to emerge. Frequently described as a bridge between late-eighties electronica as well as more traditional rock, their role in helping to break down the barriers between the two has guaranteed them an enduring place in Australian music history – cemented by the numerous awards they’ve scooped up during their time together. An ARIA award, Triple J Hottest 100 slots, Australian Rolling Stone’s album of the year. An extended absence from the music industry began in the late nineties and ended with a reemergence in 2009, and the group haven’t stopped since – playing all across Australia and beyond, releasing a best-of compliation and getting ready to release a new record. No better time, then, to get on the phone to singer and instrumentalist Vincent Giarrussio, to provide us with an update on what Underground Lovers have been up to since.
Giarrusio kindly provides a brief overview of the last ten years for us. “Glenn and I started the band and we’ve always been the constant through it – we met at highschool and formed the band at the moment, which was the first incarnation of the band,” he explains. “And then people kind of left to do other stuff, so we had to find other drummers and bass players and stuff. Which we did, but we hoped to start playing again – we hoped to bring all the members back eventually. We’d been playing for ten years and did a lot of touring, put out a few records, and it just got to that point where we needed a break. And we were all branching off into different areas of creative endeavours – we never made a decision, it just sort of happened. And so with coming back together, it was the same sort of thing – we got asked to play a show, and we thought, oh yeah, we will. And that was it, there was no grand plan or anything – it just happens.”
Which they’ve managed to do, welcomed with open arms by Australian fans – making an impressive emergence from an extended hiatus with a string of live shows that began with a glorious return to form with a slot at the revered Homebake Festival in 2009. “It was really good,” he says. “We played a show in Sydney at the Annandale the night before, and that was extraordinary in that we hadn’t played at that venue for a long time, it was a sellout and there were people trying to get in. And it was a very intense show, and all of the shows have been like that – people coming along and being really into it, into the music, and it gets exciting. It’s a great feeling – we haven’t changed, we still play with the same intensity and it’s all about the music – we improvise, we make stuff up in the moment, and we play stuff from the early nineties through to the late nineties, and it all still sounds very fresh to us, and we still get excited by it. We’re playing some new stuff this time, too – some new songs which seem to work well. I love that element of mixing genres – the power and energy of rock music, and the repetition and energy of dance, too. It’s inspiring, it gets your blood going.”
Of course, with a career that extends all the way back to 1990, the group are no strangers to touring with some of the industry’s premier rock and dance acts. Asked about some of their favourite gigs, the list of names that Giarrusso mentions looks more like a roster of the nineties’ biggest acts. “We played with The Cure around Australia, and that was really good – it was great to be part of a really big show and all of the entertainment centres,” he says. “But it also showed us that it can be quite an impersonal process – it sort of becomes something else, and we like that contact with people, we like that one-on-one with fans in smaller venues where there’s more of a personal interaction going on. Having said that, it’s kind of exciting doing big things like that. My Bloody Valentine was a highlight, just because it was only about the music – they were extraordinary live, and the best thing I’ve ever heard. Primal Scream – we played with them a few times, and New Order, we played with them. Australian bands like the Go-Betweens and the Saints, and local bands we love and have played around with – we played in Sydney a few months ago with a band called Underlights, and these young guys were extraordinary – we felt really set off by them, too.”
If you weren’t already familiar with the litany of inspiring material Underground Lovers released during their first incarnation, there’s a new best-of compilation to sink your teeth into, titled Wonderful Things – a title that accurately summarises the wealth of material it contains. It was a difficult project to work on, as Giarrusso explains. “We had a few legal difficulties with some of the tracks – getting the rights back. But putting together the album took awhile, to work out how to do it, how to get songs from all the different albums and make them sound like they were part of one album. We spent a lot of time in the studio mastering tracks so there was an even kind of texture across the whole lot. The opportunity was there to visit some of the older stuff and kind of re-jig it – did a couple of edits and took out some things, too. It was a chance to do that which we thought we’d take on.”
Listening to it, one can’t help but feel that the group have a thoroughly eclectic approach to putting together music – it seems like each track or album takes you in a completely different direction. I point this out to Giarrusso, and he seems to agree. “We always thought of each album as something you’d lose yourself in – that you’d come out of it altered, or feeling different and hopefully, you want to go back into it again and get something different from it each time. We’ve always thought about records in that way. I think it’s a bit different to how you get music these days, with the way people tend to get single tracks a lot of the time. It’s kind of good, as well, though – we’re tackling those issues, those ideas with our new material.”
Music is not Giarrusso’s only creative output – alongside his work with Underground Lovers, he’s put out a collection of lyrics and prose named Rushall Station after one of their albums, as well as his own feature film Mallboy, which ended up doing quite well for itself at the Cannes Film Festival on its release. With such an impressive track record of success in a wide variety of creative disciplines, I wonder whether there are clear boundaries that divide each of his creative outlets, or whether they all blur and cross over into each other. “They do all blur, because they all come out of a writing discipline – I write a lot,” he answers. “So whether it’s writing lyrics, or – I‘m in the middle of a PhD, so I’m writing a thesis, and I’ve got a couple of scripts on the boil, TV stuff. I’m always writing, yeah, so it’s always a writing process – and when you move into production, that’s when the practice changes. It was weird, with Mallboy, I wrote the script and the opportunity came up tio direct it, and I thought, okay, I’ve got to learn how to do it. For me, it always comes out of writing – I work at a university teaching writing, too. It takes different forms, it’s always changing. It always comes from a personal place – I don’t write anything for commercial gain or because I think there’s an audience for it, it always comes out of personal expression.”
Set to play the Northcote Social Club very soon, and the group seem thoroughly enthused by the string of recent dates they’ve played, reimmersing themselves in the thriving live music scene of Melbourne. “We’ve never played the Northcote – it should be fun. This time, these are the last shows we’re doing to promote the Wonderful Things restrospective, but we’re also throwing in some new stuff – so we’ve got some new songs that we’re playing from new recordings that we’ve started doing. We’ve started getting back into the studio – we’ve got about six songs that we’re working on, and we’ve written another ten, so hopefully we’ll have that come out later this year.”
You can catch Underground Lovers when they play the Northcote Social Club on Saturday February 18.