Interview with Karl Hyde of Underworld
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2007
Coming out on October 16, 2007, ” Oblivion With Bells ” marks the first regular Underworld CD release since 2002’s “A Hundred Days Off.” But it isn’t that the band went on a five year hiatus, as they have been extremely busy with internet and film projects. We were able to get member Karl Hyde on the phone for a short interview, where he talked about the online releases, film scoring, and more.
What was the time frame of making “Oblivion With Bells”?
“Well, this is our fifth album since the release of ‘A Hundred Days Off.’ The first 3 were download only from underworldlive.com and the forth was the ‘Breaking and Entering’ soundtrack. This constitutes the fifth in that series, what we call the ‘Riverrun’ series. Rick and I started compiling a body of new material in about 2003. We put together just short of 200 pieces and from that we started to make choices about what tracks would go on the downloads, what would become 12 inches, and what would become physical releases.”
What inspired you to do the download only releases?
“We wanted to explore new ways of publishing our work. We were becoming quite frustrated with only releasing material in the traditional way. After a couple of decades of doing that, and coming to the end of our contract with V2, we thought it was time we struck out on our own for a while. We wanted to explore new ways of putting out the material, with a shorter time between finishing a piece of music and releasing it. So we were releasing material as downloads, and it was very successful for us. That department was paying for itself. But also in terms of our web radio casts and televisions casts through Apple Quicktime. These were all kind of part of the ‘Riverrun’ series where we were experimenting with different ways of publishing work and of communicating with live audiences, both from on the road and wherever we wanted to be, whenever we wanted to do it.”
How has online distribution been working out for you?
“Well, it’s very empowering to have immediate interaction with our audience. We’ve been publishing new pieces on the internet everyday since 2000 when we released the “Everything Everything” DVD and put a diary, photos, and links to other artists online every day. Within hours of the first post to that diary, we were getting responses. It was an incredibly empowering moment when we realized that there is more than the traditional ways of communicating. We like to go out and play live, and that plays a very important part in the way we get our directive and energy, and in the way that we write material, as we write a lot of material on stage. But it meant that we didn’t always have to get the lorries and the crews and the airplanes out to communicate our ideas and get instant feedback. Through the live webcasts, the radio shows, we were able to not only play other people’s material, but also jam out live ideas, give away works in progress, get feedback through our chat rooms, and communicate through web cameras. So there was a really multi-stranded method of working starting to appear to us. It felt more natural than always having to work the traditional way, which can be very cumbersome, and very constraining when you always have to put music out as a physical and scheduled product, with all the questions that come about, and have to go out live with the crew and the trucks and all that entails. As much as we feel like those ways are very important to us, it’s really empowered us to be able to publish material as we desire. And to get that instant feedback through the internet.”
What would you say the balances is between long-time Underworld fans continuing to follow you through the website, and new fans who have been introduced to you through the web?
“I couldn’t really say. The internet has certainly given us an enormous reach to not only connect with people who have been following us for years, but also just to be around. Through cross talk, through people to referring us through mySpace or through underworld.com. It’s something that we always believed in. Robert Fripp wrote something back in the 70’s about small mobile specialist groups of people that would be communicating with each other and exchanging ideas and information. That’s something that we’ve held as kind of core to our beliefs, and it has been since the beginning of the 80’s. When the internet came along, it was sort of the conduit by which we’d always believed we could communicate. Not only to turn people on to the things we’re doing, but also other people’s things that we are excited by.”
Can you talk a bit about the film soundtrack work Underworld has been doing?
“We first got into film soundtracks in about ’86, I think it was, when we scored a movie called ‘Underworld.’ Which is where we got our name, really! And from then on Rick and I were working on things for music television over here in Europe. When Tomato starting making TV commercials, we started to make music for those as well, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s where part of our hearts lay, really. And of course some of our music started to get picked up for films. Then we worked with Danny Boyle. About 18 months ago, Anthony Minghella approached us to score his film “Breaking and Entering” and to collaborate with Gabriel Yared. Now that came up at time when Rick and I had deliberately decided to open up the doors to new collaborations with people. Until then we’d been pretty much a closed shop. We wanted to start having other people be involved with Underworld. So when Anthony Minghella asked us to collaborate with Gabriel, that was just perfect. That formed a partnership, kind of a trio of improvising, which moved on to working with an orchestra, recording at Abby Road studios. The three of us were playing the instruments that we’d kind of grown up with and formed an improvising trio that will go on to make more music. That was very inspirational. Gabriel Yared inspired us to play our traditional instruments with him, and we also progressed our jamming over the internet. As we were finishing that, which was a very fantastic experience, Danny asked us if we would score what would be the fifth film we’ve worked on with him [‘Sunshine’]. Again, he wanted us to collaborate with another person, a guy name John Murphy, who is living over there in the States. An English guy he’d worked with on “28 Days Later.” With John scoring the orchestra, Danny encouraged us to do basically whatever we wanted to do. We pretty much scored almost all the movie, all the way down to some of the sound effects. We had an absolutely fantastic time. We handed the music over to John Murphy, and he replaced some of the parts that he and Danny thought we more suited to orchestra. Really from that we were again empowered and encouraged to follow our passion for film music, which has always been prevalent in our records, When it came to finishing this particular record.”
So it was the movie Underworld that made you take on that name for the band?
It was. The movie was based on a Clive Barker story, and the title was changed for a while to ‘Transmutations’ and then sometime in the 90’s I think it was changed back to ‘Underworld’ again. It has a fantastic cast and some great people working on the team. But it just bombed, it didn’t do well at all. But it was really the beginning of a long road of writing for pictures. Writing for pictures differs greatly from writing an album, as the moving images really tell you what they want. Particularly when you’re working with a director such as Anthony Minghella or Danny Boyle, who have a love of music and encourage and inspire musicians. And also they have a very clear idea of how they want scenes to feel. Your job as a musician is to support the images and not dominate, and to enhance the mood of the film. It’s great, it becomes very intuitive when you see a scene and it tells you what music it needs, or doesn’t need. Of course when all that stops, you’re left with a blank canvas again. There was a short period of time when we were coming to look at the short list [of songs] for this record. Rick and I said ‘well maybe ask our film maker friends if they’ve got bits of film lying around?’ There certainly was a time when we thought that maybe we should have a bit of film that we could play along to, to help us finish this album! [laughs] But we managed to get over that one.
We’re almost out of time, so is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think that the major influences for us on this record were the web radio shows that we do, listening to all the music from the independent labels and artists that get send to us and that we play on the radio. That has been an enormous inspiration. And also listening to and being inspired by the club music that is being played in Germany at the moment. The German electronic club scene, for us, has slightly slower beats and a deeper sound. That, and the film scores, would be what contributed to this album. The website, underworldlive.com, will become the center of where we publish not only music but also book, art works, films, and we’re continuing to collaborate with Apple Quicktime on content for web-based television. Which is something we’d wanted to do, in one incarnation or another, since the early 80’s. Finally, the technology is here to enable us to explore that one.
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