Music interview: The Sunshine Underground

It was necessity that brought The Sunshine Underground to Leeds.

Having formed in Shropshire, their home county, drummer Matthew Gwilt left the other three members of this dance-indiegroup to study at Leeds College of Music 10 years ago.

Despite being in its infancy, the band's potential was too sizeable for vocalist Craig Wellington to just brush aside. Along with guitarist Stuart Jones and bassist Daley Smith, he relocated to Leeds the following year to nurture the band.

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"We tried to replace Matt," he recalls, "But the band only really works with the four of us. We had to move but it was the right time; the music scene was just kicking off in Leeds.

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"There are people that really care about music here and all the venues have got their charm. When we first arrived, we wanted to play the big room at The Cockpit then our ambition grew and we wanted to take on the universities. To this day, though, Brudenell Social Club has always been a great gig; it's one of our favourite venues.'

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In 2006 they were rewarded their perseverance: sell-out shows, being named 'Live Band of the Year' at the Leeds Music Awards and the release of their debut album Raise the Alarm, having signed to label City Rockers the year before. The following years saw the release of popular tracks such as Commercial Breakdown and Borders and the opportunity to bask in the European festival circuit.

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Their latest tour, concluding next month at the O2 Academy in Leeds is part of a comeback campaign; last November ended a period of almost two years without any studio offering.

Despite uploading experimental pieces to Myspace, the 2009 EP Everything, Right Now was the first official release since the single Borders in 2007. The new album Nobody's Coming To Save You is due for release next month.

"The reason there's been such a big gap between albums" says Wellington, "is because we wanted to do something completely different.

'When we started off we were just guitar-based and then we became very influenced by dance music. Now we're going a little bit darker and heavier; it's going to be completely unlike anything we've done before."

Interestingly, the name 'The Sunshine Underground' was taken from a high-energy Chemical Brothers' track. Should fans of the first album and its incorporation of dance music be wary of this new direction?

"We had to evolve," he begins. "We couldn't just stay in one gear. We were never in the market to fit into a genre. If you're in a band that wants to sound like the stuff being played on Radio 1, by the time you've got yourself together, they'll have moved on.

"The early shows were great – completely chaotic and we played everything at 300 beats per minute. On this tour, we try and take our time but you won't be able to tell. There will be more synths and percussion – it's definitely darker but it's certainly not dampened down. It'll still be riotous."

Although their allusive style continues to evolve and fox music writers, The Sunshine Underground remain loyal to Leeds. Wellington still lives in Headingley and the whole band collude together and write in Meanwood.

The band also approached a local artist for artwork on the forthcoming album and a Leeds-based director to shoot the video for comeback single We've Always Been Your Friends, to be released mid February.

The group's interest in opportunities for local artists is ever present in a recounting of last year's three-day Bingley Festival.

"It was the surprise hit of the summer for us,' says Wellington. 'We wanted to do it because it's nearby and we were really amazed by how good it was. We expected a couple of thousand but there were up to twenty thousand.

"A lot of local festivals can be poorly equipped or just off the back of a lorry. This one had a great stage, a great PA and was really well organised. If I had to change anything, I'd want another stage, I wanted it to be bigger."

Yet The Sunshine Underground's artistic ideas and initiatives haven't been to the exclusive benefit of Yorkshire. Last year, the group posted a nationwide bid to find fourteen of the best unsigned bands to support each date of the 2010 tour. 250 applicant acts were judged and rated by the four members themselves.

"Completely different bands came forward," says Wellington. "New bands seem to experiment a lot more than we did when we were starting out, with synths and stuff like that.

"We were really overwhelmed at the response but it is a great opportunity, playing Academy venues.

"There's one band that we picked in Liverpool and this is going to be their first ever gig. It was cool to find someone in that position and ask them if they wanted to come and play with us."

Any advice for them?

"Don't worry about trying to write singles – just do it. Be wary of major record labels – we love being on an independent. Get a really good manager – just work with people that believe in you."

The Sunshine Underground play at the 02 Academy Leeds on February 19.

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