“Remember when we were in LA, doing our washing in the Holiday Inn and we decided to scrap what we’d done, the whole album, and start again?”
Underground Lovers’ Glenn Bennie and Vince Giarrusso shooting each other looks of boyish delight as they recount this difficult but inevitable decision. A decision that was prompted spontaneously, in part by an iconic American landmark.
“We looked out the window and we saw the Hollywood sign and it was a moment of inspiration,” Bennie continues. “It was like, ‘let’s just do what we want and re-do it!’”
Formed in 1989 by these two high school friends, the Melbourne band found inspiration in English acts like Joy Division, The Cure, Ride and My Bloody Valentine. They made a solid impression locally and overseas with their first two albums, particularly the shoegazing surge of Leaves Me Blind.
Expectations were high for the follow up album and the band were keen, as Bennie puts it, to do “something more special” and that meant going all out.
Their initial approach was to record the album as a live band, something for which they’d become well regarded.
In a top notch studio in Sydney, they recorded what they thought was a great sounding album. But listening back to the recording whilst on tour in the US though left them feeling underwhelmed.
Going back to the drawing board meant exploring new plans to remix tracks, getting other people involved, editing songs and writing completely new songs. Only two songs, ‘Blues Team’ and ‘Va Va Va Va’ survived in their original form.
Glenn and Vince can chuckle today about the tough decision, because the end result, their third album Dream It Down, is the most enduring representation of the languid and intense beauty of their music.
As well as their English influences, Bennie and Giarrusso were also fans of local underground and experimental acts. They approached their musical heroes Robert Goodge and David Chesworth from the band Essendon Airport to help devise the sweeping, lyrical strings for the album’s best known track ‘Losin’ It’.
The wonderful melodic drift of this song gives it a deceptively simple feel, but it presented some long-standing challenges for the band who rarely play it live. Bennie puts it down to the songs many elements, the strings and the patient pulse of the drum beat which is difficult to hold down in a live setting. Even after 23 years, Giarrusso remains optimistic that, ‘we’ll learn to play it one day, and we’re going to play it well!’
It was in another live setting that inspiration struck for one of the album’s standout songs. Bennie was backstage at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre one night, while the band were on tour with The Cure, when he suddenly got the idea for the guitar melody for ‘Beautiful World’.
He and Giarrusso are at odds over whether it was the change room area or the toilet where they worked out this sombre and soaring song, but they do agree that the location had very good acoustics.
If a song could sum up a band, then for Underground Lovers it’s perhaps this album’s title track. Bennie says much is revealed in the way it’s mixed.
“Everything is separated,” he says. “The guitar exists on one side of the mix, there’s the dual vocals going on, Vince’s main vocal and the answer vocal is buried underneath. All these little ideas that are in that song flow through the album.”
Dream It Down offers a complete experience, at times flowing through lightness and beauty and other times enticing us to peer into darker, shadowy corners.
“We’ve always had a melancholic side,” Giarrusso explains. “Through lyrics, chords and bringing certain instruments together and layering. We love that feel in music. We always wrote albums thinking about feel. It was like a progression through emotions.
“Juxtaposition of feeling is really important, to reflect life in a way. Like, in an instant you can be up, then be really down. For me, music is a really good way to express that life feeling. Capturing the complexity but stilling you with simplicity.”