Interview with The Hickey Underworld
The Hickey Underworld is a four-piece alternative rock band from Belgium. The Upcoming had the chance to talk to them before the show at Camden’s Barfly.
So guys, you’re from Antwerp in Belgium and I guess few of our readers will know much about you. Could you begin by just telling us a bit about yourselves, how you formed, how you got to where you are today?
Well this is our second album. We started out – actually, in my mind we’ve been playing together forever. But I guess the official start is with our first album, an eponymous album that we released in 2009. We played it a little over here, mainly thanks to a video clip we made with Nicolas Karakatsanis and Joe Vanhoutteghem really got everyone into it – the visuals helped attract people to the music. The same guys have done a great video for our new song The Frog. In fact, there was one Belgian film nominated for Oscars, Bullhead, and Nicolas was a cameraman on that film, so we’re very lucky to work with him. And we just met him at school; he’s a childhood friend, so we were very lucky indeed.
So did the band meet at school too?
Pretty much yes, more or less. We’re quite different ages, for example George (the bassist) is 26 and I (Jonas, the guitarist) am 32, and George joined us after our previous bassist eloped to Vietnam. But otherwise we all met at school. I’d say we’ve been playing serious music now for five, six, or seven years – at least that’s when a little money began to trickle in.
Where did the band name come from?
We thought it was cool to name ourselves after a song, like After Forever named themselves after a Black Sabbath song. But we didn’t realise how odd a name it would be for English readers; we get lots of questions about it. So originally it’s from a song by the Nation of Ulysses, who were one of the bands we really loved when we were younger, led by Ian Svenonious.
And how do you feel you’ve evolved or changed musically in the making of your second album?
We have definitely begun to move away a bit from the very heavy rock stuff, the more straightforward side of that music. We’ve begun to diversify on our second album, into more psychedelic sounds. There are softer influences that get into our music, Beach House for example. It’s not that our sound has got much softer, but we’ve started exploring guitar sounds and effects more and what we can do with that. It’s a natural progression I guess, mainly just subtle differences, but it’s been really fun exploring them.
And what about the name of your new album – I’m Under the House I’m Dying? It’s very intriguing; a sentence that sounds like it must be concealing some kind of deeper meaning. Is there any particular story behind it?
Is it really that weird? People keep asking about it! We’ve had a number of very interesting explanations. One woman was certain it must be a reference to The Wizard of Oz, you know, where the witch gets trapped under the house. Though why she’d be texting someone about her death from under the house I wasn’t quite sure. Or another person was convinced it must be about the quiet end of a dog’s life, you know the way dogs will crawl away sometimes under the house to die. But I partly think that’s what’s great about some of our lyrics – they hint at something, seem like they must mean something, but really leave it open for people to interpret themselves.
So apart from the Nation of Ulysses, what other specific influences do you draw on?
Well we come under the whole Fugazi thing of course, that kind of heavy grungy rock, though as I say, we’ve begun to move into other areas now, to experiment with other types of music. Hip-hop is creeping in there. Jonas is really excited about the re-union of the Stone Roses. And there’s a lot of stuff we all like, The Liars for instance. Though actually we have quite varied music tastes, for example, three of us went to see a band called Goblin – they’re famous for making soundtracks for Dario Argento’s films – the other week. I loved it, but George hated it, and Younes couldn’t stop laughing. Though we do have a creeping feeling that guitar music might be dying, well maybe not dying but not the most popular genre anymore. That change could be really interesting.
So where do you think the zeitgeist is moving then?
Well when you’re a teenager you’re very susceptible to emotional songs and I loved that kind of intense stuff. But now I think people are maybe more interested in just partying, in just getting out of their heads to electronic music and stuff. Though that impression might just be the Belgian crowd – I think we make music that would make us move when we were 18, make us go crazy, but people don’t really do that anymore. The crowds seem much more restrained. We have to try and do crazy things to get them moving, to get them wild. All these years of live shows and there’s only one time a girl has shown her tits.
Read our review of The Hickey Underworld’s performance at Camden’s Barfly here.