Track-By-Track: Above The Underground – ‘Sonder’

Chester pop-rock quartet Above The Underground are set to release their storming debut Sonder on 17th Feb. Awash with crisp but warm, driving guitars, and iced with instantly familiar vocal refrains, Sonder is much more than just a disposable offering from a dime-a-dozen local act, but rather a potential-loaded leap forward for a band that could easily become leaders of the national scene and beyond. Vocalist Will takes us through the process of creating the album in this track by track feature…

Above The Underground - Sonder

with Will Kirkman (vocals, guitar)

1. “Prologue”

We wanted the first song on the album to sum up the general mood of the record for the listener without actually being a full song. We like the idea of repeating themes, and the combination of chords and the riff in Prologue sets the first theme of the record which returns at the end of the album in“Reprise.” We really liked the idea of having two songs at either end of the record, kind of like bookends to tie it all together. Originally the ideas for this song were from a bridge in another song that we never ended up using; one day I was messing around on my acoustic and I played it a little slower and it just worked so much better, so we ended up using it. We wanted a lot of ambient noise at the beginning of the album to give off the impression that we were getting ready to start playing, lots of mic noise and background talking. It all came together really well in the studio and I think It sets a precedent for the album which is what we were aiming for, overall I feel it came out really well.

2. “Return To Point Pleasant”

This was the first track we wrote for the album. We wanted the first proper song to make people sit up and think, “Ok, now I’m interested”, so we wrote it so the chord progression in the intro was a continuation of the last two chords in “Prologue”. It seemed tie the two songs together and I think it flows really well. I started writing this on tour in the States. We were out with a band called On My Honor and when we started the tour they told us about this urban legend about a monster called the “moth man” that used to terrorize a town in West Virginia called Point Pleasant in the sixties. A couple of weeks into the tour I was riding in OMH’s van and we got a call saying that the other van with the rest of my guys had broken down, so I had to play a couple of the dates on my own. After the show I fell asleep in the van and woke up to Drew from OMH excited as fuck shouting “Get up, we’re in Point Pleasant!” The place was super eerie. It was the middle of the night and it was covered in fog. There was this big statue of the moth man in the centre of the town. After we were sufficiently creeped out we climbed back into the van and carried on towards Kentucky where we were playing the next day. I fell asleep in the back and had the weirdest dream I’ve ever had. I was in my old school and there were these men in suits roaming around searching for a monster. I was locked inside and couldn’t escape. For some reason I climbed into this old bell tower to hide. There was a projector that was beaming a film down into a room below where all the men in suits were sat watching this crazy propaganda film. Aside from that the place was pitch black. Suddenly I got this weird feeling that the monster was in the bell tower with me. Trying to escape, I climbed in front of the projector, projecting my shadow down onto the screen below. The men in suits started freaking out, shouting “It’s the monster!”. Suddenly I realized that the whole time I had been the monster and it was me that they had been searching for. When I woke up the two merch girls on the tour, Brittany and Nicole, told me that I’d been screaming in my sleep, which has never happened to me before. Overall it was a ridiculously freaky experience, but the combination of that dream and being out there on my own made me think about a lot of things. That’s what the song deals with lyrically, coming to terms with parts of yourself that you’re not happy with and accepting yourself for who you are. When I listened back to the song it didn’t quite come across that way, but people can take from it what they want. All in all it turned out as one of my favourite tracks on the record.

3. “Lavender Town Syndrome”

We wanted a more upbeat song at this point, so we decided to put this track here. Musically it’s very simple, we wanted the lyrics to carry it more than anything else so it never strayed too far from it’s original format, an acoustic song. Lyrically it’s about trying to reclaim a certain feeling of inner peace that you have when you’re young that seems to disappear more and more as you get older, whilst at the same time accepting that things change and you have to adapt to the world around you. It’s also about my friends and how grateful I am to have them. I know that’s a cliché in this genre but they mean a lot to me and I wanted to write about something positive for a change. There are a few references to older songs we’ve written, “I won’t forget you” citing lyrics from a song on our last EP called “MMIX”, which deals with similar themes, and “please don’t be so ashamed of who you are” a throwback to one of the first songs we ever wrote, “We Are The Party”. The structure on this one is a little unconventional, the mood of the song changes towards the end. The lyrics over the outro, “I’ll run faster than you can” deals with the feeling I have that my youth is kind of running out, which I think a lot of people my age can relate to. The line is almost a statement of defiance against that concept. The harmonies in the chorus of this track are the highlight for me, I think they really bring it to life. The change in tone after the bridge was intentionally written that way to set up the next track on the album, “Weathered.”

4. “Weathered”

This is another song that came together fairly early on in the album writing process. I think that everyone goes about life only showing a fraction of who they really are to the people they meet so I wrote a song that reflected that. Musically it’s very short and angsty and I feel that it really fits the theme of the song in general. Everyone has so much more to give than their everyday persona lets on, so the lyrics in the chorus, “I mean this, I’d give you everything I have, believe it” are about that feeling of wanting something more than what goes on day to day and that longing for a deeper connection with someone. It’s a short one but I feel like it says everything it needs to say. It’s a very guitar driven track and we tried a few different combinations and tones before we got the right sound. It’s one of our favourites to play live.

5. “I Was Never Lost”

We wrote this song originally for a split we put out last year. For the album, we re-wrote parts that we weren’t completely happy with originally and I think it turned out a lot better. I love the guitar sounds on this track. We wanted it to sound massive and I think Matty, the producer on the album, really captured the right sounds in order to let that happen. The song is about the sense of adventure that comes with playing in a band and being on the road. It has it pitfalls and its downsides but for the right kind of person who’s after the right kind of lifestyle it’s the greatest thing in the world. Even though I loved it when I was younger I used to second guess wether being in a band was the right decision, but when we started touring properly and started writing music we were really happy with it put things into perspective and gave me the feeling that I’d made the right decisions for myself. The title of the song, “I Was Never Lost”, reflects on that. I really feel like this song sums up our band musically, it seems to have all the elements that make us sound like us. The bridge in this song is one of my favourite parts of the whole record.

6. “Cheer Up”

The name, “Cheer Up,” was one of the original ideas we had nocking about for the name of the record. We wanted an interlude in the middle of the album to tie it together and give it some breathing space. Musically this is my favourite song on the record. The lyrics are low in the mix for that purpose. I wanted it to be simple. The lyrics remind me of self titled era Blink, something Hoppus might write. For inspiration on this track I listened to songs like “Tautou” by Brand New and “The Fallen Interlude” by Blink. I wanted it to have big vibes without saying much. Again I love the guitar sounds on this track, Matty did a great job. Overall I feel like this one turned out really well and it ended up being one of my favourites on the record.

7. “Not Home”

This is another one from the split we put out last year. It’s definitely the angriest song on the record. The lyrics in this one are pretty straight forward, it’s about infidelity and the subsequent fallout of that. I wrote the lyrics to this song when I was a bit younger and I think that shows, but I like that about it; it has an angsty, confused and desperate vibe about it that I think makes it stand out from other songs we’ve written. The lyrics, “every piece of real estate in hell you’ve built yourself, you’ve earned it” are the angriest I’ve ever written and some of my favourite on the record. We wanted this one to be very musically driven so we wanted the drums and guitars to sound and feel massive to reflect the tone of the song. If you listen closely there are very few parts of the song without any singing, which I think works really well. I had a lot to say and it gives the song an edge that reflects the subject matter. This is another one of our favourites to play live.

8. “Shine”

Seeing as track seven and track nine are both fast and angry, we wanted an acoustic song here to give the record some room, and whilst I had a few written, Shine seemed to be the perfect fit and was the one that eventually made the cut. Originally I had not planned for this to be an ATU song, it was just something I had come up with myself. We didn’t have a love song on the album so it was a nice change from what we normally do. The song itself is short and very simple. I jammed it out with Bran a couple of weeks before we went into the studio and we decided it would work best if the drums were as basic as possible in order to not crowd it up, but driving enough to carry the song in the right direction. The recording process on this one was very easy and fun. We wanted it to have a really live sound so the guitars were all recorded live without any overdubs, I just had to keep playing it over and over until I got it right. We’d never done a proper acoustic song before so we weren’t quite sure how it turned out but it ended up working really well and I don’t think that the album would feel right now without it.

9. “Bring Me The Sun”

This song took a long time to write and went through a lot of different versions before we got to the final product. This is a pretty straightforward track and I feel like it could have fit in well on our last E.P, “Autumns”. Lyrically it deals with striving to be be the best person you can be and the idea of trying to live your life to the fullest. Although it took a long time it was a really fun song to write and we feel like it turned out really well. We wanted an epic half time chorus that juxtaposes the frantic double time verses and pre-chorus. The gang vocals and riff in the chorus really bring it to life and I think it might be one of the strongest sections on the record. We wanted this song to have a live, frantic sound. We used a lot of delay on the lead riffs in the choruses and pre-choruses to fill it out and give it a massive sound. Overall it turned into a really fun, cool song. It’s definitely a fun one to play as a band.

10. “Reprise”

This was the last track we wrote for the record and my favourite song we’ve ever written. It starts with the same progression as Prologue but introduces more themes that turn it into a different song in its own right. I really feel like the drums carry this track. Me and Brandon jammed it out a few weeks before we went into the studio and tried a few ideas but we settled on simple driving beats that complemented the lyrics and formed a crescendo towards the end. I feel like it worked really well. We kept the intro as basic as possible so that when it kicked in it would sound huge. The gang vocals in the verse are super high and we really had to push ourselves to hit them but I think that it gives it a cool sound. Structurally this song is very unconventional but we tried to just take it to the places it needed to go instead of worrying about choruses and verses and things like that. The whole song builds up to the outro and the last few lines are the pay off. Overall I think it ties the album up perfectly and if people make it this far it makes more sense than if it were a stand alone track. To me it feels like the plot twist at the end of a movie that makes everything you’ve been watching so far make sense and fit into place. The way this song ends after the climax is my favourite part and I really feel like it brings the record to a great end.

Sonder will be released February 17th. Preorder the album at the Bandcamp link below.  |

Above The Underground European Tour Dates:
31/01/14 4Rooms, Leipzig, Germany
01/02/14 Chapeua Rouge, Prague, Czech Republic
02/02/14 Viper Room, Vienna, Austria
03/02/14 Bang Bang Club, Graz, Austria
04/02/14 Lughe, Lugo, Italy
05/02/14 Traffic, Rome, Italy
06/02/14 Live Forum, Milan, Italy
07/02/14 Cafe Irrlicht, Schopfheim, Germany
21/03/14 Art Garbage, Moscow, Russia
22/03/14 Pub Irlandec, Tula, Russia
24/03/14 Dominata, Penza, Russia
25/03/14 Magic, Saratov, Russia
27/03/14 Vnutr, Ulyanovsk, Russia
28/03/14 Ship, Naberezhine, Russia
29/03/14 Piter, Kazan, Russia
30/03/14 Sim City Nizhniy Novogrog, Russia
23/03/14 Ryazan, Russia
26/03/14 Samara, Russia

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