Name: WU LYF
Progress Report: Ellery Roberts of WU LYF — Manchester’s cultiest non-cult band — opens up about the band’s current tour and getting to work on album number two.
WU LYF’s debut album — Go Tell Fire To the Mountain — has proven itself to be one of this year’s best and most wonderfully confounding records: an echoey, guttural blast of reverby guitars and growly howly vocals recorded in an abandoned church somewhere in Manchester, England. For a band that seemingly rode into town on a wave of Internet hype and self-created mystery (including fake band member names and an of arsenal cult-like propaganda materials), WU LYF (aka World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation) would be easy to dismiss as an interesting novelty if their music wasn’t actually so compelling. Earlier this month the band did a quick sweep across the country on their first ever U.S. tour and will soon head to Australia and Europe before heading back to Manchester — and back into hiding — to begin work on their sophomore album.
Gravelly-voiced front man Ellery Roberts called me up from a Comfort Inn somewhere in Philly to talk about the band’s future plans. We happened to have the worst cell phone connection in the history of mankind, but it was nice talking to him nonetheless.
STEREOGUM: Hey, how’s it going?
ROBERTS: Good, good.
STEREOGUM: Where are you right now?
ROBERTS: Comfort Inn, downtown Philadelphia.
STEREOGUM: Oh wow, how is it going so far? You’re just about to begin your tour here in the States, yes?
ROBERTS: Yeah we just got in last night at midnight and got some sleep — ready to go.
STEREOGUM: Last time we spoke, which was earlier this year for a magazine story, you were saying how you were looking forward to the record finally coming out here in the States. How has it been going since then? Have you just been touring a lot?
ROBERTS: Yeah, we played a bunch of shows and people suddenly know all the words to the songs. We went from playing shows where people were standing in the audience just looking quizzically at us, to playing these very full-on shows where people knew the tunes and were very enthusiastic. It’s been very exciting.
STEREOGUM: I guess staying at a Comfort Inn in Philly is a nice intro to your trip across America. You’ve never done a full tour here, have you?
ROBERTS: No, no. We’ve just done N.Y. and L.A. I’m excited. It’s always been the dream since I a kid to do that whole driving across America thing. I always had the Jack Kerouac On The Road fantasy growing up in England. Very romantic. I’m not sure that kind of America still exists — and if it does, I don’t think we’d find it on a cushy tour bus. I’m still excited about it, though.
STEREOGUM: Have you been working on new music or thinking about how you’re going to move forward after the tour?
ROBERTS: Yeah we have a bunch of new songs and a specific direction where we’re taking it. I guess we’ve maybe thought about it and talked about it more than we’ve actually spent time creating new stuff … since we’ve been traveling a lot. It’s surprising that, while touring, just sitting around can still take a lot out of you. It’s hard to be creative. Still, we are working through some new songs. We are also collaborating on a film with this French guy and putting that out in the near future. I can’t say too much about it yet. I suppose we’re always thinking about new stuff, we just haven’t had much of a chance since the record took off.
STEREOGUM: While making your first album you had what might now seem like a kind of luxury, no expectations. You guys really protected your anonymity for a long time, but now people know who you are. Does the that weigh on your at all, the feeling of expectation regarding whatever WU LYF does next?
ROBERTS: Yeah. Like you said, with the first record we didn’t have any expectations and we were just really making music for the joy of doing it. Now, having toured with those songs for a while, you really want to progress, to grow as musicians and songwriters. We started doing a cover of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” in our sets, which I really almost enjoy more than some of our own songs because it feels new to us. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good or a bad thing, but your feelings about the songs does change after a while. It’s not so much about other people’s expectations, but about us really craving something new. We are eager for that.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. I can understand that. Often songs that make it on to a band’s debut album are things that have been with you for years and years.
ROBERTS: Yes. I wrote some of those songs between the ages of 15 and 20. I like the songs, but some of them feel quite old to me now.
STEREOGUM: Having gone through the experience of playing tiny shows in your hometown just a year ago to now playing big festivals stages and touring around the world, does the band feel different to you now? Do you feel like you guys have finally come into your own?
ROBERTS: Yeah, I think now we’re more comfortable playing as a band, at first I was like … I was a lot more reluctant. I didn’t want to deal with any of the band shit, I just wanted to make stuff and perform. I think we’ve become a lot more accommodating … and playing the same songs every day is much less emotional for me now than it was at first. In the beginning I felt very unsure, very vulnerable as a performer. The rush I got from it then is different than what I get from it now. Now it feels very liberating. You still feel the authentic emotion in the songs, but even that starts to feel very well rehearsed. Now, as the audiences are more familiar with us, the energy on stage comes from the push we get from the crowd … and we’re often surprised how intense that feeling can be.
STEREOGUM: I know it’s very early to tell but do you get the sense for the next record you’re going to have go hide away and record everything on your own like you did for your first record?
ROBERTS: I think we’ll do something like that. We want to stop touring by next March or April so we can properly get back to work. You see a lot of bands touring the shit out of an album until it feels dead and I don’t want to do that. For me, the creative part — the really exciting part — is the writing and recording and the making of new work. I look forward to figuring out how the new album will come together.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, the process of getting to go away and dream up something totally new would seem like the most fun part to me.
ROBERTS: Yeah I really don’t know what to expect from — obviously in the UK we get televised American TV shows but the reality I’m guessing is different than in TV Land.
Go Tell Fire to the Mountainis out now on L Y F.