Underground Railroad Interview

Raphael Mura, Marion Andrau and JB Ganivet are Underground Railroad; a Parisian menage a trois formed in 2003 but having long since moved to their spiritual musical home of London.

Three years after their last album, these french boys and girl are gearing up for the release of their new record White Night Stand and took some time out of their busy schedule to speak with Soundbite Culture.

Soundbite Culture: So, the new single you have coming out is called Ginkgo Biloba. How did you come up with that name?

Raphael Mura: We picked the phrase out of a dictionary, just like the name of our band Underground Railroad.

SC: Really?

RM: Yeah, it’s a fun way to come up with ideas. You open the dictionary up and find a word that sounds weird and cool, then make a song out of it.

SC: So it’s no relation to the supplement you can take to improve your blood flow and memory?

RM: Well, it kind of works with the song too. But you can find inspiration in anything, so why not words from a dictionary?

JB Ganivet: Yeah, we love playing Scrabble you know.

RM: Guess who’s the joker in the band?

Marion Andrau: I think it’s good to play with words, you know, like The Doors.

SC: So what’s Ginkgo Biloba about?

RM: I was interested in the words because they sound great. And it’s the name of a Chinese plant that’s used to help cure people with depression and mental disorders. It just conjures an image in my head that relates to the person I sing of in the song that, for my taste, was a bit crazy.

SC: So it was inspired by a real person from your life?

RM: My songs are always inspired by people. I always write about the relationship I have with one person I meet, and what I think goes through their brains and mine. It’s almost psychoanalytical, I just realised that on these new songs for White Night Stand. I only wrote lyrics for four of them and Marion wrote the rest.

SC: And you all write music together?

RM: Yeah, we all do that. So Ginkgo Biloba is about this insane girl that I found.

SC: Is she still in your life?

RM: No, she was never really in my life; just for one day.

SC: That must be great for her though, to have inspired you to write a song from just one day. She must have made a hell of an impact?

RM: Yeah, yeah, yeah… seems to have happened quite a few times. Crazy, mental people you meet for a few days and then that’s it. But they get a song out of it.

SC: So this is the second single from the new album, following on from Russian Doll?

RM: Yeah, I wrote the lyrics for that one too.

SC: Was another crazy and insane girl the inspiration behind this song?

RM: Yeah, a Russian one.

SC: So this is your song writing forte?

RM: Well, it’s just another weird story.

SC: I’ll have to pay more attention to the lyrics.

RM: But I also like to use images in words, to make the song sound interesting through the words I choose. So I try to use words we don’t really use in everyday conversation. And, of course, people can make their own interpretations from these things too.

SC: Projecting our own crazy Russian girl experiences onto them.

RM: She was alright.

SC: Did this one last longer than a couple of days?

RM: Nah. Ah, no. It’s just a bit awkward to describe what your lyrics are about. One sentence can be inspired by a completely different experience from the rest of the lyrics. Its imagery that’s really important to me in words, so people can imagine their own stories.

SC: To be ambiguous?

RM: We have a lot of that in our songs, especially in Marion’s lyrics, and I think that’s what makes it cool. If you listen to Jim Morrison’s lyrics, there’s just a lot of imagery going on and I like to be inspired by this form of poetry.

MA: For me, I could be mixing between general and personal things in my writing. But it’s good when you can make things a bit blurry so the listener can fill in the rest.

RM: I think we share the same tastes for lyrics, which really works as a band.

SC: Almost like a theme that runs through Underground Railroad’s songs, so you can’t tell who’s written what?

RM: Yeah, I think so.

SC: Is there a theme or concept to White Night Stand?

RM: I think we tried to go further than we’ve been before on this record, taking steps like producing it ourselves. Times are changing; music’s all about writing and making your own album now, as inexpensively as you can.

SC: Using social media to get it out to the public?

RM: Yeah, it’s very direct now which is a great thing I think. It’s more authentic to the music people make. We learned lessons from watching how our first two records were made and then took on the role of producer for ourselves; going beyond what we’ve done. So we’ve played with effects before, but even weirder ones are on White Night Stand.

SC: So you had more control on the sound you get to produce?

MA: Well, we had control before; its just making a record was kind of new to us. So the first album was straight rock.

RM: Guitar, drums, bass.

JBG: Which is fun as well.

RM: And we wouldn’t mind going back to that raw sound of ours on the next album now that we know how to produce it. We went really far with this new direction, which is great because I love White Night Stand. I listen to it and I’m really happy and proud with what we’ve achieved. Whether it does well or not, I don’t care because it’s done and I think it’s a great record.

JBG: But we need to think of the next one now.

SC: Already? When did you finish recording White Night Stand?

MA: Everything was finished in October.

JBG: And we recorded all the songs back in April 2010. It’s the process, you know.

MA: Mixing took a while, to be honest.

RM: The whole summer. Again, the idea was to do White Night Stand the best we could, as cheap as we could. So we made it at a studio near to us then sent it off to Paul Walton, who mixed Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and some Bjork albums.

SC: He has links with One Little Indian Records?

RM: Yeah. Great guy, brilliant mix; really respectful of how you sound as a band.

SC: Keeping Underground Railroad’s voice intact?

RM: Yeah, yeah. So we were like; here are all the layers and you can go and do something with it now. And Paul took his time, did it in his own studio and asked for practically no money. So we couldn’t be like, we want a song a day. He took some time mixing White Night Stand, which was great. When you’re able to spend more time on the creative process, I think you get a better result.

Ginkgo Biloba is out now, while White Night Stand is released on June 13th.

Words by Jonathan Campbell, photography by Tim Green

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Dates ‘n stuff

June 2011