The Hickey Underworld interview

Live pics by Zac

Any band who are named after a song by Nation Of Ulysses are guaranteed to be men of taste. So when The Hickey Underworld‘s debut album landed in Crossfire’s lap a couple of months back it went straight to the top of the towering pile of crap that constitutes rock music in 2009. This is no mean feat. Usually it takes huge bribes to jump the queue.

We just sat around looking at the sleeve for a while, touched it, sniffed it and then finally decided to play it. When we did it sounded immense, like many of the recent greats from rock underworld – Jesus Lizard, Refused, Shellac, Queens Of The Stone Age – all rolled in one sweaty Belgian bundle. Did we mention the album artwork is amazing? The artwork is amazing. There was nothing else to do but unleash Ben Myers on the phone to call guitarist Jonas Govaerts, like, immediately.

Hi Jonas. So we know nothing about your band – other than the fact that you’re named after a songs by Nation of Ulysses, who were amazing, but pretty obscure…

Yeah, Younes (Faltakh, singer, pic right) and I grew up mail ordering the whole Dischord catalogue, so we were very much influenced by Fugazi and everything they put out. One band that really captured our imagination was Nation of Ulysses with their strange sense of humour and that great name too. Their song titles were a mystery within themselves, but what I found appealing was the messy element of their music. They had really discordant horns on there and even on record they weren’t a tight band at all. That was exciting and they definitely left a mark on us.

Your album was a genuine surprise. I hear dozens of new rock bands each month and 99 out of 100 aren’t terrible, they are something much, much worse – they are merely ‘OK’. So it’s rare to hear any who have such great songs and ideas and style as The Hickey Underworld.

Oh, thanks. It’s strange because we were working on this band so much that were feeling a little bit out of touch with music, plus so many Belgian bands are influenced by British music right now, whereas out inspirations are drawn more from America. In Belgium they’re all ripping off the poppy end of British music but we’re staying well away from that…

What are the origins of the band?

Me and Younes grew up together in Antwerp and have been playing together in bands since we were twelve – so many bands – and they were all pretty much terrible. It was only really years later when Jimmy (Wouters, drummer) joined us about four years ago from a hardcore band that we really found our sound. Before that – crap.

Is there much going on Antwerp at the moment?

Sure, there’s a good scene in Antwerp. For example, when our album came out in Belgium we sold 3500 copies in the first week alone. The scene we are from you can consider yourself a success if you sell half that amount over the course of a year or two, so people are interested and there was an element of surprise to the reaction we got. We must be doing something right. We feel blessed because we got a lot of help. The Belgian band Das Pop have really helped us out. The three guys from the band are from a different musical scene to us but they really helped us out with the production of the album, getting a decent soundman and finding a record deal. Before that they themselves were helped by the Soulwax / 2 Many DJ’s guys. So, yeah, I guess the scene is pretty supportive.

You’re in LA right now. Are you playing shows out there?

No. As well as the band I make short films and put them on the net. A manager in LA picked up on one and has brought me how here to have lots of meetings with studios. I’m staying right in the heart of Hollywood but it’s possibly not as big a deal as it sounds. I don’t drive either so Younes is here driving me around. It’s not a pedestrian town at all.

What do the rest of the guys do outside of the band?

Younes is pretty much a full-time songwriter and our bassist Georgios (Tsakiridis), who only recently joined us, is still at school, studying film. As for Jimmy, I don’t know what he does exactly? I think it has something to do with battered wives. It suits his aggressive persona…

Do you share any other collective influences?

Actually we like quite a bit of world music, Ethiopian music. It’s very refreshing stuff. We’re also really excited that Jesus Lizard have reformed. But aside from music, art and the visual side of things is very important to us…

I should explain to readers that the art-work for your album is very impressive: a colourful fold-out painting that is loaded with sub-satanic and Masonic symbols, hidden messages, pictures within pictures…

Right. And I think the record label and our manager probably hated us for it because we had such specific demands and also because it all had to be folded by hand! A big influence on the visuals was Coffin Joe, the Brazilian horror film-maker, whose work is very powerful and psychedelic, but loaded with dark humour too. An artist friend of ours did the artwork and we really made him work for it. It took months to do. We made him draw ten different temples before he got the right one, which itself is only a small detail in the picture. We were very selective and very precise, because the presentation aspect of music is getting lost amongst download culture. So, there are hidden messages throughout the artwork – the artist put the names of girls he likes in there and if you go through it carefully you’ll be able to find drawings of the four band members too. But you’ll have to look for us hard.

What does 2009 hold for you?

We’re playing some big European festivals, though we’re actually more excited about the smaller club shows. All the bands we love we first saw in small clubs – Kepone, Girls Against Boys, all that type of stuff. Our band works best in clubs too.

We obviously grew up listening to the same bands at the same time.

Yeah! I think we must be the same age.

I’m 33.

Well, we’re actually younger…

You were obviously just a lot hipper growing up, then.

Ha, thanks!

Download The Hickey Underworld‘s debut single Mystery Bruise at i-Tunes here and await the monster that is their debut album scheduled for release via Naive Records in September 2009. Watch the video for the debut single Mystery Bruise here.