THE ROOTS OF WU LYF
For the latest In Conversation piece, we will be showcasing a very special look into the origins of one of the Uk's most significant groups in recent times, WU LYF, where we chat to drummer Joe Manning about the origins of the band, the new book 'Archives 1998-2012', and the beautiful mix 'The Roots of WU'.....
The year was 2011, and if you were into music around that time there's a slight chance you came across a record by the name of 'Go Tell Fire To The Mountain', by a band called WU LYF (an abbreviation for 'World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation, if you wanted to know). In the months leading up to this release, the Manchester based band had created a sense of hype that felt so very intense all up and down the land, the grainy photos of an ultra style group atop a car park creating a sense of deep intrigue. It wasn't just the image that captivated people, but their music too, a beautiful and texturally fuelled sound with a cavernous scope and bombastic yet impeccably tender underbelly. This feeling was wrapped up in the single release of 'Concrete Gold/Heavy Pop', which cemented the group as an underground force to be reckoned with, as the British music scene readied themselves to be converted to the ways of the LYF.
'Go Tell Fire' was a seminal moment in contemporary music, its arrival in 2011 most anticipated and to say that it delivered would be an understatement. The boys of WU served up a masterclass in dynamism and soul, a sonically unique album which touched the hearts and minds of so very many - perhaps helped by the fact the album was recorded in an abandoned church. There felt like there was no limit to what this four piece, consisting of Ellery Roberts, Tom McClung, Evans Kati and Joe Manning, could achieve, but in 2012 Roberts announced his departure, perhaps fittingly as a description within a youtube video of their last single 'Triumph'. And like that, WU LYF was no more in a physical sense, but the spirit and legacy of the ground was paved in concrete, a flash in musical history that will burn bright for decades to come.
But to just limit the WU story to one record and a single would be a disservice to the many years these lads spent together, creating and crafting together to be able to arrive at their captivating sound. In recent years there has been a fairly continuous stream of activity on the group's bandcamp, with two reissues of their debut album along with the release of 'WU2', a demo tape that features the backbone of an unreleased second album. This historical archival has cumulated in the release of the tome 'Archives 1998-2012', a remarkable 140 page book filled with photographs and interviews that tells the story of the band, its origins and its story from start to finish. Its a must for any fan of the band, a vivid retelling through the eyes and ears of those involved with the most captivating of musical adventures.
And now, it gives us great pleasure to announce the release of the 'Roots of WU' mix, along with a little Q&A with Joe from the band regarding the mix and a little bit on the history of the band. Its probably our favourite feature yet, and we are beyond honoured to be able to release something from a band so close to our hearts. So, why not whack on the mix (link below), grab a cuppa, and tune in and read up on a beautiful slice of history....
Hello! Hope you are doing well. To kick things off, how exactly did you all meet? And what were the sorts of things you all bonded over?
I originally met Evans in high school when we were 11! We found out we both liked RHCP and then we got into the Strokes together. We both got electric guitars for our 13th birthdays but when Evans' abilities started to accelerate I moved to the drums. After high school we attended different sixth form colleges where, according to Evans' recollections in LYF011, I approached Ellery because he was wearing a Roots Manuva jumper although I don't remember that detail personally. Tom was in the year above and knew Ellery from skateboarding. In the autumn the arts department organised a trip to Liverpool art gallery and I remember the three of us singing Daniel Johnstons' "Funeral Home" on the coach ride home.
When the group started playing together, what was the style you were going for? were there many evolutions before you landed upon the distinctive LYF sound?
Ellery originally told me he was a bass player so we had some jams as a trio that didn't really work but after seeing Tom and Ellery's drum/guitar duo "Jaspers Skinny Arms" me and Evans asked Ellery to be the singer. One night Tom drunkenly crashed at my house the night before a scheduled practice after which we became a four-piece with three guitarists as everyone was reluctant to be the bass player.
We played several very noisy shows with this line-up until we wrote Heavy Pop in the summer of 2009, there was a cheap keyboard lying around and the only sound El liked on it was the church organ sound. Tom had picked up the bass and initiated the shuffle rhythm in the latter half of the track. Immediately realising the importance of this song we re-arranged our older material into this set-up.
I always remember a certain mystique around the band when I first heard of you, a kind of loving family vibe wrapped in smoke bombs and face masks. How did you end up moving along to this sort of outward persona for the band?
In the book I think Ellery says that he had seen some photos from the May 68 riots in Paris where the protestors were wearing bandanas and liked the aesthetic but I also remember how hard it was to get a photograph of the band we were all happy with. At least one of us would always be smirking in any image we took so the face coverings also provided the solution to this.
We invited some friends along to ease the focus on the four of us and when the nme started to write about us as the mysterious wu lyf we were just happy to not have to use a photo of four guys standing around awkwardly, which unfortunately became the results of most of the "professional" photoshoots we did in the years after.
Moving onto the mix, which has this wonderful dynamism to it, and feels like a playlist that a group of friends would share each other on a Friday night - tell us a little bit about how you approached the making of it....
Some of the tracks from the mix are things we were listening to in the early years of the band, tracks we'd send each other on last.fm, (remember last f.m!?) but a lot are covers we'd play the early shows. We played an ear splitting cover of Stagger Lee in the back room of the Castle on Oldham St. when it was practically an extension of the toilet! Fatefully that show was also where we met Warren Bramley who became our manager and mentor.
S. Maharba a.k.a Ross Abrahams was invited to open on our first tour of the U.K and "Shorty Wanna Be a Thug" was sampled on the original demo of Sad Puppy Dog and later quoted on the album version. "Wicked Game" was covered later on the long tours of the glory years and "Krusty" is more reflective of how we were playing on wu2 demos. There's a youtube video of us playing it tired and grumpy on a grey morning in Seattle for KEXP. Bruce Springsteen was a big influence on the Heavy Pop sound and principles and we actually covered this parody he made with Jimmy Fallon at Corsica Studios in Elephant & Castle, London. I couldn't fit "Bros" by Panda Bear into the mix but there's a lot of textural moments on Go Tell Fire, for example the crowd sounds on We Bros or the fireworks on Concrete Gold, that were directly inspired by his use of non musical samples.
The influences are widespread, bridging the past and the contemporary - when LYF was in its formative years, did every band mate bring something different to the table in terms of musical taste?
On the weekends we'd catch mainly American bands such as No Age or Health in small d.i.y venues like Islington Mill in Salford. However there were only a few bands that we all mutually loved, Nirvana particularly so there was quite a small common ground that we'd write in. Everyone had different tastes of course but ideas would have to be tweaked if one of us didn't like them or they were often left by the wayside.
I love the transitions between energies and textures on the mix, which in many ways reminds me a lot of the movements between certain tracks on WU LYF’s debut album, ‘Go Tell Fire to the Mountain’. Were you inspired not just by the musical content but the manner of production also on some of these selected tracks?
In addition to playing live together, we were all experimenting with production on garageband and cracked versions of ableton and logic. You can hear this more prominently on our early demos (coming to bandcamp soon) inspired by mp3-blog artists like arch m. When it came to the album this style was reduced to the extremities of the songs as we concentrated on trying to catch the energy of playing live together.
Bringing together formative musical influences and shared passions is always a very moving experience. Were there any particular tracks on there which evoked certain feelings for you? Or were they all as impactful as each other?
I don't listen to the majority of the tracks these days so they're all very reminiscent of a certain time for me. Arch M and Yeasayer remind me distinctly of the sixth form years when I first met Ellery and Tom. Hopefully the mix as a whole gives a good impression of our world at the time but also what we were aiming for as I'm not sure we ever fully recorded what we heard in our heads.
The mix coincides with the release of the book ‘Archives 1998-2012’, which chronicles the ‘golden years’ of LYF in the form of photographs, collage art works and paintings. Tell us a little bit about how it felt to put this wonderful collection together….
We started putting the ideas for LYF011 together in the summer of 2020 and by the time we could physically meet we were just having a laugh at some of the NSFW photos we dug up which were mostly omitted from the book. The response to the kickstarter surprised us, having doubled the minimum amount we needed to make the books and I think it was cathartic to try and get our side of the story across to the fans.
Finally, do you have any up coming projects you wish to share with us here?
As I mentioned earlier, we're digging out some of our early demos which will be on the bandcamp hopefully by the end of the summer, you can follow us on there or on the wulyf_archive instagram to keep informed of upcoming projects..
We would like to thank Joe for his answers to the questions. You can find a link to Endless Grooves 008 here:
Be sure to check out the WU LYF bandcamp to pick up copies of the reissue of their debut album and the book, link here:
Be sure to check out the wulyf_archive page on insta for all things LYF!