Transcending Genres, Maintaining Momentum

Underground Railroad grew out of a lingering teenage obsession with making music. As their peers began to drift off to college, founding members, Raphael Mura, Marion Andrau and JB Ganivet collaborated, with ambitions for stardom.

The three continued along the path of serendipity by plucking the moniker Underground Railroad randomly out of the dictionary and so became part of a growing portfolio of English-singing French artists. Courting controversy in France for their Anglophone lyrics, Raphael argues, “I’ve never really been into French indie rock or French hip-hop, there’s nothing really exciting there for me.” It was, therefore, always understood that their lyrics would be in English, “I’ve always been passionate about the English language. My early influences were American indie rock and Anglo-Saxon music and so I just wanted to be like my favourite bands.”

Inspired by the New York’s 1970s No Wave movement, whereby performers actively shunned categorisation and genre-specific restrictions, Underground Railroad’s first album, Twisted Trees, was a “dirty punk, experimental” effort with raucous overtones and nihilistic lyrics. Their latest release, Sticks and Stones is “just a mixture of sort of harsh songs, and some more melodic songs, all put together with a bit of percussion and drums. We wanted to bring back melodies to make it more interesting.”

For Raphael it’s “a great era to be making music” with a constantly shifting scene providing inspiration from various genres, a multiplicity reflected in the band’s movement towards electronica influences, alongside more classical arrangements. As well as their No Wave predecessors, Underground Railroad cite ‘90s bands such as Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine alongside new acts Deer Hunter and The Liars, as their influences. On the introduction of Phil Peterson’s cello Raphael says, “that’s probably the thing that I’m happiest about. I’ve always been a big fan of the cello and it makes the album really big; the sound is more vibrant and atmospheric.”

The impetus for Underground Railroad’s music is always a small piece of inspiration, a riff or a beat, which is then introduced into “one big jam session, and we would build the song up together.” As the drummer, Raphael shares vocal duties with guitarist Marion, while JB provides bass and backing vocals. Renowned producer, John Goodmanson completes the album that incorporates the psychedelic, the epic and the hypnotic.

With infectious energy, and barely suppressed frustration and enthusiasm, Underground Railroad’s live shows have gained a cult following for the genuine emotion behind them. “I think people can see the anger and nervousness that we have at shows, because there’s a lot of tension involved, and there are a lot of things that annoy us but that’s part of who we are.” Touring is the crux of all the band’s efforts — “when you finish an album you’re ready to get out there and play the tracks when the album is fresh, or you can lose momentum”, and so plans are afoot for a UK tour from October onwards. With an open-minded approach and exuberance, Underground Railroad keep their music and attitude constantly fresh. Their debut single, Sticks and Stones is out now and their album was released on 29 September 2008.

Pauline Bache