Categories: Arts Music Pop

Underworld’s Karl Hyde talks about his writing process

“Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future,” the title of the new album from English electronic outfit Underworld, are the last words spoken by band member Rick Smith’s father on his deathbed. Texturally, the record — the group’s first in six years — is heavy, from the opening march “I Exhale” to the galloping “Low Burn,” to the dreamlike closer, “Nylon Strung.” Frontman Karl Hyde is a deep thinker: “In the studio and onstage, I try to disengage from the conscious, be in the moment, and just respond to the energy. I’ll never give a conscripted performance,” he says.

For 16 years, you’ve been keeping a daily diary. Why did you start it?

Because I couldn’t bear to wait for the albums to be released. It just wasn’t enough. I had to find a release for my thoughts, things that I was making, and album scheduling is a dreary business, and it did a lot to kill my enthusiasm for creativity. So I had to find a new outlet, really.

What did you find yourself writing at first?

It was just mark making, with photographs of things that I’d seen and me even writing on the photographs themselves, and observations — a combination of all those things. And it became a place where I could talk about other artists in music, art, and literature, like a list of influences, a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.

But it’s now a routine — you’re up at 7 a.m. every morning, writing for an hour in your local café?

Yes, It’s my meditation. If I can do that, then my thoughts come online and I can point them in a very useful direction. And I don’t use a computer, either. I use a notebook with an actual black-ink fountain pen, notebooks from a very small firm up in Aberdeen. I just really enjoy the act of writing, forming words with ink on the page.

Does the barista ever badger for not buying muffins?

No. I always have my breakfast there, and I usually go sit in the same place, and work on intuition. And then I start to play games, to stop myself from falling into any familiar patterns. For starters, I won’t let myself write anything that has a preconception of being a song, or is in any way forming a recognizable rhythmic pattern. And if I’ve been writing very smooth things, then I’ll deliberately write very angular things.

Do you ever re-read old entries and wonder what in the hell you were thinking?

No. Sometimes, I look back and I think, “Do you know what? That came together really well!” And that makes it even more enjoyable.


Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. April 16
Tickets: $49.50
Contact: (510) 302-2250,

Tom Lanham
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Tom Lanham

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