When founding vocalist Huw Lloyd-Jones left Also Eden in 2009, he had one firm idea for his next project: to bring the fun back.
“Also Eden had begun to take itself more seriously and brought pressures that hobbies shouldn’t bring,” he explains. “There were pressures to up the level of quality gigs, pressures to do another album quickly… My personal life was also very pressured so there were conflicts with my time and I felt I was better out of it.” A six-month break was all he needed to recharge his creative batteries and start advertising for new bandmates. His ad was spotted by Leopold ‘Lee’ Blu-Sky, whose pop career with New Romantic glam band Viva was part of the short-lived Romo movement of the 1990s.
“It was such a traumatic experience that I gave up music for quite some time because I was so burnt out,” Blu-Sky reveals. “When I moved to the Forest of Dean, I decided I was ready to create music again. I originally had a surf punk band in mind but I heard an old prog song on the radio and it really took me back…That’s when I decided I would join a prog band – I knew absolutely nothing of the current scene!”
The two musicians met up and got on like magic. Lloyd-Jones, who’s also one of the organisers of Summer’s End Festival, gave his new bassist a crash course in modern progressive music and the pair got stuck into making new sounds. It wasn’t until keyboard player Alex White joined in 2012 that they began work in earnest on their first full-length album.
The Human Landscape was launched with an acoustic set at this year’s Summer’s End and was created during two years’ worth of trials and tribulations. Using their own studios, the band structured musical ideas around their elaborate demos which they would completely re-record whenever they had a new idea or member. “We recorded a whole albums’ worth of material with Andy Gelband [who’s now in Colourflow] on guitar but when we parted company and found Tom Ennis, we completely re-recorded the album again,” reveals Lloyd-Jones of just two of the musicians that Unto Us have lost and gained in their relatively short existence. “In the end, we must have recorded about three albums’ worth of material and discarded about another two hours’ worth of finished stuff. There were some really nice ideas that didn’t quite fit in with the theme of the album so we’ve put them to one side and they’ll probably find their way onto the next album.”
Musically, Unto Us have an upbeat sound. Although they don’t go as far as wearing their influences on their sleeves, hints of Porcupine Tree, Genesis, Pink Floyd and even Muse are all audible, so it’s quite surprising to learn that their lyrical inspiration is quite the opposite. “If it’s miserable, I’ll write about it!” Lloyd-Jones deadpans. “I’ll take miserable from anywhere but there are definitely no dragons or elves in any of our songs!” He points to the album’s lyric sheet for a more concise explanation. “I’m a great believer that lyrics should have some semblance of meaning. I’ve never been an ‘I love you and you love me too’ sort of writer, which means that there’s bound to be a personal influence in the lyrics because you can’t write about someone else’s misery unless it’s from an observer’s perspective. This particular album coincided with a bit of a downward spiral in my personal life…” He hesitates before elaborating: “About a third of the way through, my marriage of 20 years disintegrated so there’s quite a lot of that in there. Divorce seems to be a common theme in modern progressive music and I’m not surprised, I mean who’d want to be married to anyone in a prog band?”
Lee Blu-Sky interjects: “What I think is quite nice is that Huw can come up with a miserable lyric and put it onto a nice, jolly melody so if you’re not paying attention, you might think that section had a nice feel to it. Meanwhile, he’s singing about the death and destruction of the planet!”
There were certainly times when it felt as though The Human Landscape would never be finished but here it is, in all its sepia-tinted glory. Yet its creation proved too much for one member: long-term drummer Dave Roelofs left the band over the summer after relocating to Coventry and finding the lengthy commute just too much of a strain. Cue latest addition Rohan Jordan-Shah, who quite literally made his live debut at Summer’s End. “It was only after he auditioned that he told us he’d never played with any musicians before!” laughs Blu-Sky.
Their new drummer is a self-taught classical pianist who had contacted Alex White to help him learn how to read music. However, his background is in progressive and death metal, which could add some interesting nuances to their second album. “I’ll try not to jack up the tempo a bit too much!” laughs Jordan-Shah. “They’ve set me a blank canvas but I’m trying to play a bit more like Dave at the moment because that’s what fits with the album but the next one should be different. I’m used to working with odd time signatures, metric modulation and all that so I think it’ll be a bit of a challenge to shift things in a different way.”
Next on the agenda is to start booking gigs for the New Year and they hope to get out onto the continent as well. Then it’s time to knuckle down to album number two. “One of my hopes is that the next one will be more band-orientated,” Huw Lloyd-Jones reveals. “This one has been written from a writer’s perspective rather than a performer’s… it’ll probably have a heavier edge to it as well. If we find an audience for it, then that’s great but if we don’t, it’s a bunch of lads getting together and making music because they enjoy it.”
The Human Landscape is out now. Visit www.untous.com to order online.