For all the start-up bands out there trying to chase down a record deal or get a talent scout to one of their gigs, the four lads in WU LYF have been doing the opposite. When their song “Heavy Pop” showed up on the blog Gorilla vs. Bear at the end of 2009, there was little information to accompany it. As the buzz built, they ducked and dodged it, declining all interview requests and releasing a band photo showing a group of unidentified people in balaclavas. When labels came calling, they charged £50 for a copy of their demo, while charging fans a single quid to get into shows. And according to NME, they “told one legendary scout, ‘We’re on at 11 p.m. Don’t be late.’ He arrived at 10 to be informed they’d finished at nine.”
But for all the mischief and mystery, they’ve come out of hiding on their own terms. Maintaining anonymity early on “was incredibly easy,” says singer Ellery Roberts, now that the band’s debut album has been released. “And the reason for doing it was rather than monopolizing and jumping on the bandwagon of every bit of hype that gets pushed around superficially, we wanted to make a kind of unbiased document without the adoration of bullshit blogs.”
That document, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, marries My Morning Jacket guitars with a wash of keyboards that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sigur Rós record. Punctuating it all are Roberts’ desperately barked lyrics about brotherhood, love and not selling out.
The singer/keyboardist and his bandmates—Evans Kati, Tom McClung and Joe Manning—became friends while skateboarding in parking garages in their hometown of Manchester, England. Guitarist Kati and drummer Manning first started playing music together, and Roberts eventually joined them on bass.
“But they quickly told me that I wasn’t very good at bass,” Roberts recalls, “but that I likely could sing. So I started singing. And then Tom and I got drunk one night and fell asleep on Joey’s couch, and then the next day he refused to go. He wanted to play in the band, so Tom joined as a bassist.”
When they wrote the song “Heavy Pop,” they realized it might be good enough to share with others, and they eventually got a monthly residency at Manchester’s An Outlet coffeehouse. “We were just having some fun,” says McClung. “But then our friends kind of encouraged us to create gigs rather than be self-involved.”
But with record labels courting, they had little interest in signing away creative control. Instead they approached friends and fans for financial support, launching the World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation, now 1,000 members strong (alternately, the band’s MySpace page has been titled What Up/Loving Young Females). The $20 fan-club memberships allowed them to record Go Tell Fire in an abandoned church and release it internationally.
“It’s almost bizarre in that people tend to believe and take us more seriously than we take ourselves,” Roberts says of the response. “It’s a bit strange. We have committed fans that are more like peers. I think that’s the nicest thing when we meet with our fans, they’re basically just people like us. We’re just lucky enough to have the opportunity to do it for real and not just dream about it.”
That dream has already had a worldwide reach. A year ago, they hadn’t played a show outside Manchester, but this summer’s tour stops include France, Switzerland, Portugal, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and, later this month, New York and Los Angeles. Plus, there’s another record already in the works.
“We’re recording our second album in a submarine,” Roberts says. “It’s deep enough in the [River] Irwell for it to work. It’s right next to St. Gabriel’s High School, so it’s like a frat house to all of the students.”
“Tell me more about this submarine,” I say.
“You’ll find out next year,” he says with a laugh. “It’s going to be released next year. We’re very secretive like that.”
I’m left wondering if that’s more mystery or, quite likely, just more mischievous misinformation.