Aaron Ibanez of Cotch met up with Tom McClung, the ex-Bass player of WU LYF.
David Haye picked up the WBA heavyweight title belt after his David and Goliath-esque victory over Nikolay Valuev. There was a lot of speculation that after such a triumph, Haye was set to retire as leaving the sport at his pinnacle seemed the admirable thing to do. Such an ethos reached out to a Rusholme band, who strived for fortune with the duty of maintaining a youth ethic. WU LYF, thinking like a boxer, planned to renounce at the height of success when attained, before too many punches to the head would leave them brain-dead. Yet after such fervent anticipation, attention and compulsive media fascination, it seems front man Ellery Roberts bowed out before the band even made it to the championship bout.
WU LYF were regarded as this promising British band that became a cliché of anonymity, ambiguity and the unconventional. Placed in an enigmatic light, they were subject to a significant amount of hype that acted as a catalyst for mass curiosity. Questions therefore were raised whether such interest was generated by a well placed and well planned media strategy. Such accusations were merely press presumption, with no real answer into what they were. Admittedly, WU LYF during their now ephemeral media presence staged a front, leaving critics and fans alike unsure of what they actually were. They seem to be one of those very few bands who appear to have had no clue themselves of what was going on.
Post-YouTube break up and now current solo performer, Tom McClung, the bass player sheds an insight on the truths behind WU LYF’s redundant media elusiveness.
McClung was a musician who played sell-out shows across the world during the band’s prime, yet he stood a lonely figure in Manchester Piccadilly, clutching his skateboard, absent his fellow band mates. Departing the bustle of the train station, the scenery changed to a more adequate and calmer setting of a Caribbean restaurant bar. It seemed only fitting that in comfort of a San Miguel and a plate of goat, spicy rice and plantain, that he’d tell the story of WU LYF’s rise and fall.
Given the press at the time of their prominence a word that sat alongside ‘mysterious’ and ‘mystifying’ was pretentious. Yet there seemed nothing pretentious in his recall of encountering Keith Lemon at the Q Awards.
“We were alll desperate to meet him” says McClung unashamedly “so when we seen him backstage, I was made to go ask for a picture with him. What I loved about him is that he was still in character”
Such a pairing proved humorous given their contrasting notoriety. It goes to show that a band even as cool as WU LYF can have time for Keith Lemon.
Much to their surprise, the four piece won Best New Band at the ceremony proving that their music amid their renowned coverage previous, was being recognised.
“How does it feel now that you’ve sold out” recounts McClung, impersonating the bitterness of Everything Everything’s manager.
Earlier on in the same year, in the summer of 2011, after an appearance on the Culture Show, they infamously took to the airwaves. Zane Lowe named them with the Hottest Record In The World and they were invited to perform at Maida Vale studios. Yet unknowingly and much to their dissatisfaction they were to be interviewed by Huw Stephens, instead of Zane Lowe.
McClung had previously mentioned how the sheer age of the band contributed to their presentation of inexperience in the public eye.
“When you’re so young and new to the game, you end up saying stupid shit you don’t mean” he says with a shake of the head. Such a statement rang true when on Radio 1.
Prior to their interview, the band went in the studios with the intention of playing an acoustic set. However, this idea was to fall through as a result of being under rehearsed. Accordingly, this led to a discontented atmosphere and combined with the average questions provided by Huw Stephens led to a very unconventional interview. After what was a very tongue in cheek period of interviewing with dog noises and blunt, monotonous answers, Stephens made the remark to the sound of giggling:
“That was one of the worst interviews I have ever done. But its ok, I’ve got Mumford & Sons in tomorrow.”
To this day, WU LYF’s session and interview were never made available online.
In spite of this, the broadcast sparked a string of articles once again questioning WU LYF’s motives in their own portrayal in the media.
Similarly, in America, they made their network television debut, performing for Letterman where they were seen making a rather awkward exit off stage further inciting an online media rumble. However McClung clears up that their clumsy exit was merely spontaneous.
“The song we played was Heavy Pop, that’s always the last song in our set. So sub consciously, when we finished, it just our intention to leave the stage. We were completely new to the whole television thing. No one stays to bow and wave goodbye, who does that?”
Yet whatever the reason, the perception of WU LYF was set as these deliberators in attention seeking. The press had already made up their mind. Such events helped piece together a picture of WU LYF’s true nature.
“In retrospect, people like to make these ties and connect the dots. But we weren’t all planned like that” McClung says.
Famously, the first photos the surfaced of WU LYF during their musical ascent were cult like pictures taken on the rooftops in Manchester. Along with flares, band members and friends appeared to conceal their faces thus sparking the initial ‘who are these guys’ story.
“The shoot was an example of where we were seen to be hiding our faces, when really, that idea of covering our faces was so that we’d all look the same, this idea of unity that rings true with our name.”
In many an interview however, he concedes it did get boring being asked the same question being tagged as the ‘mysterious WU LYF’.
“It was cheesey. But I wanted those people to know that we didn’t know what we were doing” he adds “the idea that we were these strategists was laughable to us. There was no plan. I was sat in my room alone most of the time being a waster at university. We were just a bunch of kids. These critics that joined up all these dots in retrospect were just lucky it had any cohesion.”
McClung has fond memories of his time with the band, marking their gig at Les Cigale in France as a career highlight and an indication of how new and weird fame was to him.
“I remember this kid coming up to me shaking round the back of the theatre, he could barely speak English and was like ‘could you sign this for me?’ It was so strange because he was so star struck, I’d never seen that before.”
WU LYF went down a hit in France ever since they player their first ever show outside Manchester at the Midi Festival.
“They hadn’t seen crowds in Paris go for it like that in years” says McClung. “Apparently we really incited something there.”
Aside the fact that WU LYF’s live shows were euphorically extraordinary and the album uniquely captivating, it seems they were overshadowed by the fact that they weren’t all about the music.
Roberts had an obsession with wanting to set the band aside from every other. When they formed, he established this idea that by setting up a foundation he would create this global creative community of supposed contributors to the band. It was a DIY aesthetic that mirrored much of what the band contributed in the arts, autonomously recording ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’ on their own label as a main example.
In their early days and arguably what led to their emergence, was this real desire to single themselves out, so when it came to putting on gigs, they deliberately bypassed promoters. Their ‘Heavy Pop’ shows were an independent reaction to the corporatism of the standard gig. For their materialisation, everything in WU LYF had to be done by WU LYF. Such an attitude can be seen as a radical adoption of the punk ethos from the late 70s.
As the band became as big as they did, Roberts was reiterating the importance of the LYF or the Lucifer Youth Foundation. He was set on establishing the band’s very own social network, allowing fans to interconnect with band members. It was a unique idea, but due to its vague purpose, McClung found it difficult to see its importance.
“It really took the attention away from the music” he concedes. “The feeling that we had to be doing much more than the music, when all I wanted to be doing was the music. It was symbolic in a way that we stood out as these guys who were just more than that.”
“But for me, you can only put your efforts into one thing at a time, because something’s always going to get compromised.”
Thus, it seemed the added pressure of WU LYF becoming this creative hub on top of being a band, added an extra burden for the very man who created it. All this talk of making the perfect 10 out of 10 record by the age of 27 fell through as Roberts departed the band in the autumn of 2012.
“WU LYF isn’t that important” This is coming man who seemed so passionate both as a performer, lyrically and as a visionary of WU LYF as an artistic establishment.
“I am done” Roberts continues “There is nothing here that inspires/ interests me beyond the emptiness for dreams. And I don’t want to spend my life asleep.”
For McClung, he was just as shocked as the fans were.
“He just took off. We had no idea whatsoever” he explained “I was the first of us to check the internet that morning, because when you’re in a band you tend to search yourself a lot. And when I saw his note, I was in tears.”
According to Tom, there was no indication that Ellery had any intention to leave the band. There had been numerous conversations on tour about the next record. McClung admits it was ‘such a shame’ as himself and the guitarist Evans, had written 8 or 9 songs and with them the demos, ready to be mastered.
He recently went down to London where Ellery has relocated to see if he could change his mind, but it was not to be.
The YouTube break up seems odd at first thought, yet appropriate once assessed. WU LYF’s reputation as Britain’s best band is a result of the ever growing rule of internet, they owed their rise to it. So it seemed only suitable to end where they arguably, took off. The internet and the blogosphere inflated WU LYF to a point where it was too much for them, inevitably shortening their lifespan, a lot earlier than they wanted. Even despite their pretentious and unconventional media front they appeared to be just another band that was once so promising, but ended up becoming a casualty to the hype machine.
In saying that however, it is ignorant to discard them in such a fashion and label them ‘just another band’. WU LYF’s novella will go down in legend and their debut album will prove as just as seminal as their image. Unintentional or not, WU LYF deserve to be set apart from all those other bands whom the music press so desperately and carelessly embrace in an attempt to be responsible for their fame. WU LYF essentially did it on their own, without the need of being cover stars. Despite media scepticisms, whatever they say, WU LYF fell victim to their own pretentious character, however, past all that was a group of genuinely talented musicians whose only desire was to create pop music and an everlasting music legacy.
– Aaron Ibanez
5 Bands That You Won’t Tell Your Kids About
Every son and daughter understands and appreciates how valuable a parent’s music collection is when it comes to influencing their own. I grew up listening to Oasis and The Verve and rightly so. At the time I was unaware just how important these bands have been in influencing, essentially what is my generation of bands. Urban Hymns and Definitely Maybe were seminal releases that gave British rock music an identity. Yet today, I see a very different picture. I see a picture where the music press have adopted this revolving door syndrome, where they see it as their duty to take on as many new bands as possible, label them the ‘next big thing’ and see them on their way. The NME have become appalling for it over the years. I was told it used to be such a prestigious publication in promoting the best bands, yet now, all I see is mediocrity. Longevity is definitely an issue with these bands they promote, their lifespan and popularity seem to last the best part of a year. Is it that we live in this age, where choice is so plentiful given the internet, therefore attention spans of the consumer is short, or is it that the bands are just shit? Anyway, I chose 5 bands that you will definitely not be telling your kids about.
PALMA VIOLETS – A bunch of lads from Lambeth who cite Nick Cave and Zeppelin as influences, when really they are just Libertines wannabees. Everyone will have forgotten them by next year. All the best with the second album…
THE VACCINES – Horrifically unexciting lyrics with the blandest front man ever, what perfect conditions to go in down in ‘I will not ever, in a million years, remember you’ history. ‘Post break up sex, that helps you forget… The Vaccines.
PEACE – Firstly, What a terrible first name for an album. Secondly what a horrendous set of middle partings. Thirdly, since when does the press put the future of British guitar music in the hands of a camp, daddy’s boy, with dentist shoes who if he had his way would be covering Justin Beiber and Mariah Carey numbers for the rest of his life? That’s not rock n roll. Tribute album expected next summer.
WHITE LIES – White Lies were actually decent. Their whole look was decent. But they could only do the same record once, because the dreariness of the singing would make you only want to listen to them, once.
VIVA BROTHER – who?