Tom McClung of Wu Lyf - interview
The Manchester epic indie rockers eschew traditional approaches to getting their music heard
‘At the start we didn’t want to be a band for the sake of it,’ says Tom McClung of alarmingly distinctive Manchester quartet Wu Lyf, ‘but so we could do important things.’ That’s a strikingly bold statement The List can’t help but pick up on. What sort of important things? ‘You mean you want specifics?’ he asks, like a well-intentioned politician who hasn’t got round to redrafting the manifesto.
It turns out Wu Lyf (pronounced ‘Woo Life’, it stands for ‘World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation’; it’s also a Wu-Tang Clan tribute) do have ideas and the will to back them up, although not quite the full master plan yet. ‘Initially the important things were the gigs we would play,’ says McClung, getting off his bus and walking along what sounds like a motorway. ‘We’d put them on in An Outlet [their manager Warren Bramley’s Manchester cafe] and avoid the rigmarole of the gigs around us and promoters that wouldn’t really give us anything.’
It’s Wu Lyf’s seeming desire for independence from the record industry that’s truly exciting. It first manifested itself in the run-up to last year’s impressive self-released debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, its dramatic, guitar-driven indie-rock sensibility as much informed by Slint as Arcade Fire, which saw them refuse to give interviews and peddle a myth of anonymity.
‘It’s fun to find out about people who make music you like,’ says McClung, ‘but it shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the music one bit.’ A mistrust of journalist’s motives and also possibly a certain shyness played a part, too. McClung says the embargo was lifted when they realised ‘some journalists are actually all right, and quite into the music.’
Do they ever want a major label deal? Not so far. The objective is self-financing through their Lucifer Youth Foundation, which ‘I know sounds like a glorified fan club at the moment, but the main ambition is to turn it into an actual foundation for worldwide creatives, where artistic people can feel belonging and express their opinions. We get to meet the members at our shows, although they’re not just people who come as fans, they’re part of what makes this band what it is.’
At the moment this sounds like something between a high-minded youthful ideal and a hopeful declaration of how a democratic music industry can be, but it’s not a project that’s lacking in humour. The LYF’s website describes it as ‘a non-profit organization anchored to the concrete truths of unconditioned youth.’ Fifteen pound membership gets you a vinyl copy of their debut single ‘Heavy Pop’, a ‘bandit flag of allegiance’ and the aim of satisfying ‘all LYF at the lowest cost yet with the highest possible sense of wide-eyed excitement and apocalyptic adventure.’
That, and the inestimable sense of belonging that good bands inspire in those who identify with them: it’s perhaps no surprise that the first album flirted with religious iconography so much. ‘Going to gig should be a real event,’ McClung enthuses. ‘I’ve never been to a gig I wasn’t utterly excited about before and I’ve never been to a gig because a band was meant to be cool or whatever. If we can do something that all four of us [his bandmates are Joe Manning, Ellery Roberts and Evans Kati] believe in, then that’s what makes it an event.’ He would rather, he says, play to a small crowd who are there for the right reasons than a large one who don’t even know who they’re watching.
All the while, McClung’s aware the band need to continually stop talking and start delivering. Next is a film project related to the first album, and then the second album hopefully later in the year – LYFers’ generosity being key to the process, of course.
Wu Lyf play SWG3, Glasgow on Sat 17 Mar.