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Out Of Evolution A Revolution Begins: An Exclusive Interview With RON UNDERWOOD of 9ELECTRIC

By Curt Miller, Editor at Large
Wednesday, August 3, 2016 @ 1:23 PM

"Even if I liked one song on an album and hated the rest of it, I liked the band because they enhanced my life in some way."

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9ELECTRIC combines metal with a thumping backbeat to create a unique sound that’s derived from the band members’ diverse musical backgrounds and tastes. Regardless, you can’t help but get amped up listening to their material. Whether you’re in the mood to head bang to some heavy guitar riffs or crank something to keep you motivated at the gym, they’ve got you covered.

The Damaged Ones, the band’s latest release covers the full spectrum of 9ELECTRIC’s sound. While retaining a full compliment of traditional instrumentation, the band also makes good use of new technologies giving some insight as to where rock music is headed now that electronics are becoming a bigger part of the mix.

I spoke with Ron Underwood, lead vocalist at 9ELECTRIC, about the new record and the development of the band’s sound prior to their show in Pittsburgh. Here’s what he shared with me.

KNAC.COM: The Damaged Ones was released July 15th. It’s an even mix of heavier material and songs with more of a pop feel. How would you classify your sound and who were the artists that helped to shape your style?

UNDERWOOD: We all listen to a wide variety of music and we’ve all been in different types of bands. We’re often compared to the ‘90s style such as ROB ZOMBIE, POWERMAN 5000, ORGY and things like that. The pop element comes from the ‘80s new wave style where drums kind of take forefront, which makes the music a bit more danceable. When you mix all of those elements together, though, something new comes out of it. There are big-metal guitars with a danceable backbeat, but the songs also have a pop sensibility that comes from ‘80s synth-pop and big-guitar solos influenced by the music of the ‘70s. I guess that’s what we do.

KNAC.COM: Are genre lines becoming blurred with fans wanting music that’s both heavy and pop/groove-oriented?

UNDERWOOD: Yeah! As soon as the iPod became available, kids started listening to wider varieties of music. There was no longer this sense of ‘I’m a metal kid’ or ‘I exclusively listen to rap.’ You listened to songs that were the backdrop of your life, the things that spoke to you for what they were worth in that little, bite-size piece. That’s how I grew up being interested in music in general, so I feel like in a way, things are catching up to where I always had a tendency to lean. I was more of a song guy and not so much a fan of a particular band or album. Even if I liked one song on an album and hated the rest of it, I liked the band because they enhanced my life in some way. For 3 minutes and 30 seconds they hit it out of the park, so even if all of their other material didn’t resonate with me, that one meant a lot.

Now, with the advent of digital downloading, everything is at your fingertips. That’s what’s going to shine. Singles are coming back. Albums are still important because you have put out a piece of work so people can go, ‘I get it. This is what they do,’ but if you create a great song, then you’ve really got someone. You’ve created a moment for somebody.

KNAC.COM: What type of instrumentation does 9ELECTRIC use?

UNDERWOOD: I love electronic drum tones for the purity they have and we do overlay them on top of an acoustic drum kit, but there’s something to be said for the agitation of a real drum set and the brass going a little over the top. It’s all about incorporating both electronic and acoustic percussion into a tight knit rhythm section. There are elements that are controlled with elements of chaos mixed in. That’s what I really like about our sound.

KNAC.COM: Nowadays, there are many creating music devoid of traditional musical instruments. Is 9ELECTRIC a bit of an evolution of the Second British Invasion sound, artists such as BILLY IDOL, DEPECHE MODE and THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS?

UNDERWOOD: In some ways the Second British Invasion didn’t end. It just turned into warehouse parties and raves. It was no longer at the forefront of American pop culture, but it continued to evolve. There was the Belgian new beat, which kind of spawned American pop music. Later, in the ‘90s, there was the rave scene with bands such as DAFT PUNK and they’re still doing it today.

In a way, I guess you could say we’re a continuation of all that. I’ve always been interested in what’s happening in Europe. That’s where the experimentation happens, and then the refinement often occurs in the U.S. [Laughing] Some might say the death of it. ‘Let’s play it down into the ground with football and pizza.’ The way we Americanize everything.

KNAC.COM: Will it become more common for rock bands to incorporate instruments and technology more commonly thought of as being found in hip hop or pop?

UNDERWOOD: I think so. With 9ELECTRIC and even in some of the other bands I was in prior to this one, I could see how things were changing and trending. More bands are using production and backing tracks. It has a lot to do with availability. When you’re a kid and you save up $100 to spend on either a guitar pedal or a new app for your computer, you’re going to weigh it out. You’re going to say, ‘Well, I can either get the hardware, which can only do one thing, or I can get the software, which has the potential to do far more.’ With the availability of that type of software, we’re going to see even more production-based garage bands even.

KNAC.COM: Is your writing process collaborative or are there particular members who do the majority of the writing?

UNDERWOOD: I was in another band for about ten years called OPIATE FOR THE MASSES. In that band I wrote far more, sang and played a bunch of the guitar parts. 9ELECTRIC has far more contributors; so it’s taken much of the workload from me and allowed me to focus on becoming a better singer and performer. I’m really grateful for that. Although I don’t have writing credit on as much of the material, that’s not what matters. At the end of the day, it’s about creating the best material. If I can concentrate or specialize on producing great vocals or whatever my two cents might be on a particular song, then I’m stoked. I just want to be part of the process. These guys have allowed me to challenge myself as a vocalist and live performer. It’s been awesome.

In terms of writing, sometimes a little kernel will come from a vocal idea or a play-on-words might turn into a song title or chorus tag line. When I’m writing, if I don’t write something down when it first comes to me, but it comes back later, I know it’s pretty strong. If it makes it through the day or several days and pops back into my head, then I know it’s a solid hook. We all contribute to the writing, though. It just depends on what instruments we happen to be playing at the time. We never know where inspiration is going to come from.

KNAC.COM: Where was The Damaged Ones recorded and who did the production?

UNDERWOOD: We recorded it at The Hideout in Las Vegas with Kane Churko. He’s done stuff with OZZY OSBOURNE, IN THIS MOMENT and FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH among others. He’s Kevin Churko’s son, so when you work with either one of them, you get the same group of sensibilities. It was such a cool process. Micah (Electric), our drummer, is a very proficient writer and producer, so we did all of the pre-production before we sat down with Kane.

Kane remixed some of our demos and shook them around to see what might fall off and what ideas made it through his final test. He’s a full-spectrum producer and an amazing engineer, so he enabled us to sound really current. It was awesome. He knows what’s hot, what’s happening on the radio and in the underground. He’s also a very talented musician and writer. During the time we spent with him, he was like a fifth member of the band. We felt like we connected with him and had similar sensibilities in terms of our tastes in music and where we wanted to take our songs. I’d love to do another record with him. It was like it ended too soon in a way. I learned a lot working with Kane and he knocked this one out of the park for us.

KNAC.COM: This tour with STITCHED UP HEART and GEMINI SYNDROME provides audiences with a great cross section of the heavy music scene, everything from the pop/groove side to dark/heavier material. What’s the response been like to the tour thus far?

UNDERWOOD: We all came out of Hollywood and we’re on the same label (Another Century). I actually directed STITCHED UP HEART’s first video (“Finally Free”) from their new record (Never Alone), so there are many small connections. There’s a real scene coming out of L.A. Everyone is blossoming. It’s kind of like a little Seattle all over again.

Fans may come to shows looking to see a certain band, but leave as fans of all three. We see it every night. We’re all old friends on this tour and we’ve worked together in the past on other projects, so there’s a sense of energy that people pick up on. It’s not a matter of consumerism. Some tours oversaturate markets when they become more about the bottom line than the experience. At some point people go, ‘Okay! We get it. We’re done.’ But we still have the mindset of all being contributors to a scene or creative exploration in general and that resonates with people.

KNAC.COM: In 2012, two years prior to his tragic passing, you collaborated with Wayne Static on the single “Destroy As You Go”. Was he a big influence of yours and what was your experience working with him?

UNDERWOOD: I was in a band in high school the first time I saw STATIC-X. It was prior to their first album coming out. I remember listening to the riffs on “Push It” and they were like two notes. I thought, ‘How many times have I overlooked that type of stupid simplicity because I thought it was stupid and simple?’ The way that they were selling it and the way it was driven by this backbeat made it so pummeling and menacing. All of a sudden I understood so much more about industrial music and what speaks to people on the most basic, primal level. It moved me and I was in a moment with them while they were on stage. I became a fan right then and there.

Fast forward to many years later and I’d actually gone on tour with STATIC-X with my former band, but wasn’t able to collaborate with them. After we’d formed 9ELECTRIC, our drummer, Micah, played Wayne Static some material. He liked it and agreed to sing on it. He came down to the studio and I was like, ‘He’s singing lyrics that we wrote. This is insane.’ I’m looking at him in the vocal booth and hearing that famous voice on one of my tracks. It was so surreal. It sounded amazing. The song is called “Destroy As You Go” and is essentially just about kicking ass. It was such a cool time.

KNAC.COM: What’s the most important thing for people to know about 9ELECTRIC?

UNDERWOOD: Self-empowerment: That’s the basic concept behind what we’re doing as a band and what we’re about as individuals. If you have an idea and you keep making excuses about what’s holding you back, what if you’re just making excuses because you don’t want to do the work? We have a lot of uplifting songs about kicking ass and partying. At first, we got a reputation as a party band because we had a straight-up disco backbeat and used to bring go-go girls up on stage with us when we did shows at the Roxy.

With this new album, though, we were able to get a lot more introspective about problems we’ve been through and overcoming struggles. Keep fighting the fight because, ultimately, that’s why we’re here.

While 9ELECTRIC’s sound may seem like an evolution of that which has come before, it seems to mark what may be a bit of a revolution in terms of rock bands becoming less apologetic regarding the use of technology during their creative process. It’s more about taking advantage of everything at your avail to create the best end product. Hopefully, more will keep fighting the fight so that the revolution continues.

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