Chicago-based singer/songwriter Luke Underhill set himself the challenge of writing about anything and everything until he nailed the top seven tracks for his latest EP.
Following two self-released projects in 2015, Atlas and Atlas Unplugged, along with a self-produced single in 2016, Too Good for Me, he wanted to approach his next project differently.
The result is the Revolver Recordings’ EP, The Left Side (released August 18) which was produced in the studio with Mikal Blue (Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz).
I caught up with Luke to chat about his new approach to music, and why working with his production ‘dream team’ helped to further develop his sound and style.
You’ve just released the new single, I Wanna Make You Dance. How’s it been tracking, so far?
It’s been doing great. I remember when I wrote that, I just wanted it to be a classic pop tune, but it was the one that Mikal Blue loved the most, and all the members at Revolver got involved in it.
I just think it’s my most fun tune. I end all my shows with it and we’re in the process of making an official music video for it.
How did you tackle your EP, The Left Side, differently in comparison to your earlier self-releases?
I started writing for this around October last year. I knew I wanted to do something new, to make something special after taking a small, small break from performing, and when we went out to LA In January, that’s when we started recording.
For this one, I wanted to change it up a little bit and just write to write. About anything.
And, to try and connect with a different crowd, other than just someone going through the same stuff that I’d been going through. I wanted it to connect with everybody. So, I sat at the piano in my apartment, and whatever was on TV, I wrote about. I wrote about whatever I saw that day looking out my window… it was really anything that happened, I’d give it a shot.
I worked with Mikal Blue and he’s worked with so many big names, and names I’ve looked up to. Working with him was pretty eye-opening and working with professionals of that calibre, was a very humbling experience, all of it.
Everyone at Revolver Recordings helped out in some way, and there’s so many people I can’t name. It was an interesting experience, because sometimes musicians and producers would just walk into the room and my track was playing over the speakers, and they would say, ‘hey, Luke, we have an idea…’ and they’d lay something down. It was amazing, everyone helped out. They were more than a blessing.
Being in such a prolific writing phase, did you find you ended up with too many songs?
Yeah, I came out with way more songs, because I feel like I was writing ‘for’ something. It was almost like work. I knew I wanted to get it done by a certain time, and there were different songs and different feelings to them, and I think the reason so many came out, is because I was actually having fun with it.
So, how did you end up deciding what would make the final cut?
That was probably the hardest thing of the whole process. I went to LA with about seven songs, and then I wanted to write three more, but we ended up picking some stuff from my recent project, and some I’d written when I was about 16 years old. So, we ended up with 10 songs in the course of three or four weeks, and then we added one more once I’d returned home. I showed some family members and friends, and whichever ones got the best response, we put on the album. It was a pretty lengthy experience. It was from March until August until we figured it out.
Tell me more about the songs you’d written when you were 16 and why you chose them? Did you notice a clear change in your writing style, or have some traits carried through?
There were two of them. One was Something, off the Atlas album, that was actually the third or fourth song I ever wrote. I actually remembered sitting in my parents’ house, in my bedroom writing it on my guitar. And the other one was Stars. I wrote that when I was a freshman in high school, so I was about 15 years old. I didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch because it was a brand-new school, so I went to the choir room and asked the teacher if I could play her piano. I didn’t know anything about piano then, I just knew a couple chords, so she taught me a few more, and I used those chords to play Stars.
(Rediscovering it) was both special and very awkward, because it was a song from when I was 15. I didn’t even want to touch it. But, when my producers in LA heard Something and Stars, they almost got mad at me because I hadn’t shown them before. It was definitely weird doing songs from back then, but it was also very special because those were the songs that I started out with.
To me, they’re even more special out of everything on there, and they have a different feel, lyrically. You can tell those are the ones I wrote separately to the rest of the album.
Did you know from an early age that you wanted to seriously pursue music as a career?
I think I was around 14 or 15 when I figured out I really wanted to do music. I was playing sports and had a good future in that, and I even thought about joining the armed forces. I called my Dad one day – and, I didn’t even know how to sing, or write, or how to play piano – and I said, ‘I feel like I need to do something in music’. And, he wasn’t too happy about it, but as time went on, he understood that this is what I was meant to do.
I know there’s been a lot of comparisons to your sound (John Mayer/Bryan Adams) which can sometimes be good, and, of course, sometimes not so helpful. How do you describe your music?
That’s probably the hardest question I’ve ever had to answer (laughs). I grew up with a lot of inspirations, from Ben Folds to Bruce Springsteen, Gavin DeGraw, Billy Joel…I think the best way to compare me is probably to a Bryan Adams, mixed in with Gavin DeGraw a little bit.
My Dad likes to compare me to John Mayer. I don’t see it at all, even though I love John Mayer.
I’ve been compared to Bruce Hornsby and even Kid Rock, sometimes. There’s a bunch of people.
I think, in my future, the one style I’d really love to do is classic piano rock ‘n roll, like a Jerry Lee Lewis. Anything with the pounding piano as the lead instrument, I’ve always been so connected with that.
So, are there plans for a full album now on the horizon?
I am currently writing for a full 15-song album. It’s hard, but something like this definitely needs to take some time and I’m not going to mess around with it. It’s got to be perfect. I gotta make it good, and I want everyone who listens to it, to feel like it was worth the wait.
I just want it to be successful, I want to live out my dreams with every album that I plan on putting out, I just want to get more success with it, you know? The sound is going to be hard to nail down, because I feel like with my demographic, and music in general, everything is always changing, so you can’t ever really nail it.
We’re going to go for a more pop-rock feel, but all I ever really shoot for is success. I want everyone to like it, I don’t want to make anything that’s forgettable. I want it to be something that people remember, and I want it to be good.
Luke Underhill’s album The Left Side is out now. Watch an acoustic performance of I Wanna Make You Dance below: