Hey! Underdog has a rich history in the Boston music scene, with you, Scott Ferguson and Bryn Carlson, playing together in various bands since the early 1980s. Can you share how your long-standing collaboration influenced the formation of Underdog and its unique sound?

A: At the time we got Underdog together, we had known each other for 30 years, and having played in bands, as well as working together at one point, we were always in touch. I remember Bryn coming over to my place in the late 00s to help clean up my drum kit, and change the heads. While he was here I played him some demos I had made of the songs I was working on at the time, using a Yamaha Audio Workstation, which was great, but had it’s limitations. A couple of years later he had built and set up AMRD Media Studios at his home, outfitted with ProTools, and he shared some tracks he had done of his songs. We got together with couple of friends to jam, but they were unable to commit to any sort of regular thing. We were both committed to doing something, and Bryn invited me out to record some of my songs at AMRD, and it sort of organically grew out of that. He is an amazing drummer, in addition to being a gifted guitarist, and I had played bass in the past before switching to guitar, so between the two of us we were able to carry on and record everything we needed between the two of us. 

We always wanted to find a bass player and drummer, but it just never happened for one reason or another. There were a handful of friends that sat in on a rehearsal once or twice, but nothing consistent, so we continued to record all the parts ourselves. I think that in itself has a lot to do with what the overall sound of the band evolved into. We both have a fairly wide variety of musical styles that we listen to, but with a minimal amount of overlap, so there are a lot of influences at play. Since we’ve known each other for so long, it allows us to do a lot of stuff by instinct, as well as try different things and experiment along the way. We also know when we can do better and try to get the best performances out of each other. I’m sure the fact that we were learning ProTolls along the way while recording the first album left it’s own mark on the proceedings, but all along we knew we wanted to have a very guitar focused sound.

Considering your musical journey from bands like The Hackmasters and fin-de-siècle to Underdog, how do you think your music has evolved over the years, and what elements have remained constant?

A: Well, Bryn was the creative force behind The Hackmasters, which was the mid- to late-80s. We were playing his original material, along with a nice mix of obscure covers that were of the same style as his songs. It was Bryn on guitar and vocal, our friend Glen Sherman on drums, and I was playing bass, so it was a more stripped down sound, with a garage, blues and R&B influence. We recorded a 45 of “Shark Attack” that was released in 1987, and we’ve actually been talking about doing something with the later recordings we made that never got released back in the day, so keep an eye out for that in the near future on Sonic Vibration Records. 

In the early 90s when I was putting together fin-de-siècle, Bryn was the obvious choice for drums. I wanted a very full, in your face sound, and it was more experimental, especially live. I think a lot of that has carried over into the Underdog sound, but we managed to refine it into a more accessible sound, which is in large part due to our experience with The Hackmasters. Again, I think the focus being on the instruments as much, or more than on the vocals, in some cases, is something that has always been at play, for me at least. I’m not nuts about the sound of my voice, so I try to keep it in a solid place within the mix, rather than riding way out on top the instruments, like most stuff out there. Both the “Delusions of Grandeur” EP and “While The World Slept” album we did are now available online. 

What were the main inspirations behind your latest album ‘Trans Global Amnesia’? Were there any specific themes or experiences that drove the creative process for this album?

A: I guess the main inspiration was to make the best possible album we could, especially using what we learned making “Ether Dome,” and trying to improve upon that in any way we that we were able to. I don’t think that there is any sort of unifying theme, but some of the songs tie into the album title more obviously than others, like “Echo of a Dream” and “Helsinki Airport Blues”. There were other songs I had hoped would be on the album, but either we didn’t get around to them, or other newer songs jumped ahead of them in the queue of songs to be finished recording.

I feel like this album was a bit more experimental, as it has a denser sound, which was built up in the studio, adding more complexed musical textures by introducing different instruments, like the sitar, tabla, E-bow, and just a wider variety of fuzz boxes and pedals than we used on the first album. I feel like the actual creative process of recording the songs was a bit different than it was on “Ether Dome,” as I would bring in the song, or basic tracks of rhythm guitar and bass, with a guide drum track and vocal. Then Bryn would add the actual drums tracks and his lead guitar, and if need be I would recut the vocals, as often it’s easier for me to give a stronger performance with the entire band behind me. Other various guitar and bass overdubs happened along the way, depending on what each of the songs needed on an individual basis.

Most of the songs are about very specific things, such as “Rocket Baby,” “Helsinki Airport Blues,” which basically wrote itself during the course of the trip, and “Summer Song,” others are a bit more general like “Regeneration” and “Louie & Marie.”  However, there are themes that link some of them together, such as love, even in its most twisted and warped form like “Munchausen” By Proxy” and “Mallus Maleficarum,” or the break up of a relationship like “You Told Me.” But there’s also the flip side of the coin by way of “Summer Song,” about all the happiness and good times. In that case I set out to write a song about the pure joy of Summer. Even the songs that deal with the loss of a friend, or a 3 year old whirling dervish I know, all have an underlying theme of love. It’s so much a part of our daily lives when you think about it. I suppose there is also a certain amount of humor underlying most the songs too, in some way or another.

With ‘Trans Global Amnesia’ being entirely written by Scott, can you describe the songwriting process for this album? How do you decide on the division of songwriting duties, and how does collaboration play into your creative workflow?

A: Well I may have written the songs, but Bryn had a big hand in shaping what each of the final tracks sounded like, especially with his input on the lead guitar parts, as they are carrying a lot of the weight, and the drums really set the tone for each song. The actual song writing process varied from song to song, but often I’ll come up with riffs and chord progression while I’m practicing guitar, and those will become the basis for a song, although sometimes a catch phrase or lyric might come to me and be the inspiration for the song, but usually with a melody accompanying it. I try to keep pen and paper, or a recorder of some sort handy in case something comes to me on the fly, or even in the middle of the night, so I can get up and save it somehow before it vanishes, or I try to remember ideas until I can get to write them down, which never ends well. Lots of good stuff gets lost that way.

Sometimes arrangements come quite quickly and naturally, other times trying to figure out the exact flow of the song may go through a lot of changes or experimenting with moving the parts around. Usually this is around the bridge or solo sections of the song, and whether they work best coming into and out of the verse or the chorus. I’m also a big fan of intros and outros, or endings, rather than fade outs. The fade has always seemed like an easy way out of actually having to finish off writing a song, because sooner or later you’re going to need a solid ending if you perform it live, unless you plan to play one long medley.

You describe Underdog’s music as ‘Supersonic alternative rock.’ Can you elaborate on what this genre means to you, and how it reflects in the sound and composition of ‘Trans Global Amnesia’?

A: I remember Ginger Baker describing Cream as playing “Supersonic music” and thought it had a nice ring to it, and it painted a fairly vivd picture of what to expect. I guess there was also the idea of rather than waiting for, or letting someone label us as one thing or another, we could do it ourselves, right out of the gate. I’d like to think that we’ve managed to live up to the expectation. I always envisioned it being these flame thrower guitars, accompanied by bone crushing and pummeling drums and bass. Strangled vocals sort of drowning in and amidst all the chaos to heighten the sense of urgency. When you hear drums played really loudly and with a lot of force, and a voice screaming at its limit, but they are still being overwhelmed by the guitars and bass, it gives you the sense of how all consuming it all is. A lot of people seem to think these albums were recorded live.

I tend to think of it as leaning forward, if that makes sense. I think I’ve always kept that in the forefront of my mind when writing songs. I don’t know if you could say it’s a pop sort of influence, but I don’t like getting bogged down in slow, ponderous self-indulgent stuff too much. Once and a great while it’s fun and appropriate, but I doubt it’s what the listeners really want a lot of. “Louie & Marie” is a great example of going over the top with that sort of thing, but it’s also part of the joke. 

Since its release on New Year’s Eve 2023, how has ‘Trans Global Amnesia’ been received by your fans and critics? Can you share any feedback that has been particularly meaningful to you?

A: So far we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback about the album. Lots of great reviews, and our fans seem to love it too. I think a couple of our Über fans, Dave and Emi, in California bought the album on Bandcamp within about 5 minutes or less of getting it uploading there, and before we even made the announcement that it was out and available, which was probably 30 minutes later. They own the Guitar Gear Garage in Magalia, CA, and are pretty sympathetic to our cause. They have even gone as far as recording covers of a couple of our songs. It always means a lot when our fans reach out to us or leave comments about posts on social media, as it’s a way we can connect with people around the world, that we may not ever get a chance to meet face to face.

We’ve gotten so many great reviews, and it’s still pretty recent, so we haven’t had a chance to sit down and sort it all out yet, and articles are still rolling in. It’s always interesting to read about which songs people focus in on, especially when they are not the ones you would expect. We have a couple of instrumentals on this album, and they have gotten dropped on a bunch of playlists, and had a fair amount of space given to them in the reviews, which is surprising, as I think people usually like to have words they can sing along with. I think I was concerned that the songs might be a bit too diverse to create a cohesive album, but a lot of the reviews have stated that it’s actually the strength of the record.

Underdog’s performances often feature additional musicians like Aram Heller and Harry MacKenzie. How do these collaborations influence your live shows, and are there any memorable moments from recent performances that stand out?

A: Aram is my cousin, and someone that I have played music with since we were very young in a number of bands. He and Bryn also have played together in the Dark Cellars and fin-de-siècle, so there’s a good intuitive connection going on with him on stage. It is a bit ironic for Aram to be playing bass, as he is a phenomenal guitarist, probably better than either of us, so it’s always cool to see where he takes the bass parts to live. Harry actually played drums on one of the tracks on “Ether Dome,” and there was a point when we hoped he would join the band, but his obligation to the Soon To Haves, another local band, didn’t permit that to happen. He is an amazingly powerful drummer, like Bryn, and really helps to kick up and maintain the energy level of a show. One of the best parts about playing live is the communication between each other in the moment, sometime the cues work out and other times they don’t, but when it’s firing on on cylinders it’s a great thing.

As for a memory of a live moment or show, I would go with a block party we played, which was a very casual situation, and not widely publicized. However, that didn’t stop our biggest fan Bryan Palmer, from showing up out of thin air. Somehow he managed to track down where it was happening, and drove from Rhode Island with his girl friend Marie to be at the show, despite some very serious medical conditions he was dealing with. Bryan was a dear friend, who passed away last June from complications of his health issues, so it’s a very fond memory of him merged with the band. We dedicated “Trans Global Amnesia” in his memory. I know he got to hear many of the tracks, but I do regret not finishing up the album in time for him to hear it in its entirety. Although somehow I’m sure he has. I really miss seeing him at shows around Boston and Providence.

With work already underway for your third album due out this summer, can you give us a sneak peek into what fans can expect in terms of sound, themes, and inspiration?

A: Well lots more love songs, no doubt, aren’t they really all love songs in one way or another. Although you never know what will come along as a source of inspiration, but my wife Priscilla, and our dog, Suzie, who is also our mascot, are always primary sources of inspiration for me. It will probably a bit more focused, or at least thought out, by way of song selection, as there is still a library of about 40 songs that I have done basic tracks for that didn’t make it onto “Trans Global Amnesia.” So in that respect we have the ability to look at them and figure what will work well together, but also make it a well rounded album, like this last one. Best of all the groundwork for several albums is already in place, and there’s new songs being written all the time, which as I mentioned before, sometimes end up taking precedent over existing material.

I would expect the sound to get more diverse with each album we do, which is part of the natural growth of a band, but I don’t think we’ve gone into any project with a specific sound in mind. That tends to happen more on a song by song basis, which hopefully means you end up with a mix of different textures throughout each album. I tend to think of the songs as sound paintings, and hope that the music itself helps to set a mood that reflects or mirrors the lyrics for each song. There’s also the actual aspect of the recording process, and what sort of cool things we discover that allows us to achieve that and push the boundaries, and try different things. The main thing we want to avoid is making the same album over and over again. I know that’s often the blueprint for a successful artist, but it’s not very fulfilling to me as an artist.

Your music has been gaining exposure on Spotify and other platforms, with regular airplay across multiple continents. How do you plan to continue expanding your audience, especially in the digital and global music landscape?

A: We had always set up our “business model” to be as efficient and cost effective as possible. Figuring that using digital streaming rather than producing physical products, was also good for the planet. The fact that we could finish mixing a song and drop it on Bandcamp, YouTube and Soundcloud instantly for free was a real game changer for us, coming from an era when even getting a 45 pressed was a time consuming and costly endeavor, that might or might not pay off. Now it doesn’t matter, as we have our own home studios we are working in, so we have eliminated the costs of recording as well. All this gives us a lot of latitude in terms of being able to spend a lot of time on the recording process and make sure we get takes we really like, rather than having to settle for what we can get done within a set budget, and have to live with it.

We’ve used DistroKid to release both albums, and that also has it’s benefits as they distribute them to all the major services, like Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, YouTube Music, Amazon and Pandora, and lots of smaller streaming platforms, over 25 in total at the moment, as well as any new ones that pop up after the release of an album. It also provides the ISRC numbers for the songs, which is important for royalty tracking for BMI, ASCAP or SESAC, both on the streaming services, as well as broadcast and streaming radio play. The great thing about having the music living in a digital format is that it is completely accessible to everyone, everywhere, unlike physical media like vinyl and CDs which are usually more costly, and aren’t always available everywhere with the same ease. We have created a special limited edition CD of both albums for those fans that like the tangible experience of holding the record in their hands, and being able to drop it into a player at home, work or in their car.

Given your extensive experience in the music industry and success with Underdog, what advice would you offer to emerging bands trying to make their mark in today’s music scene?

A: Stay true to yourself, and follow your vision. I had the honor of meeting Billy James in LA in 1983, he was a publicist and talent scout who worked with Bob Dylan and The Byrds and brought The Doors to the attention of Elektra. At the time the music I was working on for Dog & The Acid Bunnies, hopefully another future release on Sonic Vibration Records, was pretty much in opposition with the then current music trends. He told me those words. “Stay true to yourself.” And I’ve always kept that with me, especially when I’m having those moments of self doubt. It was a brief, but transformative meeting.

Practice every day, even if you can only get in 30 minutes, but more is better, and if you can set aside time to write songs you will start to develop that craft in your own unique way. It’s a process that takes time and writing lots of throw away numbers before you finally hit your stride and start to turn out good consistent songs. Getting live bookings has always been a challenge, and depending on where you live the options can be dramatically different, but it’s something that takes a lot of time and persistence. Be prepared to play a lot of mid-week gigs to fairly empty rooms, for very little money at first, but if you persevere the better shows will come your way. Having a strong demo to present goes a long way to getting your foot in the door at a club, although a lot of times it’s who you know that lands you a gig.