Under the Den: Undercover Kickass Ensemble
Written by Liam Sweeny on July 30, 2020
Covering the greats is a hard gig, and even harder is doing that while putting out your own songs. But some bands pull it off, and when that happens, fans get the best of both worlds. We talk with Melanie Lewis from Under the Den about that balancing act.
RRX: When the band started, there was a spark; there always is. Otherwise, why play? So take us to the where, where it first happened. Was it instant, or did it grow? If you had to come up with one thing you all took home that day that told you that you had something worth pursuing, what was it?
ML: From the first time we played together we all seemed to feel a connection or shared vibe, we get along very well which made working together easy and fun, but after writing, “Let’s Go to Paris (the World Ends),” we all knew we had not just something worth committing to, but also something worth hearing.
RRX: There’s no one way to write a song. Even putting paper to pen is giving way to sending yourself the lyrics in texts. But everyone is trying to put down a sound that people can hear, and know right away who’s doing it. What do you think it takes to get that kind of sound?
ML: We don’t really have a specific process; we work together, have fun with it, and allow the chemistry in the room to guide us, that way each voice, so to speak, is heard in the material. It’s less about having a specific direction we want a song to go, and more about letting the song go where it wants to.
RRX: Under the Den sings originals and covers. Which is a versatile thing, because you never know what kind of gig you’re going to get. But are there also drawbacks? Do you ever do shows that were a mix between originals and covers? Are there places you’d wish to do originals in, but they only want covers?
ML: Covers were always more an opportunity to have fun, or kind of live as another musician for a minute. We wouldn’t say there are drawbacks to doing covers, but it has its challenges, chief among them being the trap of being viewed as a “cover band,” which can be difficult to avoid. All of our cover gigs were always a combination of covers and originals, though, and fortunately the originals were consistently received well by both venues and audiences.
RRX: Gear isn’t everything, but unless we’re singing in the shower, we need it. And we have a relationship with our gear, people varying between exploring new frontiers because of that pedal, and getting frustrated that an amp buzzes. Do you all have any gear that you have strong feelings about, either way?
ML: The boys love their gear, and can be very particular about it – Ben is kind of a tone master and loves using his Line6 Helix to create the right sound on his Moniker guitar, Jay loves his Truth kit like it’s a part of him, and John loves his Baby Blue.
RRX: It’s tough to ask business question at any time, but we don’t shy from tough. Music is not a business, but playing it enough is. Even if you aren’t trying to make “day job” money, you’re still trying to get out there. What does Under the Den do to promote itself? Where can we find out more about you?
ML: Most often we use social media platforms like Facebook, and word of mouth has actually served us well. We also like making handbills so the person has something tangible to connect with, and we all love coming up with the next great t-shirt design. We realize music, as a career, has become a much more involved process, encompassing both the creation and marketing of your product, but as a band we have always been most concerned with making the product because we feel it speaks for itself.
RRX: We’re the paper-bastard child of an online radio station (Radioradiox.com) and so I have to selfishly ask, what does your discography look like? Have you been able to get in a studio at all, or even your home studio? And if not, do you think it becomes more or less easy right now to put tracks together from remote?
ML: We have our EP, “All That Talk,” which we recently made available on Spotify, and currently we are working on finalizing some new material for our second EP. We’ve done pretty well working remotely, but there’s no replacement for in-person jam time so we were all very excited to get back to it last month.
RRX: This is where you answer the question I didn’t ask. What exactly is Under the Den? How many times have you had to play “Mustang Sally”? Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.
ML: As far as our cover act goes, we feel like if you’re going to be a cover band you have to do it well, but you also need to make it fun. We always had fun with all our gigs, but our cover oriented gigs were more a means of making our EP a reality and after that goal was accomplished we decided to transition our focus to original shows. Not to say we won’t do a cover gig, we really love performing so we will likely always do a few now and then, but this project was always about putting our own sound into the world so that’s where we want to focus our energies now that we are getting back at it. As far as our original act is concerned, we’re just like any other band – ourselves.