Nothing shady about Under Surveillance
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April 30, 2014
By Joey Cutler (letters@graffitiwv.com) , Graffiti

The history of the Kanawha Valley’s Under Surveillance is rather long and fragmented. Originally conceived at the beginning of the 1980s, Under Surveillance has undergone several transformations and found itself, at one point, at the door of national recognition and fame. But only a few years after they began, they left it behind them. It apparently never really set with the founding members completely, so more than 20 years after calling it quits, Under Surveillance has resurfaced.

The Kanawha Valley/Charleston-based band has travelled quite a unique road since its inception. It was in the early 1980s, when core members Philip Hatfield, Randy Brown, and bassist Phil “X” Crace formed Under Surveillance. Their meeting occurred through another band at the time, The Score, which had some national recognition in their day.

While Under Surveillance got to enjoy a taste of success, around 1985 they split and went their separate ways in order to pursue other paths in their respective lives. Though a few of the members did participate in various musical projects over time, in 2012 the guys decided to give the band another go. “It’s like returning to your first love,” says guitarist Hatfield on their decision to reunite. “We all had jobs and careers, but we thought it was a good time to give it a serious shot.” Drummer, Randy Brown jokes, “And it all started again on my front porch!”

Since the band’s 20-plus year hiatus, the musical climate has had some very drastic changes that have naturally affected many, many creative people and their projects. Under Surveillance is undeterred by this fact. Hatfield remained active in the music world working on numerous musical projects for other artists behind the scenes running sound for various live acts and doing work in recording studios engineering. There was even a time that he, prior to reuniting with Brown, was playing acoustic performances in coffee houses down in North Carolina. Randy Brown played, at one time, with a post-punk outfit, and Phil “X” Crace also remained active playing with several outfits during the interim as well. “It got to the point where my drum set was used more for hanging my wife’s bras on,” remarks Brown, “Finally, one day she just said ‘get your ass up and play some music’. Then Phil showed up on my porch, and then that was that.”

Once the core came together again, it didn’t take much to put the pieces together. “It was really easy to pick up and play together again,” Hatfield explains of their natural synergy, “Randy and I have been playing in bands together since we were in the ninth grade.” He goes on to explain that classic rock and old heavy metal have been their primary influences for such a long time that musical direction essentially came inherently to the group, though there are other styles equally important in forming Under Surveillance’s sound, including a lot of the popular rock that had its day during the ’90s.

Once the band got back together, Hatfield says that material was not hard to come by. “I already had some songs that were ready,” he illustrates. “There was also a good base of material from the old stuff. We knew that we needed to revive that stuff. A lot about music has changed in 20 years and we didn’t want to have something that sounded like it came straight out of 1985 again, but it will always have that influence because that’s a part of who we are.” He does assert that they’re not like a ‘hair’ band or an ’80s pop band, but probably more on the punk/new wave end of the spectrum.

It is evident that Under Surveillance had to find a way to modernize their music. They had something of a small struggle with finding a vocalist that would fit, but they found one in John Mullins of Charleston, who wound up in the band and performing on their debut CD released in December of 2013. In March of this year, Mullins announced that he would be leaving the fold to do some other things. Fortunately the parting was free of unnecessary drama. This opened the door for their new and current vocalist, Steve Clever, who is a bit younger. “He’s made some awesome revisions,” Hatfield declares of Clever’s work, “He’s bringing youth to the band, but he’s also in the scene, so he definitely brings a modern edge to the band.” As a result, Under Surveillance will revive some more of the older material to get that musically current aspect added, as well as the current songs in the band’s repertoire.

The previously recorded CD, Between the Lines, is what Under Surveillance is promoting at the moment. While Clever is still fine tuning the existing material and making some revisions, the band has managed to write around eight new songs. There may be a smaller EP released prior to Between the Lines’ follow-up full-length CD, entitled Savannah Moon. Bassist Randy Brown says that most of the music for a new release is already done; only vocals, minor tweaks and “bit parts” remain. He [Brown] has built a studio at his home that doubles as a rehearsal area for Under Surveillance. “It’s not just any garage studio,” Hatfield stresses, “We’ve got Pro Tools 11 to work with, and top notch gear. So we’re ready!”

Over the next few months, Under Surveillance will be hitting the stage regularly. Between now and September, the band has a steady schedule of engagements. From performances at a Creekside ‘Hogs & Honeys’ event, The Empty Glass, Gold Hill, North Carolina at the amphitheater, in Ada, Ohio at Main Street Live, plus a few more tentative dates in Georgia, and North and South Carolina, the band will be playing to a potentially huge amount of concertgoers. This is not an issue at all for Under Surveillance. When Hatfield talks about the live experience the band has planned, he confidently states, “The energy is going to be high. It’ll be intense. The sound will be phenomenal. The vocals are excellent and there are a lot of hooks in the music for the audiences to get into. The people can expect a really tight, hard-edged night of music from us.” Fans of the band can expect to hear the more familiar material, but also plenty of the new music that’s been written since Clever’s arrival to the band.

It’s not lost on the guys in the band that they could easily be considered something of a throwback to the 1980 musical period, since that was their beginning. Hatfield insists that people, “not judge us just because we were around in the ’80s [laughs],” he continues, “Don’t label us as old ’80s guys, because you’ll see that’s not the case! We had some national exposure with our record back then, but that’s all past us. People will see for themselves.”

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