All you need is love on Something Underground's new EP
The roots to Something Underground run deep for Trevor Mariotti (left) and Josh and Seth Larson.
Music is in the Larson brothers' blood. "It's what we've known the longest," declares Seth Larson. "I feel as comfortable on stage, maybe more comfortable on stage, then I do just walking around in life."
Seth and his brother Josh, two-thirds of Something Underground, were born to musical parents. A couple who knew each other from the time they were five years old, the Larson parents started a folk band when they were fifteen, and as soon as they started having kids, they brought them into the group. So Seth and Josh have been playing for almost as long as they've been alive.
Born in Wisconsin, the Larson brothers lived in California, Minnesota and Holland early on, thanks to their father's job, which had them moving from time to time. While in Holland, when Seth was sixteen and Josh was twelve, the brothers played together in public for the first time as a duo. Playing covers of songs by Extreme, Metallica, R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls, they discovered how well they could harmonize.
In the fall of 1998, Josh moved from Minnesota to Boulder to go to the University of Colorado, and a few months later, Seth, who was working for a marketing agency in Texas, got transferred to Denver and lived in Josh's dorm room for a couple of weeks. Once the two got back together, they immediately started playing music again — just for the love of playing, Seth says. After playing frat parties, the brothers, who had brought three other musicians into the fold, booked a gig at the original Soiled Dove in the Ballpark neighborhood.
At the time, the group didn't have a name. Soiled Dove owner Frank Schultz, who booked the band, told Seth, "You either come up with a name or I'll come up with something for you." They had two days to come up with a name, so the members had a meeting in the basement of the townhome where they'd been practicing. The only word they could all agree on was "underground."
"We liked that word," Josh explains. "So I think we all went home and thought of some names in front of it. And none of them could really capture...they were too specific."
"We just kept saying, 'It's gotta be something underground,'" Seth adds. "'I don't know, some word. Something and underground.'"
"Somebody said, 'Well, would that work?'" Josh remembers. "Pretty much we all thought about it. It literally encompasses everything and nothing; it works. Over the years, you get people that are sort of weirded out by the name. They don't know what to expect from us. You also have a lot of people that love it. It's served us pretty well. It's vague enough that you can't say we're metal. I don't know if that set the course for our musical experience, but that's one of the things about our musical styles, is that there is something unique about our music that brings it all together. But we are all across the board."
"We play rock, country, hip-hop, folk, reggae, all in the same set," Seth elaborates. "We can play one song after the other, but they're all jelled together through energy, through vocals and our arrangements. The one thing that glues it all together is the vocals. Whatever style of music we are playing, whatever is backing it up, our vocals, the two of us singing together, creates this sound. But there's also an energy that sort of weaves all these different styles together. And that's why it feels like we've been so free to go through all these different styles — because that gets all glued together."
The vocals and harmonies not only end up leading the songs, but, Seth says, they become a big pad, almost like an organ would. As a result of moving from being a five-piece to being a four-piece to the band's current configuration as a three-piece, Josh says, the brothers intuitively sang more harmonies because they needed something to fill in the gaps.
Around the same time Something Underground became a trio (drummer Trevor Mariotti is the third member), the brothers found a warehouse space in north Denver where they could live and build a studio. It was when they moved into the warehouse that things really shifted, according to Josh: "Pretty much we went from being somewhat introverts, so to speak, in the music community, to all of a sudden being just like, 'Okay, Denver, we're here. We want to know you.'"
It was also around that time that the brothers started recording themselves. Both 2010's Intention & Release and the act's brand-new four-song EP, Confessions, were recorded at the warehouse. While they recorded Intention & Release all by themselves, they brought in producer and songwriter Elan Morrison, who's worked with heavy hitters like Dr. Dre, Bobby Brown and Slayer, to work on Confessions, the band's sixth recording.
While the outfit has long proclaimed a message of positive oneness, Confessions is one of Something Underground's more visceral recordings, one in which the trio delves into some darker territory. Take "Rabbit Hole," for instance, which Seth says came about when he started thinking about death for the first time.
"A lot of it had to do with some of my journeys with medicine, and at Burning Man, and just sort of my consciousness, my awareness got expanded," Seth says. "This song was about one of those experiences where I started going down this rabbit hole and feeling a little confused about my existence on this planet.
"The ending is a declarative statement where I'm not afraid to die," he goes on. "One of the things I try, even with songs with darkness, I try to have some sort of mantra at the end, or in the chorus, where...that's what I want to repeat. If I want to repeat something in my mind, I want it to be from a place of strength and openness, and not out of fear. I don't want to live from a place of fear. The song is like this realization that there's a part of me that's afraid to die, but this bigger part of me is saying, 'I am not afraid to die. I'm alive. I'm living.' That's where I chose to live my life from."
The title track, meanwhile, is about self-reflection and being able to look back in hindsight. "I literally list off the things in my life that I'm proud of but that I'm also not ashamed of, because shame does not serve anyone," Seth points out. "What I hope is that I've experienced those things, and now I make different decisions. But, I mean, I'm saying I drink too much, I've been a bad friend, I've ignored people in need, but that is not who I am.
"Really, who I am is love," he continues. "And, again, the chorus ends up being this mantra of what I know to be my higher self, and that we all are, and that is love. So it's acknowledging the shitty things that I've done with this realization that I am not those things. I am a part of this bigger oneness that I would call the universe or love."
And that message of overwhelming connectedness and oneness and love, Seth says, is what people relate to. "When we play our live shows, that's what it's all about, and that's why people come to see us," he says. "It's not just about the music and the dancing and celebration; it's about this feeling, this connection that we make while we're in that moment of performance and the audience that we're all hungry for. It's that connection that we all want.
"That is why people come back to see us," he adds. "That is why people support us, and that is why I think, especially sharing this sort of darkness I feel, that people are going to relate to us even more, because we come across as, like, these yogi sorts that eat healthy and say good things.
"My God, you know, we drink — there's a picture of me smoking on the cover," he clarifies. "We've made all sorts of choices, but it doesn't limit us to anything. We are this expansion of love. We are just like everybody else. No matter what they've done in their life, no matter who they think they are, everybody is that. And that's what we're here to reflect back to the people, is that you are, we are, we all are love."
We are family.
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