Manchester’s underground has never been short of bands, but it could be considered lacking when it comes to solo females. XUP is a one woman spectacular who has been around for a while now, but has recently upped the anti and is making a stir. With a new single on the horizon, BSM caught up with her recently to find out more about all things XUP.
Firstly Lane, thanks for having a chat with me! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be making the tunes.
So XUP is me, Lane on the Mustang bass, vocals and drum machine. I’ve been writing, recording and performing as XUP since around 2008. At that time I was based in London and released my first three albums there, but I moved back to Manchester in 2015 and released four albums since then, with a forthcoming album to be released this year! The one constant in XUP over the years has been me and the Mustang (although the third XUP album was mostly guitar driven! I was experimenting with the formula, but that was a one off!) I have had other musicians playing drums and guitar occasionally, but I have always been the songwriter. In 2019 I bit the bullet and performed on my own with a new set up (more pedals and a new drum machine!) and since then, it’s always been just me. You should know that XUP is very much a band though! I’m not down with the whole singer/songwriter schtick! XUP has drums and vocals and bass… so that’s a band as far as I’m concerned!
In terms of the Laney backstory, I started my first band in 2000 in Manchester, (we were called The Strap Ons – it was a joke name that stuck, with Ed on vocals, Jaz on guitar, Tim on drums and myself on bass). Essentially we were a three-chord bubblegum punk band. We started out wanting to sound like Mudhoney, but ended up sounding like a Fall stained Ramones! I had a lot of fun playing in that band! I was also learning to play bass, so I did very little of the songwriting. I do remember writing the lyrics for one of the songs and coming up with some of the basslines. I’ve written lyrics my whole life pretty much. I remember writing even as a small child. I just never had the confidence to own that shit until XUP! While in Manchester, I also started a band called The Chelsea Girls, with Sam on vocals/guitar, David on guitar and James on drums. My songwriting in that band was minimal – in fact I only came up with one bassline. In 2003 I decided to up sticks and move to London… and The Chelsea Girls got a new bass player and became The Nine Black Alps! They did keep my one bassline and released that song as Ilana Song (Ilana being my birth name!)
Once in London I briefly played bass in a band called Six Ray Sun after replying to an ad in the NME, and then started Wolfie with Gemma on vocals and guitar, Cesca on vocals and guitar, and Mark on drums. I did much more of the songwriting in Wolfie, but I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to sing! Wolfie splintered off into different projects (Gemma started Kasms, and Cesca and Mark joined other bands) and at that point I decided that XUP needed to get born, following an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2007, where someone explained that I’d be able to record all my instruments and vocals into a Macbook using GarageBand! I’ve never looked back!
Quite the backstory! So, where does the name come from?
I wish there was a really deep and mysterious answer to this. Because everything else in XUP is really deliberate and considered. But the truth is once I’d recorded a couple of songs I wanted to launch my project into the ether and couldn’t come up with anything meaningful! I was looking around for stuff in my bedroom and noticed my favourite book, which I’d been reading again recently – Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. So I took the ‘xup’ from de Saint-Exupéry! For the first three albums XUP was actually spelled in lower case. I decided I wanted it to be in uppercase from around 2016 for the fourth album, and it was all an absolute pain to sort out, because of our previous digital distribution etc! I won’t be changing my mind again! There have been nods to The Little Prince dotted around several XUP songs over the years.
Sometimes simple solutions are the best, it certainly stands out so I’d say you picked well. Tell us a bit about your influences.
The one single event that made me want to make music can be traced back to watching Hole perform at Manchester academy in 1995. I was late and missed the support band and as I came into the venue, Hole were taking to the stage. And there was Courtney Love, in her broken doll aesthetic, great dress, smudged lipstick, and leg hiked up on a monitor, which very much declared that the world was hers for the taking, and most importantly, that she belonged up there. Until then, there had never been another single moment, or another artist, that I had related to as much (or probably since). It had never crossed my mind that girls were ‘allowed’ to sing from that deep, dark place. Or to own or express our angst and our rage like that. I thought Courtney Love sounded like cherry vitriol. And that’s what my record label is named after! As a girl navigating the music industry, there would be many, many times over the years that I would want to stick my middle finger up at boys in bands and/or ex-boyfriends who thought they were better than me. And that defiance and that strength came straight from the Courtney Love school of f**k you!
Other musical influences… Nick Cave is up there for sure because as a songwriter, everything he has ever made is just stunning. I think ‘the spinal cord of JFK, wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s négligée’ (Palaces of Montezuma, Grinderman), has to be one of the most perfect lines ever written! PJ Harvey is up there, particularly when she was still writing about her boyfriends! Some Siouxsie Soux and The Cure for a bit of goth! Oh and more bizarrely there’s some flamenco and some spanish pop in the mix (Miguel Bosé and Julio Iglesias!) because I grew up in Gibraltar!
I think some of those are obvious when you listen to your music, but others less so which again is a good position to be in. Do you have a writing process? Or is it play with ideas and see what sticks?
There is very much a writing process. Every album is a concept album essentially. And it all harks back to my art school days in Manchester, where I had a studio space. My rehearsal space now doubles up as my art and sound studio. XUP albums always start with colours or images rather than sounds. And I’ll start off with mood boards pinned to the walls.
Sometimes lyrics will come first also, usually spurred on by me trying to express myself and let out whatever is going on in my life. Since I started writing songs I no longer keep a diary. And it’s saved me thousands of pounds worth of therapy! It all goes into the songs now. And then it will usually be me messing about in the studio with my songwriting Mustang (I have a Mustang for gigs and a Mustang for writing!) And by some black magic, the songs just get born. I have always suspected that Kurt, my songwriting Mustang comes up with the songs all by himself. But don’t tell anyone that! For my earlier albums I was really purist about the songs and never threw any away – it made for very long albums! These days there tend to be more ideas that don’t make the cut.
Do you enjoy playing live? It must be nerve wracking up there on your own?
It f**king is! It’s absolutely terrifying! I don’t think I’m scared of anything else quite as much! I am definitely out of my comfort zone although I do feel more at home up there the more gigs I play! For the longest time I never thought I’d be able to sing on my own and/or get on stage on my own. And it wasn’t my preferred choice to have to do that. But over the years it just became more practical to do it all myself and not have to rely on other band members. A lot of bands say that the best part of their job is to play live and they absolutely love that energy. But me, I love being in the studio and I love writing new songs. I love being in that little cocoon. It is great to connect with an audience though, and I am learning to slowly embrace that!
We’ve heard there is a new single on the horizon. Do you want to tell us some more about it? Is it taken from an upcoming release or a standalone?
So the new single is called ‘Sunday Girl’ and the B-side is called ‘Siamese’. I think ‘Sunday Girl’ is more post-punk pop and ‘Siamese’ is a bit more drone and dark wave. Both songs are from our forthcoming album Spit & Lipstick, which will be released later this year. The single drops on the 3rd of June following our single launch on the 2nd. The singles will be available for streaming and digital download from all major platforms. The single is also available as an ultra-limited edition bubblegum pink glitter vinyl! Only three have been pressed up! It will only be available as a bundle on our Bandcamp page which includes; the limited edition 7”(only three copies made) in bubblegum pink glitter vinyl, digital download plus exclusive bonus track and hand signed message of your choice on the insert. Plus: vinyl and digital copy of the album on release, exclusive merch, album lyric and photo ebook and XUP bass pic featured on the single artwork sleeve.
Most of my albums have been built on the ashes of break ups and heartbreak but this was not the case for Spit & Lipstick, which was a joy to create. At its core, Spit & Lipstick is an album about the making of an album, and a love letter to The Peer Hat – my local bar, and to everyone who works there. They’ve been keeping me sane and grounded and the place is a hub of energy and creativity. There are also traces of nostalgia in the album though, and in places it is a retrospective of coming of age in a seaside town. I think during the pandemic, a lot of us had time to look back and reflect on our lives and some of that seeped in. As with my previous albums, I could see the songs before I wrote them. Spit & Lipstick is the colour of the sunset viewed through an old 70s TV set spitting static. And there’s also a nod to Hole in there if you look close enough!
Amazing, we can’t wait to hear it! So finally, to round off – sum up your sound in three words?
Ah man… this is the hardest question yet! Can I have four words? Me and the Mustang!
We’ll let you off since they’re good!