Wu Lyf’s Tony Wilson Connection

The Observer wrote about Manchester’s Wu Lyf way back in April, for the band’s first American gig at Glasslands in Williamsburg. At the time, they were a mystery—they had about four songs making rounds on the Internet that were dramatic and brooding. There were only a handful pictures of the group. Some images contained about ten people, all wearing bandanas around their faces, the photo quality murky and obscure. Their web site was bizarre, filled with messy collages of fire and devastation that added a feeling of violence to Wu Lyf’s songs. They released a video for their song “Spitting Blood” that features a group of people emerging out of a forest only to be violently beaten by a group of imperialistic looking men. Wu Lyf did not appear in the video. They refused to do interviews. The Observer reached out to various channels—the group’s manager, the booking agent who organized the Glasslands show, other writers (who were equally perplexed).

At the show, they were just four young guys, a little immature. The Observer does not know what he was expecting. Still, in a time where a cultivation of public persona is so easy and prevalent, it is charming when someone plays hard to get, even if some of the initial allure wore off after seeing Wu Lyf in person.

By now they’ve given a few interviews. The latest is with Jay-Z’s blog, Life + Times. It’s not the most revealing document in the world. They seem really young, but that’s partly because the interviewer treats them that way.

What do your parents think of all this?

Ellery Roberts [Wu Lyf’s singer]: I think my parents…respect the way we’ve been doing things in terms of establishing yourself independently—or rather, as independently as you can. My dad’s self-employed, but he’s worked for people. So, he’s always like, ‘You don’t wanna be abiding by someone. Just do it for yourself if you have the opportunity.’ Unfortunately, a lot of my friends back home are just doing shit they don’t care about, like working at the mechanic down the road from where they live.

To which The Observer can only respond, it’s rock & roll, bro. Elvis was only 19 when he started recording Sun Sessions, and who cared what his parents thought of that?

Anyway, after The Observer published the Wu Lyf article, their manager, Warren Bramley, got in touch with us. He blew the story open a bit. We’ve held off on publishing any of the information because, well, The Observer is sort of rooting for Wu Lyf. Their debut album, Go Tell Fire on the Mountain, is a consistently thrilling collection of songs. Everyone is entitled to a persona, even if it is one that shuns the press. But there’s really not a lot of information about the band, despite the growing catalog of writing on them. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Mr. Bramley worked with Tony Wilson at the legendary Factory Records—the home of Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays to name a few—after leaving school in 1998. He worked with Wilson, who died in 2007, for five years. Wilson used to drive him around and tell him stories from the good ol’ days.

This was a strange time for Factory Records. Mr. Bramley worked there during the filming of 24 Hour Party People, the biopic about Wilson and Factory. The film’s crew wandered around the offices debating sets and script ideas.

Wilson used to tell Mr. Bramey that if you work in music you should always have a day job. He used to say, “it’s all about the art, darling.” Mr. Bramley started the art and design studio four23—which he compares to Wilson’s own day job as a news anchor. The studio opened a venue called An Outlet below its headquarters. An Outlet used to be a deli that closed after some financial trouble. Mr. Bramley didn’t want it to turn into a Starbucks. Here, Wu Lyf played their first gigs.

All those mysterious designs on the band’s web site that helped propagate an aura of mystique around them were created on Power Point. A “mate” of the band took the mysterious photos of them with scarves wrapped around their faces. Another friend, Jamie, shot the video for the song “Spitting Blood.” The video was Jamie’s final year project at film school in Australia. They self-released their album after being heavily courted by many record labels. They do, however, have a publishing contract with Universal. (In the interview, in response to the presence of record label employees at their shows, Tom McClung, the bass player, says, “It fucking sucks.”)

Mr. Bramley calls Wu Lyf “fresh air.”

mmiller@observer.com

Wu Lyf’s Tony Wilson Connection