The Underminers

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The Underminers


“I had a nervous break down when I was 17, and writing helped to deal with that situation.”

When his previous band The Dead Salesmen broke up, Justin Hayward – ‘Hap’ to his friends (“A friend gave me that name”, Hayward explains. I never quite understood it – maybe it was ironic, though I don’t think it’s quite so ironic these days”) – was looking for something else to do. Eventually he hooked up with fellow Ballarat resident Chris Morris and put together a new musical project. “Chris had been in a Ballarat band called the Shooting Czars, who were a really popular band in Ballarat,” Hayward explains. “I probably approached him and told him I liked his stuff. He eventually got me into Ed Kuepper – listening to Electrical Storm was a huge bonding experience for us.”
Morris and Hayward decided to put a band together and formed The Underminers. “We had one song where I called out ‘underminer’ over and over again, because I liked the sound of the word,” Hayward explains. “I wrote the song around that word, and we decided to use it for the band – there’s no more meaning to it than that,” he grins. Morris and Hayward were approached by Andrew Coates (later of Black Cab), who offered to do some work with the fledgling Underminers.
At the heart of The Underminers is a duality, with Morris contributing the music and Hayward the lyrics. “A lot of my writing is quite introspective, and a lot of it is down while others are asleep” he admits. Hayward, it seems, has been taking solace in his writing for almost 25 years. “I find writing quite therapeutic,” he concedes. “I almost had a nervous break down when I was 17, and writing helped to deal with that situation.”
Having used writing initially as a form of therapy, Hayward now finds the process second nature. “Early on, writing was very defining in my adolescence,” he recalls. “It gave me a job and my identity – I wasn’t quite accepted by the Ballarat sub-culture. But these days it’s habitual and no so crucial to my existence.”
Hayward’s habitual style sees him writing relentlessly, whenever the occasion presents itself. “Usually I have a mountain of exercise books, and I will often use the books I had for the last album again,” he offers. With lyrics in reasonable form, Hayward and Morris will sit down and bring words and music together. “I sit at the kitchen table and put my books out, and Chris plays some music,” Hayward says. “But with this album [Heart Part Of Your Mind] we did things a bit differently – Chris’s music dictated a few songs on the album.”
On the last Underminers record, Hayward found himself casting a glance back to his youth; on their new record, Heart Part Of Your Mind, he took stock of his contemporary existence. “The last album was more about looking back, whereas with this album I’m dealing with being 40, having two small children and working a day job,” he chuckles. “This album is very much focusing on the here and now – and sometimes it can be quite confronting when you’re looking back at the lyrics.”
Confronting the imperfections of his own world is something Hayward has managed to do recently. While The Dead Salesmen lapped up the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, earlier this year Hayward decided to draw a line under his drinking and start afresh. It was his new found sobriety that allowed Hayward to explore his Dead Salesmen material with fresh eyes. “I stopped drinking in January this year, and that allowed me to revisit those songs when I was sober,” he explains.
There is a lot of dark material in the Dead Salesmen songs, and I was emotionally going back to those songs.”
The Dead Salesmen had played a reunion gig at a mutual friend’s wedding in Ballarat; shortly after the band played another gig in Ballarat, followed by a Melbourne show. “People asked me if I was on something when I was playing those shows, but it was only that I wasn’t drinking,” Hayward says. “I was proud of myself that I could perform, be true to myself and be sober. For a lot of those times in The Dead Salesmen alcohol played a very big part.”
Hayward continues to live in Ballarat, and is happy with the town’s peculiarities and attractions. “It’s big enough to not see people you don’t want to see, but to see the people you want to see,” Hayward says. “You can still get to Melbourne in 90 minutes. It can drive you crazy, but it’s got plenty of good stuff.”
THE UNDERMINERS launch their excellent new album, Heart Part Of Your Mind, at The Grace Darling Hotel this Saturday October 2. Heart Part Of Your Mind is out now through Popboomerang.