Hailing from the city of New York with their unique brand of piano-driven indie pop, Summer Underground is an act that exudes the perfect balance of emotional integrity and artistic value. The band is made up of two parts, Grant Carey and Chrissy Sandman, who both contribute on instrumental and vocal duties. With soulful vibes from their latest LP release Honeycomb, it’s fair to say that the band has all the boxes ticked – authentic songwriting, catchy pop-influenced melodies, and a solid delivery of well-blended harmonies, all packed in an exquisitely uplifting manner.
The duo first met in high school in Pittsburgh and shared similar music interests (For Emma, Forever Ago was all the rage back then, and undoubtedly still is), even meeting in their chorus practice rooms to share original song ideas. Fast forward to their college years, the two finally came together in the summer of 2011. Grant recalls a particularly striking moment in their journey since then. “I remember very clearly sitting in Chrissy’s family kitchen back in Pittsburgh when our first record (Beneath This City) was released. Since that moment, we’ve wanted to keep this moving.”
With a myriad of influences, Summer Underground takes the best of each and crafts their own special sound while still demonstrating their flexibility. At times, we hear the suave indie rock vibes of The National, where the baritone range of Grant gets interestingly similar to that of frontman Matt Berninger. Other times, the hauntingly poignant piano and vocal combinations bring up comparisons to Regina Spektor or even the Ingrid Michelson of old. And not to forget, the ambient and inspiring authenticity that is Bon Iver.
With the trend of artists mentioned here, the level of intimacy in their sound is no surprise. “I think our best songs – and maybe any great song – come from a natural place… Writing a song sort of feels like shedding a layer of skin and sharing something at the same time. It’s kind of become a necessary part of my existence,” shares Grant. But for the band, that’s not where it stops – they see the need to pull listeners in. “I love watching musicians who really move people… Hopefully we’re writing songs that resonate with others, too. That’s probably the most important bit.”
While music from Summer Underground is a culmination of each member’s styles, their lyrical ideas build on one another. Their music-making process is very much a collaborative one, and as Chrissy explains it, “I tend to think of myself as more melodically-oriented, gentler, impressionistic. Grant is an amazing lyricist, and I love how wordy and specific his songs can be. It transports me to that exact moment…we co-evolved a sort of blend between very personal writing and storytelling with characters.”
Storytelling is an integral part of Honeycomb, where we see the duo explore the contrasting aspects of New York City, and of course, perspectives on things like love. The former makes up a large portion of the record, where songs such as “Hangover Blues” tackle ideals that one may have of the iconic city, singing “We both know there ain’t nothing beneath this city but an old railroad.” Musings aside, the 16-song record has just as much intention with its music. Divided into four “cells” where each takes on its own differentiated sonic landscape, we are brought from the indie rock pace of “Beacon” and adult pop vibes of the title track “Honeycomb” to the mellow and soothing harmonies of “Vera” and the hauntingly beautiful croons of “Dinosaurs Of Broadway”. “Stranger”, on the other hand, stands out for its smooth music transitions that perfectly complement its lyrical themes.
With several songs surrounding New York and all its intriguing elements, it is perhaps ironic that Honeycomb was recorded in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Providing the perfect setting for the exploration of different sonic textures and development of lyrical perspectives, the beauty of their surroundings can be clearly heard in their music. Chrissy elaborates on this recording experience, “We were just unbelievably lucky to spend that summer in such a beautiful place focusing solely on music… Thematically too, a lot of the songs are about the relationship between suburbs, country and city. Many are about travelling between different environments or imagining that you are somewhere else.”
With the desire to constantly improve their craft, there’s no surprise that Summer Underground have an EP, The Bee Sides, in the works, releasing on 16th June. You can follow them and discover more of their music here.