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FEATURE: Electro-band HYYTS are breaking through after honing their sound while living in Dundee

Electro pop duo HYYTS -  Adam Hunter and Sam Hunter
Electro pop duo HYYTS - Adam Hunter and Sam Hunter

Based in Glasgow, electro-band HYTTS are making the breakthrough after honing their sound while living and working in Dundee. David Pollock finds out more.

Although they met as children in Glasgow, the path which lead Scottish electro-pop duo HYYTS to start making music together and eventually win a record contract with Warners was forged by the two years they spent in Dundee in their early 20s.

“We met at an undisclosed Glasgow football team game, I won’t say which one!” explains Adam Hunter, the band’s singer and lyricist, who is originally from just outside Troon.

His musical partner Sam Hunter (they’re no relation, and use the surname HYYTS professionally) grew up in the small village of Gargunnock, near Stirling.

“This was when we were 10-years-old, our dads knew each other and we became best friends,” he continues, telling of a friendship which continued even after Adam moved to study musical theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

“Then I went to London to try to became a singer-songwriter, and it didn’t go well – I was getting bad gigs and working in a pub six days a week to afford living there.”

Meanwhile, Sam settled in Edinburgh and got work promoting gigs and clubs. “I put on really strange, obscure techno and house nights in Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh and the Tunnels up in Aberdeen,” he says.

“They generally drew crowds of about seven or eight, but I met some complete characters through doing it, and learned a lot – and probably also lost a lot of brain cells.

HYTTS electro pop duo Adam Hunter and Sam Hunter

“I eventually went into producing, though, because, I know it sounds arrogant, but I was sitting there listening to this music and thinking, ‘what if the song did this or that instead?’

“With lots of experience listening to this music, I wondered why I didn’t just try it myself. That led to where I am now.”

Adam explains that the pair had always intended to live together and work on music as a duo, but the opportunity didn’t come until he met Dundee-based singer-songwriter Gary Clark, ex of one of the city’s most famous 1980s pop bands, Danny Wilson; now a top songwriter-for-hire.

Clark had just moved back to Scotland from Los Angeles and was working on the soundtrack to the 2016 film Sing Street, which he invited Adam to work on.

“I’d been writing songs for years, I knew it was what I wanted to do,” explains Adam. “Gary said, ‘why don’t you just come up here to Dundee and work with me full time?’ So I suggested that Sam come up and get a job in a bar, so we could live together and hustle something.

“That’s what happened; Sam produced music on his laptop which me and Gary weren’t allowed to hear, then when we did, we were like, ‘this is amazing!’ That’s how the band was born.”

We’re speaking to the pair on a conference call, with Adam at home in Glasgow and Sam on a train, where his reception is holding up admirably.

Yet still, it’s the clearly more gregarious Adam who does most of the talking for the duo (whose name is pronounced “heights”, not “hits”).

Sam and Adam of HYYTS

Their music is a fiercely contemporary blend of Sam’s Chvrches-style electro-pop and Adam’s clear, soulful pop lines, amid which he’s not afraid to explore deeper subjects.

“Opposites attracted with us,” says Sam. “Adam’s got a massive flavour for big pop, sometimes verging on the cheesy, but he’s always really on top of pop music.

He’ll ask if you’ve heard this or that new pop song, whereas I’m listening to weird, 30-year-old industrial techno from Yugoslavia or wherever.

So we meet in the middle to make this slightly wonky, cool sound.”

Dundee was a massive learning experience for the duo, and was instrumental in their growing to the point where they could sign a deal with one of the biggest labels in the world.

They arrived in the city in 2016, when both were just into their 20s, and left two-and-a-half years later.

“It was a strange time in our lives,” says Adam. “When Gary asked me to come up and work with him, I knew it was the dream – to get paid and make music! Then Sam got a job in Brewdog in Dundee, and we made a lot of friends.

“We lived in the pub for those years, which was a lot of fun, but it took its toll at times. We became friends with our hairdresser, which is a strange thing, but I had this long, mental hair…”

Adam and Sam of HYYTS

“He had ‘Hermione Grainger’ hair,” interjects Sam, clearly still amused by the thought of Adam’s past tonsorial exploits.

“I had ‘Hermione Grainger’ hair, yeah,” concedes the singer. “So in the pub one day, this guy from the cool hairdresser (Hard Grind) saw it and said, ‘I want to take you to the hairdressing world cup!’ Which is a mental thing to say, right?

“He started cutting my hair in all these weird, different ways and posting photos… we never actually got to the hairdressing world cup, but we did become friends with him.”

Away from the salon, the pair also made friends on the Dundonian music scene, including the band called Model Aeroplanes (who are now Magnum House), and Gary’s brothers Kit and Scott – promoter and proprietor, respectively, at the recently and very sadly closed Clark’s on Lindsay Street.

“For a large part of the time, a lot of our friends in Dundee were 50 and 60-year-old men,” laughs Adam, with fondness for those times in his voice.

“We became friends with all of Gary’s friends, so we basically sat down at Clark’s drinking pitchers of lager and talking to these older guys in bands. It was a weird thing for two 21-year-old guys to be doing, but it was pretty cool.

“We’d go down to the pub and they’d be playing Chic or Kool and the Gang, and then the next song would be from the Average White Band, and you’d think, ‘oh, they’re from just down the road!’

“Dundee is the kind of city where you’re aware of the culture, just walking around the streets, because it’s such an artistic place. It’s birthed all this great stuff.”

Electro pop duo HYYTS, Adam Hunter and Sam Hunter

“My whole memory of staying in Dundee is just blurred into one big pub scene,” smiles Sam, his band-mate having covered all the bases.

“I think Adam covered it pretty well, though.”

The original reason for the duo’s move to Dundee had revolved around Clark’s hopes that Adam – as a singer, dancer, actor and musician – might be able to appear in a film he was planning, but as money proved tricky to get together, the duo’s own project began to gather steam.

They played their first gig as HYYTS at Clark’s, supporting Model Aeroplanes.

For Adam, the show was a breeze; for Sam, not so much: “I’m a big nervous wreck anyway, so a bunch of people staring at me trying to perform was just nuts. It’s eased up since then, though,” he says.

Despite his initial stage fright, the gigs built up steam, including a small tour of the Highlands and Islands with a band called Lovesick and Dundee’s St.MARTiiNS.

Tayport-based music industry veteran Paul Smernicki became their manager, and then a twist of fate moved them up a level.

“We’d weirdly played a gig in front of Boy George’s manager,” says Adam, “and he said he wanted us to support George at the Hydro in Glasgow. We were like, ‘yeah, whatever’, then two months before the show he called us up said, ‘right, here’s the contract’ – we were actually doing it! It was maybe our fifth or sixth gig, which was just unbelievable.

Electro pop duo HYTTS – Adam Hunter and Sam Hunter

“It was weirdly easier than a lot of the smaller gigs,” he continues, “and it picked us up a couple of fans. We now have a really loyal ‘wine mum’ fanbase, which is class, the kind of fanbase every band wants. I’m not even being sarcastic, they bring letters and badges to our gigs, it’s fantastic!”

Smernicki suggested the duo to a number of labels and advised the pair to be patient about any interest, but they went on a tour of Eastern Europe supporting Morcheeba, and before it was even over they had been offered a deal with Warners.

“It came out of nowhere, so we tried to talk to a bunch of people who might know if it was the right thing to do,” says Adam.

“Especially because a lot of people nowadays say that labels aren’t the powerhouses they used to be – but then you see the money you’re offered and you think, that’s the dream.

Paul Smernicki at home in Broughty Ferry

“If I get to make music and don’t have to work in a pub, then that’s the dream.”

Despite a sound which would fit perfectly amid the Radio 1 daytime playlist, there’s been a new depth to the HYYTS sound with every single they’ve released.

This autumn’s Lonely People (which bears the telling lines “who am I? / I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t know”) came with a social media campaign named #NotLonelyPeople, which aimed to address the loneliness of the pandemic among their fans, while the more recent SOS was about male mental health.

“Weirdly, we both went through a period of pretty poor mental health toward the end of our time in Dundee,” says Adam.

“We’re both really lucky to not be in that position anymore, but you don’t want anyone else to go through it. We know how important it is that we had each other, and friends that noticed the signs and said, ‘we’re here for you, you can talk to us’.

“A lot of people don’t have that, but even the little things can really help. You can make a difference with a song, especially now that a few people are listening to ours’.”

Having worked as a music therapist with elderly dementia sufferers and inmates at Kilmarnock prison while HYYTS were getting up and running, Adam has personal experience which backs this up.

“The most important thing is talking to people that come from different places and have different experiences from you,” he says.

“I’ve had a pretty nice life and never had to worry about my next meal, never had to worry about the things a lot of the people I was working with had to growing up.

“Just because you might come from a tough neighbourhood and you’ve grown up in a bad way, though, and I might come from Troon, we both know Neil Diamond songs.

“So we’re going play guitar and sing, and come together and focus on the similarities rather than the differences, you know?”

The big plans ahead  for HYYTS – touring, a concentrated body of work brought together in a debut album – are on hold at the moment, as they are for everyone else during the global pandemic, and the pair agree that keeping in touch with their fans by screened performances just isn’t the same.

For the moment, however, this perfect pop group for the 2020s still want to be there for their every-growing army of fans in any way they can.

HYYTS’ recent singles SOS and Lonely People can be heard on YouTube, Soundcloud and other streaming services. For more info, see the band’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.