MILAN, Italy -- Karl Hyde stood on a terrace overlooking this historic city and couldn't believe his eyes.
"Look at this!" exclaimed the singer/guitarist for the British electronica act Underworld, as he stared out over the roofs of the downtown district. "Isn't that incredible?"
His unabashed delight was surprising, in view of how blasé he could be after Underworld's recent success. Their rise has been fueled by the 1996 global hit "Born Slippy (Nuxx)" (RealAudio excerpt). With the band's latest album, Beaucoup Fish, due April 13, Hyde should be used to plush tour accommodations such as this suite in one of the city's finest hotels.
But the singer/guitarist, surveying the skyline while clad in a simple
blue T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, didn't seem comfortable with his good fortune.
A central figure in Underworld, Hyde, 42, performs alongside computer magician Rick Smith and DJ Darren Emerson. For more than a decade, his band has produced a mix of trance, breakbeat and techno sounds, often featuring Hyde's heavily treated, deadpan vocals.
Now it's on the verge of a two-week U.S. tour, which will begin April 20 with a show at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club, then wind through New York, Chicago, Seattle and Las Vegas before ending up at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Southern California on May 1.
Beaucoup Fish, an 11-song collection featuring the jazz-inflected single "Push Upstairs," took the trio most of '98 to record. Then, at the end of the year, Underworld embarked on a two-month European tour to test the new material onstage before finishing the album.
"The reason for performing live while in the middle of recording was to let us reassess the songs and simplify them for the concert stage," Hyde explained. "It was a great luxury, because we cut all of the crap, and everything became immediate, very passionate and emotional.
"After the tour, we went back to the studio and used what we learned onstage to trim the songs of unnecessary details," he said.
Originally part of the obscure '80s pop band Freur, the duo of Hyde and Smith re-emerged during the late '80s as Underworld, releasing two albums before disbanding in 1989.
The current version of the group came together in the '90s when Emerson joined Hyde and Smith. In 1994, they released Dubnobasswithmyheadman, their first album as a trio, to critical acclaim. But it was two years later when the band broke through on the pop charts with "Born Slippy (Nuxx)," taken from the soundtrack of "Trainspotting" -- Danny Boyle's controversial movie about heroin addiction.
A second album from the threesome, 1996's Second Toughest On The Infants, originally didn't include "Born Slippy (Nuxx)," but was reissued with the tune and garnered big sales.
"Did we expect that success?" Hyde asked. "No, we didn't. Looking back on it, we feel it was something that could have happened. We knew ['Trainspotting'] was a really good film, even if we didn't know that it would be embraced by so many people."
Hyde explained how the band discovered a new way of working during sessions for the new album. Instead of laying down each song together, the three musicians worked separately in different studios on their own ideas.
"Because fewer songs were being created with this process, we got a more realistic view of what the group was reacting to and against. If we'd just done a track that lasted 12 or 15 minutes and that went like a mystical journey, the next one would be more straight," he said.
He was referring to the album-opening sequence that puts together the 11-minute-long "Cups" and the more-condensed "Push Upstairs."
Beaucoup Fish is technically the third album from this Underworld lineup. Before beginning work on the recording last year, Hyde explained, the bandmembers pursued individual projects, some linked with their design company, Tomato, which produces commercials, videos and record covers.
Prior to the Beaucoup Fish sessions, the Underworlders also attempted collaborations with some famous rock colleagues -- Irish band U2 and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe.
"We met with Michael to collaborate on a track for the 'Batman and Robin' movie," Hyde recalled. "But the pressure was on from the film company, and there wasn't enough time for us to work together in a way that satisfied both parties."
The 1997 film ended up using a previously unreleased R.E.M. track, "Revolution," and Underworld's "Moaner," which is now also included on Beaucoup Fish.
According to Hyde, Underworld's alliance with U2 went further. He
revealed that both bands worked on "Mofo," a number originally included
on U2's 1997 album, Pop. The joint recording was shelved, Hyde
said, after both bands were not completely satisfied with the results.
"It was supposed to [be] great, and if it wasn't, it was better to not release it," Hyde insisted.