“It’s an album of dark stories with uplifting sounds, it’s a good contrast...” - hmv.com talks to Vaults
There’s been speculation since this time last year about just how John Lewis were going to soundtrack their Christmas advert, but no one guessed it would turn out to relative unknown Vaults, an electronic trio best known before that for their singer Blythe Pepino’s outspoken views on polyamory.
But there’s a whole lot more to them than their singer’s outlook on love and their cover of Randy Newman’s ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’, so as they release their debut album Caught In Still Life (which you can preview and purchase on the right-hand side of the page), we sat down with Pepino and multi-instrumentalists Ben Vella and Barney Freeman to find out all about how they made their debut LP...
Your debut album is out today! How are you feeling? Nervous or excited?
Blythe: “I can’t wait! We’ve been waiting an awfully long time to release it so it’s just exciting now.”
Over what period were the songs written? Can you trace some of them back a long way?
Barney: “About three, three and a half years. A couple of the early ones are still around, but it’s by no means everything, we’d be releasing 120-track album if that were the case. We worked quite hard to make sure at least a third of the album is completely new.”
Ben: "‘Lifespan’ is probably the oldest track on the album, that’s about three years old.”
Do you think you can hear the progress in the songs?
Barney: “I think so. ‘Lifespan’ was really the starting point, that was a raw instrumental we came up with before we had any idea what our sound would be, so the curve is from that to ‘Hurricane’, which is the newest cut, you can see a lot of growth in that time.”
Ben: “I think you can hear the learning process, which I think makes it all the more interesting.”
Blythe: “I can definitely hear the shift in my voice and how I’ve changed my style. But how can you not change over three years?”
You recorded in quite self-contained manner with no outside producer, did you ever consider getting anyone in?
Barney: “We did consider it, but we were very happy working as we did. We got in someone to mix it, you’d go mad if you tried to mix your own album.”
That must have taken a lot of confidence, it’s rare for a debut album not to have a producer...
Barney: “A lot of it was just exploration, one of our early tracks has 83 different versions, so it’s less confidence and more scrabbling around in the dark!”
Blythe: “We’re also quite interested in all the technical aspects of production and we wanted to grow together by being self-contained. You read a lot about getting new acts getting in lots of producers and writers and it gets disconnected. Maybe we were arrogant about that at the beginning, but we’ve humbled ourselves since…”
Ben: "I’d rather have a record where you can hear a few flaws than be part of an album with five producers, countless editors and a laundry list of people who’ve worked on it. For better or worse, this is us.”
Barney: “We only stopped tinkering with it a month ago, which was a real luxury.”
What kind of album do you think this is lyrically?
Ben: “It’s quite a dark album. It’s full of dark stories with lots of different characters, but it’s not miserable. It’s an album of dark stories with uplifting sounds, it’s a good contrast. Writing this album has been very cathartic.”
When did you settle on the album title?
Barney: “On a bus in Denmark!”
Blythe: “Thinking of album titles is like picking a band name. It either comes very easily or you have to think about it for a long time. We were definitely the latter.”
Ben: “It was an idea for a song title and I always liked it, but I never actually got around to writing the song. We had the artwork in mind too and it suited that really well.”
We have to ask about the John Lewis advert, has it made the last few weeks a bit surreal?
Blythe: “We’d be lying if we said it hadn’t. The whole process has been so exciting, it’s got such reach and impact. I’ve loved all the responses, the parodies and the dogs…”
How was it going to record in Abbey Road? As guys who know a lot about production it must be like going into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory…
Ben: “It’s a living museum, I hadn’t actually thought about it until we stepped inside, but I realised how special the place is straight away.”
Blythe: “There’s an incredible feeling in there, so much history, it bleeds out of the walls.”
Barney: “I tried to geek out and write down loads of stuff, but all the rooms just sound amazing, that’s why it’s so iconic. You can’t copy it.”
Did you enjoy the scale of working there? You recorded with a big orchestra…
Ben: “Oh yeah. We use strings quite a lot anyway, but we record a couple of people and make these layers. So when you don’t have to fake it and you can have 70 musicians playing together it really is quite something, I don’t know if we’ll ever have the budget for that, but I’d love to…”
Blythe: “I arrived as the orchestra was rehearsing and hearing it back was just so overwhelming. The whole process has been very special.”