"I'd like One Direction to record one of our songs..." hmv.com talks to The Vaselines
When Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee formed The Vaselines in the late 1980s, they were were one of the most unique and unusual bands around. Their aesthetic was very punk rock, but their sound was poppy and melodic, their songwriting idiosyncratic.
Based in their native Glasgow, they released only one album, 1989's Dum-Dum, before disbanding shortly afterwards. Neither of them could have anticipated that a few years later their music would be championed and covered by one of the biggest bands on the planet, but that's exactly what happened when Nirvana included two of their songs – 'Molly's Lips' and 'Son of a Gun' – on their 1992 compilation Incesticide. Another cover followed shortly afterwards in the form of 'Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam', included on Nirvana's Unplugged in New York.
Fast-forward to 2008 and suddenly the band reformed, releasing their second studio album, Sex with an X, in 2010, more than two decades after their debut.
Next week (September 29th) they return with their third album, V for Vaselines, so we caught up with Eugene for a chat about the new LP, why they decided to reform after so many years and, of course, that whole Nirvana business...
How long have you been working on the album?
“I think we started last May, just getting ideas together, then we did the first sessions in the studio in August last year, but we didn't really finish it until earlier this year. So it was around a year altogether I think.”
Where did you record it? Are you producing it yourselves?
“A place called Castle of Doom that's owned by Mogwai, it's in Glasgow. We've been working with Tony Doogan, he's worked with bands like Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian, but he's also the in-house producer and engineer at the studio, so we've been doing it together with him really.”
Can you talk us through some of the other collaborators you've got working with you on the new album? We understand Bobby Kildea and Stevie Jackson from Belle & Sebastian are on there?
“Yeah, we've known the guys for a while and Bob & Stevie played with us on our live shows for the last couple of years. We'd finished most of the record and I just thought that a couple of the songs need some extra bits of guitar, to get a bit more melody going on in places, so Stevie came down and helped out, filled in bits and pieces.
“Scott Paterson's also on the record, he was in Sons & Daughters who broke up in the last couple of years, so he came in and did some extra guitars for us. Also there's Michael McGaughrin, who was our regular drummer in the 90s, he's on the record. So it was just friends and people we knew from around Glasgow, whoever was about! It's the first time we've recorded in Glasgow actually, so it was easier to get these guys down to the studio to add extra things to it.”
Is it just you and Frances doing the writing, or do the other guys chip in?
“Yeah, we write all the songs, that's the way it's always been really. But we'll write together and then take it into rehearsals and the let everyone try and contribute to the arrangements and things.”
There was quite a big gap between making your debut Dum-Dum and its follow-up Sex with an X. What made you decide to reform after all that time?
“Well, I think around 2006 Frances and I played a couple of acoustic shows together because we both had solo records out at the time, then about 2008 she called me ans asked if I wanted to do the same thing again for a charity show that her sister was organising, and I just thought 'well, why don't we just do a Vaselines gig rather than just trying to do acoustic versions of our songs', which doesn't really represent them all that well. She said ok, so I got the guys from Belle & Sebastian involved, we had one or two rehearsals and they just sounded great.
“We played the gig and it was fun, then after that the phone started ringing and it was 'oh, can you come and play this show or that show', and we were like, 'well, yeah, ok then'. After a while we thought we'd try and write some new stuff, just because we didn't want to keep playing the same few songs forever! So I guess we just gradually realised that we were back in business and it just kept going from there really.”
So is The Vaselines your main focus now? Are you going to keep working together?
“Yeah, we're not doing any solo stuff or anything really. I mean we've both done a couple of solo shows here and there but they've just been pretty low-key things really, so yeah this is our main thing for now and I guess we'll see where we are next year and figure out what to do next.”
Do you have any plans to tour the album?
“We're just doing three dates in the UK at the moment, starting next Monday in Edinburgh, Leeds and London to launch the album, then two weeks in November in Europe. We're trying to organise the American tour just now, and next year we'll just see what comes up.”
What kind of album is it lyrically? Are you sharing the lyric writing duties?
“Yeah, we do. We always get together and write the lyrics, on some songs this time around Frances has written more of the lyrics, just because I was kind of stuck at one point, but Frances just rattled on with it! Then we'll get together and try and finesse it a bit.
“On previous records the lyrics are quite tongue-in-cheek about things, but I think we've definitely reached middle-age now, mentally, musically and physically! You can't carry on just being the same kind of indie pop thing forever, so it's a bit more... not serious exactly, but a bit less frivolous maybe.
“The first song, 'High Tide, Low Tide' is not a love song exactly, but a song about a commitment-phobic, about somebody meeting somebody and not being sure about committing, being indecisive. Then there's another called 'The Lonely LP', which is about music downloads, but from the LP's perspective – nobody really talks about him anymore, you know? Everybody's in love with the mp3.
“So it's all kinds of things really. Sometimes the finished song doesn't really reflect where the initial spark came from. There's a song on there that was inspired by the stuff that was going on with the Leveson inquiry, but you wouldn't really know it listen to it!”
Is there anyone you'd really like to work with?
“One Direction. I'd like them to record one of our songs. Or Katy Perry, or Taylor Swift. Anyone who sells millions of records, I want to work with them, haha!”
Speaking of bands selling millions that cover your songs, were you surprised by the way Nirvana started championing your work in the early Nineties?
“Oh, yeah. I mean, our band had come and gone by that point and, you know, we were just a wee indie band from Glasgow! Then we heard that there were bands in Seattle listening to our music and one of them was recording a couple of songs. So you just think 'oh hey, that's really great that our music has travelled beyond British shores'. But then out of the blue they become the biggest band in the world, and they're spreading the word us about us. So yeah, it was a pretty amazing thing, you could've never anticipated a thing like that, or a band like that becoming so big. Unprecedented, really.”
Is there anything else you guys are up to outside of The Vaselines?
Not really just at the moment, I've got a couple of ideas but at the moment there's not a lit of time to get into any other stuff. Next year we'll see where we are and how busy we are with touring and stuff, but we're concentrating on this just now.”