Alisha Ahmed 27/04/2009
The story that links me to The Veils is just hours-old and it came up during the chat I had with Finn Andrews and Sophia Burns from the band in the dressing room of Dingwalls, in Camden, on the 15th of April. It's the first date of their UK tour and the launch party for their third studio album “Sun Gangs”, with came out on the 6th April.
I find myself in this little room with Andrews sitting on a couch wearing his signature hat, and bassist Sophia Burn beside him on the floor: I decide the highest stool is not the right place to deal with these people. They look so humble and shy that I have to forcibly remind myself they are the people behind songs like Calliope! and Lavinia. I take my place at Andrews' feet (almost literally), discarding the stool to sit on the floor along with Burn and it all reminds me of hanging around with friends hanging, but as with every truly sensitive artist, you need time to break in through even just the littlest bit. But when you get there, you see from their confidence grows as they give their answers it's like a switch going off: and I get the feeling that this is going in the right direction…
So I heard that this first date of the tour is also the launch party for the album?
F: Yeah it's the first of 14 shows in Europe.
And then you'll be off to Australia and the US?
<>F: Yeah hopefully.
Is that going to be in the summer?
F: it will be I guess July we'll go to America and then Australia and new Zeland up till the end of the year
So, onto your new album. Sun Gangs: I read it took 3 years in the making, although I noticed some songs were played live as early as 2007, So what is it that actually took these 3 years time in the making?
F: it hasn't really taken 3 years, it was about a year and a half touring after Nux [Vomica] came out, we went to America around Europe a lot.
S: Yeah we didn't do anything about the next album until a good year and a half after Nux
F: So... I mean there's probably been 3 years of writing, but it only took 3 weeks to record so that side was pretty good.
Where did you record it?
F: Here in London, [the studio] it's called West Point, it's like a private studio that they made public for about two months, and now it's private again. It's a weird place in Acton, very wooden, very small
S: do you know the band Simply Red? It was the drummer's, a crazy Japanese man [laughs]
I also read that you usually go back to New Zeland to write music, is that were Sun Gangs was born as well? Or given the fact the Nux Vomica tour lasted for some 16 months, did you write while on the road?
F: On tour a little, but I think it's New Zeland where I end up writing most because that's where I go when we have time off. So when we are not touring I am either waiting in London to go on tour again or I got like a month holiday to see my family and things, so I go back to New Zeland and I end up writing because there's not much to do, just sitting around, and it's comfortable and familiar and I just seem to get a lot done there. But it's written all over really, a lot of it it's written in London, there are only 3 or 4 songs written in New Zeland, and then three or four in London, and the rest on tour.
Can you tell me a little about the choices behind the artwork for the album? It's quite peculiar with all the constellations but then with a physical heart in the middle, not romantic in any way. Did you have any input about it in the creative process and what (if any), is the message you are trying to convey through it?
F: It takes quite a long time… the artwork I think… it's never particularly obvious what we wanted from the start, it's kind of a bit of a journey to come and find something that just fits in, that just feels correct, but there is no clear rule about it, some constellations I made them up. The record talks a lot about what you are driven towards I suppose, and the things that pull you in, and there's a lot of illusions to the stars and fate... and songs like Lakspur are kind of about writing... the need to write things down. The thing about the cover is that it's kinda supposed to show the strings on your heart with these made up constellations, some of them are real some of them are just... I made them up... it's just a habit I really got into you know... to link constellations, it's just a really nice kind of peaceful tour activity... I just enjoyed it.
Talking about songs... "The House She Lived In" is the only love song, in the traditional defintion, that's featured on the album, it has this 60ish ballad which made me feel like I was in love with an old fashioned feeling. Can you tell me about the story behind this song?
F: I mean the story of it… it's kind of in the song I think, its not much... its pretty in depth…
But is it storytelling? Or is it autobiographical?
F: The thing is, it is about a specific person, but I don't feel like a have a lot to say about that one 'cause it feels such a broad subject…
I know some people think a song should supposedly feel complete: with a straightforward meaning …
S: But it's understandable sometimes you want to know more, I know what you mean.
F: A lot of them [songs] make an awful lot of sense to me to be honest, so it takes a while to come into it and focus to explain it to someone else.
Well I asked about this one because some of the other songs sound so cryptic I wouldn't have know even just where to start with those…
S: I think “The house she lived in” is one of the clearer one cause… I mean it's definetly about a specific girl and you can kinda see settings and you can't necessarily about the other ones.
F: I think the structure of it's very 60s like you said, it's quite a basic pop song and chord structure, it's just four [chords] that go around and around and around. I quite like that sometimes, it's kind of like a blank canvas really, it's really just for the story you know, so you don't have to think about the chords behind it very much, it's more about telling the story...
Ok onto the single, Sophia you might actually help me here because I got a bit confused: I see the video for The Letter, but I read on your blog that the single that was out in Spain was actually "Sit Down By The Fire" So.. what's the story exactly?
S: It's promo stuff really... I guess it's just a modern thing you know, where the choice happens and you make a video for the song which has to be the single, and then you send the record to Italy or Spain or anywhere and quite often regional stations will chose the song and pick their own single.So what happened in Spain is they just heard the song [Sit down by the fire] and really liked it and so when they told us there was the single on the radio we had no idea which song they had picked...
So you basically had no saying in picking the single...
F: Well not now... but I mean that's fine. I think it's a miracle whenever our band gets on the radio you know. In England it's really hard for us to get on the radio. I think it's quite strict on what they play in this country, so if then in Italy or Spain they wanna play us we don't really care what song it is... and I really like the idea of the DJs just picking their own song rather than being told and that is really nice.
There's also a 'Untitled' song that was flying around your website's forum and you played it in shows even back in 2007. Apparently fans liked it enough to put it on a poll against The Letter for the choice of the first single. Now I see that song didn't even make it into the album at al?
S: Yeah I mean…by the time Nux went out we had already new songs, and it got to the point while touring that we played these new songs as we were writing them to se how they went… So there are quite a lot of recordings that we decided we didn't like that other people really really like and that's kinda awkward cause people is quite angry about songs that didn't make it into the record that we don't like anymore but they're very much liked by the fans and I feel bad disappointing them.
Do you know the song I'm referring too? I am just curious to know the title at least now
S: I think I know the one, I think it's either “Hanging Rock” or…the other one.. that one that doesn't actually have a title.
So it is actually called “untitled” [laughs] ok… Finn I read a quote of yours that made me wonder a bit “growing up between New Zeland and England nothing ever seems that far away” and it sounded like you were referring to a state of mind that spanned a much larger concept than geography alone. It surprised me because I come from the opposite frame of mind, from a very small reality and so I happen to still make big eyes at pretty much everything. So I wondered, with such state of mind what is it that you still make big eyes at then?
F: I didn't mean it to mean that nothing feels unreachable.
I think that's mainly because I spent my entire youth completely confused about where I was and no real sense of belonging I suppose… I think I answered that in regards of lot of touring and things like that… like I don't feel bond… I suppose by touring and by that kind of mixed up life cause' that's kind of what I've done since I can remember… moving between places… except for like 4/5 years in New Zeland when I was in one place…
I ask that because I've never been out of Europe really so in a way everything still feels unreal enough to me to make me have these big eyes…
F: Oh I make big eyes all the time
F: Japan… I think the first time in Japan
S: I think there's always someone or something… you know… if you have one thing you want something else…
F: my eyes are constantly big [laughs]
You said you have been touring most of the time but it surprised me that, when you were younger, you said you didn't consider music as a possible career, in fact you considered being in the music business as “the most horrific fucking profession imaginable”, so now I am curious to know what has changed your mind, because you changed it didn't you?
F: I say weird things…
Interesting things [laughs]
F: I think when I started I freaked out about it a lot cause I found it a quite shocking thing to be involved in when all that I was used to was writing songs and all I wanted to do was to be able to write songs. And then being suddenly in London and had to consider other people's opinions in what you're doing and what they want you to be and what they want you to do with your songs and what they wanna do with you the kind of…the general attitude towards artist and music business I think it's pretty objectionable a lot of the time. I don't think it is the most hideous profession to be true… I did have a real struggle with it I think the first few years, being 17 and trying to work out what… it's a stupid quote really.
No, I didn't take it literally, I hear this a lot about the inner struggle of artist, they want to be out there but at the same time it requires so much from the person. Onto new things though, in the last couple of weeks I saw that Finn had opened his own myspace page and posted some solo material. I had a listen at “Laughter House” and it sounded quite different from The Veils sound even if you are the main songwriter…
F: I hadn't spent an awful lot of time on those, it's where I store things if my flat burns down… it's just playing around really … writing things for films that people have asked me to write something to go with… so yeah it's experimenting taking my voice out of things and see what comes in its place.
So have you written for any film soundtracks yet?
F: No nothing yet but I have been asked a selection of things that they can give to people that might want to use as a soundtrack, so it's just a little experiment really in instrumental, I'm still really just beginning on that, it was just a little plaything…
Ok…confession time: I've known about you for about 48 hours when, I saw the video for The Letter while I was on holiday in Italy, it was like 2 in the morning and I got completely shocked like I'd been electrocuted or something, and started to bother everyone about you. So I wonder.. Are you aware of this effect you might have on people that turns them into fans? And more seriously, how's the relationship you have with your fans?
S: It's strange, it's the strangest thing.
F: I love hearing those kinds of stories, it makes it feel really good. So yeah going back to the question before, being an hideous industry, it's really frustrating because we do really have to fight in this band to stay afloat and to keep going and I think the industry isn't really helpful for bands like us, you don't have an easy ride unless you release really commercial single, it's that kind of frustration that gets you when you feel like you're not really made for it…
Well you were played on MTV in Italy, which is broadcasting like on freeview in here!
F:I think it's maybe because we live in England, here we're very much kind of ignored on radio whereas in Italy and Spain, Holland, Australia, America it's starting to go really well for us. I forget how that linked to the original question, oh yeah.. fans! That is what turns the struggle into a great struggle I think, because they make you feel like what you are doing it's really worthwhile, good for the world and good for us, so hearing stories like yours, of how people discover us, or make use of us…
S: It's just really nice
F: It's nice and gratifying. You do feel like you're working quite hard to keep it
Well don't worry I am stressing everyone I know right, telling them to listen to you [laughs]
F: Oh cool!
S: It's lovely when you kinda…cause you never really know, you hear things but… I do love it when you hear the specific thing, because as it happens for us, you turn around find something new and it's such a wonderful thing when that happens, and it is very strange when that happens to someone else with us it's lovely, I am just glad we make things in the world that do that and it's so lovely, thanks..
No Thank you! Ok last thing I promise, even though there's kind a prologue. I once read this collection of Rolling Stone Interviews, there was one I remember because the interviewer went really strong about the personal stuff, and it was easy to see how uncomfortable the artist was from his answers, and I was telling myself “how can you push so much? You are not entitled, especially for stuff that goes beyond music”. Yet I do understand that you feel more attached to a character the more you know about him as a human being.
Then I read this post on your myspace where Finn was excusing himself in advance with fans for the interviews he was going to do for Sun Gangs because of his shy nature which might lead him to utterly and completely lie until the threat of questioning was over. Which of course I hope it wasn't like this for you with me today…
F: [smile] No you've been really… very gracious
Thank you… well… the bottom line was... how well do you cope with having to give out a bit of yourself as a person away in order to get your music out there?
F: Sometimes it's a pleasure and it's just nice to talk about what you do, to meet someone that has an enjoyment out of the work you are making, that you are similar in tastes… Nut sometimes they [interviewers] just seem mad to me… the way they're structured, the lines of questions… I suppose we do a lot of interviews in Europe for this, and when they are asking about the meaning of the songs and that's just one after the other about that… and after the first one I say… you know, I don't really have much to say about that, but it keeps coming and coming and it's like…I understand wanting to know the other stuff but I don't understand wanting to know the meaning behind things…it's best left to people to just make up their own meanings really, mine are just being interpretations… so that's alright sometimes, sometimes they are fine, sometimes…
Somehow I am happy I put just one question about the song meanings, then.
F: Yeah that was really good [laughs]…
Ok that's pretty much it from me then…
S: Thank you, I hope you'll like the show…
Two hours later Dingwalls is crowded, and from the stage The Veils deliver something I don't usually see. A trembling bundle of raw emotion: that is the effect a live set by The Veils, that's what listening to their music live made me feel. Andrews' persona, his long coats and hats is too gracious to be compared to anything that's around nowadays. While Burns' petite figure and blue painted nails make her look more like a delicate pixie than a rocker, yet her stage character stands out besides Andrews as I haven't see a bass player doing since The Hole-era of Melissa Auf Der Maur.
Andrews' could easily wrap the audience around his fingers if he'd only want to, and they would all gladly let him (the whole left side of the stage, Andrews' side, is literally occupied just by moon-eyed girls who look up at him as if he was to be worshipped) but he seems blissfully unaware of this potential. He's just there on stage to play his songs, and while he's performing, his quiet and shy persona is taken over by a frenzy that just gives more fuel to the energy that exchanges between the stage and the audience. So the greatest thing about The Veils is that they are this good already, but even after 6 years, they yet have so much potential to unleash it is almost scary to think where they can get to.
Maybe they've been born in the wrong century, definitely in the wrong decade. If this were the 1970s I am pretty sure The Veils would be one of the biggest, coolest bands out there. Unfortunately, because of their current low profile, most people don't easily get the chance to know of their existence, so they have to be satisfied with just being one of the greatest bands instead, which believe me, they are.