Interview: The Vaselines
The Vaselines may be a nearly 25-year-old band, but it kind of feels like they’re just beginning.
After a three-year run in the late 80s, the band split, having released only one full-length, 1989’s “Dum-Dum”. Fast-forward 20 years and front-persons Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee reunited to play a charity gig, which ended up in the two reclaiming the band name and playing a series of shows in the U.K. and U.S.
Not every band gets a second chance, but that seems to be exactly the case with The Vaselines. Having shed the naivety of their adolescent years, the members are now taking to writing songs together again. And with the September release of “Sex With an X,” the band’s first new material in two decades, it’s an opportunity for the band to win over new fans and break from the label of being “that band that Kurt Cobain liked.”
Kelly said the band first began writing songs inspired by groups like the Velvet Underground, Orange Juice, and to some extent, even the Monkees.
“I could only play two or three chords,” he said, explaining that he naturally gravitated toward bands with simple song structures he could easily emulate.
Yet even considering how the circumstances surrounding the band have changed, Kelly says the songwriting process is quite unchanged from how it was when the two were in their 20’s.
“We work together very very easily,” he said of his songwriting relationship with McKee. “It’s kind of surprising ‘cause we haven’t written together in 20 years. [But] we just kind of fell back into it like it was yesterday.”
The main difference between the new songs and the old ones is that the band members have realized their strengths, and play off of those. Namely, they work toward a complimentary, symbiotic relationship in the structure of the songs, whether that means collaborating on them or spending extra time on refining the vocal interplay between melody and harmony.
Even so, Kelly lamented the stigma that comes from being an old band that is reuniting to make new music.
“People still want to hear the old songs,” he said. “They’re still shouting out for [them].”
While this is only natural, considering a large majority of the band’s fans are from an older generation, the band doesn’t want the old material to undermine its new ventures in songwriting.
“It’s expected that we’re going to play the new songs,” Kelly said. “We’re hoping that people will accept that.”
For Kelly, one of the more difficult aspects to deal with is the way the music industry has changed since he first began playing.
“It was so simple back then,” he said. “Now it’s much more complicated, and you have to think about all these different factors. It’s all part of the 21st century.”
Luckily, he said that today there are people whose job it is to take care of the details, like booking, merchandising and scheduling, but that it’s still difficult for him to not have control of that structure.
“I think myself and Frances like to know what’s planned, like a day ahead of time. All the traveling can be tiring,” he said. “[It’s a lot of] sitting around and waiting for something to happen. People ask lots of questions all day.“
But in spite of some of the difficulties of being in a band, Kelly doesn’t take any of it for granted.
“We just want to make music [and] we got lucky,” he admitted.
In addition to being musical veterans of a sort, The Vaselines also come from a very niche sector of the music scene: the world of Scottish indie rock and twee. One only has to look to supergroup The Reindeer Section, to understand exactly what that means.
“There is quite a solidarity,” Kelley said. “Or, there used to be years ago, when I was first starting.”
Although, while The Vaselines are long-time friends of Belle & Sebastian, with whom they toured earlier this month, Kelley admits he hasn’t heard many of the newer bands in the scene, like Frightened Rabbit.
“I don’t really know…what indie bands are,” he said. “Recently I haven’t had a chance to listen to anything. The only chance you get is on the plane.”
He said he receives a lot of free music of other artists on the Sub Pop label, and consequently listens to and enjoys a lot of Avi Buffalo, No Age, and Dum Dum Girls, the latter of which they are touring with and admittedly huge fans of.