The Vaselines – Eugene Kelly Interview

On the road again...

The Vaselines come with no small level of pedigree.

With indie pop on the rise once more, the band could be excused for pointing a finger at Vivian Girls et al and screaming “We invented you!” The fact that Eugene and Francis don’t perhaps speaks volumes about them. Acclaim? What acclaim? EXACTLY.

So the release of a second album after a mere twenty year gap has come with a shrug of the shoulders from everyone in The Vaselines camp. The sound of two people having a ball with some friends, ‘Enter The Vaselines’ is a triumphant return from the much vaunted duo.

Eugene Kelly explains more…

When did you take the decision to record new material?

I think it was after the first show! We played a couple of shows together and after we came back we realised that we were supposed to do a whole tour of America. Back in 2009 we really needed to say a bit more, as the whole back catalogue comes to about an hour. We realised that we could still write together, so we thought we would see if we could come up with some more songs. Once we started writing we kept going until we had enough songs, and then we realised that we quite liked what we had. We were worried that they wouldn’t work as Vaselines songs, so we had to work on them to make sure they fitted into the set.

What criteria did you use for this?

We weren’t too caught up in our sound. It’s been 20 years so it’s not as if we were going to come back with a new electro-pop direction. We just tried to keep things simple. It’s not as if we never saw each other – every five years or so we’d meet up and play. I mean, The Vaselines should always sound simple, with a catchy chorus and no minor chords. I spent a lot of time getting the lyrics together, making sure the words were right. It was surprisingly easy to get back into writing songs for The Vaselines!

From that starting point was it fairly easy to keep on writing?

Once it started it became fairly easy. It was almost like going back in time! I think there’s only one song that Frances started which we felt wouldn’t work with The Vaselines. We couldn’t find a way to make it fit. We tried it a bit slow, but it wasn’t working out and we already had about fourteen songs. But actually coming back into writing Vaselines song, it was fairly easy to get back into that mindset.

The initial recordings have that sense of naivety, how do you recapture that in a modern setting?

We thought trying to get a bit of energy into, recording everything as live as possible was the way forward. We recorded the drums live, as much of the group as we could. We did the vocals live – bar a few drop ins – and tried to get through the recording as quickly as possible. The guitar playing was done in one or two takes in order to get some excitement into it. We were going for a performance, it had to be one continuous take. It was all about getting a live performance onto tape.

How did you assemble the group for the album?

When we first got together for a show in 2008 it was literally for a one off. I knew the guys out of Belle & Sebastian, they can pick up things really quickly. We only had a week to organise it so things had to be done without a lot of rehearsal. Once we started thinking about more shows, they joined us alongside the guys out of Snow Patrol and the 1990s. They’re just all great guys, they have a lot of respect for the band.

Are there a lot of shared influences there?

We’re not that different in age. They’re all a bit younger but we’ve got tastes which match up. It’s just rock ‘n’ roll. People in Belle & Sebastian know about what rock ‘n’ roll is.

There is a definite rockabilly feel on the album.

I think it’s more things like The Cramps. Songs such as ‘Devil Inside Me’ have a wee bit of rockabilly in them. We like using all the different aspects of rock ‘n’ roll. There’s different levels, it just so happens that we hit upon rockabilly for the first time on that track.

Where does the mixture of innocent music and smutty lyrics come from?

I think it’s just me and Frances, our sense of humour. When we get together we joke about stuff like that. When it comes to writing lyrics we try and get a bit of humour in there – a bit of smut! But not too much. I suppose we just want our voices to come across.

Songs such as ‘My God Is Bigger Than Your God’ deal with serious topics.

That’s true. I mean, we don’t want to take a big stand on things but there are certain things that we have to take seriously. We’re written songs about religion before, and ‘My God Is Bigger Than Your God’ is just another song about religion. It’s just too big a subject to deal with in a humorous way, but I think as a lyricist you need to put across your opinions in a certain way.

The country guitar licks in the background are a nice touch.

That was Stevie Jackson! It was his idea. It takes things into a Johnny Cash areaalmost, a different era.

With such a fluid recording process, how did the producers keep hold of sessions?

We did a lot of pre-production, recorded some demos and did a lot of rehearsals so we knew what we were doing. We just needed to plan out how we would record it. We did the drums first, then the guitars. I wrote down the lyrics, then all the different things that had to go down on the tracks. We worked on about two songs a day and kept to it – we just kept working until we got things done. It was actually fifteen tracks, since two of them we used as B-sides. We just had to do it. There was nothing we could leave off, once we had everything finished.

Did the reputation of the original recordings play on your mind?

I think when we started, and decided to do a record and write new songs. Then, nobody expected a record and there were no fans waiting to hear what we would come out with. Now twenty years later there are people who are interested. We have to just not think about the audience too much, we just have to block it out and get on with it. You have to please yourself, that’s the only way you can be creative. Just get on with it and get things done, then give it to the record company and let them get on with it.

The original recordings often regarded as being ‘twee’ – has this label frustrated you?

A bit. I think we came from that era of C86, when everyone was twee and walked about with hairclips, satchels and stuff. We weren’t like that at all. We get called twee a lot but it’s not something we feel comfortable with, it doesn’t describe us at all. We wanted to be a rock band, but because we don’t have rock voices we get called twee. I mean, we’re not twee people but it refers to that time and that’s the time we were formed.

‘I Hate The 80s’ comes from the same place, presumably?

Yeah. It’s a rant against nostalgia, basically. We were there at the time, and now people look back on it so much. It gets referenced all the time in music and fashion, like right now I’m seeing a lot of bare ankles and rolled up trousers which is extremely 80s. It’s just a comment on that. People say that they love the 80s but you can look at any decade and see the good and bad things. It’s just that we can remember the bad things and they can’t.

Looking to the future, how is the tour progressing?

It’s been great. It kicked off about ten days ago. We were a bit nervous but we’re getting there eventually. We played a great show in London, and a good show in Manchester. Glasgow is up next, which we’re all looking forward too.

How do the old songs link in with the new material?

Well when were rehearsing we would be playing them all together anyway. We would put them all over the place, in a different order. It was an attempt to get it into our heads that there was no difference between old and new. You always get people who prefer one or the other, but we’re trying to persuade them it’s all one batch of music.

‘Exit The Vaselines’ – how long will this reunion last?

We haven’t discussed it. We thought that would be a good title for the last song on the album because it keeps people guessing. We haven’t discussed it. We’re just trying to enjoy it while it’s going on just now, because we’ve got lots of tour dates lined up. The shows could continue into next year, moving onto Europe. We’ve got a lot planned, but basically now we’re just playing the shows and enjoying it.

Words by Robin Murray

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