Interview: Vessels

Bearded caught up with Leeds group Vessels after just completing a trek round Europe with Oceansize to find out what the band have in stall for their forthcoming record Heliscope, and just why Leeds is creating such prosperous music at the moment.

Posted on Dec 13th, 2010 in Features and Interviews, Vessels, Cuckundoo / By Peter Clark
Vessels What can you tell us about Helioscope? (New record, due 2011)

We've developed our sound a fair bit over the last few years and I think that Helioscope captures that evolution. We recorded with John Congleton again, but this time instead of being holed up in a remote cabin in snow-filled Minneapolis, we went to sun-drenched Texas in May. I found the recording process more fun. We stayed at John's house and by day we worked, but by night we frequented various Texan bars, went to shows, hung out with new and old friends. We also had a brief run in with state police (when Tim decided to go frolicking on people's lawns at 2am). The sun is a pretty dominant feature of Texas in the summer and it definitely influenced the album and its title.

How does the new record differ from your debut, or is it a continuation from it?

It's a continuation but it's also quite different. I think that this record is more focused on grooves and loops, it's more upbeat and - at times - it's almost danceable. But most of the elements in Helioscope were there before, we've just emhpasised certain sounds over others. There are definitely more synths and keys, but still plenty of guitars. Overall I think it's closer to the things that make us feel excited when we listen to new music and I think it's more coherent - though maybe I should leave that judgement to Other People!

White Fields and Open Devices (debut record) recieved wide spread critical acclaim. Do you feel pressure on yourselves now as a band to maintain such a high standard with anything you release after, or does it not really faze you?
I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't care about how people/fans/reviewers respond to the record. I mean as a human being I generally like it when people react positively to the things I do. With making a record, where we all invest so much energy and emotion and time, then of course I care about critical (and popular) acclaim. I reckon some of the others are less concerned with that stuff. At the same time, I think the biggest pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves. I mean, after the first album we spent most of a year trying to write new music and, in the process, threw away hundreds of riffs and pieces of music that weren't good enough. I think that often we're our own biggest critics.

You've been together for more than 5 years now. How have you guys developed as a band, both technically and creatively?

That's a big question. It all feels like a bit of a blur to be honest. Can't quite remember what's happened! Creatively, we've been through good and bad and different modes of writing. Right now the possibilities of where we could go creatively seem more exciting than ever. A lot of the first album was the product of jamming, whereas the new one is more based on recording parts separately and then tackling the arrangements separately. This approach seems have opened lots of new doors to things we'd never considered before. In terms of technical development, that's usually a product of Lee dreaming up bonkers riffs and then forcing me to play them on bass and/or guitar. I am definiely doing things now that I couldn't do 5 years ago. I think the month-long tour round Europe with Oceansize was a revelation for all of us as we'd never played so intensively before - I don't think we'd ever played so well together as we did by the end of that tour. I think we've developed a lot as people as well - learning how to peacefully co-exist with my bandmates over the course of a month long tour is probably one of my greatest achievements.

You've been easily categorised into the 'post-rock' genre. Is this fair and does this put limitations on your musical scope?

I don't mind how people refer to our music. The only limitations are ones we impose on ourselves really. I mean, I don't think we are really post rock, but there's definitely elements of that genre in our sound. I'd rather be called post rock than emo-core, though I'd rather be called whore-core than either of the above. I also quite like the genre name Crunk, though I don't know what it means. (Bearded: it's a type of biscuit isn't it?)

Do you have a grand scheme of things for Vessels or do you just take things as they come?

Bit of both really. I think Lee may have one musically, though I guess it changes and evolves as we do. I tend to think about how the next few years might pan out for writing, recording and playing. But not sure it amounts to a grand scheme!

Leeds seem to have a plethora of frankly superb bands around at the moment. What is it about the place that creates the bands/artists or such calibre? If you could all pick one band for our readers to check out from your local scene, who would it be?

Well, the music scene is great in Leeds. There are some great venues and a bit of a community spirit going on. Everyone seems to know everyone else. I would struggle to name a single band, so maybe I could name a few? Some of my favourites are (labelmates) Quack Quack and Two Minute Noodles. Both are quirky, fun and AMAZING live. The best venue is the Brudenell Social and that place is definitely a big feature of the scene. We've played more shows there than anywhere else and they get great bands through like Low, Deerhunter, Fout Tet... We've been in and around that scene and those people for the last 8 years. Nath from the Brudenell and Haydn from Brainwash have been pretty vital to the development of the local music scene. They've both really helped us out in a massive way over the years.

You recently gave away your single 'Meatman, Tuner, Prostitute' as a free download. Do you see this as the future of getting your music out to people (giving it away for free) rather than release singles to buy? How has the commercial side to the music scene changed since you've been playing music (even when in former band A Day Left)?

Well with widespread illegal downloading, getting music for free is definitely accepted as the norm these days. We gave that single away for free so that as many people as possible would hear it, but we also released that track as a single to buy. It's becoming harder for bands to make any money from music, and these days any money earnt comes from the live side of things and from royalties and getting your music on adverts or film/TV. I don't think we've ever really made any money from being in a band - any money that comes our way go straight back into van/transport, new gear, repairing old gear etc. That doesn't bother me so much but I think it's important for people to realise that to keep on making this music, it costs money and we need to get back the money we put in. I do think it's wrong when people feel that they should be able to get their music for free. If I really like music I make an effort to buy it - especially if it's made by someone who's not super-rich...

You have created a Spotify list for Bearded. What bands have influenced you, and what bands at the minute are so good that they push you to make the best music you possibly can?

I think one of the things that I admire most in any band/artist is when they're well in to their musical career yet still capable of producing the best music they've ever done. The most immediate example that springs to mind is Caribou. I saw them twice last weekend and their live show and last album are both stunning. I reckon that Radiohead, The National, Portishead and Sufjan Stevens have all done similar things with their latest albums - I think they're all immensely inspiring.

Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute (feat. Stuart Warwick) by Vessels