Dancing in Lead Boots: IN CONVERSATION with VOWWS
VOWWS is comprised of Matt, tall, elegant, debonair, vampiric in his charm. Rizz, an exercise in psycho-sexy, would be just as comfortable handling a wrench. In her amoureuse photographic poses with cigarette she is dominant.
Ian Astbury’s Twitter account made reference to the two as the both camps; The Cult and VOWWS are on tour together. The allure of the masculine and feminine, however juxtaposed, drove me to them. Listening to their album The Great Sun, I was transported back to The Lime Light, Danceteria, The Pyramid, circa early 1980’s, NYC.
Time when John Spacely, also known as Gringo, actor and musician with the distinctive patch over his eye, could be seen at all hours cavorting with likes of Glenn Danzig of The Misfits and Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys and music that was soundtrack, Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Front 242, back when it reverberated off walls, as miscreants and downtown celebrities among many intermingled on the dance floors, now that element can be felt again.
Although reminiscent of bands of the time, Matt and Rizz put a unique spin on the genre of industrial, post-punk and metal. The result is a musical threat which possesses the listener with electronica and a wall of guitar and synth based sounds stating a claim to possibilities of the dark world as exhilarating, if and when we find joy.
Kofi Forson: I can’t help but take this opportunity to get your reaction to the passing of Chris Cornell.
Matt James: The main feeling for us, besides sadness, was shock. It’s hard to reconcile the idea of someone with such a command of their craft being wrought with the helplessness and despondency that depression brings. There’s a feeling of security when someone like that is in the world, and when they’re gone it feels a little colder.
Forson: Congratulations on, The Great Sun album. Personally it reminds me of the postpunk/industrial music from downtown early 80’s New York City clubs. You’ve been quoted as saying you’re not influenced by that patented sound, whether Skinny Puppy or even Ian Curtis’ vocals. How do you manage the musical textures which set the mood reminiscent of that era? What influences do you draw from?
James: Thank you. Those comparisons that we draw are largely by accident, although there are obviously some commonalities there. Mood and vibe for us come from chords and melodies, whether they’re played on guitar, synths, or acoustic piano. So we work hard to make sure the foundation is right, then the cool and pretty stuff on top might end up invoking Goth and post punk bands – but we try to steer clear of clichés, if possible, and don’t really draw from the usual Goth or post-punk suspects when we write.
Forson: You co-produced the album with Kevin McMahon. Was a lot of what the album became a manifestation from working with him? How did he contribute to your sound?
James: Working with him gave a lot of life to our sound. We write and produce demos ourselves, and the songs are pretty much finished when we go into the studio. However we always wanted our sound to be ‘physical’ and have lots of texture. I suppose in this way we’re doing something similar to those early 80’s acts, because they didn’t have laptops to work with – every drum sound, every synth, bass, etc, had to be processed separately – but it leads to better outcomes because the song is deconstructed and then reconstructed again, with each sound being given the care it deserves.
Forson: Wonderful how the album sustains the mood all the way through. Almost as if I’m reliving the experience of a film as a soundtrack. The horror genre is key and recurrent in your music. The charm however is the sense of humor.
How does the orgy of violence as sarcasm contribute to the tone in the music?
James: Violence and humor go hand in hand… or darkness and humor. Put them both together and you’ve got building blocks for sarcasm. We just find that darker themes have so much more power…I’ve never really trusted happy music and unless it’s super well done, I can’t fucking stand it most of the time. The way the world is. Dark music is the truest to me. But it also just gets depressing unless you can lighten it with something, and when joy is found in darkness it’s most powerful. We also worship good comedians, so I suppose that darkly funny take on life is in there somewhere.
Forson: The image of the band is important as well. What a great band or artist does is allow their audience to live through them. There’s that mock of art, death, sex, fashion. I listen to your music and watch your videos and I feel like I belong. That’s a hard trick to pull off, being inclusive and yet somewhat controversial.
Are we all drawn to the murder plot, the suicide? What is the appeal of VOWWS?
James: I feel like we’re all just drawn to the same things as our audience. It’s hard to say, we work from a pretty focused place when we’re at it and just have pretty strong bullshit detectors, so we filter everything we do – whether music or imagery. I know that when I experience any other form of art and get excited, it’s normally ‘cause I can sense the people behind it love and hate many of the same things I do, so maybe that’s it.
Forson: There’s also the hot-shot presence of the male/female duo, somewhat sexually dominant, in Rizz’s case not hyper-feminine more so a threat, badass.
Does this also stem from film, the art-orienting of damaged characters, the anti-hero, criminally-minded couple?
James: In some ways we don’t try to define the differences between us, or play up the male-female thing…I’m often feminine in the way I live and Rizz is masculine in lots of ways, and vice versa. We also channel so much of each other’s energies through Vowws that it all becomes one thing anyway. Maybe it allows us to cover a wider spectrum of sexual psychic experience than if it were just a guy or girl…maybe. Relationship dynamics are important in our music, and the various power struggles and quests for dominance, resolution, ownership etc. Some of it comes from film but lyrically it’s simpler than that, it’s just attempting to put an emotional story or experience into words without ruining the song.
Forson: The two songs from the album receiving the most attention are the single, Councillor and the song featuring Gary Numan, Losing Myself In You. The title track puts everything in perspective and all the other songs follow. But Councillor stands out I think. It has charm and it’s danceable.
How is Gary Numan’s influence on your music different from let’s say, Bowie?
James: Gary Numan’s music wasn’t a huge influence on us from the start – it worked its way in, but it’s still limited. If anything, we follow his approach to his early work, in that we break everything down in the studio and try to embrace the mad-scientist approach to synth work. I think that’s a pretty lasting legacy of his. Bowie was always more of an influence for me. No matter how dark his music got, there was always the impression that it was so much fun to be a part of. I listened to, Hunky Dory, for a year while we were writing The Great Sun. It was an intellectual album, but it never felt too heavy. His voice danced on top of these beautifully convoluted musical ideas like he was skipping over clouds. I’ve always admired that, and that has influenced the phrasing of our songs a bit, although with us I think it comes out a lot heavier, like we’re dancing with lead boots.
Forson: You’re currently on tour with The Cult. How did that come about? And what’s your favorite song by The Cult?
James: We got an email from The Cult’s booking agent, saying Ian Astbury is a fan and wants to have us on tour. We were blown away. I think I’ve enjoyed hearing Spiritwalker, and She Sells Sanctuary the most. We dig their classic early stuff the most, and it comes across great live.
Forson: You recently played a 16 and Over show at Brooklyn Steel. How do you maintain the loyal fan base and win over those who may be drawn to your music because it reminds them of Marilyn Manson or NIN?
James: A lot of the comparisons we receive are a surprise to us, and we first hear them after the songs are written and performed. So I suppose we try not to second guess that stuff too much. We just make sure we’re both happy with what we’re doing at every point along the writing, production and performance process, and that seems to translate pretty well.
Forson: When an artist gives the impression of myth, the macabre, he or she is made to think they have a reputation, whether it’s Ozzy allegedly biting off the head of a bat or the stage antics of GG Allin.
If you were to die in a horror film, how would you want to go?
James: Spontaneous combustion.