Friday, 4 May 2012
Indietracks interview #8: The Vaselines
By Stuart Huggett
Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee formed The Vaselines in Glasgow in 1986, releasing two singles, ‘Son Of A Gun’ and ‘Dying For It’, and an album, ‘Dum-Dum’, on Stephen Pastel’s 53rd & 3rd label. By the time Nirvana started covering their songs, The Vaselines had already split: Eugene forming Captain America/Eugenius, Frances following suit with Suckle. In 2006, the pair toured together to promote their solo albums, leading to a full Vaselines reunion cemented on 2010’s ‘Sex With An X’.
When we spoke, Frances had just returned from a weekend teaching yoga, while Eugene had been in the studio recording his contribution to a theatrical production by actress, musician and director Cora Bissett, ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’.
Did you enjoy your solo show at last year’s Indietracks, Frances?
Frances: Oh, I was really nervous about it. It was me pushing my comfort zone to the max, but I was really glad I did it, to be honest. I love that little church. I thought the whole set up was amazing, and we did enjoy it. Who else is playing this year? Gordon McIntyre? We played with Ballboy in Edinburgh a long time ago with Suckle, my other band, I really like them.
Eugene: I’ve read about Indietracks, and I’ve spoken to other people who’ve played it, but I don’t really know much about it. I will investigate it in the week leading up to it, when we start looking at the bill and getting worried who the competition is. Even going on tour, I like to keep things to the last minute. When people ask where you’re going I say, well, I’m not quite sure. I know we’ll be heading off on this date and coming home on that date. I like to keep it exciting and a bit of a mystery tour.
My girlfriend took part in Frances’ yoga class last year, and she really enjoyed it.
Frances: Oh, that’s good, I’m glad. It was really good fun actually. It was such a nice day to do it outside, we were really lucky. I’ve been teaching for something like 15 years. Stevie (Jackson, guitar) comes to my classes, and Bob (Kildea, bass) sometimes comes. I taught at ATP one year, and Eugene came to that. It’s nice, one person will come and do it, then the others will follow.
Are Bob and Stevie both back in the band now?
Frances: Yeah, Gareth (Russell) and Paul (Foley) have been off doing other things, so we said that if Bob and Stevie were really well behaved then they would be allowed to come back.
How did The Vaselines reunion come about?
Eugene: It happened pretty naturally. We’d always been doing other stuff, so it really was all about timing. I think we’d maybe talked about it, not sat down and had a meeting but just thought, if somebody had given us an offer to do a show we’d say, what do you think?
Frances: I think, before, people had talked about it and I thought, yeah, maybe. But this was the right time, I felt.
Eugene: We’d done the solo acoustic shows in 2006. I think that was the first time we’d actually played on stage together, so we knew then it was going in a positive direction. When it came to 2008, Frances phoned me about doing a charity show and I said, well let’s just do it properly. This may be the one chance we get to do a proper Vaselines show. She was up for it, and once we played that show we knew it was something worth hanging on to.
Frances: I didn’t think there was an audience there for it, to be honest, so I was quite reluctant. Then, when it did happen, Sub Pop had just asked us to play their 20th anniversary festival, and it felt right to go with your gut feelings.
Eugene: We’d been offered the Sub Pop festival before that charity show, and we’d said, no, the band doesn’t exist, we just can’t do it. Once we’d played that show, the phone started ringing and we thought, well, we have got a band now, why don’t we take up their offer. Once we’d gone to America to play the Sub Pop festival we just got more offers and we thought it would be stupid to say no. We thought we’d just do it for six months, we’d have a bit of fun and that’ll be it, but it’s lasted for four years now. I’m sure The Stone Roses got their lawyers together and sat down and planned the next four years out before they’d even announced anything, but we really just make things up as we go along. That’s the way we’ve always done it.
Did you find it easy to start writing together again?
Frances: Surprisingly easy. I think we were both a bit nervous about it. I forgot I’d been writing on my own for a long time, and I think Eugene was the same. We laughed all the time while we were writing that album, just at stupid lyrics that we were coming up with, and stupid ideas, so it was really, really good fun. The advantage was we both had GarageBand, so we could send each other ideas and work on it, then meet up and slag each other off about it, or not. It was really good to know we were both on the same page when it came to what we were wanting to achieve.
Eugene: It came together really quickly, because we both had lots of ideas just lying about. I’d always put ideas aside, thinking they might be good for The Vaselines if we ever got back together, so we had lots of material almost half written, then we got together and finished it off.
Frances: I really like the song ‘Exit The Vaselines’, that’s one of my favourites. It was one where Eugene had the first verse and that was it, so we just built it up in the studio. I impressed myself by coming up with the lead guitar line, which I never, ever do. I just like that sort of melancholy-ness of it. The words only came up at the end of the night before we recorded it. I think it’s nice to tie up the album with, and leave people thinking, is that it? Is there going to be any more?
Eugene: ‘The Devil Inside Me’ I really like, because that was a collaboration between us that was really smooth, and it really worked. I had the melody and a bit of an idea of what the vocal was, then Frances added her vocals and guitar line and improved it, much more and much better. That was a really happy experience. It’s got a great atmosphere and I’m really happy to play it live. ‘Cos a lot of our songs are quite up and exhausting, like ‘Sex With An X’. There’s one song we play, I can’t remember which one, and I’m always out of breath by the end. You just have to mop your brow.
It seemed natural that ‘Sex With An X’ would come out on Sub Pop.
Frances: We’d financed the album ourselves, and just thought we’d ask them first. Because we had worked with them in the past, and we’d brought out (compilation) ‘Enter The Vaselines’ just recently, we thought, well, it would be rude not to give them at least the first refusal. They’d always been good with The Vaselines stuff, and always been there for us.
Who came up with the title?
Frances: Well unfortunately we can’t take credit for that. It was Eugene’s flatmate that came up with it, and Eugene was like, I’ll run this past Frances but I don’t know what your husband will think. And I just laughed and laughed. It’s ideal. My kids think it’s hilarious.
Eugene: Yeah, my flatmate for a while was Carey (Lander) from Camera Obscura. I went out for a drink with her and Traceyanne (Campbell), and mentioned that we’d been talking about titles with Frances. We had this song “Kissing with a K” (‘Mouth To Mouth’) and then Carey said “Sex with an X” and we had a laugh. I told Frances about it later and she said, well that’s the title. I wasn’t sure about it just ‘cos it’s so blatant, but I was struggling to come up with something else. When it came to the crunch, that was the best of the bunch. I really like it, but when we were releasing singles and things we were wondering why our records were not getting played. You know, is it because we’re called The Vaselines and we’ve got a song with sex in the title? Maybe I was a bit worried, but at the time we were quite brash as normal, like, that’s the title and we’ll go for it. Maybe we should have called it something really bland, then it would have got played on the radio.
Where did you find that magnificent boudoir you’re posing in on the cover?
Eugene: It’s in the Blythswood Hotel, on Blythswood Square in Glasgow. It’s a really old building that used to be a kind of RAC hotel, then somebody took it over and really refurbished it. I was in there for a drink one night, and in the lobby they’ve got these massive big alcoves and I thought that was a really great spot for a photograph. It’s in the reception area right at the front, and when we were doing that picture there were people checking in and out, so it was quite embarrassing. You know Peter York, the style journalist? He was checking out of the hotel, and he walked by and had a wee smirk and I thought, oh god, this is so awkward.
What else do The Vaselines have coming up? Another album?
Frances: Well, given that it’s taken 20 years for ‘Dum-Dum’ to bed in, we’re not really an album machine. Both of us feel that bands just churn them out. We are talking about doing something, but we haven’t planned anything yet.
Eugene: We would like to, but it’s just a very long process of getting songs together. It’s really starting from scratch. I mean, I’m putting some ideas together, and every time I see Frances we kind of go, what’s going on? But I don’t think she’s really written a lot of stuff yet. I think she’s writing more for her solo project.
Frances: Yeah, very much so. One of the things on my to-do list this year was hopefully to record some of my own stuff, but unfortunately I haven’t got round to that either. I don’t know where the time goes!
Eugene: I always try and write every day or couple of days to see what happens. Tunes always arrive, so I’ll put them into different files. I’ve got finished songs I’ve written in the last few years that are solo songs, but I haven’t really got any plans. I’ve got to basically sit down and decide, now I’m doing this project and get on with it, but I haven’t got my head in that state yet. I think I definitely want to do another solo record or another side project. Because I wrote the electronic music for David Mackenzie’s film ‘You Instead’, I’ve kept writing things on computer and coming up with rough ideas, so I might do a very lo-fi electronic collection of songs. The ‘You Instead’ session was great, it was my first experience of producing something for someone else’s music. I think if the film had been a big smash it might have opened some doors, but I don’t know how well it done. It hasn’t led to any more work, but it’s definitely something I’d like to do more of. But it’s all just ideas, it might never happen.
Frances: We’re going to Japan in June, so we’re kind of working towards that. It’s funny, unless you’ve got something to sell, you need a reason to go on tour usually. I like doing it, but you kind of need to know why you’re doing it, I suppose.
Eugene: We’ve been offered a show in Seattle in September, so we’re just trying to work out if we can do it. If you get one offer, you have to try and get some other offers round it to make it financially work, to pay everybody and pay all the flights. Because the visa process to go to America is so complicated and so expensive, you end up spending a big chunk of any money you’re gonna make to cover that. We’re just working out whether it’s viable or not. I mean, this is all I do. I make music and write songs, and luckily I can get by doing it. Frances is the same, but she teaches yoga. And that’s a lucky break we had with the whole Nirvana thing, that’s given us security. We can just make a living doing this, but I’d rather do that than have to do stuff that would give me no time to make music.
The Vaselines - Sex With An X by subpop