Music interview – Vessels: ‘I don’t know if going electronic has ever been a totally conscious thing’

Vessels collaborated with the likes of The Flaming Lips and John Grant on their new album.
Vessels collaborated with the likes of The Flaming Lips and John Grant on their new album.
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Among several collaborations on The Great Distraction, the new album from Leeds band Vessels, is a particularly eye-catching hook-up with veteran US psychedelic rock group The Flaming Lips.

“We’ve been friends of The Flaming Lips for quite a few years, probably going back to Yoshimi Vs The Pink Robots,” reveals guitarist, bassist and synth player Martin Teff. “Although it’s not the most obvious collaboration I guess a few of us have always had a strong love of that band and when we were writing that track [Deflect The Light] and as it was evolving it felt like Wayne [Coyne]’s voice might work nicely on it. I guess we were surprised and happy that we managed to pull it off in the end. When we sent him the track he instantly came back and said he loved it, which is always a good start. Then him and Steven Drozd did lots of things on the track and eventually sent it across to us saying ‘Do what you want with that’. We had an internet back and forth where they threw lots of ideas in and we picked bits out and re-ordered things. Then we ended up after a few weeks with the final track that you hear.”

The Great Distraction completes Vessels’ transition from their post-rock origins to full-on electronica. “I don’t know if it’s ever been a totally conscious thing,” Teff says. “I suppose what we’ve always done is create music together that generally tends to be based on the kind of things that we’re listening to and our influences and a lot of stuff that’s going on around us. I guess that has changed a bit over the years.

“We were more interested in listening to post-rock type stuff in the early days. At the same time we were always interested in electronic music and techno to a degree but for some reason those kind of things were slightly separate. Different members of the band would go out to a techno night in Leeds or somewhere else and we would almost treat that as like a separate thing from what we did in the band. I think over a period of time the two things naturally converged and eventually it became one thing.

“I think there were a couple of key points along the way. One major milestone was when we decided to do our cover version of The Sky Was Pink, which was a Nathan Fake track, but with a James Holden remix. A couple of us thought independently that would be a really nice thing to do, it would sound great if a live band was playing that, but we kept it to ourselves, we didn’t think it was what we should be doing for a while. Then at some point we said it to each other and everyone instantly thought it was a great idea. That was the point at which we then started going down the road towards a much more electronic/techno-inspired sound.

“But along the way it didn’t ever feel like we finished one album and then said next time we’re going to do things in a different direction; I think it evolved more organically than that.”

Vessels launch their fourth album with a gig at Brudenell Social Club.

Vessels launch their fourth album with a gig at Brudenell Social Club.

With other guest vocals from Vincent Neff of Django Djano and Katie Harkin, formerly of Sky Larkin, The Great Distraction strikes a careful balance between machine music and the human voice. “What we try to do is bring a human element to stuff that a lot of people tend to do more on a computer or that’s electronic-based,” says Teff. “Ultimately the best expression of involvement in something is the human voice. There are times where it’s felt like it needs that extra layer of humanity to get the right point across.

“Although this album has got some of the bigger vocal collaborations, and maybe slightly more vocals than some of our previous ones, we’ve always had some sort of vocal element in the various different albums and singles that we’ve done.”

The other track that seems destined to catch the ear of radio stations is Erase The Tapes, featuring John Grant. “I think he’s got an incredibly distinctive and unique voice,” says Teff. “A lot of other vocalist share a space which is kind of occupied with a lot of other people but he feels a bit maverick and on his own. It was great that he liked what we went him and wanted to collaborate.”

After a decade of musical questing, Teff feels the five-piece have learned some valuable lessons. “I think we’ve learned about how best to work with each other and to understand each other’s needs and where we’re all coming from. We’ve been doing this for quite a few years and over that time our lives have changed in different ways but we’ve still kept the band going and still creating new music and releasing albums. I guess over that time you learn about your place in this project and life more generally and then how you relate to other people. I can only speak for myself but I feel I’ve learned the best way of how to work together with everyone else.”

Different members of the band would go out to a techno night in Leeds or somewhere else and we would almost treat that as like a separate thing from what we did in the band. I think over a period of time the two things naturally converged.

Martin Teff

The Great Distraction is released tomorrow. Vessels play at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Saturday September 30. www.vesselsband.com

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