Vladimir have – rightly or wrongly – often been portrayed as the young princes of darkness, harbingers of a revival of Goth and the bringers of darkness to the music scene (writes Andy Wood). True the sound is hugely intense, particularly live, with a wall of feedback, a dazzling array of effects and a sense of chaos. However, scrape between the surface and there is far more to this Dundee quartet than a fixation with the grubby side of life and cleverly manipulated guitar pedals. Beneath the chaotic noise they have some genuinely beautiful songs, a sweet centre if you like, wrapped in a brittle, abrasive shell. The self-titled E.P. released in the summer of 2011 pretty much represented the live sound of the band at that point but since then things have moved on. The second single, the wonderful ‘Cold Winter’s Grasp’, a haunting, gorgeous song that both lulled you in and eviscerated your senses with its sense of tension building before a cathartic release.
Having played live pretty solidly with two hugely memorable headline shows in Dundee, and one in a church in Invergowrie, and toured Scotland twice, including a mini-tour with Edinburgh School for the Deaf and played their debut English dates Vladimir went a little quiet for the latter part of 2012. It seems that they haven’t been quiet at all merely keeping out of the limelight, busily writing and recording new songs and planning their next assault on your senses.
Anyone fearing that Vladimir may have softened their approach should stop fretting now. On the occasions they’ve played live since last summer they have introduced a number of new songs to their live set which embraces their core sound without losing any of the magic but seem to be more expansive and dynamic. The live shows still have the same sense of urgency and energy. At a recent gig in Glasgow’s 13th Note, they played to a packed, sweaty crowd in a dark basement and let rip with a set that was equal parts an assault on and an embrace of your senses. I felt like my nose was about to burst at any second but loved it all. The crowd, probably used to all manner of madness looked a little nervous and unwary as Ross threw himself into the throng, stumbling around in an elegant chaos like a man possessed while Peter, Josh and Sam built up an unholy racket that seemed to fill every corner of the room. At their best Vladimir live seem unsure of what happens next, of what they are unleashing and it all makes for something rather special. A gig as an event rather than just a recital.
The first fruits of the recent recordings have made their way online ahead of Saturday’s E.P. release and they sound amazing. I was a little unprepared for ‘Bleed’ with it’s quieter dynamic and textured, almost reflective sound but I loved it straightaway and have played it several dozen times in the space of a few days. It isn’t even my favourite of the newer songs which bodes well for the future. Hopefully 2013 will be the year in which Vladimir make an even bigger impact gaining momentum and reaching a larger audience.
Ahead of their first show in Dundee I met up with Ross Murray and Josh Gray in the Campbeltown Bar for a chat about all things Vladimir.
If Vladimir were a team of superheroes, which powers would you each have?
Josh: I’d have the power to teleport anywhere so I could go any place I like at any minute.
Would you give Sam and Peter superpowers?
Josh: Peter’s already got a superpower…
Ross: To talk shite forever.
Josh: I’d probably give Sam like… I don’t know actually. I’d give him the same as me but less good.
From the outside 2012 seemed like a funny kind of year for Vladimir. It seemed a bit stop-start. How do you feel about that?
Ross: That’s the way we are as people. Really inconsistent. It was good though, it was probably our best year.
Josh: We went to London and Thurso and stuff like that. We did ‘Cold Winters Grasp’, that was good.
Ross: I think we played so much at the start of the year that we got sick of the songs. Played like basically a stupid amount of gigs in the first few months.
Josh: It’s more like, basically a year of gigs, just playing and getting yourselves out there and getting some experience playing different places.
Ross: In the summer we started writing and that took over, it was more exciting than playing gigs for a while so we were committed to that.
Josh: We got kinda lost in that. We sort of made a conscious decision to change our sound a little bit and that took some time to do.
You’ve introduced quite a few new songs over the last six months or so. You still play some of the older songs as well and they all fit together pretty well.
Josh: Yeah, we still play ‘Cold Winters Grasp’.
Ross: There’s only a couple left. We’ve got loads of new songs, some that we’ve not had time to practice as a full band yet. We’ve got so much on. We’ve got six songs that we don’t know if any of them will be on this E.P.
Josh: I prefer the new songs, they sound more developed and maturer. They sound better.
How do you approach writing the songs? Does someone come in and say I’ve got a song or do people come in with bits of things?
Ross: Someone normally comes up with a guitar line then we work on it as a band then I’ll do the lyrics to it and see how it goes.
Josh: Usually it’s the music first then lyrics. Sort Peter’s guitar settings out.
Ross: Usually it comes by random.
Josh: One of the new songs, we were sitting on the train to Glasgow and one came on Peter’s Iphone. He’s got loads of random recordings on it. We just heard this song. It sounded dead distorted and we thought, that sounds really good. We’d scrapped it but it was still on his phone and it sounded really good so we changed our minds. So it’s quite spontaneous. Sounds and songs can come from anywhere really.
What about the lyrics? Do you write all the time or once the music is there?
Ross: It just depends. I’ve got loads of lyrics. Sometimes, if you’re just in the mood to write lyrics you write them and save them for a rainy day. Sometimes when you write a song the lyrics just come to you straight away. This fits and that’s the lyrics for it but sometimes you have a song and the lyrics you’ve already got are a perfect fit for it. It just depends.
Do you ever sit and think, I’ve got an idea for a song and write the entire lyric down?
Ross: Yeah, pretty much. You think of something in your head that you write about and just do the whole song in a oner. It’s pretty much the way it works with me.
So do you carry a notebook around with you?
Ross: No, it’s kind of… I just memorise it. It’s really hard as it takes ages to remember them again. My job’s really lonely so just the whole day it’s just you and your thoughts so it’s quite a good place to write lyrics.
How did the dates with the Wet Nuns go?
Josh: Pretty crazy.
Ross: Yeah, just the usual Vladimir. It’s what we like to do.
Josh: We hadn’t done something like that in ages so we were pretty excited about it and it was good getting out of Dundee and playing some proper gigs again.
Ross: It was good to play with Wet Nuns as well. They’re good lads and funny. The venues were more high profile than we’re used to. Getting a dressing room and a rider and stuff. We actually got paid for one of them.
Josh: This woman came up to us and said, ‘I’m here to take care of you tonight’. That’ll be difficult like…
How did you come to do those supports?
Ross: We played with them last year at the Reading Rooms and they really liked us. Then we went down and played a show in Sheffield for their old tour manager and he liked us as well. When they announced their new dates we just asked if we could play and we got contacted from the venues saying do you want a support?
Josh: We kind of became pals with them. I talk to Rob online quite a lot, Peter talks to the drummer so we’ve always talked and they’ve tried to help us out.
In the past you’ve said that you kind of felt like outsiders? Do you still feel that way?
Ross: Yeah, totally. We are. Definitely.
Josh: We’re all social retards basically so we’ll always be outsiders no matter what.
Ross: We are. We just feel like the pure scruffs of all the rest of the bands. The band no-one wants. We used to feel like outsiders in Dundee but now we just feel like the outsiders of Scotland. Then eventually we’ll be the outsiders of Britain and carry on.
Do you think the best bands are made up of people that feel like outsiders?
Ross: Yeah, I don’t think you should be in a band unless you feel like the world’s against you. At all! If you’re getting everything handed to you what passion can you put into it?
Josh: If you want to try and fit in there’s no point in doing that cos it’s pointless.
Do you think hate and anger still have an important part to play in your music?
Ross: Definitely. Someone said to me that we were the bleakest band in the world. I think that summed us up perfectly. We play like we’ve got no future. It’s just total anger, let everything out.
Josh: That’s the best thing about music. You could just play on stage or when you’re writing or recording songs and you can just think about everything bad and let it go because you are playing music. There’s nothing to think about when you’re playing music.
Ross: Someone said the other night that when they saw us play that they thought I was stotting drunk but I wasn’t. I came off stage, I was fine. It’s just that when you’re playing the music I get that into it I just lose my head, it’s just like a release of your emotions and I start stumbling around. Dunno how it happens.
Do you get nervous before you go on stage?
Ross: Yeah, I do. A lot! Cos really, anything could happen. I just get a feeling like we’re going to blow an amp. It’s the worst feeling in the world.
Josh: I’m usually nervous on the stage because that’s when you really don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t get anxious until I get on the stage. That’s just me.
Ross: Once I get on stage it all goes and I just lose myself in another world.
How big a part does the audience have to play? If you were playing in front of a huge audience or a very small audience would that effect your performance?
Ross: Nah. We’d still do the same. But obviously, if there is a huge crowd there it adds to it as you play off the crowd. If you see them getting into it you get more into it. Bounce off of each other.
Josh: The reactions to. You always scan the crowd to see what people are doing, what facial expressions they have, if they’re moving or talking to their pals or if they’re on their phone, you know what I mean? You always get these vibes off people.
Ross: That’s the worst thing in the world, someone’s on their phone at a gig. I like people being right in my face so you can see right into them, just stare them out.
Josh: If people are paying more attention to you it makes me perform better as they are more focussed, they care more about you.
Ross: People can’t see the full emotion from the band from the back of the room. You need to come up close and get into it.
Josh: You can fucking hear us though.
What music are you currently listening to?
Josh: Any old shit. I’ve been listening to The Fall a lot recently. A lot more psychedelic music too. A lot more richer sounds. I’ve been paying more attention to what’s in the music rather than just the songs themselves. The sounds, tones, the effects – stuff like that – and widening my tastes.
Ross: I’ve been listening to stuff that people wouldn’t expect me to listen to, music with good vocalists. It’s quite interesting to hear how people can expand their voice. I’ve been listening to stuff like Stevie Nicks, Amy Winehouse. Not because they are my favourite bands, it’s like I’m trying to listen and see what they do with their voice. It’s really interesting. There’s a band I’m listening to called Loom and their singer is like the most angry person in the world and just goes for people. It’s pretty cool. At a gig you know it’s the best gig you’ve ever been to if you feel that your life is in danger. That excitement, adrenaline – you don’t know what is going to happen. A band like that always excites me as well.
How are things going with the recording?
Josh: To be vague – good. To be blunt – good!
Ross: We’ve just been recording basically everything we’ve written.
Josh: Right now it feels like we can go in so many different directions but it’s choosing which direction we want to go. But it all fits together.
Ross: It’s not like one song is a punk song, one’s a …
Josh: … jazz-country-blues.
Have you been producing it yourselves?
Josh: We’re using DM Studios. We’ve not really thought about producing ourselves. Maybe in the future.
Ross: We put in our fair share but don’t totally harass the guy from the studio. He’s had a lot of influence on us. We prefer to work with him because we know him, it’s totally chilled out. When you record with someone you don’t know it’s always – it’s like when you meet a girl for the first time that you really like, you’re nervous to talk to them and you don’t really know what they are thinking and they don’t know what you are thinking. If you know them, they know what you want on the record.
Josh: When we worked with Jamie Grier at Green Door I think he got scared by us. I think we scared him, the amount we drank, bringing in drink and being absolutely steaming. It was a bad time.
I thought the recording of the song, ‘Cold Winters Grasp’, came out really well.
Josh: I was really happy with it too. It doesn’t matter getting drunk in the studio but if the sound engineer is getting freaked out it’s not always a good atmosphere. But it was a good atmosphere for us though.
Would Vladimir ever write a love song? Have you?
Ross: Yeah, yeah. Loads. Every song is a love song.
Josh: Not just the lyrics, even the guitar parts.
Ross: Not just about girls. Love songs can be about your love of songs. Especially on the new E.P. It’s a lot more emotional, lyrically, than we’ve ever been before. Sometimes, before, it was just let’s say the darkest things we can say in a song. Now it’s more close to the heart, meaningful. Every song is a love song, definitely.
Josh: Stuff we’ve been wanting to write about before these songs was more angsty.
Ross: The best songs are love songs I think. I think people would expect us to be like, cos live we’re quite angry and who gives a fuck and go mental and have a good time but we still have feelings.
Josh: Anger goes hand in hand with love.
Ross: Every song is a love song. You’ve got to have passion about what you’re writing about. It would be a shit song if you didn’t.
What does the line ‘We are the last of our kind’ mean?
Ross: That’s a weird one. It’s just like I felt at the time that no one else was like me. Not so much me as the band, well kind of as well, but you always feel that no one is like you and you’re the last person on earth and you’re never going to find anyone who is like you. A lot of the songs are about frustration and how you feel like the world is conspiring against you.
I had a sense of the idea of the band as a gang.
Ross: It is, it’s a part of the band but it’s mostly just me, I always felt like that. Just walking down the street or something, I felt like people are looking at me or laughing at me. It’s the same with the band, we feel like we’re the only ones like that. It’s my favourite song we’ve ever done. It’s basically about being on your own and you just feel like no one else is out there.
Are you very conscious of image or presentation?
Ross: Not really. I think we’ve maybe been, oh maybe we should start to look more like a band.
I think you look like a band, like a unit.
Ross: I think it’s more natural though, not like we should all get the same haircuts. We’re all the same age, into the same things.
Josh: We’re all friends so friends just bounce off each other. We still all hang out, even if we weren’t in the band it would still be the same picture.
Ross: It’s not like we’ve got a band uniform or anything.
What’s going to happen for Vladimir in the next few months?
Josh: Everything hopefully.
Ross: Everything and nothing all at the same time.
Josh: This E.P. then the next E.P. and a few amazing gigs.
Ross: Hopefully someone will offer us a lot of money to quit our jobs and go touring the world. That would be ideal. Pretty much I think we’re just going to try and play as many gigs as we can and get some radio play and do well.
The new song that’s on Soundcloud:
Vladimir launch their new E.P. on Saturday (23rd) at the Cool Cat Club, Beat Generator Live, Dundee. Doors at 8.00 p.m. Also appearing are the New Fabian Society, Edinburgh School for the Deaf and the Shithawks. More info
Photos by Daisy Dundee