AS their debut album, Colours, hits the shelves, Vasa’s John Niblock and Niall Morrison MacRae speak to Neil Wilson about the importance of having a sense of humour and touring in England
Last month, one of Glasgow’s favourite unsigned bands, Vasa, released their debut album, Colours. The release was marked by a visually fascinating and suitably loud hometown gig. It was the last in a ten-date tour which took the band to Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen and other European cities.
We are rubbish at being serious. It seems to me it’s [being in a band] an over-serious thing sometimes, especially in post-rock bandsJohn Niblock
With a mixture of visceral post rock and intricate math rock, Vasa’s music always provides something new. Drawing on influences such as Sigur Ros, A So I Watch You From Afar, and Godspeed You! Black Emporer, the band craft and create expansive instrumental music that follows the rise and fall template but always offers something a little bit different.
Before the band headed out on tour, I caught up with bassist John Niblock and drummer Niall Morrison MacRae, with the imminent release of their album the hot topic of conversation. For a band who have been as heavily active as Vasa, it’s been a long time coming.
“We’ve been around for four years and Niall’s been here for just over a year” explains John. “We pretty much started planning it as soon as Niall joined.”
That reshuffle involved current drummer Niall joining the Vasa ranks shortly after goNorth last year. “We got Niall in during the World Cup and we went just straight into practice,” says John. “The first couple of practices went really really well. We battered through the stuff we’d kinda half written, and some new stuff, and a couple of older ones.”
After several EPs and single releases, the next natural step for the band at the stage was an album. As for Niall, he recalls being told to “learn a bunch of songs and that there was probably going to be an album at some point.”
As with any line-up change in a band, there can be a creative overhang as previous work makes way for new input. In Vasa‘s case, it seemed to prove the reverse. “We had bits and bobs in place, and there’s songs on the album that we’d started on when we still had our old drummer Alex in the band,” says John. “But when we got Niall in that’s when everything started to kick on.”
“From the way [lead guitarist] Blaine talks about it, everything started to fall into place when the four of us started practicing together,” says Niall. “We did the first practice and after we were just standing round the car, and I was like “are we good?” and everyone was like “yeah”.”
“We are rubbish at being serious,” laughs John. “It seems to me it’s [being in a band] an over-serious thing sometimes, especially in post-rock bands” opines John. “I just don’t buy it. It’s hard work being in a band, but it’s also fun. I think you need to have that fun side to it as well.”
That fun, and lack of self imported seriousness, can be found at play in the track listing for the album. “The song names,” laughs John,“I mean it’s much easier for us to name them now. All the tracks are either Futurama jokes, or something from Peep Show. It’s better having a goofier side.” What about the sound of the full album then? Are the singles, Fat Ronaldo and Posiedon’s Kiss, reflective of the album as a whole? “I feel the album is definitely a concise piece that has been put together by the same four people, but it does have lots of variation on it,” answers Niall. “It sort of feels like the direction we might go in, the direction the second album might go in. It might not sound exactly like that, but that’s the kind of feel.”
We chat about some of the older tracks, Not A Cop and Cynthia, that have been re-recorded for the record. I asked Niall if it was difficult to put his own stamp on songs which had already been recorded. “It was actually easy because the music was there, and the people were there. It’s an easy band to be in with these guys and with the music we are working with. When you listen to the older version of Not A Cop it is verging on sounding electronic, whereas on the album with the way it was recorded it sounds big, and natural, and real. Cynthia has that as well.”
With Colours the band took the decision to head south to record. “We recorded at The Ranch, down in Southampton,” John mentions. “It was great. Niall and I were done within three days. And then we had ages sitting listening to guitars.” He glances over at Niall before adding with a laugh “it was hell!”
“Yeah I just played games for about two weeks,” chuckles Niall.
“It was probably the best place we could have gone” explains John. “I kind of enjoyed not being able to go back home. Every morning we’d just get up and go record. And at night we’d be able to go in and work on stuff.”
Niall begins talking about the studios drum room like the proverbial boy in a sweet shop. “The drum room was massive,” he beams. “And I was allowed to put together my own drum kit. So I was like, “I’ll take just the biggest drums you’ve got! So I ended up using just the biggest drum parts.”
Vasa are a band who, almost since day one, have headed out of their comfort zone of Scotland, with several UK tours already under their belt. I ask if they feel their tours across the country will help Colours really make an impact outwith Scotland. “We’ve done five UK tours now,” says John “and we’ve done a lot of work on it. It kind of bugs me a bit because not a lot of Scottish bands do get out and go to England and tour.” It’s a criticism that others have levelled at the Scottish scene. For all it’s creativity and activity, there can be a reluctance to head out on the road over the border. “Ever since we did the first one, we were like let’s do that again, that was fun,” John goes onto explain “And it’s not that difficult either. To go out on tour, make some contacts, send a bunch of emails. And doing tours you’ll get to know more people, get better gigs, and get more gigs. You’ll end up doing mental 15 date UK tours that totally drain all your energy.” Niall agrees. “It’s the way you need to do it. You need to focus on England.”
Posing a more serious question, I asked them if they have any expectations for what Colours will achieve. Pausing before answering, John said: “I think we are all of the opinion that if something happened that would be cool. If it didn’t then that’s not going to stop us. I don’t know, this is just me, but I kind of get annoyed when I talk to people in bands who are like we have to get a label and this and that. And I’m just like, just do it. See what happens. Because I think if you set yourself dead specific stuff, and it doesn’t happen, then you are going to be gutted and it might effect how your band works. There’s nothing bad about doing it ourselves.”
Now that the wait is over and Colours is officially out, I ask the band for a quick summary of the album. Sell it to me in a tweet, I say. I should have seen the answers coming by this point.
“For fans of Craig David. This album is going to get all over your boink,” laughs Niall.
“Thoroughly reprehensible. If you like music, you’ll hate this,” says John proudly.
• Vasa’s Colours LP is out now on CD, vinyl, and digital download. Grab a copy here. You can follow the band on their Facebook page. Neil Wilson runs Scottish Fiction, a music blog, radio show, live events, and podcast, all aimed on discovering and promoting the best new Scottish music. www.scottishfiction.co.uk