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IndieRec Interview with The Vessels July, 2003
My favorite musical discovery of the past year has been that of England's The Vessels. I read a review of their debut album in a British magazine back in the fall and was intrigued enough to track down a copy. This was no easy feat as it wasn't released in the States and wasn't appearing in the import bins. The self-titled album which was released on Gravity, a BMG imprint that has since been dramatically stripped down, contains some of the most assured and mature musicianship and songwriting displayed by a new band in a long while. Filled with breezy-pop sounds and wonderful melodies, the record effortlessly mixes top-notch Brit-pop with an earthy organic vibe. The production allows the detail of the instrumentation room to breathe so all of the subtle intricacies of the arrangements shine through. Strummy acoustic guitars, heartfelt lyrics, and sweet harmonies gently co-exist creating a unique atmosphere and listening experience.
The band consists of Paul Cook on lead vocals and guitar, Garard Gannon on backing vocals and guitar, Stephen Friend on bass, and Neil Kerly on the drums. Paul wrote 10 of the 12 songs on their album while Gerard composed the other two. In addition to the album which you purchase by visiting www.opalmusic.com (search under the Letter V to find them - note this is a
UK-based site, but they take orders from around the world - and they are FAST!!!), the band has also released two excellent CD singles, each containing two exclusive B-Sides which are as good, if not better, than any of the album tracks! The above
weblink has these limited edition singles in stock as of this writing. Some of the finer record stores that sell imports also may have Vessels' releases. Be the first to discover this band in the US, because they are in the midst of working out a deal for the US release of their album and also for their next record which some demos have already been completed for. I am sure that this band is going to continue to grow and continue to amaze for many years to come.
So the plan is this: Call your friends, schedule an afternoon barbeque in the country in a week or two (allowing sufficient time to get the record in the mail), get batteries for your boom box, a super-Frisbee, and get turned on by The Vessels.
You'll love it. Everyone I've played it for did.
Paul Cook was kind enough to answer a few questions for IndieRec recently. For an interesting look at what this young (25 year old) outgoing sort thinks about his music and the struggles of finding a label that "gets it" read on. Also check out their website at http://www.thevessels.co.uk
IR: How long has the group been together?
PC: PC: In its present line up less than two years. It's been a long evolution though. Neil and I were at school together and formed a band in the Brit-pop era. we saw Gerard play in another band, took an age to find him, only to discover we had to wait for him to finish his university degree, some 200 miles away
from London. We played together as a three piece for a while, then asked Steve, an old friend, if he would help out. It clicked and we have been together since.
IR: Your album is such a well produced collection of melodic song structures, pretty harmonies, delicate piano and acoustic guitar flourishes, quality musicianship, and solid songwriting. I sometimes describe it as a British take on Americana. "Delight" in particular is a hypnotic epic. With all of the critical praise that you have received do you find it odd that your record label (BMG's Gravity) found it hard to market you? What exactly went on there? The album has such a strong commercial appeal. Everyone that I played to in the States really dug it.
PC: PC: I think the production is the one thing we are most disappointed in. it's too shiny, a little bit 80's!! . We were always on a tight budget, and a tight schedule (20 days). That's borne out by 'delight.' The crescendo we had in mind was gospel, or the Staples singers, gently building into this massive climax. We ended up with the band multi-tracking into a pre-mature... well, you know what we mean. On your second point, I don't think BMG had a clue how to market us. They were reactive, not in control of the marketing. To begin with they wanted a straight alt. country / Americana, very adult, safe campaign, which we resisted. Alt. country in the UK can be a hiding hole for poor
song-writing, the dreaded singer-songwriter, all aching to be the next Ryan Adams. Then we supported some college rock crap and the young girls dug The Vessels so BMG had a knee jerk and wanted us to be Matchbox 20. We use country stylings, sure, but you only have to listen to real Americana to know it's not us. We played Nashville and we felt like gatecrashers. We think we are a pop-rock band, no different to REM or the Strokes or the La's or anything from a long line of classic British
guitar bands and BMG don't do that well, especially in the U.K. It also says a lot about the British scene which is obsessed with quick returns. BMG is the home of POP IDOL and Simon Cowell. Says it all really. It's easier to break a grinning karaoke
singer than it is to work a band that writes great tunes time after time.
IR: I've had the pleasure of getting to hear your newest demos and I want to let you know that I think they sound brilliant. They seem to draw from a more expansive pallet of influences and also lean toward a more experimental sound. How do you see the band growing and developing in the next few years?
PC: Exactly like that. We grow more confident with each day, each new song. The debut album, we recorded 11 tracks, that's it. No B-sides. All our B-sides are demo's. Now we are more picey. Less gets through the rigorous quality control of the band. I hate in when you read bands saying, 'yep we got 40 songs for the new album'. I've got 40 songs too, they're all in the waste-paper basket.
IR: I have to ask you about one of your B-sides, A Good Try. My girlfriend and I can't get enough of this song - we both play it over and over again. It is a perfect pop song. Care to comment on it? Any chance of reworking it into a future A-side?
PC: You are not the first to say it, previous B-sides too! - so now I worry we cant spot our own great songs! Our press guy said 'A Good Try' was the song most bands build an album around, let alone a b-side. Seriously I think it comes from Oasis who always had great B-sides, real value for money. People deserve better than studio rejects. Now of course BMG hold the copyright.
IR: What are your influences? (I hear a hint of old Neil Young's "Cripple Creek Ferry" on "Memory".)
PC: Neil Young is clearly an influence, but like all our influences I don't think we sound like him. Gerard says there has been about 100 years of great music, why limit yourself to the last 5 or 10 for your influence? It's not retro, its being broadminded. Paul is a Beatles fan wrapped in singer-songwriters and the
bands expert on cutting edge, so bright eyes, white stripes, Ryan Adams. Gerard is classic rock and roll, Little Richard (the best vocal ever), Elvis, Scotty Moore, James Burton, Jerry Lee. A lot of early country too, Hank Williams, The singing Brakeman. Johnny Cash is a major influence on everyone. Paul and Steve, being Rhythm seem to go for the more commercial stuff, big tunes. Neil loves Neil Diamond and Dolly Parton. Steve likes dance music, so its eclectic, open-minded referential not reverential.
IR: "Broadminded" is important. I feel too many artists don't have a clue as to what came before them and it shows in their music. I got into the band about a week after your brief visit to the States where you played at a small Greenwich Village pub (a place known for hosting mainly cover bands). How were you received here? Obviously, the crowd could not have known who you were.
PC: It was a stop over on the way to Nashville. There was no crowd!! The sound guy loved it, though I think he has to do the worst bands in NY five nights a week. We must have given him the will to live again. Nashville was great, crowd really accepting, we got stopped in the street the next day! We also saw Johnny Cash and June Carter give a speech which was a real lump in the throat moment.
IR: What are you looking for in terms of a new record deal, particularly in the States?
PC: Everyone states side has been so welcoming, it's a tragedy BMG USA never got behind the debut. Now we need to progress. We are trying to get control of our album. We are talking to distributors but they need money. And we need to tour. It is a priority for us. We think the people will get it. They get Coldplay for chrissake!!
IR: Well stated. Thanks for your time!