Being a little bit productive
With a new manager, a choice of new labels in front of them and a headline slot at Dark Jubilee, VNV Nation's Ronan Harris displayed a characteristically Irish trait - the gift of the gab.
VNV Nation are entering a new era in which they hope they'll go on to bigger and better things. This new era was foreshadowed by the success of the recent album and singles. Ironically, though, the release of 'Beloved', the second single off "futureperfect", marked the end of the relationship with their label Dependent. Officially, their contract was due to end anyway and the label decided not to renew it, but Ronan has a slightly different story.
"We made the decision, back in June last year when we'd already committed to 'futureperfect', that, whether we kept on Stefan [Herwig] as a manager was one thing, we would not be staying with Dependent because we'd reached the maximum we could go. We have to decide these things in advance, because, to give you an example, we released 'Burning Empires' as a limited EP single and we sold 4,700 copies. We could have sold 15,000."
Ronan and Mark decided in February that were no longer seeing eye to eye with the label on certain issues. When they joined Dependent, they were one of its most successful bands, but people at the label told them they didn't understand what the band is about.
"I'm like, well, we can go on a tour without an album in October/November, three months before the album comes out and get sold out shows all over Germany and get more people at our tour than Apop or Covenant would and they don't understand what we're about? People obviously understand something, what are they going along for? The coffee, or to meet friends, or what?"
Ronan's view is that it's the depth of the lyrics, a sentiment in the music, a passion, and you're either the kind of person who gets it or you aren't. He says it is still somewhat tied to the Goth scene he grew up listening to, the likes of This Mortal Coil and the Cochteau Twins, but he feels there's a more to it than that. He says it's something very, very Irish-inspired.
"I mean, we always have something to say, but there is that passion and expressing our emotions in song, and always miserable ones. You never heard rebel songs from like the 1800s where people were going on about like [he sings] 'It's great, it's fantastic, yay, so what if another country runs us and they treat us like dirt, everything's grand'. Nobody would listen to that, the Irish sentiment is for misery and so we pick Catholicism as our religion."
Ronan blames their split with their former manager, Stefan, on the fact that they are both control freaks. While adding that he thinks Stefan is a great guy and does a great job, he says that one of them is the artist and the other isn't and he, as the artist, has to retain control of his work. And Ronan likes that control, he writes the music, produces the music, designs the CDs, designs the merchandise, does the website, everything.
"It's something that's personally mine, it's me expressing my thoughts and feelings for whatever impetus for whatever hole in my soul that may be the inspiration. That's reached a hell of a lot people before anyone understood it and started to try and guide us."
While Stefan was the one to make the split with VNV, Ronan says that it was down to timing. "It's actually funny, Stefan told us on Friday, we were going to tell him on Monday. We'd it all lined up, he knew that, but anyway..."
The band quickly linked up with Kai Lotze, Project Pitchfork's manager and Covenant's tour manager, which Ronan regards as them falling on their feet. He had already met Kai many times and had spoken to him about working for the band as a consultant. The next step is for them to find a new label, but, despite all the speculation, Ronan is clear on the question of signing with a major, they're not interested.
"There's plenty of major labels that have been asking us for years, even after 'Empires' Virgin Records wanted to sign us, we had V2, we had Wijja, we had East West, there's three others which I won't mention. I just thought no, because any of the bands I know who went to them or any major labels had to toe the line. They had to work with people who would say, 'yeah, yeah sure you've got artistic freedom' and then they'd say, 'no, no, that album's crap, we're not releasing it' and they would start to loose ground as to what made them independent in the first place. It is an absolute imperative item for me that we maintain that."
He is prepared to say that they are in negotiation with a few labels. Like writing to Santa, he's made up a list of everything he wants from a label, bringing in everything he's learned in the years since they were kids recording "Praise the fallen". At 35, he takes an active business interest in the band and wants to work with the right people who can put his creative ideas into action. He wants to work with people who can maintain the status of what their doing, but take them to the next level.
Distribution is one of their big priorities in choosing a new label. Distributors SPV have done wonders for them in Germany, where you can find their CDs in any major record store. Their single 'Genesis' sold 11,000 copies in the first week, which got them into the mainstream charts. While the need for chart success is something Ronan thinks is really stupid, he does realise that that's how it works and that they need it to bring the scene up to a decent level. The priority for Ronan is that people who go to their gigs can go out and buy their CD without having to look through a little postal catalogue, which he regards as geeky. At the moment, for people interested in their music outside of Germany, the main listening post is online.
"If people want access to the music, they've found music listening posts like Audiogalaxy or old Napster, they can get all our music for free. Americans who have terrible distribution issues, you know there's people in towns all over America who never would have heard of us until someone said 'hey, check out this band, go get an mp3', great in those countries, great in Ireland. Germany, nah, you don't need it, you can go to a club. In Hamburg, four nights of the week, we've got a choice of more than one or two clubs and you can go club-crawling. The scene is already established there."
Their lack of exposure in Ireland is something that grates. He says that he'd swap having a track of theirs played 20 times on German radio for getting a two-minute snippet on RTÉ (Irish national radio). He says this would be like making peace with his roots, with a country he feels never gives a damn about anyone with artistic ability until they go abroad and have success elsewhere. However, there is one shop in Dublin where you can buy their CDs and it recently received a visit from Ronan's 65-year-old certified accountant father.
"My brother told my dad 'they sell Ronan's CDs in Tower Records on Wexford Street'. He went in there looking for them, and he went up to the counter and he said 'where's the industrial section?' You just don't wanna know what that musta looked like, I'd be cringing. He found 'futureperfect', he bought every copy and he went mental about it. 'Cos my parents had no notion of what this means 'cos it's not on their TV, it's not on the Late Late Show and if it's not there, they can't perceive it."
Ronan's concern is as much for promoting the scene as the band, he takes the credit for inventing the term futurepop. He says he came up with it during a conversation with Apop's Stefan Groth when they were discussing the arrogant attitude the press had towards the scene, dismissing it as simply an '80s revival. There was also the problem with the terms that were around, they regarded electro as encompassing too many things, while EBM is not what it used to be and the idea of the whole dark scene gives the impression that everyone is hanging out in crypts and listening to Sopor Aeternus. Ronan sees their sound as coming from the '80s scene, the Front 242/Nitzer Ebb scene, but bringing in a broad range of elements.
"I think 'futureperfect' showed roots in this scene and it showed roots in very emotive music, bringing together elements of dance music, being also an underground electronic album on a wider scale of things. It had an appreciation on a lot of different dimensions. And a lot of people picked up on that, there were magazines reviewing us that had no connection with us. It's not commercial music, 'cos no commercial radio station would even touch us. It is from the scene, but I think we've broken a barrier. We have 55-year-old executives writing to us saying 'my daughter listens to your music in the car on the way to school in the morning and I absolutely love it'."
One story about unexpected fans of their music brings a tear to his eyes. "There's this school in the States, and I mean this broke my heart, and this woman who taught to a class of Down's Syndrome kids, she wanted to bring them all along to hear 'standing' because they absolutely adored the song. And they were singing the song, and I went to see them, because they couldn't come to the show, and they were singing and dancing and they were in their own world, their total absolute passionate emotion and I've never seen anything like that in my life. That did my head in."
While "futureperfect" and its accompanying essay about the world were written before 11 September, many of the themes seemed to relate retrospectively to the events. Ronan ascribes this to paying attention to the news and the build up to it. He wanted to draw in all this input and say "right, this is how I feel about the world?", but he also wanted to say that, in our scene, in all youth culture, we stick our heads in the ground and don't see anything anymore.
"We live in the nightmare world of 'Bladerunner' and personally I'm sick and tired of the industrial cliché of the chemical infested future. I'm sorry, but it's a tired late '80s science fiction movie topic that is great to sing songs about because it sounds cool, it sounds like a sci-fi movie, but it's not where I want to live. I'd like to actually say, if your band was about thinking and feeling, can you be a little bit responsible and open your brains to that, be a little bit optimistic for a change, be a little bit productive.
"The thing I always say is, what is the point in saying you're someone intelligent, in fighting to stay this open-minded thinking person who cares or whatever and do feck all with it except sitting around worrying what fecking clothes you're wearing and what your friends think about your musical tastes? I mean, Christ, there has got to be more in 50 years than… nobody's gonna give a bollix whether you like All About Eve or not."
by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist