Tonight I was doing a little research (Google searching) about Cardiff art rock band The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, as I have to review their new album. On their Wikipedia one of the references is to an interview I did with Louise for The Skinny three years ago. Imagine my shock when I clicked the link, only for ‘Page Not Found’ to glare back at me. So like a diligent internet librarian, I’ve recreated that article in all its dubious, novice-writer glory…
“Our first intention is to be poppy, and our second intention is to avoid being cheesy.” To be honest, such humble intentions hardly begin to explain the deranged brilliance of The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club, but that’s how bassist Louise Mason describes their method to The Skinny, talking on the phone from her adopted hometown of Cardiff.
An authentic example of the much-touted art-rock band, the three members that combine to make VEGC – Louise, as well as Adam (guitar, lead vocals) and Emma (drums) – met at art college in the Welsh capital, although they’re all actually English, a fact which only half-explains the mock-refined band-name. “Adam used to paint these really weird Victorian characters at college, so at first we called ourselves The Victorian Painting Club or something like that, then took it from there.”
Before the naming stage, the trio were united by their shared enthusiasm for a certain art-rock predecessor. “The band was actually formed through our liking of Ikara Colt,” Louise recalls. “Me and Adam liked them and we bumped into Emma and she was massively into them. That’s how we got in touch with the label as well [VEGC are with Ikara Colt’s former label, Fantastic Plastic] and how we got signed in the end.”
Louise may cite influences like Sonic Youth and such post-punk notables, but VEGC are about as unique as it gets these days. Soundbites to describe their absurdist fare don’t come easily. The Pixies refracted through the mind of Spike Milligan? Nirvana soundtracking one of Terry Gilliam’s cut-and-paste animations? On songs like ‘My Son Spells Backwards’ and ‘Amateur Man’, VEGC gleefully twist the rules of pop-music with their discordant guitars, jarring vocal harmonies and nonsense lyrics – yet somehow it’s still pop. “We’re not especially technically talented, so we’re forced to use a lot of weird vocal things to experiment,” Louise admits in her modest, untouched-by-fame manner.
On a first listen, VEGC can seem unnecessarily off-key, or just wilfully all-over-the-shop, but repeated listens will reveal the strangely coherent tunes like bright pearls peeking out of dirty shells. “We don’t want it to be overly accessible but we like our big hooks I guess.”
With the album already sparking off a modest buzz in broadsheets and web forums alike, VEGC hit the road on a nationwide tour during September and October to soak up some of the attention. Just don’t expect them to look happy on stage. “We come across a lot more aggressive than we do on record. None of us are stand-up comedians so we keep the chat to an absolute minimum.”
Never ones to rest on their laurels, Louise and band are already back into a creative gear. “Even before we finished recording the album we were writing again. The difficult second album thing is kind of obvious really, because when a band stops writing and only does the promotional side, that’s when it goes wrong. We’re conscious of that and we just carry on battering them out.”
From The Skinny, September 2006
The new VEGC album, Love On An Oil Rig, is out on 7 September (2009).