My original intention back in June was to post a week's worth of interviews, but those plans fell through, and I have been sitting on this one interview for quite some time. Then came summer, holidays, writer’s block, and putting things off one week after the other. For that I want to apologize to the members of Viva Stereo, who responded quite some time ago to my questions promptly and in depth. Truly an indie band, hailing from Scotland, I reviewed Viva Stereo’s “Enduring the Dark to See the Stars” (link) back in May, and their song, “We Set Sail,” has since then been one of my favorite epics – and I do love music of epic proportion! So with no further ado, I would like to thank Rob McKinlay and Stuart Gray for taking the time to Answer 6.
1. Who are you musical and non-musical influences?
Rob: Phew, where to begin. Musical wise I'd say Spiritualized, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, the Beta Band, LCD Soundsystem, Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Mogwai, Odeon Beat Club, God Speed! You Black Emperor, King Creosote, James Yorkston, Caribou. Non-musical I'd say Richard Brautigaun, Iris Murdoch, Charles Bukowski, Jack London.
Stuart: I think between the four of us, we have a similar vein of musical influences that run through the music of Viva Stereo. I could list a thousand bands that I like that probably influence me but may not necessary filter into the bands sound. I was listening to a lot of 13th Floor Elevators and 60’s psyche when we were recording the last album but I’m not sure if that can be detected in the songs! But even stuff like movies, comedy – Bill Hicks especially.
2. Ten years into your career, how has the music industry, and your relationship to it, changed?
Rob: Our relationship to the music business has generally been one way with us doing our thing and letting the business know what we are up to, and business paying little or no attention to us. We learnt pretty early on that you can wait for years for something to happen or you can do it yourself. We have seen so many bands either wait forever for just the right thing to come along or appear that they have cracked it with a deal only for nothing to happen for two years and then you hear they've split up.
We haven't really changed the way we deal with the music business since we released our first album back in 2004. Keep doing it because you want to, save a few pennies where you can, don't drink 'all' the money you may make along the way and surround yourself with people you enjoy working with.
As for the music business itself I’d say that they have become even more conservative than I thought possible in the last two or three years. Money is tight and the labels seem to want a band to have an album done and dusted prior to signing them. Meaning of course that they don't have to cover those costs and if it doesn't sell, then they can be dropped or just let go without any lose to the label.
3. Longevity is becoming rarer and rarer in the music industry; how has Viva Stereo accomplished it?
Rob: Having children slows you down so what we could've done in five years we squeezed into ten! Nah, I think it’s a love of playing, writing and recording that keeps us going. We'd all really miss it if we didn't do it. In fact, we had a barren two years prior to this album, and I think we all realized we'd left it too long without much activity.
4. In terms of music, I personally will take Glasgow over London. How has Glasgow seeped into your music?
Rob: Glasgow seeped into the core of the band in the first four or five years when we all pretty much lived there. If you are gigging regularly in Glasgow you can't help but get to know folks around your 'scene.' Although Glasgow is a big place, when it comes to bands it feels more like a small town! You see the same faces, you play with a lot of the bands and you see a lot of gigs. It’s inevitable that you are going to be influenced by what other people are doing. Interestingly, now that we are all over the country with only one of us left in Glasgow, I think Glasgow has left its mark in the darkness/melancholy that permeates a lot of our tunes. It’s as much a Scottish thing as a Glasgow thing but because the weather is so grim, especially in winter, you have to stay indoors for at least six months of the year so playing in a band is almost inevitable.
5. Viva Stereo is truly an "indie" band ... so in this post-broadband revolutionized world, how has the Internet played a role in connecting with fans?
Rob: I'll let someone else answer this one as I’m getting a little tired of the Internet. Or maybe it's just staring at a laptop that tires me out!
Stuart: It has played its part in a big way. We were lucky to get involved in MySpace in the early days. I had a friend from the States who suggested signing up when not very many UK bands had pages. At that time I had lot of time on my hands to ‘spread the word’ and we built up a decent fanbase by doing so. This was before they had invented programs for spamming folk so all communication was direct from us. I guess MySpace got saturated but there’s still plenty of ways of getting your music heard… blogs are great and I’m a big fan as there are some really good ones out there. In the early days we used to book some of our tours solely through speaking to people on MySpace and getting them to recommend venues in their area. It was also great for hooking up with other bands that have similar outlooks. However, I think recently we haven’t really continued down that route. We still have MySpace/Facebook/Reverbnation pages but getting the time to update it all is sometimes a hassle. But obviously with more people buying records online or downloading it is imperative you have a web presence to get your records heard. I just feel a bit sorry for the bands just starting out from scratch that need to shout loudest to get peoples attention as it can’t be easy. But in the Internet does make the world a much smaller place so this obviously helps bands in getting their music
6. The more I listen to the album the more I am entranced by "We Set Sail." Indulge me, I really would love to know the genesis of this song and what the band was hoping to convey with the song.
Rob: I was aiming for a proper Spiritualized tune with “We Set Sail,” something in the vain of "Lazer Guided Melodies" where its just a good feeling/vibe to the tune. I wanted it to be a performance caught on tape, with a drone and a sense of the meander about it. Things would come and go with no real sense of building up to a finish. I love my long intros and tunes that draw you in and make you lose sense of time. Lost in music indeed. Stuart came up with the title, and talk of the sea led us to the simple drums with the washes of cymbals. We actually started with a drum machine but Gavin Brown (aka onthefly) was playing drums on the other tracks of the album, so we just tried it with him drumming and it freed the tune up even more, increasing the human element of it all. What we were actually trying to convey I’m not sure, but with it being the last track on the album maybe subconsciously we were trying to send people off to sleep with a nice tune in their head!
Stuart: Lyrically a lot of the new album is a bit more mature than our previous three albums. The first three albums all contained stuff that centred around how life, work, personal relationships can get you down but as long as the weekend is around the corner then everything is fine. However, this album I personally have written more from a reflective point of view. ‘We Set Sail’ is basically saying how we get through life and we mess up but we are different people from what we were. People make mistakes and sometimes it takes time to make you see how much you have messed up. Something like that anyway! Maybe it’s our ‘My Way’ for the drone/shoegaze generation!
Keep up with Viva Stereo at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
Here is the radio edit version of Viva Stereo’s “Endure the Dark, to See the Stars” from their Bandcamp page.