Track By Track: Villainy’s Neill Fraser Takes Us Through ‘Raised In The Dark’

Today, Villainy release their highly-anticipated third album, Raised In The Dark.

The 13th Floor is excited to bring you an exclusive track-by-track rundown of the new album by lead vocalist Neill Fraser. 

Listen in as Neill gives Marty Duda the back story behind all 10 tracks that make up Raised In The Dark.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

M: New album, It’s called Raised In The Dark, it’s coming out in July, it’s the third album

N: Yeah

M: You’ve recorded again with Tom Larkin, what’s the deal between you guys?

N: Well we’ve been working with Tom for, I guess pretty much our entire career. The band almost didn’t exist in it’s current from when we first hooked up with him, we had like a bunch of demos and we were looking for a producer and I met him through a friend and one thing led to another and we made a record which ended up being a Villainy record and we’ve ended up doing three, so yeah it’s the third.

M: So when you guys are in the studio, what does he contribute to the process?

N: He’s the producer so I guess he’s probably kind of stepped back a little bit from where we started three records ago. His talent is identifying, I guess to put it simply, what makes a song good. He’s the guy who can walk in and listen to a demo and be like ‘I don’t like the track but that thing you’re doing there is fucking on’, and sometimes it goes nowhere or sometimes you turn that into a song. He’s got that great third party vision which I think, as a songwriter, it’s difficult to have that level of objectivity which is why you want someone to listen to things fresh and take a different view on it.

M: How do you get to a point where you trust his opinion, because you could come in with a song you think is amazing and he could be going ‘Well y’know.’

N: Yeah, I guess being the third record we kind of have a better understanding. I remember on the first record it was pretty brutal, I was like ‘Nah these are my songs what are you doing, what are you telling me the chorus is bad?’ But you kind of get used to….. I guess it’s like working with anyone, including the other band members, you get used to everyone’s tastes and you begin to trust each other, or you learn what to fight for and what not to.

M: So did you have to do much fighting on this record?

N: There’s always a bit of fighting. We wrote…I think the number we’ve agreed as the real one was 107 tracks.

M: That’s what I’ve got written down here, that’s insane

N: Yeah so there was definitely some children murder along the way, and by that I mean our songs, not real children, which is hard cause again you walk in and y’know like ‘This tracks the best thing I’ve ever done blah blah blah’, and then you play it, two of the five people in the room are like ‘Maybe?’, and then you turf it out and pick something else, so it was a different experience in that way. I think the last two records we probably walked in with like twenty or thirty tracks maybe, and a lot of them were kind of just ideas.

M: One hundred and seven is ….

N: A lot of music

M: I assume you’ll probably use some of those bits later on for possibly other things?

N: You know what, I don’t know. We’ve been talking about that and now that this records finally coming out we can actually think about what comes next and I kind of just want to start again. I know it sounds nuts but most of that stuff is like two to three years old now, so represents a different time.

M: Let’s talk about the record, we’ll go through track by track and you can tell me the inside story on each one. Starting out with the first song which is ‘Raised In The Dark’, it’s the title track.

N: Raised In The Dark, it’s the title track obviously, we did about three or four different studio sessions on the record. This one was cut on the first one in Melbourne, we’d gone over for three weeks and I think we ended up walking out with about six songs that we kind of committed to. This one, sometimes in the last couple of records we kind of have a track where it happens very late in the piece and this one we sort of had the opening riff and we kind of had a vibe of what the chorus was, but not a lot else and I think we kind of threw it together in the last two days, got down the instrumental version, and then we decided we needed to finish something because we were like, we’ve recorded six or seven tracks and nothing was done so we decided we wanted to finish something which involved writing all the lyrics for the song in between like 10 and 2 AM, recording the next day and then getting on a plane back to Auckland from Melbourne, so it all happened really quickly but it’s become a really key track to the record and one that we are all really happy with it’s been received really well as well.

M: Kind of opens up the record with a nice crunchy riff and gets things started

N: Yeah, and I think for me this was kind of the song that made me realise that we had a record, even that early in the piece, I thought ‘Ok, this is something good’.

M: Why was it the title track?

N: It just kind of encapsulated everything that the record was feeling. The song really is about, hopefully this is a common thing, you get through life and you get to a certain point and you realise that all of your expectations and things that have been sold to you and what you can and cannot be are real but you realise how fucking hard it is to get there, and so I think there’s a lot of that kind of backwards looking reflection in this record and the idea of Raised In The Dark was, don’t ask me where the line came from, but it’s kind of that idea of you don’t quite realise what the outside world looks like until you go into it.

M: Next song is ‘Wannabe‘. Nothing to do with the Spice Girls is it?

N: No funnily yeah. I think we didn’t really have an official title for this one and Wannabe was like a line somewhere in the chorus and it just stuck, and then we were like ‘You know what, fuck it we’ll spell it like the Spice Girls as well ’cause why not?’ We also did Dreams by Fleetwood Mac. We’ll talk about that later, it’s actually a cover record.

M: Alright yeah, I can see that

N: It’s very interpretive. This one is probably the most quintessential Villainy record it’s big guitars, big aggressive chorus, it was actually I think one of the first, if not the first, out of those 107 songs that was written.  I think we did it quite early in the piece and we cut it pretty much exactly the same as what we did in the demo, so it was a walk up it was an easy one, it was done in that same session as well.

M: Good way to get started, everybody feels positive, making progress. ‘Beggar’ is next.

N: I don’t really know where the song came from, it was sort of centred around the riff, which I think is in 7/8, I’d have to ask one of the more technical guys in the band, but our first track Alligator Skin did a similar trick, it kind of went from 7/8 to 4/4 and back again so this song has some similarities in that respect but it’s a pretty expansive piece of music and we were all really, really happy with it. It’s got this crazy soaring chorus and then it drops down into probably one of the softest bridge middle eight sections we’ve ever done, and by soft I don’t mean ‘soft’, I mean pretty and emotional and makes you feel things which is always nice. So we’re really stoked with the song and everyone’s heard it has been a big advocate for it.

M: Within the band, who writes what or who does the majority?

N: It really depends, particularly on this record, there were some which kind of walked in like fully formed by people who weren’t me. This one, I think the riff came out of just messing around and then we kind of structured things around it. A lot of the writing process on this record, which is how we manage to write so many songs, is we’d go into our rehearsal room three times a week, we’d record everything, and we’d basically just force ourselves to do a rough structure so in the song we’d go ‘Ok we’ve got a riff, let’s chuck some chords around a chorus’, and then we’d leave it and then I’d go in on the weekend and I’d just sit there and listen to them and got a microphone and just hum random stuff until it made sense and then try and scratch up some kind of story around the lyrics. So a lot of the song that went into the studio were kind of nonsensical stuff that we then re-framed.

M: Next we have ‘Dreams‘. This is a rather brutal tune isn’t it?

N: Yeah, so I’m like, Wannabe and Raised In The Dark, this is the last track we did, we actually did this one just down the road at Roundhead, so we cut the whole thing in there and then we got mixed by this guy Mark Needham out of L.A who did The Killers and Imagine Dragons and a whole bunch of other stuff so it sounds massive which is awesome. Lyrically it’s pretty desperate but very much follows that same theme of Raised In The Dark, and it kind of sounds depressing on the face of it but it’s really about fighting for what you believe in and not expecting everybody else to prop you up.

N: No snowflakes here

N: Totally

M: Track number five is called ‘-CUT-‘, that’s in capital letters with the little dashes on each side, what’s all that about?

N: See the problem with Spotify and the bloody digital world, is that you can’t do strike throughs and cool formatting things which is, I don’t even know where I got this from, but I’ve always been a fan of weird band names and song titles and bad grammar, so on the LP it’ll have a strike but we can’t do that on Spotify because, I don’t know, digital.

M: Somebody ought to do a feature sometime about how Spotify is stultifying the creative process.

N: It’s ruining your ability to do weird things with letters on song titles, it’s awful. This one was kind of a Frankenstein song. We knew that it kind of had somewhere to go and another common theme with Villainy albums is that, there’s always this one track that we fight really hard for and we all lose our minds over, and this one I think was kind of kicking around for three of the recording sessions before we got there, but it all came together and I think the thing which really made it for me was the opening lick was just like this swaggery piece of rock. I think it’s difficult to get excited about guitars and particular licks, you kind of feel like you’ve heard everything and that one I just think is probably one of the best riffs we’ve written. And the song carries from there and it just gets bigger and bigger.

M: Now, one of the stranger tracks on the album, well at least the intro, for ‘Tiny Little Island’. What’s going on there, cause there’s like this sing-a-long thing.

N: This was an interesting one, it was a bit of a crap shot. We kind of weren’t sure whether we were gonna make it work originally, half of us were like ‘It’s great’, the other half of us we like ‘Sounds like a nursery rhyme, is that a great thing?’ And look it does, but it’s so infectious but it’s also quite bleak. So I think the brightness of the melody is kind of offset by the lyrical undertone

M: Nothing like a bleak nursery rhyme to get the kids off on the right foot.

N: Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve seen the video that we did, it’s this animated ghost that ends up in this destroyed world because he’s been living an excessive life, so we tried to kind of pay it out as well and take that kind of childish angle but also make it bleak on the other side.

M: Then we have ‘Uncomfortable’.

N: This song was like another one that we sort of fought for, it started out Dave our drummer actually programmed the key line on his phone, it was just like a little midi thing with a bass and a drum kit and we got the chorus hook pretty early in the piece and a bunch of various options, but nothing really stuck, but everyone was keen on it and we sat in the room and listened to the songs in Melbourne and this was one we were like ‘Yup, we’re gonna do it’, and I think this was the second or third trip and we kind of cut all of the instrumentals and then there was a call made, for two reasons, to send me off to work on the songs alone. One, was that the songs weren’t finished which was a big problem. The other was that, for whatever reason, I like to kind of get my fingers into everything in the studio and you get to tinker and play with tones and all that sort of thing, but when you’re under a lot of time pressure and people just want to get shit done it’s not particularly useful to have someone like me putting their finger up every ten minutes going ‘Can we change that, can we change that’.

M: So you’re that guy

N: I’m that guy, which is fun for me but drives everyone else fucking crazy. So the call was made to literally ban me from the studio. So I went back to our Airbnb that we were staying in and I just got up every day and just mulled around and drunk coffee and whisky and tried to figure out my life. So it’s not a very optimistic piece of music, but it kind of captured me at this lonely desperate time in my life. The lyrics were all written in one morning in like an hour, which is kind of weird. Sometimes I write that way but often it takes a while and you still need to figure out the angles that are kind of like to spew it out onto a piece of paper is pretty unique.

M: Next track, number eight, ‘IFXS

N: So, it stands for I Fucked A Snake.

M: Of course, of course, why didn’t I know that?

N: But that’s kind of not so great for the kids, so we thought we’d, I think when it came back from the studio, the engineer who was mixing it Sam, had called it ‘I Faxed a Snake’, so we went Ok and changed it to that. This song literally was a joke song. Way back when we were doing the Australian tour and we were about to jump in the AC/DC shows that we did, we went in to the studio in Melbourne and we just stood around the room, kind of the same thing we did for the rest of the record and just played every day and recorded everything. This song was a bass lick that James had come up with and the original demo is just him yelling into a mic the opening line, and that’s pretty much it. But it was fun and ridiculous so we kind of took it and re-wrote a whole bunch of lyrics around it and just took that idea and took it as far as we possibly could, which is pretty far, and then added this really sugary chorus onto it and we kind of didn’t think much of it, 107 songs, it’s ok to have a weird joke song, but we sent it to Tom and he just wrote back and went like ‘Oh my God, this is amazing’. Its such a weird tune, it’s got this really heavy punk thing and then this crazy floaty chorus and screw it, it’s fun, and people really love it …

M: It’s supposed to be fun

N: Yeah, and a lot of this record is despite a lot of the inward looking content, like Tiny Little Island is a cherry bleak song, this is a kind of ridiculous, heavy punk song so we’re not afraid to not take ourselves too seriously.

M: Number nine is ‘Skeletons’.

N: So this track, this is probably the least dense song on the record instrumentally, I think there’s really just one guitar and bass and drums, so it’s super centred around the vocal. But really, really melodic and I think it came across really nicely in the end. It’s probably as close to a ballad as you’ll get out of us. It’s a pretty expansive, long piece, I don’t really know what else I can say about it, it’s a pretty song.

M: Fun to play?

N: Yeah, we’ve been trying to work this up for the tour at the moment, we’re trying to at least pull it out at a few shows, and it’s very bass driven too which is kind of unique for us, the bass line really underpins everything.

M: And the final track is called ‘Growing Pains’.

N: It’s the final track because we want to go out with something which was big and weighty, we we playing around with the track a lot and Skeletons would have been the logical way to kind of walk out, but we wanted to go out with something big. This song has this really awesome almost like walking pace groove at the front and then kicks into quite an almost dancy chorus then you’ve got this massive drop tune riff in the middle of it, so it moves between a lot of sections and it’s just a big piece of rock but also groovy as hell.

M: So now you’ve got the record, and you’re heading out on the road, are you in the process of seeing how that’s all gonna work in to the live show?

N: Yeah, I think we’re like two or three weeks out now so we’re sort of pinning down the tracks we want to play, we’re gonna try and make it a bit diverse where we can and not play the same set every night so that there’s a bit of variety. It’s weird ’cause we’ve been working on the record so long we kind of had to literally go and learn some of these songs and figure out how to do it, but it’s sounding wicked and I think this record’s got a lot of textures and stuff going on that we haven’t previously so we got to play with a lot more tones and figuring out how to do that live is always fun, but we’re also not the kind of band that wants to hit play on the CD when we play live so adding some spice to it and making it feel real and adding that extra depth to it.

M: I have to ask you, what was it like opening for AC/DC?

N: Fucking surreal. Just the scale of those shows is next level, even just standing on the stage you look down and you’re like three metres off the ground, just everything is bigger. We’ve done arena shows and festival shows and we did the last Big Day Out and stuff like that, but stadiums are just a whole other world. The first one we did was in The Cake Tin and it was raining, but people showed up and it was pretty much full when we came on and it was wesome ’cause everyone was wet, but they were just waiting for something to happen. It was such a great show and then we got to come back up to Auckland like two days later and did Western Springs and it was a beautiful day and you couldn’t ask for more. Yeah, just a crazy experience playing in front of that many people.

M: And finally, going along the same lines, what does it feel like to be standing on a stage with a band sounding like that behind you or alongside of you or however it is, in front of a bunch of people like that, I mean what kind of rush is that for you?

N: It’s hard to describe, I think you kind of get used to the adrenaline factor, I’m thinking back, so last year, we hadn’t played for a while cause we were doing the album, and the first show back we did was opening for Incubus at Spark Arena, and I remember doing that and again it was pretty much full room, it was everything we could’ve wanted, and I remember doing that and coming off and feeling like I was on drugs, that kind of feeling, but it’s weird how quickly that wears off, and not in a bad way but you do a couple of shows like that and then suddenly you’re super in control and I think that’s where you play your best gigs because you know you can hit the marks playing, you know what to do with the crowd. I think what’s been the most fun for us in the last couple years is really getting more comfortable with the crowd and being able to mess with that a bit more and put a show on and really engage with the audiences. We don’t want to be the kind of band where you show up and just watch, you know like what’s the point? Buy the record, go home. So we work really hard to make our shows interactive and make them fun and make them engaging because we want people to have a good time and I think it’s what rock music should be as well, it should be engaging and you should come along and get a bit sweaty and not be afraid to get fucked up and all that good stuff ’cause to me, that’s what made me wanna play in a guitar band.

M: Well, we’ll see you guys soon, you’re gonna be at the Powerstation in a little while, so we’ll catch you down there. Thanks for coming up and doing this, good luck with the record when it gets out and we’ll see you on the road.

Catch Villainy on the road. Here are their tour dates:


July 12 – Blue Smoke, Christchurch (SOLD OUT)
July 13 – 50 Gorillas, Dunedin (SOLD OUT)
July 19 – The Royal, Palmerston North
July 20 – San Francisco Bath House, Wellington (SOLD OUT)
July 26 – Totara Street, Tauranga
July 27 – Powerstation, Auckland