Villainy: Locked & Loaded (Interview)

Auckland-based hard rock band Villainy has just set out on their Ammunition Tour with their next show happening at The Kings Arms on October 3rd. The band’s first album, Mode. Set. Clear. scored a New Zealand Music Award for Rock Album Of The Year in 2013 and they have just emerged from the studio with producer Tom Larkin (Shihad) with tracks for their second album ready to be mixed. So, with all of that happening Villainy vocalist and rhythm guitarist Neill Fraser stopped by The 13th Floor to talk to Marty Duda about the upcoming tour and album.

Listen to the interview with Villainy here:

Or read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: You’re in the middle of recording a new record, your last one came out last year, right. So whereabouts do things stand as far as that goes?

NF: We started in about April so I think we’ve done, done kind of a couple of sessions in the studio now. We’ve cut 11 tracks so we’re kind of at the point now we’re finishing off like touching things up, trying to figure out which ones are gonna make the cut.

MD: So give us some detail, who’s producing, how is it different than the previous record, you know, the usual.

NF: Yeah, so we’re using the same producer as the first record, so that’s Tom Larkin. So he did the first whole record, mixed it, produced it kind of partly here in Auckland and partly back in Melbourne. So this time around, we opted to go to a studio in Melbourne and track the whole thing pretty much live, so four of us in a room playing kinda, under his direction if you like and yeah, it was just a much more organic experience. We kinda had him there giving us queues as to what was sort of working, what wasn’t as we went as opposed to spending I guess more time producing last time, this time we sort of, I think some songs were even written almost on the spot which was quite different for us.

MD: So what does Tom bring to the party? You obviously must have got along with him cause’ you’re using him again, that’s always a good sign.

NF: Definitely. He brings a, I guess he’s sort of like a fifth member in, a fifth voice but he is very opinionated which is useful, I think we get quite wrapped up in all our own opinions to have someone else in the room would be like this is what you should be doing, this is why it’s really useful for us and yeah, I mean, you know, I think we, you know obviously, we trust his taste and we trust sort of his ideas and allow him to kind of bring things on board. So if he hears something that we’re doing that he responds to, then I think we know him well enough on a creative and a personal level to be like, you know, let’s give that a shot, kinda feel it out.

MD: Did you have an, I assume you’ve listened to the most recent Shihad album. Did that have, I mean there’s quite a departure from what they’ve done in the recent past, kinda going back to their original roots working with Jaz Coleman or whatever. Did that, any of that kind of rub off on you guys?

NF: Yeah I think so. I think for him the last record was quite, how could I say, like, you know, we made it like a high production record. We tracked the drums and then we did the guitars and then we did the vocals and you know it was all kind of nicely put together and a lot of thought and a lot of kind of time put into trying to get the right sounds for the right sort of impact and you know, I think theres a place for that but it sort of, you know, those records come off sounding a particular way, this record, I think partly because we did it live and we sort of made a point in doing it quickly and you know, not trying to overthink things and I think there’s a definite parallel between that and what Shihad have done. My understanding is that they sort of went into the studio with Jaz and just played for 3 weeks or whatever and what they walked out with was what they got.

MD: And how would you compare, you compared a little bit to the previous album but did you learn something making the first album or did you listen back to it and think oh when we make the second one we want it going a different direction.

Villiany Mode Set ClearNF: Not really. Well not for me anyway, I mean, I think, you know, I guess the first record being the first record we, you know, we didn’t really quite know what we were setting up to make anyway, you know, we obviously were confident with the music and the material and what we were producing but kinda sonically and how it was going to end up kind of feeling, we sort of left it to, I guess, partly to him and just partly to the performances and you know, it is what it is and I think your first time in the studio producing that kind of, you know, doing that kind of high production stuff, you just sort of get in there and do it and take it for what it is at the end of it. So I guess, you know, this time around, yeah I mean we almost took like the opposite approach and didn’t really think about what we doing at all, we just smashed it out. You know, and a lot of the songs, I think when we walked in we didn’t even realise were songs, let along songs we’re gonna track for the record so it was quite a you know, a very different process but not, I don’t think overly intentional I mean, we wanted to do it live because we want to feel, you know, we want to be in the room together and having played a hell of a lot more shows since the last record it just made sense to do it that way.

MD: A lot of bands, there’s kind of the sophomore room where they get the first one they’ve had in you know, God knows how long, in order to get it together and suddenly they have 9 months or whatever to come up with new material for the second one. So you know, there is a bit more pressure, some bands kind of rise to that occasion and some fail miserably. Are you worried about that, this being the second time around and you know, not having a lifetime’s worth of material to draw from?

NF: It’s kind of a frightening prospect like I think for us it’s definitely true, you know, kind of saying if you have your whole life to write your first record, there are songs on Mode. Set. Clear that were kind of like 5 or 6 years old and we tracked them because they were the best songs we had, you know, like we had a choice of 20 or 30 whatever you pick the best and we took the same approach this time but obviously we had 2 years max to write the material. I think yeah, for me there was definitely a moment of like we haven’t got enough songs, what are we going to do and we actually, we had two weeks in the studio and then, we went over  intending to track only 5 or 6 and that was the whole point but we went away and Tom was like just write a whole bunch of stuff, doesn’t matter just go write, you know, riffs, songs, it doesn’t matter, just do it, record it, come back and we did that and I think out of that, you know, I think we came back with 20 or 30 new ideas and out of that another 6 songs appeared. So there was definitely a moment of, for me anyway being like, you know, don’t know if we got the stuff here it might take a whole another year, but I think when you kind of get into that space and you’re just like, you know, we just need to produce a bunch of music and to hell with the consequences and I think that kind of attitude as well of not, again over thinking what you’re trying to do and playing for playing’s sake, I think, you know, you can go down a big rabbit hole of trying to write the right song and for the right thing and, you know, all that sort of stuff. We, I think as a matter of necessity we’ve avoided that. So I think we came out unscathed.

MD: Cause I know if I, I mean it must be daunting to try and come up with a unique riff. I mean, if I had to do it I’d just be writing Smoke On The Water over again, you know, or Paranoid or something, you know, what else can you do. Is there a particular musical change, would you say there’s something different about the upcoming one that people will notice. Have you grown musically? Have you moved in any particular direction? Gone disco? I mean anything.

NF: I think the record’s like a lot more focused, I think there’s probably a lot more groove and that’s probably just come out of us sort of playing together as a band as opposed to sort of chopping it up into pieces. We, a lot of bands do this so it’s nothing new but you know, we wrote a bunch of songs in low tunings and that, for whatever reason makes playing, you know, quite heavy riffs a lot easier, as soon as you got a low B string at your disposal, everything just sounds deep and dark and angry. So a lot of new ideas came out of that, you just sort of end up in a different head space because you’re hearing things, definitely you’re forced to write in different keys so that was definitely a big driver. Thomas our guitarist, he went out and a bought a Baritone so that helped a lot with that, it’s like a guitar which, not sure but I think… right it starts from a B string rather than a E string,  I know so much about guitars. My approach to that was to just tune my E string down and keep the rest the same and now I invent chords as I go. But yeah, you know, I think that and just sort of jamming organically as a band in a room, you know, you find riffs and we tend to just record everything we do, when we’re rehearsing and you can listen to 10 minutes of stuff, you might find one moment which is sort of 10 seconds long, in fact there was a song on the record that I don’t even know how we recorded it or what, where it came from but it’s basically a bass riff that James was playing and it goes around twice maybe and we turned that into a song one rehearsal, I just found it one day, you know, pile of other files and yeah I think that, that approach kind of works for us and we just sort of vibe off what we connect to when we hear it, that’s a really terrible answer, how can I put that in a better way, I forgot what the question was now.

MD: We’ll move on. You got the tour coming up and so you have all this new material. Is the idea to kind of try it out on the road before it’s released or is the emphasis gonna be on the  previous album? Have you, I assume you must have thought about it by now.

villainy web_littleNF: We’re doing a mixture of both. The record is kind of almost finished but not quite, obviously not mixed. So I guess playing songs live and kind of seeing how they connect and we can make some calls on how the songs going to end up and yeah, I mean we’ll be playing sort of a selection of the choice hits from Mode. Set. Clear if you like, but yeah, I think the excitement for us is A) being able to play these songs for the first time for people, just sort of seeing, you know, I think the songs we have played already work really well, it’s always exciting, you know, we’ve lived with these songs inside us for the last year, so it’s always cool to hear people, sorry see people hearing them for the first time, especially hearing them live environment because, you know, you don’t, when you’re a punter you don’t have a chance to stand back and go was that a good song, I don’t know, you kind of react or you don’t and that’s always cool to see.

MD: Do the songs change much? The ones from the first album, have they evolved as you’ve gone out and played and that happens, sometimes just because bands just get tired of the way they recorded it or sometimes it’s because they see the way the audience reacts to it.

NF: Yeah a little bit. I think a lot of the songs, you know, sort of become more elongated and have sort of little additional things going on, but we haven’t changed them dramatically, we haven’t done like a full re-composition of any of tracks. Which is something I’d love to do but we just got to find the time to do it rather than writing new music.

MD: And then how will the reaction to, of the fans with the new songs effect the record? Is there a chance of you going okay this is working, this isn’t or this song just is not making it, we’ll have to go back and do something else?

NF: I’m quietly hopeful that people are going to love it otherwise we just scrap the record and start again.

MD: Well I wasn’t thinking of the whole thing but I’m thinking there maybe bits that work better than others and I was wondering if, you know, what kind of, do you take on much feedback from the fans and are you thinking about what they want to hear when you’re writing and recording?

NF: I think this time around we’ve been a lot more focused on kind of what works from a live point of view and how it feels. So, you know, I think with that in mind I feel pretty confident that the songs will work. I guess the benefit of playing live as well is that they’re stripped of all the production, you know, they’re bare bones, it’s the four of us playing as we would have tracking them live so it’s a good chance to kinda see if the kind of, you know, if the pure genesis of music connects, you know, maybe that will enforce how we mix the record, I mean we haven’t really even had that conversation yet, so might stop us from putting 50 cents on everything, I don’t know.

MD: And are you influenced by anything? Have you listened to a lot of other music or do you kind of when you’re in the process of creating your own, put everything else on the back burner so that you, it doesn’t kind of effect what you’re doing.

NF: I’m pretty open these days. I try to kinda like pay attention to what’s going on. There’s been a lot of sort of new rock bands come out this year which has been cool to see, there’s been a bit of a dearth or it, you know, in the last few years and there’s a good kind of revival going on there so it’s good to hear what’s going on out there and I think, you know, since we made the last, kind of during making the last record, I’ve discovered a lot of bands I didn’t know a lot about to begin with like, the likes of like The National, I don’t know, the Arcade Fire, you know, bands like Alt-J and things that have been coming out in the last couple of years, not that you’d necessarily hear that in our music but I think it’s good to hear lots of different influences and sort of build in to what you’re doing.

MD: I think the new Alt-J album is on its way out in the next couple of weeks. Yeah it’s, I mean the first one was very different than everything else and then I think we just had Devilskin tour which is, you know, another New Zealand band, it’s loud and that seems to be something that has not necessarily happened a lot in the past, it’s more in the alternative thing. Did you think there is a resurgence, and Shihad is kind of the godfathers of that around here I guess. So do you think there is a need for more of that kind of music? I mean, I think Devilskin did very well when they toured, they were sold out so.

NF: Yeah I think so. I think rock sort of, it’s been a bit quiet in the last few years and, you know, I think you’d see like a lot of the rock bands around sort of try to be a bit more alternative or they’ve been really poppy, you know, like the biggest rock band in the last sort of 5 to 10 years is probably someone like Kings Of Leon right? Which I haven’t seen them play since Big Day Out years ago but I don’t really think of them as an energetic rock band I guess you could say and I actually noticed, you know, we did Big Day Out this year, we played really early and there were a few bands kind of scattered through the day and I guess I use the term band loosely. But yeah, it’s still kind of odd to me to go to a festival and not have like an energetic, you know, rock band there. I remember going to like lots of Big Day Outs and Shihad were kind of the highlight for me because they became that kind of stadium rock thing and they weren’t like a U2 or whatever, they were just like four guys making as much noise as they could, as passionately as they could and I think that’s kind of been missing. So I’d like to see more of that come back. In Australia, we’ve got festivals like Soundwave and things which are full of rock bands. I think there’s definitely  a resurgence going on for sure.

Click here for more info on Villainy’s Ammunition Tour.