While the transition of Vessels over the last few years might appear radical to some onlookers, the philosophy that’s remained central to their ethos is far less complex than the sounds that they create. It’s a philosophy of good, wholesome enjoyment and a desire to keep things interesting.
Back in 2013, this signalled a changed approach in the form of the techno-nodding ‘Elliptic’ EP, and after the release of last year’s ‘Dilate’ album, it’s a transformation that’s been fully realised. Vessels are now without question a considerable force to be reckoned with in the electronic sphere.
“It’s been a weird sort of ride for us. You are constantly shitting yourself and wondering whether you’re shooting yourself in the foot,” says Lee J. Malcolm from the Leeds five-piece. Over the last year, however, it’s become increasingly apparent that Vessels have little reason to shit themselves, mind you. At countless festivals across the continent this summer ‘Dilate’ has been aired in the late-night spaces that it was made to fill, and been lovingly received. At last month’s Melt! Festival the band played the Modeselektor curated Melt!Selektor stage – an institution of the festival and a real sign of acknowledgement from their contemporaries. “A lot of the journey has just been figuring out how best to deploy it, but I think it is just starting to work for us,” agrees Lee. “And to see it [the music from ‘Dilate’] working there - it’s affirming, isn’t it?”
Of course, not everyone that got behind the band’s earlier proggy post-rock has stayed along for the ride as Vessels have transformed, and that sense of responsibility isn’t something that the band takes lightly. “Those people stuck with you for a reason and there’s a responsibility to them in a way,” Lee starts. “It’s important to pay respect to the people that have supported you through the years. With that in mind, it was a difficult moment [playing new stuff for the first time],” he admits. “Of course some people weren’t into it and left, so-to-speak, but I think more people came in than left. And so many people stayed with us too. I think that’s what made us think ‘fuck it, let’s keep going.’”
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel now, and it’s not a train.”
— Lee J. Malcolm
Owing in part to the experiences of the last year, there’s a renewed sense of optimism and self-assuredness in the Vessels camp as they ready themselves for a new record. We’ve seen the band become more prolific in their output too, with ‘Dilate’ followed pretty promptly by an extended version featuring new track ‘4am’, and then again by standalone single ‘Are You Trending?’ They’re currently in their studio putting the final touches on an album that’s now “85% completed”, and touted for a release in spring of next year.
‘Are You Trending?’ offered a glimpse of a more hard-hitting beast than the one in evidence on ‘Dilate’, but the idea of wall-to-wall ‘techno bangers’ isn’t on the Vessels radar in terms of the new LP. “Our aim is always to create something that you really want to put on from start to finish,” says Lee, with the band aiming to achieve this with as much fresh impetus as possible. “The thing about techno music is that it can be very linear. It’s beautiful in that it can be very linear, but at the same time it can be marginalising – but that’s just the nature of it,” he reasons. “But when you’re making a record and experimenting with lots of different machines and recording processes with musicians in the room, you can go anywhere. I think there’s a responsibility to try too, because fucking hell, it’s pretty much all been done. Why would you just regurgitate somebody else’s ideas?”
The process of recording ‘Dilate’ also shone light on the dynamic of the band’s workflow, with lessons learnt that have been carried over in to the new LP. While there’s the broader scope of sounds, for Vessels, the intention remains to interact within themselves in the same way they do with their audiences. “It can be dangerous, in that you can isolate yourself and stop interacting as musicians,” he says. “And sometimes that throws up some good ideas, but other times you can lose a bit of the magic,” Lee says of the process. “I’d say the new record is about 90% hardware, in terms of synthesis, live drums and all that kind of stuff. It’s very much played as well as produced, so there’s always going to be that element of our individual musicianship and ideas coming across.”
“Why would you just regurgitate somebody else’s ideas?”
— Lee J. Malcolm
The foundations are also firmer now than in previous years, as the band remain fixed on making new strides. Working processes that have taken time to develop now feel solidified, and being housed in their own studio gives them even greater freedom. “It just means we can explore ideas, take them as far as getting them mixed and mastered, and then get them out there,” Lee says. On their first two albums Vessels travelled to America to record with John Congleton (St Vincent, Wild Beasts), and while that relationship formed a huge part of their journey to the present, the band’s current self-sufficiency allows their creativity and experimentation to flourish more efficiently than ever.
Lee talks of not wanting to become stale, but with an outlook so human-focused and the foundations to explore the full breadth of their creativity, it’s difficult to envisage a band like Vessels ever becoming like two day-old bread. As ‘Dilate’ brought new fans in to their world, there’s an ambition in the band’s outlook that points to yet greater things with the next year’s LP. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel now,” Lee jokes, “and it’s not a train.”
Vessels are working on their new, fourth album. It's due out early next year.
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