Interview The Vaselines: A Musical Renaissance

We grab a quick Q&A with Eugene Kelly.

Once described by Kurt Cobain as his ‘most favourite songwriters in the whole world’, cult Glaswegian indie-pop group The Vaselines are back with their second full length album after 20 years, entitled ‘Sex With An Ex’. DIY grabs a quick Q&A with Eugene Kelly about the band’s musical renaissance in the new millennium. Spoiler: Contains the odd reference to Nirvana.

Hi Eugene. Welcome back to music after a long break. The last time you split, you got back together on the request of Kurt Cobain to support Nirvana in Edinburgh. Why have you decided to return with a new album this time?
When we started playing shows again in 2008 it seemed like the right thing to do was to write some new songs for the set. Our collective back catalogue only runs to 50 minutes so we wanted to fill out the set and when we realised we could write together, so we kept writing.

What can you tell us about the songs on the new record, ‘Sex With An Ex’? To what extent do your sound and themes recall your debut?
We decided that the new songs couldn’t be a massive departure from the old Vaselines, so we kept the subject matters to love, death, religion, sex and made sure we had a bitter and cynical world view. The sound of the record was dictated by the fact that we recorded quickly and onto tape, so everything sounded spontaneous and live.

What is The Vaselines’ ‘dummy’s guide’ to writing effective guitar pop songs?
Pop songs should be short, repetitive, have a strong hook and not be more than four chords. They should have a memorable easily singable lyric on the chorus. This makes it sound like we know what we’re doing but we make it up as we go along.

You’ve had the band Dum Dum Girls named after your record Dum Dum. No doubt your music has been influential, but what subject matter has inspired you, particularly for your new record?
Life has inspired us. Whatever we experience can be translated into a song.

Kurt Cobain, of course, is probably your most famous fan after the Nirvana covered three of your songs (‘Molly’s Lips’, ‘Son Of A Gun’ and ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’). He once asked you, ‘Aren’t you really getting sick of being associated with me all the time?’ How do you feel about another artist making your songs hugely popular?
To have your musical peers record versions of your songs is the greatest compliment a songwriter can have. We were lucky that Nirvana were such a great band. We could’ve had our songs covered by some band we hated and then it would’ve been miserable to have to talk about them in every interview.

Eugene, you’ve said in other interviews that you didn’t know Kurt too well because Nirvana were in the Nevermind madness when you toured with them. How, if at all, did the hype surrounding that band affect your view of the music industry?
It didn’t affect my view of the music industry as I already had a cynical view of fame and what it could do to you at the time. Fame wasn’t something we had to worry about ourselves. When we started, we knew we could never make a living from our music so it gave us the freedom to write about whatever we wanted and we didn’t have to edit what we were going to say in a song for fear of upsetting anyone. We’ve tried to do the same on this album.

How do you feel about the digital and internet caused shift in the music industry? It seems that it was more ‘romantic’ when you started out, no?
We grew up in a time when you had to try and search out a band you had heard and liked by going around record stores and looking for their records. As everything is more accessible these days, it is also more disposable. There is a generation who feel that music on the internet should be free to them and they don’t consider paying an artist for the work they have spent a lot of time on recording. We liked that there was some mystery to us, as there were no clips of us on youtube and hardly any photos of us on the internet but that all changed when we started playing shows again. You have to accept that this is the way it is in the modern world and just get on with what you want to do and not complain to much else you sound like an old grumpy.

Finally, what does the immediate future hold for you guys after the album release?
Tour, tour and tour if possible. No plans for another record.

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