Interview Various Cruelties: ‘People Are Always In The Mood To Hear Music’

Jimmy Blake catches up with Various Cruelties singer Liam O’Donnell.

Various Cruelties have redefined the meaning of up and coming. With only three months between meeting and their first gig (which happened to be supporting The Vaccines) the self confessed Motown-pop outfit have been pleasing critics since day one. Now, with a self-titled debut album under their belts, the band are ready to unleash their unique take on guitar rock. Jimmy Blake catches up with singer Liam O’Donnell to find out about the release, not knowing what his fans look like and how this unlikely band of brothers are trying to keep up with themselves.

How are things in the Various Cruelties Camp?

It’s all pretty exciting at the moment. We’ve got the album ready to go, then there’s the tour and festivals after that so we’re just looking forward to getting out there and getting to see people we’ve seen before and hopefully a load of people who couldn’t make it last time.

Before we talk about your music, you guys aren’t from the tried and tested ‘meet at school and form a band’ mold are you?

No not at all! Leeds had always been home and I’d always been happy there but I came down to London, not primarily for music, but because I just wanted to head out and do something like everyone in their early twenties wants to. I headed down to some studios with a few songs I’d written and I could hear this wailing guitar through a wall and then bumped into Beanie [bass] in the corridor. He’s got an impressive mustache and a pretty wild dress sense so he’s the kind of guy don’t tend to forget! We just started chatting and I played him some demos and we started putting some stuff together which got some radio play and picked up some attention from blogs. It just took off from there really.

Was there ever a feeling that it was a bit of a risk?

To be honest we didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, which was probably a good thing! They had been involved in other projects and so had I, we just threw ourselves at it and hit the ground running. There was literally three months between meeting the others and playing our first live show, which was with The Vaccines.

Not a bad start then?

Well, people always say that but at the time The Vaccines were a relatively unknown. It was a good one though, it was a sold out show and they’d attracted quite a load of press so it was a bit of a whirlwind. Not to say we want to go in exactly the same route they’ve gone but having a first gig like that so early on can only help to inspire you.

Did the band taking off so fast have an effect on the way you wrote material in comparison to previous projects?

I had most of the songs ready and Adam [guitarist] and Beanie had worked together for the past five or six years so it wasn’t just like a group of people meeting in a room and not having anywhere to go, I guess we cheated a bit on that one! That said, the Various Cruelties project did happen much faster than normal. Nothing was really forced and I didn’t pressure them into using the stuff I already had. If anything, it was like I’d joined their band rather than them joining me. Again, we didn’t have time to sit in a studio for weeks so writing in that situation was pretty new. But things happened naturally and we just vibed out chunks of the album to flesh it out in the studio. It’s probably the best way it could have gone.

How did you bring that process to an end and decide on a body of work for the album?

We had a few singles out early on so we knew they’d form the backbone of the record. From there, we sat down with Tony Hoffer with a short list of songs and went to go with his judgment. We had to change quite a lot of the tracks to make them work but he’s got a great background. He worked with loads of people like Beck, Foster the People and M83 so it wasn’t too hard to trust him, he became the fifth member during this process.

So now the self titled debut is ready to go, you’ve released ‘Great Unknown’ and ‘Neon Truth’ comes out later this month (April 23rd). Are these tracks a good taster of what’s to come?

I think people will be a bit surprised by the album to be honest! The singles to date have been…singles. They’re designed to be poppy to attract people’s attention and prick people’s ears but theres another side to the record that is quite dark. All the tracks have been written from experience and the style has come from a whole load of influences. There’s a lot of hip-hop like The Neptunes and the more obvious stuff like My Bloody Valentine and The Stone Roses. I think people will be surprised by what they hear on the album.

Good surprise?

Well if people buy the record and don’t like what they hear I’ll be a bit disappointed! I mean surprised in the best sense of the word. I think as a record buyer myself that’s the best way that I’d want to discover a new album. I wouldn’t want to buy a record and totally expect everything I hear.

Would include your vocal style in that element of surprise? It seems to stand out from generic guitar bands.

Yeah, I guess. I mean it’s not something I’ve made a conscious effort to do but it’s something I’ve always been aware of. I suppose when you look at The Libertines, The Vaccines or anyone in that sort of circle the vocal doesn’t really fit in but that’s the Various Cruelties thing of not really trying to be the same as everyone else isn’t it?

You’ve also got your first solo tour to coincide with release. How does the album translate to the live setting?

One of the best things about Various Cruelties is how spontaneous its been and we’re trying to put that into the live show. We’ve added a few things to the set to try and give it a bit more depth and make it a bit more of a spectacle rather than just playing eleven songs back to back. I think people coming to see us should expect a little bit more than just what’s on the album.

Is it a bit daunting to be heading out on you first headline tour where fans have paid to see you rather then the people on after you?

Well, we did a few shows in January and before that the biggest thing we’d done was Jools Holland so it was good to see our own fans and that’s something I’m looking forward to doing. For any artist I guess meeting your own fans is always a bit strange because you never know whose going to turn up. I used to live next door to Shepherd’s Bush Empire and it was really interesting to see the type of people that associated themselves with all the different bands that played there so it’ll be good to see what sort of people associate themselves with us! I’ve liked all the ones I’ve met so far so that’s promising.

But after the tour you’ve got the festival season. How do you prepare when you have no idea whose going to be there?

Make sure you’re playing in a tent because it always rains! No, the thing with festival is people are always in the mood to hear music whether they’re there to see you or not. You’ve just got to think back to when you were at a festival and putting on a show and playing to the music fans who haven’t had the opportunity to see you before. I remember seeing Arcade Fire before really knowing what they were about and I was totally encapsulated by everything about the show. I know we’re not at that level yet but that’s what you should try and achieve. We’ve just got to take every opportunity we get.

Various Cruelties’ self-titled debut album will be released on 30th April via Mercury Records and Hide Out Recordings.

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