It’s kind of awkward to tell a band that’s two-thirds male that they’ve been shortlisted for an award with a name like the Venus/No-Penis Prize, but we happen to know that Esben & The Witch guitarist Daniel Copeman is a fan of what we do so we knew he would appreciate that tongue-in-cheek aspect of our women-focused alterna-Mercury. With their debut album Violet Cries going down a storm among the critics earlier this year, it was a shame not to see the band make the actual Mercury Prize shortlist. Alan Pedder caught up with frontwoman Rachel Davies to get her thoughts on the UK music industry’s most coveted award and why she’s hoping never to read another Florence Welch comparison ever again.
Listen to Violet Cries and the other eleven shortlisted albums on Spotify.
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You’ve received a lot of great press for Violet Cries. Has it changed your own perception of the album in any way? Would you go back and change anything if you had the chance to with the benefit of hindsight?
I think it’s almost impossible for your perception not to alter once a record you’ve been so intimate with is released and open to the public. From that point it doesn’t belong to you anymore, so you have to just let it go. With hindsight I imagine we would change things slightly. It’s difficult to listen to the album now without noticing the elements that are far from perfect. However, this is more down to our own perfectionism rather than the external influence of the press. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy to pay too much attention to the positive or negative reviews you get for that very reason. Whilst it’s certainly flattering and at times constructive, press shouldn’t be the beast that influences you to change your music, or equally not to.
To us your music sounds quite apart from anything else coming out of the UK. Do you see yourselves as part of any sort of scene, at home or abroad? Who do you consider to be your contemporaries?
We don’t see ourselves as part of any scene really, at home or abroad. We’re just making music we feel compelled to make and it’s incredible that some people appreciate it. There are some really exciting artists emerging at the moment, especially making electronic music but no-one we’d deem as our contemporaries. To be part of a ‘scene’ doesn’t really sit that comfortably with us.
Your vocals have been compared with everyone from Siouxsie Sioux to Florence Welch. Do you think that you have anything in common with any of the singers you’ve been likened to, aside from the fact that you all make atmospheric, dramatic music?
Not particularly no. I think it’s quite strange and often frustrating that female artists especially, seem to get compared instantly to one another if they share any vague similarity. It appears to be unavoidable for music to be described by an often weak comparison rather than judged by it’s own merits which I feel is a real shame.
You’ve received international acclaim among cinema buffs for the video to ‘Marching Song’. How important to you is the visual side of your music? What visuals have been inspiring you lately?
I think it’s incredibly important to be involved with the visual side to your music. It’s an integral part to what we’re trying to do, an attempt at creating an encompassing world that surrounds the music. Designing our own sleeves, music videos, merchandise and stage show all help to achieve that.
Cinema and photography are always constant inspirations. I re-watched ‘Let The Right One In’ recently and think it’s a excellent example of beautiful cinematography. The colours and compositions of each shot are so considered, I think it’s beautiful.
The sound of Violet Cries is already pretty large, but recently you’ve talked about expanding your sound. Where does it go from here?
We’re all excited about expanding the sound, or rather developing it rather than making it larger. We’re still learning and honing our craft and hopefully we’re progressing. We’re not entirely sure where that will take us in the future but we’re excited to explore what we can do with a bit more experience and perhaps a few more electronic devices…
There’s a real dynamism to your music which owes a lot to the sense of space within the songs. Do you think the new songs you’re writing will maintain that spacious feel or go in a tighter, fuller direction?
Dynamism is something we were keen to explore with Violet Cries and something we really appreciate in music. Good post-rock is often a fine example of this. We’re eager to evolve and not to retread old ground so we’re thinking of ways to create an emotive experience using different techniques. We’ll have to wait and see what the results are…
Do you think that the Mercury Prize has a male bias, or do you believe that it adequately acknowledges the work of British women musicians?
I think it’s been fair in its recognition of popular female artists. I think it would be wonderful if it perhaps took more risks and shone some light on more leftfield acts, regardless of gender. That’s where I think it stumbles slightly, on fully representing the alternative side of British music.
Excluding Esben & The Witch, which other nominee would you like to see winning the Venus Prize?
I think ‘Let England Shake’ is nearing perfect. I’ve always been a long-standing admirer of PJ Harvey’s work and feel this album is incredibly poignant and wonderfully put together. It’s a great example of how I believe an album should be. A strong coherent body of work that shares themes, undercurrents and concepts rather than just a selection of good songs. She’s created a piece of art.
If you were to win, which charity would you select to donate the prize to and why?
In light of recent events, I would donate the money to help PIAS and AIM, both affected by the London riots. Hundreds of independent labels lost their stock, which has had a domino effect on local record stores and smaller artists.
What’s your favourite ever album by a British female artist?
At the risk of sounding predictable, I’m going to say White Chalk by PJ Harvey. My favourite PJ Harvey record seems to change regularly but I always seem to go back to this one. Her voice is so beautifully fragile yet forthright throughout. The whole record is tinged with a delicate melancholy that I find totally captivating and consuming. It manages to capture a nostalgia, a sad ghostly presence that still manages to give me shivers. ‘Silence’ I particularly find an emotional listen. In the most exquisite of ways.
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