Tuesday, 7 March 2017

An Interview With VANT ~ 25.02.17

Happening across a band who make such a bold statement through way of their music is always refreshing; within their lyrics VANT shed light on a number of important matters, many of which are so often brushed under the carpet because they are still wrongfully considered taboo subjects to even talk about, let alone write songs about. Brainchild of frontman Mattie Vant, the band (made up of Mattie, Henry Eastham, Billy Morris and David Green) formed in 2014 and since then have spent much of their time touring relentlessly across the country and have played alongside the likes of Catfish and the Bottlemen and Biffy Clyro. They have received support and airplay from BBC Radio 1 on a number of occasions, and have built up quite the ineffable reputation for their high-powered, emphatic punk-rock styling.

In 2015, all of their hard work was rewarded in the form of a major record deal with Parlophone which allowed them to finally focus on music full time and bring their long awaited debut album to fruition. Sure enough, 'Dumb Blood' was released on the 17th of February this year and has received praise from a great many high profile media outlets, with both Q and Kerrang magazines' awarding it an 8/10 rating. Now in the midst of a whirlwind UK tour to help promote it, I was able to take 3/4 of the band aside for a chat prior to their sold out show at Leeds' The Wardrobe...

Henry, Mattie & Billy
How and when did you first come together as a band?
Mattie: I wrote some music and then I asked Henry to come and play some music with me because I am not a very good guitarist and he is a very, very good guitarist!
Henry: He is a good guitarist!
Mattie: I'm alright now... I'm better now than I was then. We had some songs so we needed to start a band. We found this odd little Welsh fellow washing pots in the kitchen at the bar I used to work in! We used to play eachother records, and he became a part of it. Then we went through about 500 drummers and ended up with the best new drummer in the entire world! Not my words... the words of Rhythm Magazine! We were all really good friends before, it was fun. From that point it kind of became a collaborative effort. Henry has co-written quite a lot of the songs on the album and stuff. It's very much a band now.

Was there ever a pivotal experience or moment in your life where you realized that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Mattie: I just wanted people to applaud me!
Henry: And what was the first thing... Grease?
Mattie: No, it wasn't Grease... I played an 8 year old Elvis in a Transylvanian reinterpretation of Dracula. There's no pictorial evidence online but my mum does have a VHS tape which I keep.
Henry: I'm going to leak it all over the internet... I'll make loads of money off it.
Mattie: We should make a music video out of it. It was pretty funny. I think from then I enjoyed acting and being on stage when I was younger, but I just hated not being myself. When I discovered music it was kind of a realization that I could still entertain people and play in a live environment but be myself, write my own music and embody everything that comes with that. I don't think it was really an epiphany moment, it was just like a gradual thing.

What are your earliest memories of music in terms of what you grew up listening to?
Mattie: Mainly ABBA, Hear'Say, Westlife, Boyzone, Shania Twain...
Henry: Now 35! That was my album when I was growing up.
Mattie: I was into the whole indie explosion, I guess. That really resonated with me, so all of those bands. I can't even be arsed to name them.
Henry: The early 2000's. The bands, basically. Similarly with me really. When I was younger my parents liked quite good music, so I liked The Beatles and The Beach Boys when I was really little. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Stranglers and stuff like that. I think The Stranglers were probably the first punk record I ever listened to. They're great! I definitely liked Hanson... I didn't even buy 'MMMBop', I bought single number 3 which was slow and really emotional. I don't know what it's called... I wonder if my mum has still got it...
Mattie: Yeah, your mum...

One of the things I love most about your music is that it sheds light on matters that are perhaps still considered somewhat taboo subjects to even talk about, let alone write music about; ther's an element of frustration throughout the album in regards to a plethora of social and political issues. That in mind, do you think it's important not only to use music as a platform for entertainment but to get people thinking and educate them as well?
Mattie: Definitely. I keep bringing this up but I saw a really brilliant interview with Nina Simone the other day and she sort of says that it's an artists' duty to comment on the times that they live in. Obviously we'd been doing that prior to me watching that interview but it was really inspiring and reminded me why I started doing this in the first place. She's such an amazing woman and I think there are so many great artists throughout history that have used their voices because they have such a huge platform to influence things. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of artists at the moment that are using that platform but it is becoming more and more common I think. We covered Katy Perry the other day... it's amazing that an artist of her size is actually thinking about the lyrics and thinking about how she can incorporate important things into pop music. It takes someone of that scale to make a seismic change and allow people to feel like they don't have to be muted anymore. For us, I have to write about this stuff because I care about it and because I would feel fake if I was getting up on stage and singing about love or going clubbing every night. I think it would be soul destroying. At least I know that every night when I sing, I'm talking about important things and although people might not immediately realize it, if they go home and think about it then maybe it's something that they'll read into or something that they equally have a shared frustration or passion for. I think it's a powerful thing and it's something that is outside of mainstream media and politics so to have total control over your art is incredible. I think more people should use their voices.

Does anyone have any interesting hobbies or strange talents outside of music?
Mattie: Billy can sort of beatbox... but I guess that's still music isn't it? It's pretty bad though.
Henry: It's not beatboxing as you would think of it.
Mattie: I don't know what it is but it's entertaining. Billy... can you open the door and do your Michael Jackson beatboxing? Do 'Beat It'.
Henry: Not 'Beat It', do 'Billy Jean'!
(At this point, Mattie brings Billy in to demonstrate!)
Mattie: So he can do that! I used to be a qualified lifeguard.
Billy: Greenie (drummer David Green) has the loudest whistle of all time!
Henry: It's horrendous. I don't have any special talents apart from my ability to love planes. That's pretty big!
Billy: You're good at running.
Henry: That's not really a special talent. I can do football... and I'm quite good at accents and impressions. I can do Alan Partridge.
Mattie: To be fair, most of your impressions are Alan Partridge...

There's a track on the album entitled 'FLY-BY-ALIEN'... do you believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe, and do you think it can ever be proved?
Henry: I think there must be.
Mattie: If you take it in a scientific perspective... if the universe is infinite, then that means that there are infinite possibilities. I believe that there has to be life out there somewhere in the universe. I don't know if we'll ever cross paths... we probably won't. I think humanity will be destroyed by the time that happens. I think it's amazing. I love thinking about stuff like that... the big questions and the scary, unfathomable truths of the atmosphere and the universe. I think it's really beautiful to have those kind of thoughts. TAKE ME WITH YOU.... PLEASE! Get me off this shithole!
Henry: We'll do the gig first. We don't mean Leeds... Leeds is great! Just the world in general.

What is your opinion on reality television shows such as The X Factor and The Voice? Do you think they're a help or a hindrance to the music industry?
Henry: I think it's terrible, now. It's so contrived and everyone has a story.
Mattie: Brainwashing. It's basically The Sun newspaper in a television programme.
Henry: Do they even get number 1 records anymore? It doesn't happen. They've just started a new one haven't they? When I was home on a Saturday night doing nothing, I saw it on TV. It's that rebranded thing on ITV.
Mattie: It's basically everything that's wrong with the music industry condensed into an hour long episode each week. I think the novelty factor when it first came out was quite exciting and fresh, but now it's just been watered down like everything else. I think reality TV in general is pretty dire. I think if you could replace reality TV with interesting documentaries then the world would be a much better educated place.
Henry: That's reality... the fact that what's on TV isn't reality. I like Dinner Date but it's not real!
Mattie: It has it's place when you've got a hangover or whatever but I think brainwashing the masses every single hour of every single day is not a good thing.
Henry: I like Four In A Bed... A Place In The Sun...
Mattie: I think television is kind of dying anyway. Most people stream stuff now and that gives you the opportunity to choose to watch whatever you want at whatever time.
Henry: It's interesting though, because do people really know what they want? The vast majority probably wouldn't. I look at Netflix and I'll probably go through it for like 40 minutes trying to pick something.
Mattie: I just look on Rotten Tomatoes and look at the top 100 documentaries or rom coms...

Festival season is fast approaching... roll on another Summer of music and (hopefully) sunshine! If you could curate your own music festival, who would you want on the bill? Feel free to bring back some legends from the grave to play for you!
Mattie: I would have the line up which I could have seen but unfortunately for whatever reason didn't... me and my dad tried to go and see Neil Young about 5 times before we actually saw him because various things kept going wrong. The first time I was meant to go and see him it was him and then Pixies supporting which would have been unbelievable. So I'd make that happen on one of the nights. I'd like The Kinks to reform, and Pink Floyd.
Henry: I'd let Jimi Hendrix have the Sunday afternoon slot as long as he didn't set stuff on fire.
Mattie: You're such a little party pooper!
Henry: Jimi, just chill out mate... it's not the 60's anymore!
Billy: I'd have Nirvana, and Neil Young like you said. Neil Young, Pixies and Nirvana in one night. I wouldn't even be able to watch... just knowing that's happening would make me happy enough!
Mattie: I could go on forever. We've gone a bit cock heavy though, haven't we? I'll get Nina Simone in. PJ Harvey, M.I.A, Bjork...
Henry: I'd give The Ronnettes a run out as well.
Billy: Patti Smith.
Mattie: Lets have an equal billing of talented women and men.
Henry: Warpaint, La Femme...
Mattie: Now you're just naming bands that have got girls in them! Who else? Shania Twain!
Henry: I'd actually give Alanis Morrisette a run out as well if she did 'Jagged Little Pill'.

What would you say is the most rewarding thing about you do... is it the writing and recording process and watching a song come to fruition, or getting to head out on the road and play it to a live audience?
Mattie: Absolutely live.
Henry: Playing live is amazing but I absolutely love writing and recording. It's wicked, but it's such a different process, feeling and reward.
Mattie: I think 'reward' is the key word because this is the reward for doing that... to finally see people conecting with the music that you've worked really hard to make. The fact that people know the words and vibes of the songs that are on the album that normally people would react to live but not in the same way as they would the singles... where as now, every single song has the same reaction and it's a really humbling, amazing thing.

Obviously you've been working on the album for a long time now... were you nervous at all when it came to releasing it?
Mattie: Not nervous... I was definitely ready to get it out but I guess it's just the current climate and there is pressure put on bands in terms of being able to sell records. It's just really hard at the moment and takes a lot of time. We've got a label behind us who are going to work to grow us. So there are those kind of pressures but there's nothing you can do about it really.
Henry: I was definitely anxious.
Mattie: I think it's just the fact that we want to keep doing this. We want to make music that matters and says something. Because we're at the forefront of political rock music at the moment, if we stop being in a band, where does that leave the next generation of rock bands? So I guess it's just trying to find that balance and get people into it a bit more. Most of the nights on this tour are sold out or close to selling out and there's passion there but it just needs to go to the next stage so we can continue. We've been building it for years now and it shows that we can get there, but it just takes time. But yeah, it was more the joy of getting it out there than nerves.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
Mattie: Hitler.
Henry: Do you remember when we got asked who we'd have round for dinner? Our dinner party included Hitler, Ghandi... maybe Martin Luther King, and there was a spaceman of some description.
Mattie: Buzz Aldrin. I think Genghis Khan would be quite interesting. It's weird but I am most drawn to the evil people just to see that mentality. I'm sure if you set up a 'Donald Trump Day'... again I'd be interested to have a conversation with him and just say 'You're fucking mental... what is going on here?'
Henry: He'd probaby ban us from attending.
Mattie: I really like it in then movies where they have those beautiful Egyptian women... Cleopatra would be nice.
Billy: I'd like to have a dinner party and a drink with Dylan Thomas. That would be pretty good and he'd definitely outdrink me.
Henry: I'd like to meet an artist.
Mattie: Yeah, that's what I was thinking too. I kind of want to know about a different world rather than something musically related.

Finally... what are your hopes, dreams and plans for the future of VANT?
Henry: Like Mattie said, to be able to continue to do what we love and try and spread our message to as many people as possible.
Mattie: To challenge ourselves as well... I think we're going to make a record that's completely different to the one that we've made. I think you've got to push yourself as an artist and make something that's really unique and incredible. The first record was like a homage to everything that we love about rock music, but we've kind of done that now so lets see what else is out there and experiment with it. We want to enjoy it but at the same time be involved in conversation and talk about important things. We want to just get out there and keep people talking. Starting that conversation is important, but keeping it ongoing is even more important because if we stop then everything that we stand against has won.

Listen to VANT and their incredible debut album 'DUMB BLOOD' here:

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