June 29, 2018 Interview – Matt James of Vowws
Hailing from the City of Angels by way of Sydney, Australia, Vowws are slowly creeping across the musical landscape thanks to their dark, but unique sonic aesthetic. Amalgamating oft Industrial sounds with Death Pop, 1980’s Goth with delicious Darkwave, the duo of Matt James and Rizz are forging a new soundscape with each new release. The journey began with the pair’s first full-length, 2015’s The Great Sun, which saw them already collaborating with the likes of Gary Numan and Swans’ Thor Harris.
Released in March 2018, the duo’s second full-length, Under the World, sees a more refined approach to their signature sound, something that is more sinister and mysterious, in a cleaner sense, while beautifully maintaining that artful musicianship that sets Vowws apart from their contemporaries. This is a collection that begs discussion, and Matt James sat down to talk about all things Under the World, inspiration, the duo’s unique sound, and the future of Vowws.
CrypticRock.com – Vowws released their first full-length album, The Great Sun, in 2015. What has the past three years brought your way, as far as ups and downs and everything in-between?
Matt James – A lot! We didn’t know what to expect when we released The Great Sun, we just wanted it to be the best possible snapshot of that time in our lives and art. So, when it started to get real appreciation, it made the whole thing more real; like a realization of Vowws as a fully-formed thing, out in the world, rather than just an idea. Our work is extremely personal, we don’t follow any particular genre norms or trends, in fact, we go the other way a lot of the time. So, the appreciation we’ve had from people that dig our music means so much more and helped us find the confidence to follow through with Under the World in a way that we were happy with.
CrypticRock.com – That’s wonderful that your experience has been so self-affirming. It’s very true that in an industry where so many artists/band have become interchangeable, Vowws certainly has their own unique sound. How would you describe that sound to the uninitiated?
Matt James – That’s tricky, because we go out of our way to sidestep a lot of the usual genre markers. I used to say it was like Depeche Mode on steroids, but it’s not really like that anymore. I just keep it broad, say it’s along the lines of 80’s New Wave, Post-Punk, etc., but I tell people they really have to listen to know what’s up. We’re living in a time where lots of people only listen to the first ten seconds of a band and if it doesn’t sound like so-and-so, people move on until they find something they connect with instantly. So, we decided early on to make music for people who actively listen past that point and have the patience and will to challenge themselves and get lost in something.
CrypticRock.com – That is definitely the key demographic of music listeners to appeal to, because they are the ones that will stick with and support a band and not just a trend. To move toward speaking about the album, Under the World was released in March. What has the reaction been like, thus far?
Matt James – It’s been great! We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that it’s more fully-realized, sounds better, and is just more Vowws. That’s super pleasing for us because we work really hard to make sure it’s all just right, and I think we did that on this record.
CrypticRock.com – It’s a great album, for sure. Why did you opt to call the collection “Under the World”?
Matt James – Partly because that’s where we feel like we come from. When you make a decision to not make art or music based on its digestibility, you sometimes feel like you’re operating outside the usual system. We definitely feel like outsiders; we put ourselves there and we like it, we’ve always been that way. Also, we just like phrases that have a ring to them and say something without saying too much, if that makes sense. There’s a menacing quality to the title, but it’s not specific enough to be distracting.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense, and the title fits that bill beautifully; it’s minimalist yet ominous. Now, clearly, Vowws draw from an eclectic array of influences. When you sat down to write Under the World, what did you find inspiring you most, this time around?
Matt James – Non-music stuff mainly: old photographs, human relationships, the horrible state of politics, driving around L.A. Our visual work also informs the musical work, so a cycle develops where those two things feed into each other. We have a writing room that has visual inspiration all over the walls to keep us in the right headspace when we create. Trying to take inspiration from too much music that’s similar to us can be confusing, or lead to super derivative stuff, so we try to steer clear of that as much as we can.
CrypticRock.com – That’s a truly artistic approach to inspiration, which is refreshing to hear. To talk more about the recording process, did you do anything consciously different in the studio this time around?
Matt James – Yes, we took more control and we made a conscious decision to make it less obscured by distortion, to let the melodies and harmonic stuff shine. On The Great Sun, we used Kevin’s barn/studio to add all sorts of distortion, tape noise, and other lovely things to the individual parts, which gave a really original and warm sound, but buried some of the best stuff in a bit of a wall of noise. This time we did less of that, took on more of a leading role in mixing the record, and just tried to make sure that vision was honored at every point.
CrypticRock.com – This approach definitely pays off in the finished product. Do you have a favorite lyric on the collection?
Matt James – “Agents of Harmony.” Not really sure why, it’s pretty abstract, but I love the picture the words create.
CrypticRock.com – That is a wonderfully poetic visual, which, the same can be said for the majority of Vowws’ lyrics. In fact, what do you hope fans take away from Under the World, generally speaking?
Matt James – I hope they feel like Vowws is sounding exactly like we should sound for this time in our journey. Like it should be a super satisfying listen if you’re a Vowws fan, it should be a surprise if you heard The Great Sun cause it’s a left turn, and it should give you something you can’t get anywhere else. Also, we would hope that there’s enough in there that each person can take something different from it.
CrypticRock.com – That is definitely a highlight of quality music: that each listener can take something unique to themselves away from the listening experience. Now, impressively, you’ve already worked with the likes of Gary Numan and Swans’ Thor Harris. Looking to the future, who would you love to collaborate with next?
Matt James – We actually have a couple of upcoming remix/remake collaborations which we can’t name but are super exciting. Aside from those, I would love to work with PJ Harvey before I die. Also, Tobacco, Beck, Nine Inch Nails – if we worked with everyone we wanted to, we wouldn’t do anything else.
CrypticRock.com – Well, hopefully you will have the “problem” of too many collaborators in the very near future. Speaking of which, in June and July, you have several gigs booked around Los Angeles. Will further gigs pop up here and there, and any chance that you will be appearing outside of California this summer?
Matt James – For sure. We’re working on something for the West Coast for late August/September or so and will have more L.A. shows soon.
CrypticRock.com – Your L.A. fanbase will no doubt eat that up! Now, clearly, you have a vast appreciation for all things Gothic. So, what did you do for World Goth Day this year?
Matt James – We cried.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Oh my Goth! Let’s shift to something a little random. Summer is a huge time for new music releases. Are there any new albums that were either just released or are coming soon that you are looking forward to hearing?
Matt James – Shame’s Song of Praise is a pretty cool record, and they are great live. I also keep banging on about Sleaford Mods, they released their latest record last year but it’s a summer listen for me; I love walking around in the sunshine listening to grizzled Brits bitch about Tories, getting wasted at home, and the national health system. I find them super witty.
CrypticRock.com – Nothing says summer like all things British, right? (Laughs) Last question. At CrypticRock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction movies. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, do you have any favorite films?
Matt James – Rizz is a mad Horror film fan. She grew up on A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Evil Dead trilogy, The Exorcist (1973), Poltergeist (1982), etc. I think she was way too young to be watching most of those films when she was, but she turned out alright I suppose.