The Vanities frontman, Rhys Bradley, talks us through the sonic influences behind the band’s self-produced new album, 2001.
Having entered the fray back in 2001, our initial forays into recording took place at a time when the affordable modern technologies so widely available today weren’t quite there yet (although the KLF might dispute this). As such, our early efforts at committing music to tape were done under the supervision of some of the finest local producers on the Cardiff scene.
As The Vanities, we recorded our early work with Rohan Tarry, producer extraordinaire at Warwick Hall of Sound who recorded EVERY band on the scene at the turn of the millennium. This was sandwiched by many sessions with veteran Cardiff producer and recording engineer Paul Durrant, at his early digs in Grass Roots right the way through to the fine Stir Studios.
Also of note was a leftfield collaboration with the great Tony Hadley behind the mixing desk.
Indeed, whilst most people would instinctively think of Tony as THE voice and a showman in the truest sense, it seems a little-known fact that he’s also a highly accomplished producer, as comfortable it would seem behind the mixing console as he is behind the microphone.
For our album, 2001, we decided it was time to go it alone and make the record ourselves. Here are some of the tracks that influenced this particular musical odyssey.
The band are massive fans of Butler-era Suede and consider their 1994 opus, Dog Man Star, to be a bona fide masterpiece. Indeed, even listening to the record today, I can barely begin to comprehend how they knitted this sonic tapestry together, such is the scale of its ambition. I love the dark and foreboding atmosphere created on ‘Daddy’s Speeding‘, particularly the panting effect on the trippy choruses, something I was keen to ape on ‘Love Is the News‘. This was achieved courtesy of my golden retriever Sulley who, after a particularly strenuous game of fetch at Caedelyn Park, was able to provide some excellent panting samples which were manipulated into the effect you can hear on the track. I must stress at this point that no animals were harmed during the making of the record (only the band themselves).
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME
To us, Bowie is God. We love his work without exception but, in the pre-production stage, we must have been particularly dialling-in to the irresistible plastic soul of Young Americans. The sweeping saxophone work of David Sanborn is a wonder to behold, particularly on tracks like ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me‘, ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ and, of course, the title track itself.
We became fixated on introducing this shade into the band’s sound. Enter Cardiff jazz king and saxophone virtuosi, Jack McDougal. Jack, widely regarded as one of the most charismatic sax players out there, was brought in to bring his extraordinary musicianship to the project and his sax gymnastics quickly became a focal point of the record. Jack’s parts were largely improvised and he nailed the whole album in a short afternoon session. Recording his parts in my living room was a near religious experience. Oh, and Jack likes coffee. A lot.
DON’T STOP ‘TIL YOU GET ENOUGH
Another hero of the band from childhood is the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson. Regardless of what anyone thinks about Jacko, no-one could deny the trio of albums he did with Quincey Jones starting with 1979’s Off the Wall are nothing less than pop gold-dust. Jones was already a legendary producer before masterminding these unit shifting monsters which further cemented his status as one of the best in the game. Along with Jackson’s incredible vocals, the production and musicianship across those records are really something. I particularly love the glass bottle percussion at the heart of ‘Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough‘. Thanks to the wonders of Fiverr.com we were able to incorporate this sound on the title track, 2001, courtesy of US-based percussionist Julio Jose La Makina (a bargain for $30!).
ARCHIVES OF PAIN
The band are huge admirers of the Manic Street Preachers and, like many, would have to pick The Holy Bible as their greatest achievement. The record is such an intense, immersive experience and feels like a concept album in the truest form. Everything about the album is arresting, from Nicky and Richey’s dark and cutting lyricism through to Bradfield’s incredible vocals and guitar work. The songs themselves are also fantastic, from the jaggedness of ‘Faster‘ to the fragility of ‘This Is Yesterday‘. What then elevates the album to another level as a piece of art are the dark vignette samples that precede many of the songs. We were particularly inspired by this ingredient and, thanks to YouTube, utilised this device across the record.
SOMETHING IN THE WAY
It’s fair to say that our biggest influence of all would have to be Nirvana. After all, it was Kurt who inspired us (and most of our friends) to pick up the guitar at the age of fourteen and play until our fingers bled onto our converse daps. The cultural impact of Nevermind is well documented and, as for so many, was an event which genuinely changed our lives forever. Whilst Nevermind is rightly associated with its many grunge anthems, it was the melancholic ‘Something in The Way’ that inspired our approach to the closing track on the album, ‘War‘.
There’s a great story of how the band were really struggling to capture the vibe of the track. Butch Vig has recalled how, during a break, Kurt lay on his back in the control room and started gently strumming along to the track on an acoustic guitar, singing almost in a whisper. This immediately captured the essence of the track, with Vig quickly setting up a mic there and then. The rest is history. We really liked this idea of stripping a track down to the bone. So, after all the technical bombast and production excesses that characterise much of 2001, ‘War‘ was recorded in one take on an iPhone in an empty, derelict church hall. Amen.
‘2001’ is out now through iTunes and Bandcamp on CD and digital download.