Siobhán Kane spoke with Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls who play Dublin & Belfast this week.
After periods spent in other bands, Roxanne Clifford, Patrick Doyle, and James Hoare formed Veronica Falls, and after a little persuasion, their friend Marion Herbain joined to complete the quartet.
Their debut self-titled record was released in 2011, with the wry, dark “Found Love in a Graveyard“, and “Beachy Head” as highlights, both complementing each other, since one is about being in love with a ghost, the other a yearning for a popular suicide spot.
This mingling of dark romanticism, mournful harmonies, rich instrumentation and a definite black humour informs their work to pleasing effect; expanded on their new record Waiting for Something to Happen. It is a real gem of a record, and the songs benefit from a clear love of Television, (among other bands) and an ever more assured songwriting flair. “Teenage” is perhaps the centrepiece of the record, brimming with hazy guitars, boy-girl harmonies, and talk of “driving late at night”, listening to music – it is a song about simple times, lovingly rendered, like the swoon of a long summer evening. Siobhán Kane talks to Roxanne Clifford.
The band was initially formed with you and Patrick, and then James and Marion came in, wasn’t it that Marion perhaps understood the atmosphere but had no musical experience before joining? It all seems very natural, and it is important to be able to understand who you are working with.
A common understanding is important. Patrick and I played in bands together in Glasgow and we had some vague song ideas for a new project. We were introduced to James, and he had access to a free practice space so we started rehearsing together. It just worked right from the start and felt very natural, we had the same influences and touchstones and felt like we were all pulling in the same direction and producing something special. We really wanted a girl to play bass to keep the gender balance equal… it took us a while but we finally persuaded Marion to learn to play the songs and the line up was complete.
How did you find the move to London from Glasgow? Did you feel you just needed a change?
I personally needed a change, yes, and I think Patrick did too. Glasgow is a unique and wonderful place, the music and art scenes feed off each other in a very unforced and natural way, it’s very social. I went to art school there but I was initially drawn to the city because of its musical heritage. It’s less pretentious than London, which makes it easier to be creative and free. However, it is extremely small and everyone knows each others business…I felt like being a bit more anonymous for a while and I wanted to meet new people, that’s why I made the decision to move to London, really.
Glasgow has always had a thriving musical community, how have you found London in this regard?
New bands seem to spring out of thin air in London. That doesn’t really happen in Glasgow, you get to see the progression of a band more, from their first gig when they sounded terrible. There are only so many shows to go to and places to hang out. A band can be plugging away on the other side of London for ages before they get good and are suddenly playing at all the cool places. We socialise in a small scene of musicians in East London, a lot of our friends are in bands. We treat the particular area where we live as a mini city within itself.
You have given an EP of covers away with the deluxe editions of both albums – this time it features artists like Ween, Bob Dylan, and The Moles – I suppose it is a good excuse to break down and build back up work that means something to you – do you find that you go back to your younger days, and songs that meant something to you as a teenager?
We’re basically obsessed with other peoples music and pop songs, so we love doing cover versions. There is no real strategy to how we choose them, they’re just songs we love and would like to tackle. Some songs are so perfect that there is just no point touching them. It’s nice to find a song with an amazing melody that has perhaps been overlooked, or maybe the band never nailed a definitive version. The songs that were special to you as a teenager will always tug at your heartstrings, I think.
Waiting for Something to Happen has perhaps a lighter sound, indebted to some of the more up beat sound of the Sixties, and sunshine music – were you listening to a lot of that music?
Our influences haven’t changed, I just think that different elements came to the forefront on this record. We still have the same touchstones – primal moe tucker style rhythms, fast feelies guitars, overlapping vocals and harmonies. Half of the songs we hadn’t really played live before recording, so they have a softer, more tentative quality in a way, less immediate but with more layers. A friend of mine told me that they thought this record was more Athens, Georgia than Olympia, Washington…I quite liked that analogy.
Your first record has a wonderful black humour – and in some ways it owed a kind of romanticism to people like Daniel Johnston and Roky Erickson. Have you ever heard the record Roky did with Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil? Like Daniel, Roky seems to have touched a younger generation because of his struggle towards a kind of purity, and hope – what do you think?
I love pretty much everything Roky has ever done, especially his early work. I’ve been listening to the Holiday Inn Tapes a lot recently. It is true that there is something poignant about a person’s lyrics when they are going through tough times or aren’t quite with it. Daniel Johnston’s childlike visions can really touch a person of any age I think, the way he boils everything down into these simple categories of love, fate and death feels very human, whilst being far-fetched and it speaks to me in a really direct way. Roky manages to do that too.
Who do you all bond over in terms of comedy, since that seems to be a huge love, also?
We like the tongue in cheek humour in Morrissey’s lyricism alongside his unwavering sense of authority. In terms of actual comedy I’m not sure. We all like Seinfeld!
You had producer Ash Workman help you for your first record, and Rory Attwell for your second, they are both different in tone – which seems like a conscious decision.
We actually produced both albums ourselves. We had a very clear vision of what we wanted to achieve, Ash and Rory did a great job of engineering them. We worked with Rory on our early demos that then became our first 7″ single on Captured Tracks. He’s great to work with and we really trust his approach and opinion.
There seems to be so many different influences at work here on this second record, I kept thinking of Television, in terms of guitars, particularly Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.
There’s a guitar riff from the opening track “Tell Me” that is similar to the one in “Marquee Moon”. We like to think of it as more of a homage than a rip off, imitation is the biggest form of flattery! We’re definitely not afraid to wear our influences on our sleeves but we generally use influences as a starting point, and then they tend to transform into something different entirely.
The harmonies in your work sound so rousing and organic – was it an early decision that you all would sing, or did all emerge from playing together that it just happened that way?
There was never a conscious decision for there to be a lead singer, it just so happened that I had usually come up with the main melody to the song, so that’s generally what I sung, but often a counter melody can be just as important for us. We work really hard to make all the vocal parts work together in unison to form something bigger…like The Byrds or The B52’s perhaps.
What are you reading, listening, and watching at present?
I tend to collect books on tour and then never get through them all, I have a daunting pile that is building up. I’ve been reading a lot of Iris Murdoch, whilst touring the U.S in the van. I’ve read A.M Homes short stories about unsettling, dysfunctional America, which seemed very fitting. I’ve been trying to work my way through the Hitchcock Presents TV series which I absolutely love! I generally don’t listen to any new music apart from friends bands. I’ve been listening to Dead Moon and The Great Unwashed a lot.
Veronica Falls play Whelan’s on Thursday April 18th, and Voodoo in Belfast the following night.