The many different textures hidden under those dark synth lines and scuzzy vocals tied together for one of the highlight sets at The Aussie BBQ at SXSW this year. Sydney-to-L.A death pop band Vowws were responsible, showcasing their brand new album Under the World and kicking off a big North American tour which is currently underway. Before all that, we caught up with Rizz from the band to discuss Vowws’ experimental sound, the limit of reference points, the focused approach to the new album, and Australian tour plans.
So you mentioned this is your first time played SXSW. What do you expect from the festival and what can the crowd expect from Vowws?
I don’t have any expectations really, I just want to play good shows and have a good time. I think trying to think anything beyond that might be a let down. It’s never what you think it is, it’s just so crazy.
You guys have a new album coming out, could you tell me – broadly – a bit about that?
It’s our second album as Vowws. Matt and I have been playing together for many years, but this is our second full length and it’s a bit of a genre mash-up. It’s a bit hard to define the sound and put it in a box, but a lot of people say it sounds like we’re an Australian band. Which I think is interesting, because I’m not exactly sure what it is that makes us sound Australian. Maybe it’s the kind of twangy guitars we like, like Hoodoo Gurus and Midnight Oil and stuff like that.
Do you feel that people find it easier to understand something if they put it in a box?
Oh for sure. People are limited by their frame of reference, and you have to relate something in order to understand it. We get a lot of comparisons to Depeche Mode. We didn’t necessarily grow up listening to that stuff, but I think that’s cool, it’s interesting to have people kind of associate you with that. I’m not mad, it’s not a bad reference, it’s not like they said The Wiggles!
Is that motivating to you? The fact that people try to put you in a box and you guys are so board with your musical spectrum that I guess it presents a challenge.
Yeah it definitely does motivate you to want to be as eclectic as possible. If we like something we’d take a little piece of it, we’d never listen to a band and say like, “That’s it, that’s the be all and end all”. There’s people that love Depeche Mode, but then they sound exactly like them, and that’s what they listen to, and I think that’s a little bit boring. We listen to so much stuff, so we try and take the best of everything and put it through our own filter.
We try and challenge people, I’m always interested to hear what people say when they listen to it. Recently somebody said that we reminded them of Wall of Voodoo, an American band kind of bent and kooky, the singer sounded like Fred Schneider from the B52s. We get compared to all kinds of things, and I’d rather that, instead of everybody saying the same thing.
It seems like you guys are influenced by more than just music. I know you guys are into horror soundtracks.
Oh for sure. It’s like a mix of pop music. We love Elastica and Blur and all that Britpop. But we listen to a lot of film scores, and horror movie ones tend to have more tension, and strange kind of notes.
What about art and cinema specifically?
We love film, that’s a huge influence, and I think that’s why sometimes our stuff – even though we aim to try and write classic pop music – has darkness intention and nostalgia and emotional pull. Because film scores and soundtracks are married to an image, so it’s more visceral. Currently I’m tripping on Quentin Tarantino again; I remember when Pulp Fiction came out like twenty years ago, and it’s still cool. The bad guys with the suits and the desert, that kind of stuff is a huge influence, I think that’s why our videos and art kind of ties in. I think that’s powerful, when a band has a strong visual statement as well, it’s another way to explain the music.
Could you tell me a bit about the differences between the first album and this new one?
I think this one’s just more…it’s not like we’re trying to go for something different. We’re just trying to do what we do but better, and boil it down to the more important and fewer parts. Rather than just throw all our ideas into the mix. That’s kind of how it was [with the last album], it was like “we like all of this stuff”, and we were squeezing them into single songs. But this kind we took a lot out and thought “so what’s the more important character”.
So more of an analytical approach?
Yeah, it’s analytical but you can also think about it less if that makes sense. The message and thing that makes it unique is very simple. We don’t need to clutter it. It’s just doing what we do but trying to be better at it.
At first we weren’t really sure what we were doing, and we put the album out. It shouldn’t matter what people think, but when you do put something out and you see reactions and feedback to different songs you’re like “okay, so that is resonating, or this was maybe more confusing”. Because we still want everyone to enjoy it; it’s not just for us, we want to like it, but we want to make music anyone can like.
It’s simple enough to be on the radio with the pop format, but within that we try to make weird chord and melodic selections so the music nerd will love it.
Any plans to come back down to Australia soon?
We haven’t played in Australia for a long time because once we moved here, stuff started happening so we stayed here. Playing The Aussie BBQ is fun; I’m excited to play with Gang of Youths, and I like the stage. But yeah we’re planning to come back before the year is up and play some shows in Australia.
Under the World now out in digital form, and will be available on Vinyl on the 20th of April. Head to their Facebook for all current tour dates and stay tuned for their Australian tour plans later this year.