THE VANITY CLAUSE’s ‘Fractured’ is a collection of songs that combine the eclectic tastes of their core duo Russell Harris and Louisa Strachan.
Heavily influenced by classic bands such as ULTRAVOX and DEPECHE MODE as well as current acts like LADYTRON, LA ROUX and LITTLE BOOTS, they have developed a systematic edge with a romantic warmth… a system of romance in other words.
Originally a duo consisting of Russ with David Woods on lead vocals and synths, the two of them were in various rock bands until the chance acquisition of some vintage electronic gear, courtesy of an emigrating pal led them to forming THE VANITY CLAUSE. Open to new directions, they recruited vocalist and synth girl Lou to augment the line-up in 2009. Eventually, the trio had their song Lifeline played on Tom Robinson’s BBC 6Music show, a programme known for its good taste having already premiered MARSHEAUX.
Influential music website Popjustice said: “THE VANITY CLAUSE: Banging DEPECHE MODE meets GOLDFRAPP!” Causing quite a stir locally in their hometown of Southend-On-Sea, they have also been making a name for themselves on the London live circuit. Following David’s amicable departure earlier this year, THE VANITY CLAUSE finished their debut long player in the summer and were joined by James Elliott, and for a short while Neil Thompson.
‘Fractured’ itself is a diverse set that successfully combines elements of electro, rock, soul and dance.
One of the strongest tracks is Mr Fairweathered which recalls the bluesy synthetic dynamic that DEPECHE MODE perfected on Violator. Add in Lou’s spirited ETTA JAMES styled vocal and the two elements merge to produce an uplifting slice of experimental pop .
When the bass sequence suddenly locks into 6/8 at the end, everything is thrown wonderfully off-kilter. Meanwhile, Lifeline is given a Wigan Casino facelift by Lou, quite appropriate as it replicates the feel of SOFT CELL’s Forever The Same and gives a nod the Leeds duo’s original Northern Soul roots.
First single Time, Fallin’ and 51 are natural progressions of THE VANITY CLAUSE’s original template, all buzzy, angular and frenzied while opener Swords is a tense percussive drama full of dark filmic textures. Ooboom is fiery Italo-pop with a spikey edge and in Dot Dot Dash, the track does exactly what it says on the tin and is a perfect instrumental club tune. Influences such as Shara Nelson led MASSIVE ATTACK are abundant on the blissful Playmaker with Lou’s rich vocal taking centre stage. Closing number Into The Sun is impassioned with dreamy hints of the late lamented ONE DOVE minus the dub.
Electronic music with soul has been much talked about with Brighton’s MIRRORS being one of its strongest advocates. There must be something in the sea air within these costal plazas as what contrasts THE VANITY CLAUSE from other acts is Lou’s soul infusion. Add in some moog madness and what you have is a unique listening experience that connects organic reflection with technological tension.
The Electricity Club spoke to Russ and Lou about the album’s genesis, their spirit of independence and why despite attitudes in Britain, electro is here to stay.
THE VANITY CLAUSE have finally recorded an album, how has the journey been for you both because it’s been a long time coming?
Russ: The time it took was a combination of doing everything ourselves, changing line-up mid way through and Lou being hospitalised and out of action for about four months so we were fighting the elements pretty much. It’s been a huge learning curve and an experience. In a masochistic kind of way, we’ve enjoyed the challenge of doing it the hard way. I mean we’ve literally spent zero money on this since we started so felt it would be great to see it through to the end just to see what you can accomplish on your own without any record company backing.
From borrowing a microphone off a mate to teaching ourselves how to use a free bit of graphic design software, we’ve done the lot! I’ve been tearing my hair out as to how to iron out CD art problems by release day; I mean “what’s a pixel?” We’ve had so many problems to overcome due to naivets, but we’ve not come this far just to throw some money at someone else to do it.
We want to make ourselves proud and next time, our experience will give us the edge over others and we’d have become a self sufficient powerhouse. We could follow suit with other unsigned acts and suddenly call ourselves “Vanity Records” just to look bigger and get more attention, but this country’s full to the brim of bands clambering over each other to get more attention by doing such a thing, we’re happy to step back and show it like it is. We have pride in doing what we do as small fry and anyone notable to impress in this industry can spot bands dressing themselves up as a bigger fish anyway so there’s no point in that to us.
Lou: “Long time coming” was actually one of our choices for the album title!!! Yeah, we really have battled all of the elements this time…I fully expect album number two to be a much smoother ride, not least because I don’t expect to be out of the game like that again….mind you, you never expect it, do you?! The process has actually been so interesting and as a result, we now we feel as if we are now masters of our own destiny!
How did David’s departure affect the recording of ‘Fractured’?
Russ: To be honest, not a great deal. Just having to stop work to train the newbies up for a couple of months put me out of sorts for a little while and deciding which of his tunes to carry over took some work and decisions.
Lou: all of the songs on the album were already there when David was exiting the band, so it didn’t affect the amount of material we had. Me being unwell affected the timing more… . if this hadn’t have happened, we estimate we’d have been ready to go in late August.
Was there any dilemma about what to do about the earlier material that some followers of THE VANITY CLAUSE may have been more familiar with?
Russ: We wrote so much new stuff in that transitional year with Dave and Lou that most of this carried over when Dave departed anyway, we’ve reworked tunes such as ‘Lifeline’ with Lou taking the lead all the way through now which works great for people who never heard the original but creates debate of preference between other folk.
Also the really early stuff is never written off in my eyes anyway as I loved playing it and don’t want to think those tunes will never be dug out again… in fact right now, I’m bursting to get our cover of Back To Nature back in the set if I can convince the others. If gentle persuasion doesn’t work then I might just have to bring out the gimp. *laughs*
Lou: just the gentle persuasion will do it, Russ! 😉
Russ: I also don’t like to see things I’ve spent a lot of time and work on just being put on a shelf and left. So I’m putting all of those early tunes together on a separate release very soon. They’re all recorded and it’d be a shame if they never got out there. But at the same time, we’re aware our sound back then showed our influences a lot and that was like a fertile stage for finding our feet.
Since then, we’ve noticed so many 80s pastiche kind of acts out there and it’s almost like a big 80s fancy dress party in a way. We were probably guilty of the same thing when we started but now we see ourselves as simply music with synthesizers. We’ll always draw from these influences but we won’t simply use that great 808 drum sound because it reminds us of something from a SOFT CELL album. We’ll just find something we like for its own merits and not try to sound retro of current. Maybe we’re just fadless little gadgets.
So who is ‘Mr Fairweathered’?
Lou: he’s that friend who appears from time to time, mainly because you’ve got something he wants! He drifts from group to group. He’s no one I know personally…. you never really get to know him that way 😉
What are your favourite songs for the album?
Russ: Mine are ‘Lifeline’ as it’s our classic, ‘Swords’ and Mr ‘Fairweathered’ due to squeezing in my John Carpenter influences. Actually the album starts with Swords on a deliberate lo-fi experience, 70s gang flick ‘The Warriors’ was permanently etched into my mind and you can probably notice this now you know. I often draw from a lot classic sci-fi and horror films, I love that whole era of film where composers were experimenting with their new found synthesizers for their textures, that whole thing is one of my biggest influences.
‘Playmaker’ is my current favourite as I’ve had my first little play with some more orchestral sounds and am really happy with the results. The occasional addition of subtle piano and strings to an electronic tune can add a lot more to the dynamics and I’m sure I’ll be doing more of this with future tracks.
Lou: ‘Playmaker’ is my current favourite too. I’m really enjoying the dynamics, especially the piano and how the vocals seem intertwined in the sounds in places. Also I enjoy the way the lyrics flow on ‘Mr Fairweathered’ and I like singing ‘Swords’ right now…..it’s soulful, with a feisty edge and I really enjoy conveying the message.
How are James and Neil settling in?
Russ: Just great, up until James joined I was a bit lonely being the only techie. I’d normally get blank expressions back form the others like I’d be talking in some kind of foreign language when I’d go on about my LFOs and oscillators but James has a strong interest and background in all of this kind of stuff too so now I can get down and really geek off about all of this stuff. Hopefully album two production and all the tweaking won’t be such a lonely affair.
Erm… Neil has already left the building. One thing we didn’t cover when we got these on board was the whole idea of having two vocalists to start with. We always wanted vocal harmonies to be a strong factor but with one girl and three blokes who can’t sing for toffee, this fell by the wayside. We’re now making plans to re-address this issue now we’ve lost Neil.
We have something very specific in mind this time. Ooh! I hear you say! Mysterious ever changing line-up number four coming soon! Put it this way, you can probably hear the beginnings of what I’m getting at on the album vocals. There are a lot of harmonies and we only have one person to sing them all at the moment.
Lou: It’s really great Russ now has someone to bounce off with the techie stuff…didn’t quite realise how obvious my blank expression was until James came along!
You played Germany for the first time recently. How was that and why do you think the Europeans seem to get electro far more than the Brits?
Russ: Loved it, however we didn’t really go out there with a game plan, we we’re mostly testing the water to see what was going on with electronic music out there for our own observations. It was mad because we simply booked one gig in this little bohemian bar, loaded up the car with us and the gear and drove in one non-stop straight line till we hit Berlin. Crazy!
Not one to glitz things up but it was a dark damp basement on a rainy night, we learnt so much from doing that ourselves with just a bit of petrol. It was a little peek through the keyhole for us and a good preparation for when we return to Europe. Europe gets electro, it gets a lot of things the UK doesn’t get because it doesn’t try to follow five minute trends. Anyone who does follow trends is surely destined to fail. Sidestepping all this is much more fun, an adventure and give you peace of mind that you’re staying true to yourself.
Your future plans for THE VANITY CLAUSE?
Russ: We had to whittle so many songs down to get this album done and pretty much written two albums worth in this whole time, so expect the second album to not be to far on the heels of this one. Now we’re finished this beast, we’re going concentrate on promotions and getting on the festival circuit next year and start spreading our wings beyond London and the UK. England is such a small island with so many bands tripping over each other to be heard that it’s almost embarrassing trying to do the same. Maybe sidestep this big mountain of fifteen year olds who want to be Kings Of Leon again and find our own place. It’s clear that electro is here to stay, we will remain a part of it even though LA ROUX thinks it’s over just because she wants to appear grown up on her next record. Haha!
THE VANITY CLAUSE ‘Fractured’ was released on 15th November 2010 and is available as a CD from www.audiolife.com/store/TheVanityClause/Albums.aspx
It is also available as a download via Amazon and iTunes.
Text and interview by Chi Ming Lai
10th November 2010