[dropcap]Matt[/dropcap] and Rizz, the Los Angeles based duo Vowws, are becoming a formidable force in electronic music. They met while they were at the University of New England’s music program in Sydney, Australia in the mid 2000s. Starting off performing in a metal cover band, formed and fronted by Rizz, and with Matt on drums, but then, they quickly formed an experimental-rock band in which Rizz on synths and Matt playing guitar, sharing vocal and songwriting duties.
They played in and around the Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane scenes trying to find themselves, and even played the US. At that time the band was a four piece, and after completing a full length record in Los Angeles in 2010, the project was dissolved. This gave Matt and Rizz time over the next 2 years to develop a sound that was rapidly evolving due to their intense chemistry, and soon afterwards they relocated to New York and teamed up with veteran Swans producer Kevin McMahon, who helped the band hone and shape who the truly are, before finally returning to Los Angeles, to fully embrace the cinematic nature of their music.
I recently interviewed Matt and Rizz about their influences, horror films, and about their upcoming debut LP “The Great Sun”…
It seems as though you two have influences that span the usual suspects from Beggars Banquet to Mute, from Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, and Bauhaus. But I read in a recent interview that you take inspiration from horror film soundtracks…I obviously think immediately John Carpenter and Goblin. What are your own personal favorite horror film soundtracks, or films?
We actually take a lot less influence from the usual suspects than most people might think. Musically, we’re not huge students of most of the 80’s dark stuff. The essence is there, and we love it, but the only Depeche Mode album I own is Violator. We listen to a much wider variety of stuff and I’m personally more influenced by the inward and roundabout neuroses of some 90s stuff I grew up with…I’m listening to select Smashing Pumpkins tracks on repeat at the moment…and feel like I should qualify that… but I won’t… As far as horror film soundtracks, there are a few key people, anything Philip Glass oriented works well for us. The Candyman was always a favorite, as is Koyaanisqatsi, lots of his stuff. Apart from him, The Omen theme is also a fantastic piece of work, and if you watch a video of it being performed live, it’s like a study in the power of dynamics. Nightmare on Elm Street, Twin Peaks, Flowers in the Attic, The Godfather are all seminal themes that have musical significance that’s hard to focus on because of their cultural impact. Evil Dead got Rizz into horror and is a huge influence for her, and lots of less well-produced horror stuff from prior to 1985. Also anything religious or that has anything to do with God or demonic possession…The Exorcist, The Omen, Amityville Horror (original)…anything that takes over a person’s soul is so fundamentally crazy. Rizz grew up in a fairly religious house, so the possibility of an Evil spirit fucking with her was very real.
Does the cinematic nature of horror scores influence the visual aspects of the band, as well as the music? What about influences not in the horror genre, but from cinema overall? Like, what are your favorite films, and directors? —
The visual representations of the band often just get influenced by 2 ideas – violence and humor. The two are often intertwined in a way that can make both seem so sick – but they can go so well together cause horror as a genre is so extreme that it’s often absurd, funny and cool. Take Evil Dead, or any Quentin Tarantino movie. As far as films themselves, Midnight Express is actually a big influence for this album, partly cause of the the perceived biblical brutality of that part of the world, the idea of imprisonment… the extremities of human experience, and the non-western influences that are pretty important to our music…Scarface, Lost Highway, Natural Born Killers…anything with a dramatic and extreme story arc…we don’t necessarily go for obscure stuff – all of those big movies are Shakespearean in their human drama and reach. We have a special spot for Killing Zoe – violence and extremity expressed in musical French…and when someone’s rampant ego gets in the way of what they’re trying to do – art, music, or crime, the work suffers or implodes and the ego is left with nothing. We also think it got an unfairly shitty critical reception so underdog admiration kicks in.
I heard that after moving to NYC, you acquired a connection to Swans…can you tell me about that?
That was through our producer, Kevin McMahon. He made it happen as he’s friends with Swans, produced and mixed ‘The Seer,’ and has worked with them for a long time in various capacities, including on other albums I can’t specify without looking up. He asked Thor Harris to play on Holy Youth on our behalf, but it was his inspiration and idea. He is a wonderful, neurotic and difficult man in all the most beautiful ways and we have a torrid 3 way love affair.
“Losing Myself In You” features the legend of electronic music, Gary Numan. How did this collaboration come about?
We got in touch with his manager in early 2014, and asked him to do a collaboration. Our manager at the time knew someone who knew his manager so there was a connection there, but it was tenuous. We wrote the entire thing, vocals and all, with the idea that he was going to sing it. When we sent it to him, and told him we were broke and couldn’t pay anything for him to do it, but we heard back that he would do it anyway. We were floored, obviously, and didn’t understand how something like this could happen from nothing. We also spent a decent amount of time after that thinking it wasn’t gonna come about, but around Christmas we all got it done. Best present ever.
I love the video for “The Great Sun” (Matt—Nice Eraserhead shirt by the way). The concept is so simple, but executed beautifully. How did you come up with the Karaoke theme?
We didn’t want to make another dark goth video. We wanted something colorful, bright and crisp…but with an undertone, like everything we do. Pop on crack, maybe. In terms of popular culture, Japanese shows, bands, TV, ads….whatever…they all have a take on things that most westerners find either insanely cute or totally alienating. Hyper-actively intense game show hosts, robot wars, fruit sandwiches…it’s such rich stuff for boring western eyes and ears. Anyway a little bit of that played into what the song is for us, so we introduced a layer of that for the video. We totally bastardized what goes on in Japanese culture, but we just see it all through dull western eyes. Again…it’s pop on crack. Or Acid…or something….
How has moving to Los Angeles affected your music? Or perhaps it’s given you more opportunities to perform live? It seems as you have a gig coming up, if not touring. Have you connected with any other musicians in LA?
It hasn’t changed our music because our music doesn’t really come from a place that’s affected by our environment anymore. But it has offered us a lot more opportunities to perform, and be more open to the world. Or maybe we’re just more open now in general. We play as much as possible cause at the worst, you’ll get to share your music and art with people…we’re not above anything. There is a better scene here for darker styles of music…you might even call it a community. There is in New York too, but it’s more self-serious over there, more about social commentary and being hunkered down in crazy metropolis. We definitely feel we have an element to what we do that is about fun and pop. It’s buried sometimes, but it’s there. We’ve connected with a lot of musicians here and it’s been very welcoming in general. We’re playing shows with L.A. Witch and Jennie Vee in December, and New Noise fest soon with a bunch of bands we really admire… So L.A. is returning some of the love so far. We had spent some time here in the past and we just love the contradictions of the place…dreams v shattered hopes, nature and freeway congestion….the place is a giant schizophrenic apocalypse waiting to happen, but it’s beautiful and chill.
When does “The Great Sun” come out?
Upcoming Vowws tourdates