Interview by Elizabeth Sharpe – Ummagummamumma – Live Music Photography
This Friday night (December 6), the long awaited and highly anticipated Australian Halestorm tour begins with perfectly matched support from New Zealand rockers, Villiany. Playing four HUGE shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, Australian fans are set for a hard rocking treat with two bands this gosh darn good. Villiany are certainly wrapping up 2019 with quite a bang with this tour and also having just won, for the 3rd time, ‘Best Rock Artist’ at the New Zealand Music Awards! Oh and did we mention their three home shows with the brilliantly beastly Beastwars and City Of Souls in December flowing into January? It’s all happening!
Elizabeth Sharpe had a chat to two of the four members from Villiany; frontman and guitarist, Neill Fraser and lead guitarist, Thomas Watts about their busy year, the upcoming tour and winning the prestigious NZMA award three years running!
As a band, you guys have been cementing yourselves in the New Zealand Rock landscape since the release of Alligator Skin in 2011 – but 2019 seems to have been the busiest year yet for Villainy! You released your 3rd studio album, Raised In The Dark, this year, and the latest singles Cut and Dreams are absolute, catchy as hell, anthemic bangers – how was writing, recording & releasing the 3rd album different to the previous two?
Thomas: “Yeah, It was totally different. The first record, those were the batch of songs that we’d been carrying around with us for years, I think people say your first record is the easiest because you just recording the shit you’ve written and trying to find a home for it. Second album we wrote the majority of it in the studio, we went “okay, we’re going to do this” and we wrote, recorded, wrote, recorded, wrote, and we just smashed it out. On this record, we sat down and thought “how are we going to approach this differently” and made a really concerted target to write as much music as we possibly could and we ended up with something like 110, 115 songs”
Neill: “It was 107 if were going to be specific, 107 songs”
Thomas: “107, there you go. Yeah and we kind of took those back to the team and went through them and figured out which ones we liked best and which bits were best and just slowly pulled it apart until we got down to the 15 or so that we tracked and 10 of those made the record.”
Thomas: “Pretty intense.”
Although you’re “wiki-defined” as an alt-rock band, there seem to be a lot of genres bleeding through, sometimes I get little tastes of nu-metal, sometimes a bit of prog – how do you guys define your genre and what are your main influences?
Thomas: “I think that fundamentally we are a rock act. And basically, you’re right, that we kind of go into a whole bunch of different areas, and I think one of the things that we wanted to avoid was, you know where you have a nu-metal band and there best song is always going to be the one that makes the most people get the fuck up, you know what I mean? And your worst song is going to be the same song but a less good version of that. And so for us we actively have been trying to cover as much ground as is humanly possible by embracing all of those sub-genres and a lot of things outside of rock; I was listening to a lot of Beatles when we were making this album so there’s a lot of interesting chordal work and those kind of things. It’s about taking all those elements and putting them through the meat grinder and seeing what comes out the other side. We try not to be pidgeon-holed into “this is exactly what a Villainy song sounds like”. The thing that’s constant is Neills beautiful vocals coming through each song”
You know what, I really think that’s super smart. How many times do you hear a band release a new song and it doesn’t fit into anything else that they’ve written before because they’ve been so typecasting themselves almost, putting themselves into their own little box? They try and do something different, and it disappoints the majority or their fanbase.
Thomas: “Yeah, but maybe it excites the minority too, you know. That’s what cool about bands that are a bit brave and take some punts. I don’t think we’ve strayed too far from where we are at, but we absolutely like pushing the envelope a bit and keeping the music interesting”
No strangers to the New Zealand Music Awards, this year they changed the category name from Best Rock Album, to Best Rock Artist, and you guys take out your 3rd NZMA award in the history of the band. It must feel amazing to be recognised once again, and ahead of the other amazing nominated artists, Beastwars & Racing?
Thomas: “You don’t start a band to win awards but fuck it’s really cool when it happens, and to have 3 of them it’s super weird. 3 from 3, it’s a really nice sign of recognition, that we’re doing the right stuff. And as you say, in the company of a band like Beastwars, who have sort of had a similar career trajectory to us, they’re on their 3rd record as well. It was anyone’s race, you know, they would’ve well deserved it as well if they’d have taken it home. We’re just stoked to be in that company.”
And now, unfortunate circumstances have meant that Black Stone Cherry have had to pull out of the upcoming Halestorm tour – these things do happen, and you guys have been able to take their place and I for one think that this is a perfect match and can’t wait to see you support Halestorm.
Halestorm seem to have a great love of New Zealand rock, they took Devilskin on tour with them a few years back. How was the support opportunity proposed to you guys, and what does it mean to be touring with Halestorm?
Thomas: “We pretty much just got a call, saying “Hey can you do this? We need to know tomorrow.” ….. Tied up in the Black Stone Cherry situation but of course we said 100% yes, and we actually hung out with the band earlier this year when they were over here for their Kiwi Tour. They’re on Warner, which is the same label as us so we had an opportunity to get to their show, have some beers with them and get to know them, so it’s worked out really well.”
Will crowds be getting a full hit of the new album, or will you be throwing some old favourites into the mix?
Neill: “I think it’s going to be a mix. For us, not many people are going to know the Villainy back-catalogue so for us it’s an opportunity to basically, effectively start from scratch in Australia, playing songs to a new audience. They’ll be a lot of material from the new album, but they’ll also hear some of our favourite older tracks as well. It’s all part of pulling together a big cohesive set that shows what Villainy can do basically.”
Sweet! I anticipate an accelerated growth in fanbase from this Halestorm Tour opportunity, any chance or thoughts of coming across the ditch for your own headline tour in the near future?
Thomas: “Yeah yeah absolutely. We love to get back as early as we can next year. Getting out on a support like this is perfect for us because we haven’t played in Australia for so long, so it gives us a wicked opportunity to get out and just play in front of some good crowds and in some big rooms. But yeah, 100% we want to back it up, we want to come back and do our own shows for sure.”
Cool! And just to throw in a fun one here…I HAVE to ask… there’s a bit of a common theme happening with Villiany’s music videos… the sticky tape over the face, the “tapeface”… is it representative of anything? Just for fun? Where the hell did that idea come from?
Thomas: “When we were first putting together the record we were thinking about what are the themes? and how does that kind of represent the music visually? And we’ve always been interested in this idea of kind of distorting reality and making things that should be beautiful or nice, a little bit messed up. I think we described our second record as kind of “the sound of things breaking” because it was so distorted. This record, it’s a pretty cleanly recorded, it’s a big heavy rock album but it’s got good production values, that we felt like the songs themselves were dark and had underlying things that you had to dig to feel. So visually to take our faces, which are not super fucked up, at least we like to think so, to mess them up with tape kind of felt like the right thing to do and the images are super arresting.”
They are though! It’s a bit shocking in a way.
Thomas: “And of course you know, we took that even further with the Dreams video as well which is a bit of an homage to classic Wham! videos from the 80’s. That whole period and that video in particular really romanticizes the excess, like the Ibiza lifestyle.”
Totally got that party-on-a-yacht vibe… with butlers…
Thomas: “Totally and you can just imagine the amount of shit those guys were putting up their noses at that time, right? So again, to kind of degenerate ourselves and lower the visual beauty of it by using the tape was a fun moment”
Definitely fun. It would’ve been very hard to make that video without having a few laughs for sure.
Thomas: “Oh definitely! Neil in his speedos is a real sight to behold and we all got amazing fake tans for that video, like we literally went to a tanning salon.”
Yeah I was slightly concerned about the intensity of the orange!
Thomas: “No no that was a very dark brown, there’s no orange going on ha ha! I thought we looked Australian.”
Totally suitable for a Gold Coast holiday!
Catch Villiany in Australia with Halestorm on the following dates at the following venues!
Friday 6 December – Sydney Enmore Theatre
Saturday 7 December – Brisbane The Tivoli
Monday 9 December – Adelaide The Gov
Tuesday 10 December – Melbourne The Forum
With thanks to Collision Course