An Interview with Ronan Harris of VNV Nation
An Interview with Ronan Harris of VNV Nation.
“To convey a message and embody that in a song and for it to capture me on an emotional level that is a true test of a song”. – Ronan
This afternoon I am sat in a sumptuous tour bus with my girlfriend and Ronan Harris of VnV Nation the band are coming to the end of the UK sector of their new “Automatic” tour. The band have enjoyed continuing success, with sell out tours and headlining some of the biggest festivals in Europe. "Automatic" officially entered the German Top 100 Album Charts at #8 and with worldwide recognition this duo (complete with Mark Jackson on drums) seem to hitting the stratosphere!
As we make our way upstairs Ronan cuts a polite and cheerful disposition happy to discuss the points of Brad Pitt’s new Zombie flick and the wonders of Branston pickle we get down to business.
Oz: Hiya! Thanks for taking time to speak to us, how is everything going?
“Good, apart from catching flu, which you can still hear, I managed through the Glasgow show and when I got to Sheffield you could tell it wasn’t going, so unfortunately we had to cancel our Birmingham show. A nice doctor came to see me and gave me an injection and lots of nice medicinal stuff and told me to rest, so that’s what I did. Now things are great, I sound husky...but I’m alright”.
O: So the tour is going well apart from that?
R: “Oh great, Southampton was fantastic, first time we’ve played there.. well first time we’ve played Cardiff too. The venue looks good, we’re always happy to be back in the UK”! “It’s been mad though, everywhere we’ve gone we’ve ended up meeting Fresher’s parties, which sometimes makes it difficult to tell the difference between chavs and freshers, but as long as their all enjoying themselves its fine.”
O: That’s the main thing I suppose.
R: “It’s good, everywhere is different, Sheffield was a blast, we’ve played the Corporation a lot in the past, London was spectacular, I duno what happened? I came out and sang like a madman! I guess it was all those booster shots I was given, we went out and killed it! It was phenomenal. In contrast to that, last night in Southampton it was just a bar, intermit, power cut in the middle of the show and my mic didn’t work but it actually turned out to be a great gig”.
O: I was immediately hooked by my first few listens to “Automatic”, are you happy with the result?
R: Nobody can plan how an album is going to sound, you have an idea of how you want it to sound but I don’t know what happened during the production of this album. The last day when it had to go the mastering company I was still working on it, all through the night. I did two 30 hour runs and I was sitting there at 5 in the morning and listened back to it and thought.. “How?” “How did this happen?”
There were so many accidents during the production that looked to scupper us or delay its further but each time an accident happened it brought forward a new idea. Things like mics blowing up and us having to use a new one, but this time it sounded better or songs being corrupted and having to be re-written, these things actually made the process better, we really had a tonne of fun with this”.
“Even for our guitarist, who is a very two dimensional minded person, to say there is something going on here meant a lot. With two computers blowing up and all these other things happening there was definitely something a foot. I am so personally overwhelmed by what the end result sounds like.”
For me to convey a message and embody that in a song and for it to capture me on an emotional level that is a true test of a song. It’s not always possible, sometimes it’s a hit or a miss, but I feel it. Listening to “Radio”, the last track, I just sat there looking at the speakers thinking wow! There wasn’t a single song I thought I could have changed. I am happy with the songs, the artwork, everything came out right!”
O: In regards to your artwork you focus a lot on 1930’s America, why did you choose this look for the album?
R: 1930’s America is an era that fascinates me, one my hero’s is Nikola Tesla his work, this period of amazing inventions, it was a leap forward for humanity and for someone to design the blueprints for something like MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) it’s just great. But it’s this period of growth in economic crisis and a world that was made better for everyone and not just for corporations and brands. It wasn’t a world of selfishness it was a world of individual effort.
I just love this era and retro-futurism, I recreate a style of 1930’s/40’s adverts, magazines and books for people, I do this under another name. I can just never stay bored, I always need to be doing something, I just got excited and thought I’m going to put this into VnV it’s a combination of all my favourite things. This era is a big part of my personal life; I do a lot of conventions and collect Americana while I’m on tour. It’s a cheap thing to do, you go to a junk store in America and it’s full of interesting things.
It’s been a whole bunch of coincidences that brought this album into the light. So I did the artwork for the album and thought yeah it looks good but when we put the posters up in Germany they were gone within 30seconds. People are just stealing the posters and taking them home and that got me. I wanted to do so much more with this but time just got in the way.
O: I’d like to ask you why you specifically picked “Control” as your first single.
R: “If you want to get an album out and people listening, give it to the DJ’s and if there was another song that was more suited to DJ’s then control then I don’t know what it is. I believe that was an instant floor killer, I finished “Control” at the beginning of July and “Nova” on the same weekend, I mean “Control” was done in a day, it was never going to be put on the album, I had a list of 20 odd songs so there are a few that haven’t been used. We shall see how Mark is and hopefully get “Electromatic” sorted for next year, which will be the follow up to this. There are two sides to VnV: the melodic, emotional, focused, pure energy side and then there’s this, which is a very hard and direct sound”. I mean singles are dead, so we put this out and when you have 40,000 downloads later or you give a track away for free and get 60,000 plays, you can’t complain.”
O: “Control” certainly packs a punch and throughout your career you have sung about very important issues throughout life, such as war and world affairs, but at the same time you convey a beauty within..
R: “I believe humanity has been through enough, it’s a realistic optimism, when you look back in history I do often wonder where we are going in this world. It seems the majority of populations are dumbed downed every year and it’s not by choice, we are given the tools of our own demise. I feel more alive now than I did as a teenager and the more people are becoming complacent the more I feel aware of what’s happening. I’ve kind of given up on the war thing in regards to “Of, Faith, Power and Glory” and “Judgement” we did come very close to nuclear war in 2008 and of course what upset me the most is that nobody knew about it. So when people ask me the story behind “Tomorrow never comes” do you honestly think that the Asian’s living through the cold war and who are genially petrified that people were going to start lobbing nukes at each other. Everybody knew what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, that’s a scary thing and so this wasn’t a disco song more a parody of something cynical and yet this war was played out on TV like some sort of game show.
In regards to Automatic it is a more a positive, euphoric album. Whenever we play “Resolution” live it overwhelms me, everyone throws their hands up in the chorus, we don’t tell them to, ask or cattle prod them or wire up the floor with a chicken grill and throw water on it, people just do it automatically. So if all that you do is go away from our shows feeling happy and forget about your problems and being above yourself then that’s great!”
L: Most people do come away from gigs saying they are on a VnV high and from aching smiles to floods of tears, especially to the song “illusion” how do you feel having such an emotional impact on people? (Question from Luise)
R: I’m a very emotional person, I guess I’m inflicting what I feel on other people, I found emotions as a child to be a highly elevated feeling, from being empathic to almost dysfunctional, that made me a different person and I think that reflects through our audience.
That you were the kid who was different, the one who was more intelligent, geeky or just didn’t fit in with those who work in insurance or a bank. So I think we all know what it is to be this person in illusion but then there are so many different sides, illusion is a song that everybody will get no matter what background you are from.”
It blows me away how it affects everybody, the same as “Nova”, we were playing it in Germany 2 days after the album came out and the entire audience was singing the song. And I thought how can you honestly know all the words so far? But these songs promote emotion and it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a women. I went to a rugby school where it was all about testosterone, the lizard brain is active but the higher functions are switched off and I just didn’t get that mentality”.
“And that leads me to the song “Gratitude” a lot of people thought it was cynical but it isn’t, it’s meant to be a song for overcoming demons. There will always be things that come back in your life to haunt you and being in a band you have the positive and the negative. So gratitude’s emphasis is choosing your own path and those people bringing you up who made you who you are. Kama’s a bitch, because this is what I made out of myself.
This theme has been through most of VnV’s albums but it’s a transitional thing. Every time a new album comes out it reflects a stage of life I’m at.
O: With your ever growing success and huge popularity over the world, you mentioned you collect Americana etc, how do you balance your professional and social life”?
R: “First of all I don’t consider myself a rock star, I don’t look like I fucking rock star I mean come on! It sometimes confuses people especially in America why we aren’t like that. I mean everyone will approach you in a different way and the fact we didn’t become famous at 18 gave a huge effect on our attitude. I think we’re emotionally mature enough to deal with that type of thing. At the beginning it was weird, there are a lot of things that are on offer to you but I like who I am and I don’t want to become a fake version of myself. Of course this lifestyle will change you but it doesn’t have to be to the extent you can’t recognise yourself in the mirror. The best thing of all is we still have our mates and have made new ones and we love seeing them all, our crew are our mates too, we all hang out after the tours and we’ll have a tea or a beer and just have a laugh”.
O: When I first saw you I saw you on a boat in Bristol, has there been anywhere quite as random as that you’ve played since?
R: “Oh yeah, that was lovely, yeah last night was one, it was just a pub in Southampton that was pretty cool. The Goth Cruise is another, you’re stuck on the boat for 7 days and its hilarious, you have a lot of Goths in a swimming pool calling it “Goth Soup”, it gets really, really funny and some of the irony isn’t lost on some people. I mean you’ve got a bunch of pasty faced people who are meant to be paled skin who are sailing around the Caribbean; it’s a lot of fun. Next year I believe it’s us, Aesthetic Perfection, Icon of Coil, STID..” 4.
O: “Hmm well we can only go if we sell a kidney”, to which my darling girlfriend suggests. Leading us to the groans of “Steak and Kidney” pie jokes.
O: Moving quickly on you recently worked on a remix for Within Temptation. How did that come about?
R: “They approached us, we met at a festival in Holland and we just got chatting and they asked for a remix, so I said ok, but I am really going to kick ass with this. I said it’s really going to be upbeat because I’m testing some ideas for the new album, it’s going to be a bit euphoric and it worked! The combo was brilliant. The song got played all over the radio and given out free for German DJ promoters, got our name about too. They called me up after the release and I thought “oh shit there is a problem with it” but they loved it and wanted me to do another mix with Sharon adding some vocals to the euphoric bit. So I did it, allowing me to touch up one or two mistakes as I was so tired from before.
Its great playing it in a club, it’s tricking you into getting on the dance floor, when the fans hear Sharon’s voice and I love it when people hear the VnV attachment to it and are like it’s not Angonize, Suicide Commando or Combichrist, I cannot dance to this! You can because it’s good and if you don’t want to then you’re just a twat! I love elitists. It’s just not music appreciation”.
O: Talking about your collaborations I am huge fan of AFI and back in the Myspace day it was through Davey Havok I got to know Darkangel and VnV Nation, do you recon there could be any more work between you guys?
“He was backstage a show in New York and he said I’ve got something to show you and literally dropped his trousers – Woah easy Tiger!, but he had the dark angel logo on his leg. I got to know him without ever hearing his music and he is a lovely guy. Jade and I are good friends and I hope there will be more musical collaborations in the future, Jade and I have discussed making a weird hybrid of sounds. They heard the new album and were like wow some of the elements are already there, but we shall see. It all depends on time”.
And with time being such an important issue we draw our interview to an end. Ronan explained he is heading back to Germany, then heads to Scandinavia and America, hitting some of the festivals over the summer and in between times finishing off a tonne of work that he is putting together. VnV nation are flying high, lifting the spirits and putting euphoria back in everyone’s hearts. With a hugely infectious album, a unrelenting tour and possible work of a follow up and collaborations in the future it’s good to have these boys back in our hearts and mind. Victory all the way!
If you missed them this time around, they have rescheduled their Birmingham show for January 7th 2012 as well as Manchester 6th and London 8th.
For more information go to: vnvnation.com or www.facebook.com/vnvnation
Interview conducted by Oz and Luise. Written by Oz.