The type of artists I am drawn to interviewing are those I watch live and want to run up to after (or perhaps rebelliously, during) the set and ask ‘just how do you do that?’.
vwls are very much an example– a two-piece band bringing the sound of about five or six musicians with them, unleashed in a hot melt of electronica smashed together with an experimental post-rock edge and a nice slice of grunge to boot (during the interview they described themselves to me as ‘psych electronica post-rock with a stab jazz twist’, so whatever you like).
Watching them live is indeed something else – a range of electronic equipment, light-up pads, guitars, drums; both members multi-instrumentalists whose prolific playing plunges the stage into an array of colours and movement. Imagine a games arcade meets grunge… then add some more electronica in there.
And it isn’t just me that has been drawn to them – vwls were recently selected by curators Everything Everything to play at Manchester’s Off The Record new music festival and conference (15-16th November), where they will take to the stage of the iconic Band On The Wall – a new venue for this year’s edition of OTR – with artists Childcare, Giant Boys, MDP, See Thru Hands and SPQR also on the bill.
But who are they? vwls are GRYDCKS and MTTRW (that’s Gary and Matt, once we start to add the vowels in) – currently based in Manchester but originally both from Nottingham, with a studio inside an atmospheric old mill in Bury. But this is by no means a nostalgia trip to the Factory Records era, in fact:
“Thinking outside the box massively powers our sound,” says Matt. “Rather than that generic indie influence which can lead to material sounding shit – I think what influences me most is actually NOT being a Manchester band… we don’t have that concept to follow, pay homage to or live up to.
“I just keep listening to as much music as I can – plenty of glitchy electronica, often on the internet – and also live music. There are groups from Manchester too that I think have been under-appreciated, take Oceansize – and also current groups like GoGo Penguin; mind-boggling.”
Matt and Gary have been making music together for the last 20 years, even when they have lived at a distance.
“It’s been pretty much continuous,” says Gary. “There have definitely been periods where we’ve had loads of sketches – and technology and the internet has certainly helped us to collaborate as musicians even if we can’t both be physically present. We know each other musically and it just works.”
Both members describe their music-making with ease, even though the workload between them looks anything but. Forget pre-made backing tracks, even as a duo vwls are passionate about delivering quality live music – and they play a massive range of instruments and parts between them at each gig.
“Pre-made content in loops is a no-go,” emphasizes Gary. “That’s like the difference between paint-by-numbers and artistry in the music industry I think… yes, we want to have fun, but also we want to PLAY.
“We both play guitar, keyboards, drums, synths – and when we gig, those are both played live and sequenced by ourselves. We’ll discuss which parts each of us wants to play, but keep swapping it up – so every gig is different. Some bands describe their instruments as ‘tools’… I guess ours are our power tools!”
“We challenge ourselves,” adds Matt. “Like taking the idea of playing a song in an odd time signature and making it sound not so odd. We’ll both end up playing multiple parts, but that’s the way we like it. Yes, it can be hard to settle on something… but ideas come up and we’ll pass them back and forth until we work out what it is we want to play together, how we will make it work live.”
Take a track like cITRON, fizzing open before a seemingly steady rhythm and lush guitar guide us into ever-building percussive layers and reflective riffs, suggesting the band’s pop sensibility… but then throwing things on their head with wild bursts of guitar and explosive electronica.
vwls are a band brilliantly capable of luring listeners into a false sense of security, before plunging into something else entirely… surprises shimmer around every corner of the listening experience.
“How would I describe it? Imagine Pink Floyd grew up listening to 65 Days of Static, Nirvana and Radiohead, something like that,” reflects Gary.
The band also cite a massive range of influences including Mogwai, Shellac, Glassjaw, Primus, Palm… (we can go on).
Their cover of Portishead’s Glory Box is also particularly good (again, the layering is luscious here) and tHE cLOSEST shows yet another vein, with more dual-vocal force and a particular whomp of rhythm on the opening. Whether listening to vwls or watching them live – you are sure to be both interested and intrigued. However, I had to ask the annoying question: what’s in the name?
“I’ve said it before,” smiles Matt. “If you like our name, then you won’t like our music. So that’s one reason for it. The second reason – Gary can’t think of anything better. The third reason, satirical I guess, referring to when there seemed to be a ‘trend’ for groups taking the vowels out of their names. We’re vowels without the vowels.”
“We are group of two people, though I suppose the sound suggests more than that,” adds Gary, as the interview draws to a close, “So in that way we deceive people. I’m not actually even here. We aren’t even real.”
Test it for yourself as vwls play Band on the Wall on Friday 16th November, as part of Off The Record.
For more information on vwls, head to their website: http://www.vwls.co.uk/
Off The Record 2018 features conference events and gigs across eight venues in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, running this 15-16th November – the conference itself taking place on Friday 16th at the Methodist Central Hall. Live music takes place across the two days, consisting of acts selected by industry icons-turned-curators; including Everything Everything, Tom Ravenscroft (6 Music), Rob Da Bank (Bestival), Huw Stephens (6 Music), Ana Matronic (Scissor Sisters) and The Orielles, just to name a few.
With bands on the bill including the likes of Peaness, Pearl City, Fizzy Blood, WOOZE, Happy Spendy and many many more, Off The Record is an innovative festival celebrating new music at its freshest.