TO say that the past seven days have been anything but massive for The Vegan Leather would be a drastic understatement. After years of considerable hype and relentless hard work, the Paisley art-pop quartet finally unveiled their debut album ‘Poor Girls/Broken Boys’ last Friday to widespread acclaim and then in a glorious act of fate, picked up the SAMA for ‘Best Live Act’ that very night at a glittering award ceremony in Saint Luke’s. Throw in Tuesday’s Radio 1 session at the famous Maida Vale studios and their eagerly anticipated album launch show at King Tut’s this coming Saturday and it’s safe to say that it has been a whirlwind week for the band. We caught up with co-frontman and creative mastermind Gianluca Bernacchi to hear all about it.
“It’s been an absolutely wild week in the VL camp. Winning the SAMA was such a huge surprise. Our category was so strong, – Bossy Love, Crystal and Gallus are all such accomplished titans in their own right. A lot of love to the SAMAs crew for putting on once again such a party!”
Renowned for the incredible atmosphere they generate at shows and their now infamous ‘This House’ encore, it was no surprise to see the Paisley group awarded for their indelible contributions to Scotland’s live music scene. Having honed their craft over the years via coveted gigs at TRNSMT, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay with Paolo Nutini and The Barrowlands with Phoenix to name a few, it’s an area where the band have always thrived and has gained them no shortage of plaudits since they first emerged in 2014. So much so that they recently gained a new fan in Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos who turned up at one of their London shows and proceeded to divulge his love for the group across social media.
“Meeting Alex Kapranos was absolutely wild. We got a text just before we turned up at The Social that he would be coming down. It was a bit nerve wracking, but he was so sweet. A proper hero of ours.”
Already starting to shore up support in the vast, largely untested live scene down south, the same trip to London saw them record a coveted Radio 1 live session at the famous Maida Vale studios. Invited by Radio 1 DJ Jack Saunders, who has been a huge supporter of the band on his late night Indie Show alongside the likes of Declan Welsh & the Decadent West and The Dunts, it was a milestone moment that saw them follow in the footsteps of many of their heroes.
“It was one of the most surreal experiences of our lives. The place radiates such a strong vibe. It’s equally the most intense and chilled places I’ve ever been in. The crew and staff are so pro and accommodating, I honestly wanted to just set up a bed and move in. The history of the place does loom heavy, and it is quite daunting standing in the spot where some of heroes have played. But, that the thrill of it all. An absolutely wild time.
Aired on Tuesday and featuring an almighty mashup of Arcade Fire and Basement Jaxx, the session is sure to garner them an another influx of fans all over the UK, adding to the ranks of the already gleefully converted. Of course, fans don’t have long to wait until their next live show as they prepare to unleash more art-pop bangers this coming Saturday at King Tut’s. Expect “a massive yellow nightmare” Gian says “It’s gonna be large” he adds. “Nothing beats shredding out fat riffs”.
No strangers to the iconic venue, King Tut’s has been home to some of The Vegan Leather’s most memorable live shows over the years – from their first sold-out gig in 2016 to headlining Queen Tut’s back in March. Perhaps then there’s no better place to celebrate the release of their debut album.
“Tut’s has been good to us over the years, we had our first ever ‘everyone get down’ moment during ‘This House’ there many, many moons ago. One of the things that makes it special for me is the size, it’s possible to have a really intimate experience while also being big enough to bring a bit of production and make a show out of it.”
Saturday night’s gig promises to be a massive party, a celebration of all things Vegan Leather. With their set expected to draw largely from ‘Poor Girls/Broken Boys’, it’ll be a fantastic opportunity to see their deliriously punchy disco punk-pop tunes in all their electrifying glory. Expect big tunes, thunderous riffs and endless opportunities to get your dancing shoes on.
The gig will mark the arrival of an album that was a long-time in the making, one that was meticulously pored over and lovingly created by the four-piece in the long-revered studios of Chem19 in Blantyre throughout much of 2018. Teaming up with Paul Savage, the Paisley group have not been short in expressing their admiration for the producer who proved influential from start to finish. With Duncan Carswell and Matthew McGoldrick encouraged to lay down the drum and bass backbone in the first few days of recording, the album does a good job of capturing the electricity of their shows, giving their playful and poppy arrangements a revitalised energy while retaining the relentless infectiousness that brought them onto our radar in the first place.
“Paul has taught us so much in our time with him. He’s like a wise owl. We had a conversation at the very start about the whole vibe, he basically taught us how to make the record sound as if a band had played it. He allowed our imperfections to shine through and give the album a sort of looseness and life. Four folks (and a sequencer) in a room playing tunes.”
However, putting the fruits of your labour out in the world for public scrutiny is a daunting task for any artist, particularly when you have been away from the spotlight for a prolonged period of time. Marking their return to the foray with the brilliant ‘French Exit’ earlier this year, much of 2019 has been building up to the album’s release and Gian isn’t afraid to discuss the mixed bag of emotions that came with it.
“You definitely can get cabin fever in a studio setting, and with that can come a lot of self-doubt. We spent 6 months not gigging so it seemed to us that we weren’t getting any work done even though we had made an album”
“It felt like total bliss finally seeing it out. It put to bed quite a few anxieties we had about the record and gave us a good bit of reassurance. I started to feel a small sense of dread on the run up, anxiety about how it’ll be received and is it ‘good enough’. I started to feel a little low but when the Wednesday prior hit I came to peace with it. I am in a very good place now.”
The album is as much a heady dose of escapism as it is a reflection on the tumultuous times we live in. With themes of social anxiety and female struggle at the heart of many songs, the band explore a number of dualities; light and dark, love and lies, anxiety and euphoria, pitching their dark, often introspective lyrical themes against a swirl of vibrant, upbeat art-pop.
Across its eleven tracks, you’ve got the wondrously subversive opener ‘French Exit’ which deals with the creeping sense of unease and anxiety that takes over when a night out turns sour against a dense array of synths and chopped up guitars. On Radio 1 favourite ‘The Hit’ they explore the idea of ‘learning to exist’ in a world that doesn’t treat everyone equally via pulsing rhythms and a brilliantly infectious chorus while ‘Heavy Handed’ is a powerful stroke of defiance that considers the dichotomous situation of juggling artistic ideas within the parameters of commercial expectations.
Discussing the importance of using their medium to convey a message, Gian says: “Escapism is important for anyone’s own mental health living in times like these. Though, in an age where the world’s events are only a few taps away it can be hard to stay engaged and still feel empathy. We do feel that that we need to make comments and statements with our music (even though our platform isn’t the largest). We’d be wasting people’s time if we didn’t try to engage them actively.”
Above all else though, there’s a message of triumph over adversity that shines through all the rip-roaring riffs, insistent rhythms and glittering melodies and it’s this important philosophy that rings true throughout – that no matter what modern life throws at you, music can pull you through.
It has certainly proved that way for The Vegan Leather whose ambition and drive continues to take them to soaring new heights. In an age where album forms are constantly changing and the EP is becoming a hugely popular mode of release, the Paisley group resisted the urge to fall back on the tried and tested and instead made the bold and brave decision to dive headfirst into their first full-length album.
“For the longest time we always wondered when the right time to do an album is, it can feel like a death sentence. But as time kept marching on we all decided it was a necessity to make the bigger statement and go with an LP. Doing an album over an EP I suppose is a way for us to draw a line under our achievements so far. These songs are done, out of the oven and now being served for dinner. We can now move on and start to craft a new menu now, a new bunch of songs and ideas. It’s good to keep things moving”
A resounding triumph in every sense of the word, ‘Poor Girls/Broken Boys’ is as much a thrilling statement of intent as it is a victory lap, injecting a big dose of colour and energy into Scotland’s indie scene. As for what’s next?
“The foreseeable is a vision in yellow, and yellow is endless. We’ll be back with more gigs, more music, and more stupid riffs in the near future. Stay blessed”.
The Vegan Leather headline King Tut’s on Saturday 2nd November. Get your tickets here.