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The Vaselines

As the Vaselines reconvene with their ridiculously long-awaited second album ‘Sex With an X’ (20 years in the making); rekindling their preoccupations with sex and religion, a fully fledged UK tour awaiting – I thought it’d be a good time to reflect back on 2008 as Frances Mckee and Eugene Kelly (with a little help from a cross-section of Belle & Sebastian members) had just completed their second gig in approx. 20 years as part of Tigerfest ’07 at Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall…heralding their triumphant return to the Scottish music scene, and beyond.

Eugene candidly takes me through the details of their reformation while touching on the Vaselines and their peers’ kinship with America’s alt.rock misfits and bearers of the grunge movement, the nature of their longevity and why they thought the time was right to re-launch The Vaselines in their present form.

itm? – How did the performance go?

E.K. – It was pretty good…I think, I enjoyed it; we all enjoyed it…don’t know if they enjoyed it?

itm? – Is it good to be back after all these years as a proper entity?

E.K. – Yeah it’s great to play the songs – Frances and I haven’t played the songs, as a band for 20 years so it’s good to go back, and a lot of the songs we didn’t play live as they were recorded for the album and we didn’t get the chance and never really played them like the album version, were doing the album version of the songs rather than the pared-down Vaselines sound that we used to have.

itm? – You played recently in Glasgow…

E.K. – Yeah, we played recently at a sort of charity show for an orphan support group in Malawi which Frances’ sister had organised; she asked us to play separately, but we thought we’d play some songs as The Vaselines, but I said I’d only want to do it if we could get a big band together and really wanted to ‘rock-out’ and make it sound as good as possible.

itm? – Was that gig the catalyst for how you ended up getting back together?

It was, that and the fact that SubPop asked us to play their 20th birthday party (they put out our records in the USA) – we weren’t sure we were going to do it… then it just all fell into place at the same time, then we said we might be able to do it…then we played the charity gig, and thought “we can play, we’ve got a band now” – it’s all just luck and chance and things fell into place.

itm? – How did the collaboration with members of Belle and Sebastian come about?

E.K. – I’ve know them for over 10 years; I know them as friends, I just thought they’re the perfect people to do it – they’re really professional, they can learn songs really quickly and they know what they’re doing – they were the first people I thought of.

itm? – Did they ever mention if your music had been an influence on them?

E.K. I’ve no idea, I just thought it be really painless, we’ll just get in the room and play the songs –that’s the way it was, they’re really good players – we didn’t have to take a long time learning them, we just played them.

itm? – Can you tell me a bit about your lyrical content?

E.K. – A lot of the songs are just us being really childish and juvenile, we’re sort of like the kid that stands at the party shouting rude words instead of eating the jelly – a lot of the songs are about smutty things and influenced by ‘Carry On’ and comedians, it might be a bit odd to play them now… I mean they’re not that childish, a couple of them are sort of anti-religious songs as well, which I’ve been into for years.

itm? – Are there any parallels between yourself and bands the like the Pixies, making quite odd leftfield pop tunes?

E.K. – Not in terms of sound, I think we’re sort of the dark undercurrent to the humour; I like to think we’re doing our thing – we’re doing our own thing much like the Pixies…

itm? – Can you tell me about your relationship (along with your West Coast peers) with the American alt.rock scene and your close link to Nirvana especially – what wereyour thoughts at the time?

E.K. – I think ‘cause we all grew up together (we all met in our early twenties in Glasgow) a lot of the music we were interested in the 80’s was America music (a lot of the interesting stuff: Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pavement). There was a kind of meeting of minds from people – people in Seattle and New York and Glasgow all seemed to have a connection, understanding what we were trying to do, trying to be different, not trying to follow the status quo… I think that was the connection, it wasn’t even so much musical – it was more cultural; you just knew you were outsiders, you just wanted to make your own music and not be affected by what was going on in the charts.

itm? – Do you think it had a knock-on effect, your songs’ inclusion on the Nirvana albums in terms of people seeking you out – did that make a big difference to your longevity and listenership?

E.K. – Of course, if Nirvana hadn’t recorded Vaselines songs, I wouldn’t be here; I wouldn’t be doing shows later in the year in Seattle and New York – The Vaselines would just be another indie band from the 80s who put out a couple of records and disappeared. We wouldn’t be getting back together -Nirvana’s support and patronage has kept the band in the public eye, kept attention on us for years and years… there’s fans throughout the world who would never have heard us otherwise, a lot of people have heard their versions then went to investigate the Vaselines songs (to differing reactions). It’s definitely expanded our fanbase.

itm? – What about the advent of the internet and digital music forms of music? Has this bolstered older and more obscure bands’ status, allowing them to be discover/re-discovered helping their fan-base to grow and grow?

E.K. – It must have, before if you were some obscure band that split up 20 years ago, you’d have to track down them on vinyl in some record shop and maybe it’d be released on CD if you were lucky…but now you can go online and listen to some tracks and download them if your want or go out and buy them (jocular reiteration – Go out and buy them…)

itm? – What about your collaborations with your peers (BMX Bandits,Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels etc.) at the time, can you tell me a bit about that?

E.K. – We didn’t grow up in the same place, I met up with Norman from T.F.C. and Douglas from the ‘Bandits, in my early 20’s – I grew up in Glasgow and they grew up in Bellshill and we met through Francis. I ended up playing in the BMX Bandits and the Pastels for a while after The Vaselines split up… it’s good to be in bands with friends.

itm? – It must have been good to have such influential peers, you’ve all gone on and done interesting stuff.

E.K. – We’ve all kept going, lots of people can’t continue doing music; but do other stuff, but a lot of us have just kept going, purely by luck and a bit of good fortune, being able to make a living out of it and forge a career – I think we’re the lucky ones cause we’re the ones things happened for us, that allowed us to keeping on doing it for the last 20 years.

itm? – Do you see yourself recording again, or keeping on the moniker of The Vaselines as something that could continue in the future?

E.K. – I don’t know, all we’re going to do now is look forward to playing Seattle and New York in July, we haven’t talked about it, so I can’t say – we’ll see what happens after we play Seattle and see what we feel like.

Thankfully two years down the line a decisive Vaselines have a new album that has been primed and full-tour booked – and not a moment too soon.

* The band also come full circle and open for Mudhoney at Edinburgh’s Picturehouse, on August 9th.