I instantly fell in love with Vancouver, British Columbia's Red Vienna back in 2010, and they've remained one of the bands I've tried to follow most closely ever since. Over the past decade, the trio has honed their unique take on post-rock/punk into an increasingly perfect balance between the chilling darkness of lush midpaced bass runs, glistening splashes of guitar, and deceptively memorable vocal hooks that are cryptically somber beneath a masquerade of grace. This is perhaps most evident throughout the group's latest two-song EP, Tomhet (out today via Bandcamp, Spotify, etc.).
Stream both tunes below, followed by further insights from bassist/vocalist Jahmeel Russell and drummer Robbie Zgaljic:
The world hasn't heard all that much from Red Vienna since The Book of Hours. Now that I think about it, there was actually a decent gap between the early EPs and the full-length, too, so looking at things overall, what would you say is Red Vienna's "status" as a band? Meaning, do you consider it more of a part-time, "when schedules allow" type of thing?
Robbie: Red Vienna from the beginning has never wanted to over-play the scene or just put out music that was not meaningful to us. From the start, we only wanted to play shows that were special to us... not just a regular weekday show at some random club. Same goes with the music we've recorded and released. It may take us some time to release music, but we're picky with our songwriting. We don't record every song we write, and we tend to work on them for a while until the three of us are all really excited about each song. With that being said, we have busy personal lives as well, so our approach to songwriting is unique to us and may take longer at times.
We'll get more into the specifics of the new EP in a minute, but again thinking holistically over time, I've always found it interesting that Red Vienna started out with a really energetic and catchy approach that pretty quickly started to head toward a darker and more spacious/exploratory type of sound. What do you feel has been the driving factor in that development?
Robbie: When we first started rehearsing together as Red Vienna, we didn't really have a specific direction in mind of what type of sound we were going for. We found quickly that we could write catchy songs that could appeal to a larger audience, but we realized that wasn't really the direction we wanted to go. A lot of ideas came from Jahmeel and I just jamming in a room with bass and drums, and we just sort of gravitated more toward the darker, spacious ideas we were coming up with. We would then present these ideas to Devin and he would fill in the spaces with his great guitar parts. There are also personal experiences that help direct the songs' direction in how they sound.
Jahmeel: I can honestly say we've always approached all of our material without premeditation. Whatever comes out, comes out. I think maybe the change comes more from the fact that that first EP was literally the first six songs we wrote. Devin brought in one song, and Rob and I had a couple we had worked on. From there, we quickly collaborated to write the other songs. I guess we hadn't necessarily defined the sound of the band yet. I think with The Book of Hours, we were conscious of trying to have a more coherent feel and we wanted to create a vibe and an atmosphere.
Tomhet contains two of the band's darkest compositions to date—"Evelyn" having even been inspired by the infamous photograph The Most Beautiful Suicide. In line with the music, the lyrics possess an almost paradoxical characteristic in that there's this sort of shimmering beauty to the delivery that contrasts the underlying atmosphere of the core content. Is that at all intentional, or am I way off the mark?
Jahmeel: I think to a certain degree—at least for me—it is intentional. I like those contrasts in music. I've always been drawn to extreme or heavy music that's melodic, or the music isn't extreme but the lyrics give it a dark atmosphere. With us, Rob and I are bringing that heavy drum/bass thing, then the guitars and vocals are very melodic. Lyrically, I'm pretty much incapable of writing something happy or lighthearted. I think the best lyrics I've done are the ones rooted in real darkness. People can tell when a song is actually channeling true feelings or emotions. I remember when I sent the demos I'd done of these songs to Devin, he commented right away on how the lyrics struck him. There are a couple of our early songs that don't tap into a true expression, and they suffer for it. I really cherish when I'm able to write from that place. It's not always easy to tap into.
The material was recorded by Jason Corbett at Jacknife Sound, and I'm assuming this resulted from Jahmeel's experiences working closely with Jason in Actors. I believe this was Red Vienna's first time at Jacknife, though, so what impact did working with Jason bring to the end result?
Robbie: I have known Jason for years, prior to Red Vienna and Actors. When Red Vienna started playing shows, Jason would show up; and the same goes with Actors, we would go to their shows. We admired each other's music and eventually Jahmeel joined Actors, but we would have recorded with Jason at Jacknife regardless. We're all into the same things musically, so Jason knew what we were going for. He was great to work with... we had the songs ready to go, so his expertise came in the recording process and coming up with sounds that were fresh and new to us. We'll go back to Jacknife again when we're ready to record some new music.
Jahmeel: We knew working with Jason would be good pretty much from the first time we had a discussion about it. After I worked with him as a session bassist and then with Actors, there was no question in my mind we would. He was more hands-on with the production of these songs, where previously we'd be making most of those choices in the studio. I'm so happy with how they turned out.
You also filmed videos for both songs, and compared to your past efforts they're basically "true," full-on music videos. How did that opportunity come about, and what was it like putting everything together, etc.?
Robbie: The two videos for these new songs came together while Jahmeel and I were hanging out with our friend Adrian Mottram. He's a true believer in the band and an inspiration for us. He had the means to film these videos for us, and we basically went with his guidance on how they were going to look. We wouldn't have the videos without Adrian's passion and drive to help us get these out for the world to see.
Jahmeel: Our friend Adrian Mottram directed both the videos. He approached us about working with the band and has put an incredible amount of passion into everything he's done for us. He and his team [at Undone // Creative] donated a lot of time and effort to make the videos happen, and we can't thank them enough. The experience of both shoots was great, and I think he really tapped into the lyrics as well. When he showed me the first cut of "Tomhet," I was almost in tears. His belief in the band means a great deal to us.
Circling back to the first question in a sense, do you think we'll have to wait another three to five years for some more new material from Red Vienna...?
Jahmeel: I hope not. I have more material I'd really love to record.
Robbie: We're actively writing new material and hope it won't be long before we release some new songs.