The Los Angeles-based, Australian-born “Death Pop” duo VOWWS have been touring in support of their sophomore LP, Under the World, since last March, with additional gigs set throughout the summer. The synth outfit is making a name for themselves with a unique sound and aesthetic that defy easy classification, not to mention cinematic live shows were the band leaves everything on the stage.
Here’s how Costa Rican-born Rizz, one half of VOWWS, describes their latest album: “The theme of isolation is strong in a lot of the stuff surrounding this release. [Structure of Love, specifically] is about paranoid love, obsession, idealization and the hopelessness it can bring.”
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with the other half of VOWWS, the single-monikered Matt, to discuss the band’s past, present, and future.
About Under the World:
With their new album, Under the World, VOWWS craft their dark pop masterpiece – a cinematic, stylish and menacing statement of intent. Drawing upon influences as diverse as classic western, electronica, surf rock, metal, and film music, the enigmatic duo weaves disparate threads of cultural influence together into a tapestry of drama, imagination and surprising warmth – only to deconstruct them again in front of your ears.
Dread Central: Tell us about VOWWS! How did you and Rizz meet?
Matt: We met at college in Australia. We were both playing in a bunch of bands and neither of us was really happy with what we were doing and where we were going and the music we were playing. We were part of a music performance program and everything felt forced. We were playing a bunch of types of music we weren’t interested in, just for the experience or whatever. But we met at an end-of-the-year party after our first year. We got drunk and decided to form a metal covers band; I would play drums and Rizz would sing (and scream and all that sort of stuff). We just hit it off. She joined a band I was in with some high school friends and it just went from there.
DC: I’m curious about the significance of the name VOWWS and the use of the extra “W”. Can you illuminate me?
M: VOWWS signifies heaviness and commitment—everything we wanted to come through in the music. It conveys permeance. Also, you don’t want a name that tells people what you’re not if that makes sense. We didn’t want to say anything that would detract from the music; there’s a neutrality about the name that we liked. The extra “W” is just a stylization, something that gives a bit of weird neutrality and takes it away from having a direct meaning. It becomes sort of a blank canvas for our music.
DC: It’s definitely effective. Now, I’ve seen VOWWS described as “Darkwave”, “Goth Rock”, and, my personal favorite, “Death Pop”. How would you guys describe the band?
M: That’s a tough one. We both sort of tend to steer clear of describing VOWWS. If we do describe it to a casual music listener or a stranger or something, we’ll just start by comparing ourselves to the usual suspects: The 80s bands: Depeche Mode, Joy Division and the like. If they don’t know much about 80s music we’ll start to reference the bigger acts like The Cure. You sort of work backward from a reference point, but that’s not really how we write our music, so it can be difficult to describe. We’re also inside it, so it’s hard sometimes to see how other people see it. It’s always been tricky describing our music. I think it always is [for musicians] but I feel it’s especially so for us because we side-step genres deliberately.
But having said all that, we described our first record as “Depeche Mode on steroids”. But we’ve moved on from that direction too. I just tend to let the music speak for itself—if possible.
DC: I read that Under the World was inspired, in part, by film music. Since Dread Central is a horror website, I’m especially curious to know if you guys were inspired by horror in general or any horror movies specifically?
M: Rizz might have been, so I can’t name any specific titles on her behalf. But we do take a lot from cinema, and not just the visual or artistic elements, but also from the soundtracks. We’re fans of Phillip Glass who is a big inspiration for us. But also, some movies that aren’t necessarily horror. Like, John Barry [who scored 11 James Bond movies] has been a formative influence for us. Generally speaking, we always want to have a cinematic element to our music and deliver some of that same drama—if we can. But there is a general influence from horror movies and dark films specifically.
DC: This leads perfectly into what I was going to bring up next: Since your sound is so cinematic, do you employ any theatrical elements when performing live? Props, projections, pyrotechnics, etc.?
M: Not really. We put everything we have into our live performances in terms of putting our full presence and our full bodies into it. But, again, we like to let the music speak for itself. We just get up there and play the stuff, but we put everything into it. No special theatrics because, to us, theatrics would just take away from the music, which is the important thing.
DC: I’m always curious about the set-ups synth-based bands use to perform live. What kind of equipment do you guys use on stage?
M: Rizz has a sampler she uses. She used to sample and hit triggers for the entire show, but now we have a drummer who holds down a strong backbone. She also has an LP-16 [standalone audio player] which is a new piece of equipment we really like because it’s really stable. Besides that, there’s nothing too unusual. We both sing and Rizz plays synths and I play guitar. There’s definitely more of a rock element to our live shows now, which we really like. When you’re a synth-based band I think it’s easy to come across as somewhat karaoke, and that’s something we’ve run a million miles from since the moment we existed. Having the live-drummer now is a good way to make sure that never happens.
DC: You guys recently performed at the SXSW Festival in Austin. How did those gigs go?
M: They went really well. The experience was totally chaotic with all these bands and fans trying to jam into the same venues at the same time, and you can’t park near the venues… But it was the start of a tour for our new album, so it was good because we got all the hard stuff out of the way to begin with and it toughened us up for the rest of the tour. It was all around good and fun, but completely chaotic.
DC: Let’s get creative: If you could design your own music festival featuring VOWWS, what other acts would you want on the bill? And they have to be bands the currently exists, so no Nirvana or The Beatles.
M: Wow. That’s a tricky one. I’m not good at this kind of thing. But I can tell you one thing: I wouldn’t want it to consist of a bunch of other bands like us. We’d want a variety of genres with a lot of different tastes on display. As for actual bands, there’s a Russian band called Messer Chups we really like; they use a lot of kitschy horror samples that are really cool. We’ve actually wanted to play with them for a long time. Then, maybe a big headlining rock band. We’ve always like Tomahawk. No matter what, we’d want our festival to be something different.
DC: Your vision reminds me a lot of the original Lollalalooza Festival [launched by Perry Ferrell in 1991]. It wasn’t about a single band or a single genre; it was the diversity that filled the seats and gave the event a unique personality.
M: That’s how it should be. If the music is all good, it doesn’t need to be the same.
DC: The video for Structure of Love [below] is awesome; I read you filmed out at Bombay Beach and The Salton Sea while doing mushrooms. Can you talk more about the shoot?
M: [Laughs] It was really fucking amazing. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking shit, because I’m not, but it’s pretty sad actually. There are ghosts of the past there, you know? It used to be this bustling, celebrity-driven tourist town and all of a sudden, nature hit back. The entire place turned into a wasteland. The lake was polluted by industrial runoff… The place is a legitimate ghost town and we wanted to capture that vibe. We’re drawn to places that have flickers and shadows of the past, especially when there’s a significant darkness. Even though there isn’t a direct storyline, we just basically wanted to convey the feelings of that place. With Bombay Beach, in particular, there’s a feeling that the world completely left this place behind. We wanted to get inside it and bring that feeling across so we just went in a tiny little camper van and got as close to living there as we could.
DC: Mission accomplished. The video is definitely haunting and arresting. So, are psychedelics a component of your creative process?
M: Yeah. I wouldn’t say they’re essential to it, but we like to alter our minds in different ways. I don’t think we could do what we do if we were in a single state of consciousness the whole time. They tend to play a role in unlocking things that are already there as opposed to the drugs writing music for you, if that makes sense.
DC: As a “psychonaut” myself, it makes perfect sense! It’s all about the journey.
M: Right, and sometimes you take the journey and write about those experiences at a later date.
DC: VOWWS is a truly international band; your both from Australia and Rizz has a multicultural background. How does this worldview influence your music and do you think it sets you apart from your Los Angeles-based contemporaries?
M: That’s a good question. Our background definitely does set us apart and gives us a unique perspective. Things are hyper-charged in America. There’s a tendency in the “Industry” to pigeonhole bands into specific genres and if you haven’t gotten it exactly right, you’re doing something wrong. We take influence from places other bands in our genres probably wouldn’t. And we definitely bring something that’s a little left field to the table.
Australia can be a very inward-looking country, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. But there’s a lot of incubating you can do there, time you can spend experimenting—and we did that. Having our formative years in Australia allowed us to build something unique before we came here.
DC: There’s definitely a sonic quality to VOWWS that refuses to be pigeonholed. Now, Under the World is a striking album; it exudes isolation and paranoia, but it’s sonically warm and melodic. The juxtaposition is shocking, in part because it all works so well. Are these dichotomies intentional or is it just the organic nature of your collaborative process?
M: I think it’s largely organic now because we’ve spent so much time fine-tuning how everything works. We’ve laid a strong foundation to the point that it can be organic. But those choices are definitely intentional. There might have been times in the past when it was less organic because we were still experimenting. But we feel now, we’ve done enough of that work that things happen organically even though they are intentional.
DC: Any crazy stories from the road?
M: You’re putting me on the spot again! Well, we’ve had people strip at shows, but that’s not really that crazy. We’re pretty low-key when we’re on the road.
DC: No trashed hotel rooms or blood orgies?
M: I’ll email you if something comes to mind.
DC: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers before I let you off the hook?
M: We’ve got a show on July 27th at The Resident in LA. We’ve got an exciting collaboration coming up, but we can’t say who it is at the moment. But it’s exciting and people are really going to like it. And be sure to check out the record!