Back in mid to early August, I had the pleasure of Skyping with the London-based folk-rock group, Van Susans. We spoke over tea. I was having midday tea while they were having late evening tea during band practice. Unfortunately, and now a common theme for my Skype conversations as of late, we couldn’t use the video capabilities. However, it quickly became less than difficult to tell their three voices apart. Right now, Van Susans consists of the lovely Holly McLatchie, charming Olly Andrews and the one and only Ed Dullaway (who, to keep things straight when the video cut out, said he was “the one who spoke like he was from Buckingham Palace…which helped me greatly).
Over the next hour, we proceeded to talk about their upcoming record due out later this year or early next year, the weather in Montana (where I live), how Van Susans has shrunk in members but grown and matured greatly, and many other topics both serious and…pretty silly. Read and listen below to get the scoop:
MFL: So you all are in the middle of practice right now?
Olly, Ed, Holly – Van Susans (VS): Yeah, we sure are! We have a gig next week. Kind of recently turned into a 3 piece. Been a weird transition on stage we’re going through. We’re growing up (Holly inserts). We started off with the 6 of us and then 5 for a long time. Then there were 4 and now there is 3. So, we’re like the core of it and we’re trying to redevelop ourselves. We have a whole new load of songs we put together and we’re just trying to add in different instruments and make it work. All of our jobs have gotten a little more difficult because we’re using loop pedals and Ed’s playing guitar and piano at the same time, trying to compensate. It’s going to be interesting! So we’re spending a lot of time in the studio trying to sort the songs out!
MFL: Did you have all the songs written with 5 or 6 people in the group and now you have to kind of rewrite or did you write the songs as just the 3 of you?
VS: We have written an album. The whole album is ready and we had written it as a 5 piece. We recorded half of the album already as a 5 piece with a full sound going on. And we were thinking we’ll get back in the studio in a month or two’s time and wrestle out the songs. We’re still really good friends with two of the other members. They’re actually Ed’s brothers so there are actually 3 brothers involved with the band and they’re going to come with us and record and just see how it goes. But, we’re really just three of us as a core.
MFL: Have you played live yet as just the three of you?
Ed, Olly and Holly: Well, not really. A couple of times. We’ve done quite a few stripped back shows for about three years already so doing that is not too bad but more the big proper shows, where we need a more full sound we haven’t done. Trying to achieve that with the three of us is hard so that’s why we need four.
Olly: Wedid over the summer, we were playing every week in London Zoo. They had this late night festival thing going on so we were just playing there every night. It was just the three of us at the zoo, right next to the flamingos. It was a bit of a laugh. They had it all summer and we got to play all summer and it didn’t rain once!
MFL: What a miracle!
Olly (VS): We were actually really lucky. We played quite a few festivals all summer and it didn’t rain on us! One was torrential. But it stopped raining as soon as we got on stage! We are like God-sent or something! Do you know the band Adam and the Ants? You don’t? Maybe it’s very British, proper 80’s. You know the song “Prince Charming?”
I had never heard, so I had to investigate. This is what I found:
Olly (VS): We did a gig with them recently. We played at a festival and he was the next guy on after us. And it stopped raining for us and started torrentially rain for him as soon as he came on stage. Poor Adam.
MFL: So when does your record come out?
VS: Well we’ve got a single out, “Lipstick Teeth.”
It’s going through the works, getting quite a bit of radio play over here and stuff. We have a music video coming out Friday (this interview was back in August, see above video). The actual album will be out later this year, or probably early next year. We’re still recording it at the moment but we were excited about our single because it was ready to go so we decided to put it out! It’s taking a very long time to get this album together. We released our first album in 2012. That was the last record we released. And we still have songs that we wrote back then. “Lipstick Teeth” we wrote YEARS ago. We’ve been very lazy! Let’s put it down to that. It takes time, though to get it right. We’ve been working with this really awesome guy called John Cornfield. He’s done Muse and Supergrass, massive bands. So, it was really good to find him, and it just makes sense with him. We found him about a year ago and we’ve been working with him on and off just trying to get the album properly done. Don’t want to rush into releasing something we want to be proud of! Take our time, you know?
MFL: How did you find John Cornfield? He seems like a pretty big guy!
Ed: The campsite was on a hill so you’d just slide down the hill while you were asleep.
Olly: Holly didn’t really like it. I’m not a camper (Holly inserts). Have you ever heard the expression “glamping?” We had to make it “glamping” for Holly. We had inflatable mattresses for Holly. They were nice to me, though. They gave me all of the goods (Holly inserts)! It proper rained the first night though when we were there. Torrential rain, freezing cold (Ed inserts). Yeah, I missed that. But I had to fly on a tiny plane from Scotland, it had propellers. Yeah it was rough (Holly inserts)!
MFL: Have all of you been in Van Susans since 2012? When did you all come together and start making music?
VS: 2010 would be when the band officially started and it was me (Ed), Olly and Rob, my brother who was the drummer. And Tim as well. There are three brothers: Tim, Rob, and Ed. And we all started the band. We started as a 5 piece really in 2010. We released an EP in 2011 and Holly joined in 2012 and we did the album together in 2012!
MFL: Holly, how did you get roped into this?
Holly: Through a friend who use to work with the band. And we use to do TV shows together and she said she just didn’t have time for it anymore. I just thought I’d give it a go!
We then chatted about everyone’s careers outside of making music together for Van Susans. Holly has been teaching violin to children for several years, Ed works for the city in a recruitment position (they all chuckle about how uncool and un-rock and roll his job is), and Olly works for a music management company.
MFL: Since it’s taken so long to put your new record together are you kind of over it and ready to get it out there?
Olly: No, I still love the songs. I can’t wait until we release the new batch of songs and get the album out. This record is just so much better than anything we’ve ever released. I look back at the album and I’m really proud of it but it doesn’t feel like us anymore. It’s such a long time ago. I just think people are going to love it. I can’t wait to get all the buzz back. Even just getting this new single out, the radio back, and the all the fans are lovin’ it and stuff. It’s just a really exciting time.
MFL: What are the biggest differences between your first record and this upcoming one?
Olly: It just kind of feels like the songs have grown up. We’re just paying a lot more attention. Violin has become a real prominent part. It was just a supporting instrument but now it’s become really the key part. Ed actually does all the score writing and stuff and it’s very complicated. Lyrically as well, it’s all just matured. There’s a lot more stuff for us to write about now. We’ve all gone through a bit of heartache over the last few years. Paused in the Moment (first full length) was all very break up oriented or girl oriented and this one is a little darker and explores some different themes. It’s just definitely more mature.
MFL: When did you start working with John and did he have a lot to do with your record development?
VS: He’s not such a producer in a sense that he’s writing our songs. He just has a really good sense of what should be brought up and what should be brought down. He is just very sonically amazing. He can just make the guitar sound so big and the violin sound massive and he knows where to put it. He’s so good to work with, really optimistic and buzzing. You come in with an idea and he’s like “It’s great, let’s get it down!” And if you feel a little bit off during a chorus or something he’ll let us do it again. He is very much aware from the off that we sound best like with simple stuff like not being put to a click track. This kind of brought all the lively energy we have when we play together whereas when we recorded before with a click track and we were really on point about everything, it kind of started dehumanizing our sound a bit and he was like, “Guys, we should record without. It’s just way more exciting and more diverse.” So that is what we’re doing and it really brought out how we’re supposed to sound as opposed to our older stuff sounded a bit more clinical.
MFL: I always wonder how bands stay in time with each other so well. Ed and Olly proceed to talk about how John Cornfield influenced their music and how Van Susans keep time with each other.
MFL: What kind of music do you use for inspiration? For writing? What do you listen to every day?
Olly: Holly likes hip hop. Gangster music. She’s a classically trained violinist.
Holly: I like a mixture of things I really do. I like soul, too and R&B.
Olly: My favorite band is Frightened Rabbit. They’re a Scottish band. I love them very much. I like Foals. I like a lot of older music. I listened to a lot of Supertramp recently. Radiohead. Have you ever heard of Everything Everything? They’re huge over here.
Ed: I freakin’ love the heaviest metal there is (Holly says: That’s my worst nightmare.). If there’s someone growling, I’m there. I also like film music, orchestral stuff. Pretty much day by day, I’m listening to metal and classical music. Nothing makes sense in this band.
MFL: Is there any overlap between the three of you that inspires your genre of music that you write?
Ed: Yeah, what ends up happening is say, Olly starts writing the basis for the song and you can sort of hear his influences in there Frightened Rabbit, where it has a folky build to it and I start putting in the violin parts that come from the kinds of things I listen to. Even the violin, has kind of a guitar sound.
We’ve got this new song called “Set Fire” and when the violin kicks in it’s like (Olly vocalizes an insane guitar riff) and you can imagine it being a guitar riff. We’ve got a song called “Rat Race” and it’s structure was entirely inspired by Metallica but the chord structure was inspired by Jimmy Eat World so weird combination but that song was written in that way.
MFL: Holly how much do you help with songwriting?
Holly: Not that much to be honest. Only with the violin part. Ed does most of it and I’ll put my own bit in but with being classically trained, I’m just use to reading notes off a page. Write anything down and I’ll play it.
Olly: I’m completely on the opposite end of the spectrum. I can’t read music at all. I use to play a lot of piano as a kid but I use to pretend to read it. Ed’s somewhere in the middle.
We then spent some time talking about how music became each of their lives. Holly started violin at a young age took it quite seriously. At music school, she said it became more something she wanted to do because you are forced to be so absorbed in it. The environment is so competitive. I asked if she ever felt burned out and she mentioned a ferocious Russian teacher she had for a time that pushed her to her limit. She’s thankful for it now but at that time, she was practicing nearly 7 or 8 hours a day. Ed heard Metallica for the first time when he was 14 and was instantly drawn to playing guitar. Later on, he became obsessed with utilizing the practice rooms that were available 24 hours a day during uni. He’d go in at 10pm and leave at 6am, spending his hours playing the piano. Olly also started music at an early age, being coerced into piano lessons and not enjoying it whatsoever. Later he took up saxophone which too lost its luster. Finally, his brother picked up a guitar which struck a competitive chord in Olly. Before he knew it, he was in his first band:
Olly: My first band I joined was with Ed’s brother, Rob. This band called Man Vs. Blender. I didn’t name it, we joined the band with this guy Adam and we managed to kick the guy Adam who founded the band out. Adam was the singer initially and I kind of became the singer when he got kicked out. I literally commandeered it.
MFL: Have all of you had your turn in different bands or is the first time?
MFL: Do you like being in a band Holly vs playing in an orchestra?
Holly: Yeah, it’s more my sort of performing. I think what I don’t like about classical music is the rigidity. My parents were very funny at first. My mom is very into classical music. She was like “Why are you not playing with the London Symphony Orchestra?” But then she came to see us play and she really loved it.
They then bantered back and forth about how much of a fan Holly’s mom is and how she’s created a devoted collection of 50 and 60 year old women who are great fans of Van Susans back in Scotland :o)
MFL: Olly and Ed, do your parents support your music?
Ed: No. They’re never like “I think you should leave the band.” I just think they’re totally indifferent. I think my mom thinks I’m a kind of rock star.
Olly: My mom is really into it. She comes to a lot of the shows. My dad was really into it but he passed away a couple of years ago. He was very supportive. He was kind of the main reason I kept on going with it. At university, I did marketing and at that point in my life music was kind of a hobby. After two years, I’d come back home and that’s when we started the band. Not as a serous think and my dad got really behind it and he said we should really do it. That’s one of the main reasons why I stuck with it.
Finally, we chatted about a big festival they were getting ready to headline called Towersey. That festival was at the end of August so hopefully I can speak to them again and can get the scoop!
MFL: How often do you play gigs?
Olly: Varies. At the moment we’ve played a lot of gigs, it’s festival season. The gigs come a plenty. But in the winter you space out the gigs, you want to keep the fan base going but you don’t want to be “gigging” all the time. We just love playing though so we try to do open mic nights not really advertise so people don’t know we’re there and we’ll pick up fans that way. We try and get to other cities around the UK, too and not just stick around London. It varies with the season. We have a really busy August. We have this massive festival in the end of August. It’s in Oxfordshire. It’s called Towersey Festival. They’re giving us the headline spot after these two massive bands called Stornoway and Bellowhead! It’s quite terrifying they believe in us so much!
Big thank you to Olly, Holly and Ed for taking the time to chat with me and their patience in releasing the interview! It’s been sitting on my computer unedited, waiting for a day like this where I could sit down and revisit it. Thank you also to their manager Claire Rozario for setting this up!
Keep your ears peeled for Van Susans’ upcoming full length! Music For Lunch will surely let you know.