This interview with Mike Vennart - ex Oceansize and now solo musician - means for me something different from all the other ones I’ve already published, because, in this case, I feel totally involved by the birth, growth and the affirmation of the artist concerned.
Years ago Oceansize impressed me a lot after the launch of the record Effloresce (2003). The listening of the album got me excited and I was surprised to find cool and powerful a debut which would have introduced a great band, whose frontman was a left handed musician, Mike Vennart, who has been Oceansize’s singer, guitarist and spirit.
From the first approach to this music you can expect long and impact tracks carved in marble, melancholy and full arpeggios textures, tight and broken rhythm, climax which could be situated in a marvellous non-lieu suspended between rock and a not too row metal, glam rips, as well as angolar and unpredictable riffs.
Oceansize was a great group and when they broke up, after the album called Self preserved while the bodies float up (2010) my first question was “And now what is Mike Vennart gonna be doing?”, because – without taking anything away from the other members of the band – it was evident that Mike’s talent couldn’t have been left by the roadside.
Absorbed in the British Theatre project, with an EP of three tracks on the assets, that he has realized together with Richard “Gambler” Ingram (who was already with him in Oceansize) and being engaged as essential collaborator of the last Biffy Clyro, Mike Vennart is now expected with the launch of his first solo album foreseen for May. I’m sure that this record will be something interesting, because this is the first son of an innovative artist whom you can’t place in any rock areas condemned to infinite repetition.
The song called “Infatuate”, which anticipates the record’s coming out, is very promising and it shows Mike’s development towards another direction.
Sincerely, in an era that continues to promote the launch and the consolidation of market phenomena of incredible crassness, as well as the affirmation of false indie heroes, Mike Vennart’s return with his own pressing, "Demon Joke", it’s a news that should give comfort enough to everybody. So I invite you, in case you haven’t done that yet, to discover a musician whose intrinsic qualities live in a concrete sense of being a musician for real. An artist who’s able to approach and develop different ranges of music with the same intensity, without having any derivative crush with a distinct identity. I’ve never believed that going forward together with a single band was supposed to be a prescribed path. So the broken up of Oceansize is to be welcomed as the emergence of a new phase for Mike’s career and not as a melancholic goodbye. I also invite you, having read this interesting interview that Mike has given me, to consider the etherogeneity of his listening and the value of this eclecticism which was clear and unavoidable. Inside his answers figure Iron Maden (that cheers me up) and Black Sabbath Ozzy-era, in addition to the great Talk Talk, but you’ll also read about Henry Cow, a brilliant group of Rock in Opposition and about Lightning Bolt, one of the noisiest, most technical and incredible band in the world. Not to mention Faith No More and Mr.Bungle. That’s very good indeed. Listening to other musicians is a quality owned by a lot of gifted artists, and this is this case of Mike Vennart. A limited taste instead is the first sign of a narrow-minded approach, only focused on its own proposal.
By listening to Oceansize and British Theatre it’s easy to imagine echoes of different suggestions, continuous curiosities and an essential originality which is the factor necessary to seduce.
And now, finally, Mike Vennart goes by himself.
In order to buy a copy of his new record, all you have to do is to visit the website http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/vennart and choose the kind of medium you prefer. Sharing fully one of Mike’s answers, that is to say “Shut the fuck-up and LISTEN”, I guess I’ll choose the vinyl.
Good reading and enjoy this music.
LDP: Talking with you doesn’t mean talking only about Oceansize but anyway let’s start with your original group. What is singularly impressive for us, fans but also anyone very keen on music, is the transitional profile of the project. That’s a kind of rock, surely, but also a kind of post rock without limits to the musical type. Shoegaze echoes, ethereal atmospheres, violent accelerations: it was almost impossible to define Oceansize within the framework of a specific genre. How do you explain that?
MV: That’s fairly easy to answer - each member of Oceansize was interested in fairly different styles of music. As we progressed, our mutual love of certain bands drifted, and we began working almost by process of elimination. I mean, we could only record and release material that the whole group agreed was good, and that meant an awful lot of compromise. It was also, creatively, quite stifling, trying to pander to the completely different tastes of four other men. I think you can hear that by the last album, it’s stylistically extremely varied.
LDP: As frontman and guitarist, you’ve proved yourself to be the catalyst. Your own personal style of playing guitar is very fluent and aggressive at the same time, it’s extremely pure but never artificial. Who are the guitairsts that mostly have influenced you and what kind of sound did you strive to find over the years?
MV: I grew up as quite an academic player, learning note-for-note songs and solos by all the great metal players. After I’d been playing about 10 years, i began to drift away from the schooled method of precision playing and the harmonic rule book and started playing with more abandon and spontaneity. Basically, I got more into fuzz and delay and making a fucking noise. Now I’m not in Oceansize, I’m kinda drifting back more towards flashy playing/soloing, but with a bit more a ridiculous edge to it. It’s kinda tongue in cheek. My favourite players are the guys in Iron Maiden, Trey Spruance from Mr. Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3, Stephen Malkmus from Pavement and Annie Clarke from St Vincent.
LDP: Here is a very necessary question about the atmospheres. Some of the Oceansize’s tracks – I mean “Dead dogs…”, “I haven’t been the claw for ages”, “Walking in the air”, “No tomorrow” – are examples of extraordinary beauty and, most of all, the textures created by guitar are highly suggestive. Naturally, some of the British Theatre’s works also have these qualities. Is there any affective attachment with these somber and emotional atmospheres on your part?
MV: I still love those songs. It’s something that i’m quite aware of, and something i’m actually a little more keen to avoid these days. It’s often said that it’s easier to create a sombre song than it is a positive and optimistic one. I think that’s true. ‘Happy’ music can often just sound garish or cheesy. But there’s a lot of songs on my new record in a major key. I really don’t think i would’ve been allowed to do that in Oceansize. But yeah, often the ‘sombre’ or melancholic sound is one that is so fucking easy to achieve, which is why for the most part i cannot stand the constant deluge half-arsed ‘post-rock’ bands i come across. It’s the most derivative and EASY style of guitar music ever. I find it totally insincere. It’s like Amateur Dramatics. No thought or artistry goes into it. None of those bands will ever say anything that hasn’t already been said - with a greater and more articulate voice - by Slint, Mogwai and Talk Talk.
LDP: Here, in Italy, Oceansize have caused a great sensation. As I’ve been a records seller for twenty years, I remember how many copies of “Effloresce”, “Frames” e “Everyone into position” have been sold very well. Someone thought to find inside them something similar to Radiohead but you went further. Now it’s coming out your first solo album. How much of the Oceansize’s sound is possible to find out in this work and what’s new in it? Would you like to give us a little preview?
MV: I think it’s fair to say that this is very much in the Oceansize vein, albeit without the boring Heavy Metal riffing. It has it’s moments of being heavy, noisy and saturated, but without the masculine, bone-headed riffing to it. I still love metal, but i have to dig much deeper to find the good stuff. So yeah, I’d say this is very much a guitar album. It’s as layered and grandiose and lush as Oceansize was. It’s not by design - I was making a guitar record because that’s the only instrument i can play. This is my version of a pop guitar record. But it’s a fucked up version of it.
LDP: In addition to Oceansize and British Theatre, later you also joined Biffy Clyro. What can you tell us about this last experience?
MV: They asked me, I was delighted and it’s an incredible amount of fun. I love the music, the people and the shows.
LDP: Guitarists aside, by listening to your music, I’ve always wondered what kind of music you’ve grown up with. It seems that you are confortable with so many types of sound that it should be so evident to picture you as an omnivorous listener. Is it so?
MV: Maybe. I mean, my tastes are a little more conservative now, but I grew up on a strict diet of heavy metal. From age 7 I obsessively listened to Iron Maiden and Ozzy-era Black Sabbath. I think Faith No More hit me at 16 and that was my gateway into the weirder stuff. But yeah, I subconsciously try and look for something a little twist in the music. A weird chord or a different rhythm. Only this morning my 2 year old son was listening to the radio, when a band (Super Furry Animals) played a weird chord pattern. He turned to me and said, ‘Is this Cardiacs?’. So I guess he was it, too.
LDP: You’re left handed and I know what it means… I think it’s a privilege to be that! Seriously, do you believe that being a left handed musician may have led to a different approach to the instrument, from a technical point of view? Left players are used to admit some basic difficulties as beguinners. Was it easy, for you?
MV: It was very frustrating as a child as left-handed guitars were even more scarce than they are now. When I was 11 my mother ordered a Squier Stratocaster from Japan for me. Not an easy task in 1987. I still have that today, it’s the best guitar on earth. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but three of the most important and innovative players there have ever been were left handed - Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi and Kurt Cobain. I don’t really think about it much, cos when I look in the mirror I always look right handed. It’s only when I see pictures or videos of myself I think how fucking weird I look!
LDP: Generally when great bands, with very few exceptions, break up, they spread out to thousand directions and the members usually lose track of each other. Here from Italy we’re led to understand that your relationship as Oceansize’s members are still good and cooperative. Can you confirm that?
MV: I’m still very close to Durose and Gambler. The other two don’t have anything to do with me. They like to blame me for Oceansize breaking up. Helps them sleep, I imagine.
LDP: There is much talk of rock music’s health today, people talk about the probable death of compact discs support systems, in addition to considering music download as a reflection of debased quality for works and records, assuming the return of vinyl. What do you think about this particular moment for the music industry? Is there a real crisis? If so, how could it be bypassed in your opinion? Are there any bands that turn you on?
MV: I’m a big vinyl fan. I like the enforced listening experience it creates - ‘Sit down, shut the fuck up and LISTEN’. I also think that vinyl sounds better. It has dimension and depth. As for the music industry, it’s got the same problem it’s always had. It spends money on total rubbish, rips the bands off to a crippling degree and allows the likes of Spotify to run fucking riot.
There are millions of bands that turn me on. This week - Then Thickens, Gaz Coombes, Lightning Bolt, Failure, FKA Twigs, iamamiwhoami, Moderat, Cleft, Deerhoof, Henry Cow, Field Music….
LDP: I want to leave on a high note asking you what else do you like besides music, if you feel like tellin' it..and I can’t help but ask you if you mean to come here in italy sooner or later.. It would be great and you’d make happy a lot of us castaways!
MV: Besides music, I really don’t do anything. I’m a dad so i don’t have time to read or watch movies or anything. I’m still, like most people, a lover of comedy and I derive much pleasure and inspiration from the likes of Stewart Lee, Rik Mayall and Larry David. Anything else I can do/think about is in some way connected to music or the guitar. I’m fucking welded to the thing.
As for playing in Italy, I hope so but it’s pretty unlikely. We won’t be doing many shows this year…
LDP: Thank you so much Mike.
MV: Thank YOU Luca. x
©LUCA DE PASQUALE 2015
Traduzione e consulenza a cura di Manuela Avino