When The Vaselines formed in Glasgow, back in 1986, Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly certainly didn’t imagine that they’d split up right as their first album was being released, or that Kurt Cobain would cover their songs. And they probably would have laughed at the idea that quite a while further on in the future, they would still be recording and wind up making one of their best albums. But it’s all true. V for Vaselines has great, deceptively simple fun songs and sharp lyrics. It’s more than an excellent follow up to 2010’s Sex with an X, it’s a fast ride all on its own. The Vaselines are now out on tour, and Northern Transmissions threw on a motorcycle jacket and raced to catch up. Alice Severin talked to Frances about the new album, the image, and who should cover a Vaselines’ song.
Northern Transmissions: Hello Frances, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. How are you?
Frances McKee: I’m very well, thanks.
NT: The cover for the album, V for Vaselines is a great shot, atmospheric yet slightly weird in a good way at the same time. What made you choose the image for the cover, and do you ride motorbikes?
FM: Eugene’s brother Charlie came up with that look and I happened to have a fringed biker jacket and Eugene likes wearing hats. We did think it was time to not have us on the front cover but we are in our prime, sending ourselves up a bit – giving ourselves one last shot. We don’t have or ride motorbikes, this one was borrowed from our friend Craig Hamilton. My friend Bonar took the photograph and sadly that cover was rejected by our almost new American label. It was a deal breaker for them so we went with the cover shot! So, glad you like it!
NT: Apparently the new album was inspired in part by The Ramones. High Tide Low Tide definitely has that fast and quick feeling. What made you decide to go in that direction? And did you feel like it was a milestone when you heard the news about Tommy Ramone earlier this year?
FM: We just wanted some 2 minute songs that did the job. And yes, it’s sad that the last remaining Ramone passed.
NT: How did you and Eugene meet, and what do you think has kept your connection going for all this time?
FM: I used to see Eugene on the bus to school. We have known each other for a long time and The Vaselines is like our unruly child that needs disciplining once every few years.
NT: One Lost Year has an upbeat feel, which makes the somewhat serious lyrics very ironic. How did that song come together, and who played the great guitar part? It’s got an amazing sound, a sort of space age country folk mix. The guitar on Number One Crush is standout as well.
FM: Scott Paterson from Sons and Daughters is responsible for the solo – it is great. Usually Eugene has a riff and then I come up with some starting lyrics or vice versa and we take it from there to work out a structure.
NT: When you and Eugene work together, how do you split up the songwriting? Is it pretty harmonious or do you argue about what you each want?
FM: Yes, it seemed to split fairly easily on this record. I would often start the lyrical content. And, no, we never argue. I just do what I’m told. I know my place. 🙂
NT: The line in Inky Lies “obsession with strangers’ lives and twisted lies” seems to point out the problems with people reading gossip, believing the Daily Mail point of view. Do you think that the media and celebrity culture are breaking something down in society, in the way people see each other?
FM: It’s just another drug to take to escape the grim reality of life forced on us by an oppressive governing system. No one has any money except a select few so it becomes hypnotic to view wealth through the lens of celebrity culture.
NT: I’ve got to ask you about the recent vote for Scottish independence. Glasgow voted for independence. What did you think of it, and what do you think it means now for Scotland?
FM: Scotland will never be the same. The Labour Party is over in Scotland as they chose to align themselves with conservatives and became their donkeys, doing their dirty work. The Scottish nationalists and Green Party are starting to gain more power as a consequence of the referendum.
NT: Kurt Cobain and Nirvana famously covered three of your songs, Molly’s Lips, Son of a Gun, and Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam. Who would you want to do a cover of one of the new songs, and which song would you pick for them?
FM: I think U2 should do a cover of “The Lonely LP”.
NT: You’re going to be touring the new album – Japan next week, then Europe and the UK next month, then America in January, in the new year. It’s a pretty big tour. What keeps you going when you’re on the road?
FM: Well, if I get to practice yoga I’m pretty chilled out. I read a lot and have rekindled my interest in astrology so will be dipping into some books on that.
NT: And – five albums that still inspire you.
FM: That’s a tough one.
Non Stop Erotic Cabaret – Soft Cell
Bee Gees’ 1st – Bee Gees
Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch
When I Was Born for the 7th Time – Cornershop
The Idiot – Iggy Pop