Interview with The Veils

Matt Poole interviews Finn Andrews of The Veils

London, England’s The Veils have been brandishing their pop-noir offerings to great acclaim for the better part of 13 years. At the heart of the band is Finn Andrews, who has waxed poetic on some rather grand scale themes over the course of 4 full length releases. Indeed – love, death and religion are mainstays of Andrews songwriting. Their 5th and latest LP, Total Depravity, is set to release in late August of this year. It is the bands darkest and most abrasive record to date – one that saw them hook up with unlikely collaborator EL-P for much of it. We caught up with Andrews as he was getting in late from a casting for the video to the second single off the record, “Low Lays the Devil.”

Northern Transmissions: Hi Finn, thanks for doing this! You’re in London now shooting a video?

FA: Yeah, we’ve been in a sweaty little room in London with all these dancers. Its for “Low Lays the Devil,” which will be the next little single.

NT: That sounds great. So I imagine you’re getting ready to head out on tour pretty soon then?

FA: Yeah, we’re rehearsing all through September and then the tour will start mid October. We’ve got a few European shows and then over to North America.

NT: Ok, so how many dates?

FA: Its fairly slim for us actually. We’re away for about a month and then we go down to Australia and New Zealand after that for the summer down there.

NT: You travel a lot, don’t you? Born in London, grew up in New Zealand. You guys even lived in Oklahoma for a stint with the Flaming Lips. Do you like traveling, or do you sort of lament the fact that you have to jump all over the world all the time?

FA: I really um…its just always been such a large part of my life. It wasn’t just as simple as being born in London, and moving to New Zealand – I had my Dad here (London) and my Mom there (NZ) so it was a year or so in each and ping-ponging back and forth. And as soon as that wasn’t an issue anymore, I joined a band, so it just sort of carried on that way. I guess I must like it or I’d stop doing it.

NT: Do you have a favourite place to visit, when you’re not touring or working?

FA: I don’t really go on holidays. Im not really good at hobbies or having any sort of life outside of music. I haven’t actually been that many places that weren’t for touring. You’re sort of spoiled that way I guess, its a nice way to travel. I went to Morocco with my Dad a couple of years ago which was one of the only times Ive been somewhere without doing a show or anything. That was great, we did a drive around, but I felt a bit useless…I didn’t know what I was meant to do.

NT: Right, you just sort of float along…

FA: Yeah, usually you’ve got the show in the evening to save up your energy for and sort of structure the day around that. NT: In that case, do you have a favourite place you like to go back to and play?FA: Yeah I guess thats the sort of upside of not really having a “home” is you kind of have lots of sort-of homes. We’ve made three records in California now so theres always a nice feeling of familiarity there and we’ve never actually lived there so the novelty hasn’t really worn off. Um theres a lot of places in Europe…

NT: The world is your home.

FA: Yeah its nice, though its becoming more and more difficult to feel that way these days. Theres more and more borders and difficulty.

NT: Theres weird stuff going on all over…

FA: Yeah.

NT: Ultimately you’re based in London though. Safe to say you do most of the writing in London, or at least most of the philosophizing in London?

FA: Haha, yes. For most of my deep thought. I mean we had a studio in east London for the two years we were writing the record so this record really began in London. Thats the first time Ive really had a space of my own to go to everyday with all the equipment set up and everything. That was pretty huge. I think that had an effect on the record, we had a lot of time to experiment and dick around in another little sweaty room.

NT: What is the culture or scene for music like in London? Is it competetive? I feel like being from North America we’re always kind of like ‘who’s the next band to break out of London?’

FA: Hmm, we’ve always had a kind of a strange relationship with it here because we’ve moved around so much. We’re perceived as an English band but then, kind of not. Sort of like when I was in school we were a New Zealand band in England or an English band in New Zealand. I always felt more in common with a lot of the Kiwi bands. Most of my friends in bands were from New Zealand or the States. I don’t actually know that many people in bands from London. Its very young here it seems. I remember when we first got signed I was 17 and I felt like sort of a part of something then, but it moves very quickly here and its all based around London – like the rest of the country doesn’t factor into it at all – the fashion, the music.

NT: Right, thats what I find interesting, we’re all waiting to see who’s going to come out of London which is weird, obviously the country is more than one city.

FA: Yeah and most of the interesting music of the last 30 years has come from places like Manchester or other places that London doesn’t seem to have a lot of interest in. I’m sort of cynical about it here really, I think Ive been here a long time, and its so fucking expensive people are just hanging on by a thread. Once I go to other cities I become much more away of people hanging out and playing together and having a “scene”. Our friends in California seem to have that a lot more. Ultimately Im probably not the person to ask – Ive never felt like part of an English music scene. I think we’ve always had more in common with North America than here.

NT: You recorded Total Depravity all over the place by the looks of it. Was that actually the band going to New York, LA, Portugal, London or were you more sending stuff off to different people in these different places?

FA: Yeah we recorded everything as a band in London, and then I was sort of just taking stuff to different people in between tour dates. Like EL-P, we were both on a massive tour and he had a little studio in Porto and we sort of found time to come together there and fuck around with some tracks the band had recorded. Then I took some to LA to work with Adam Greenspan and did the same thing there. I was kind of just shepherding these hard drives around all over, in a stressful kind of way. It was glamorous for about 20 minutes or so but ultimately its hard to keep moving around and keep the vision intact. Usually we just go into a room as band and make it there, so this was a very different process this time around.

NT: Did this have a big effect on the outcome?

FA: Yeah it went through some huge changes. Some things got taken out, and entirely new things added, it was constantly in flux. I loved having that much time and freedom to sort of just think about it. The downside of going into an expensive studio for three weeks is that it just has to be done and thats it. I always really hated that feeling. There are occasionally some nice results with the pressure but generally I like to take a little longer so this was great. We could just keep playing around with things. A lot of the songs I didn’t know how they would end up until the day they were finished and they suddenly became clear. I really enjoyed that actually.

NT: You’ve worked with producer Adam ‘Atom’ Greenspan before. You haven’t worked with EL-P. What did he bring that was new and different for you guys, because on paper thats kind of an unlikely pairing.

FA: Yeah, its insane really! Initially it was just an interesting little experiment which I didn’t think would really lead to doing the majority of a record with him. It was just a rare opportunity I suppose to work with someone from a very different sort of background in music I guess but who really loved the band, to a really incredible degree. We were talking about lyrics on previous records and the different approaches and he knew every record inside out! It was interesting and a very rare thing. I think if I had been thrown in a studio with a predominantly hip-hop producer who didn’t really give a shit about what we did it would have been a disaster. EL-P was really just trying to find a way a bring something different out of us and to still be respectful of what is good about us, not just trying to throw his weight around – which is something Ive always been conscious of with producers. It felt like a collaboration more than him “producing” us. And we just loved so many similar things. It came very naturally. We made Axolotl first, and within a day that was done. So that was an easy first step. We just carried on.

NT: The record comes across as thematically darker than pervious records, the album art is dark and creepy, the name Total Depravity is pretty unapologetic itself. Was this a conscious direction or just sort of the way that it came out?

FA: I think growing up, pretty much everything I listened to people sort of told me it was dark music or depressing or whatever but I never noticed anything that dark about it. It was just natural, so I dunno. Certainly the colour palette is pretty limited shall we say…NT: I guess when I say dark, I don’t mean downtrodden or depressing, but maybe more aggressive or abrasive. Brash. Maybe even a bit more confident?FA: Well we’re a band thats been on the brink of collapse really since its inception. Sort of constantly falling apart and bringing it back together. I think there was certainly a feeling with this one that this might be the last. They’ve all felt like that to be honest but, because we’ve been without a label for a few years. Theres always been dark elements to our work I think, but I think maybe we indulged it a bit more this time around.

NT: The cover art is by a pretty well known Italian artist Nicola Samori. How was that chosen, are you just a big fan of his work? It’s a pretty striking visual.

FA: Yeah its always scary when you find someone you want to work with, and you never know – I mean we’re not Coldplay – we can’t offer people shit loads of money to do things. So I found him and I was “Ohh God” you sort of feel depressed as well as elated that you found this guy just incase it doesn’t work out. But he was such a dream and was totally up for it, so it was great. He sent through a bunch of stuff through his archive and that was the one that stood out for me. I knew as soon as I saw it that that was the cover, so it was great to be able to use it.

NT: He is a notoriously hard guy to get a hold of too…

FA: Yeah, he was actually really prompt with us! I think he’s just up for interesting collaborations so it was good, kind of in the spirit of the record as well.

NT: Is it still exciting to head out on tour, or is it kind of daunting? Obviously you’re probably pretty excited to give some life to these new songs on stage?

FA: Yeah, God…its all I’m thinking about really. I think as soon as you exit one phase of this you anticipate the next. It’s whats getting me through the days really is thinking about the tour and planning it. It’s strange as well, I think we’ve only played one of the songs on the record live before so they’re entirely kind of um…unplayed. So its a huge amount to work through and figure out. But to see it come alive in that area, its the best thing. It will be interesting to see how it goes. And to have five records now to be able to go back to and change things up, Its really exciting. And touring always sort of feels like a family reunion of sorts, gets everyone back together and thrusts them into sweaty little rooms all over the world. It’s a nice thing. The best thing really.

NT: Your shows can look pretty intense and cathartic. Is it exhausting or maybe relieving to sort of exorcise whatever that is inside of you? Is getting harder to bring that to the stage every single night?

FA: Yeah, I never thought about it until recently, it was on the last tour, I think we did 30 shows in 33 days and I was just completely destroyed at the end of that. We had to cancel the second to last show, I just couldn’t sing – like nothing would come out. I was just kind of like “fuck we’ve got to think about this”. But we looked after this dog recently, and we would just throw it this bone all day long, and it would just keep bringing it back and it was so happy to keep doing it until it would just start limping because it didn’t know how to stop. We were like “oh maybe we should stop throwing this bone..”. Playing shows, it always feels like that really – I just keep going until its time to stop. Id gladly go round and round and just keep playing shows. They’re really physical. Theres really no way of holding back. I guess the older get you have to sort of be smart about it and pace it a little more. But other than that I’ll just keep bringing the bone back forever.

NT: Theres a large cast of “characters” on this record and some of them are pretty big names. Was this a record that was written sort of under a guise of characters or did you just assume roles to play out something more personal?

FA: Yeah no, they certainly all come from more personal places. They’re just of sort interesting way to extrapolate ideas I guess. Ive always liked doing that, putting yourself in someone else’s mind. An expectant mother, a flock of birds, an evangelical preacher turning into an endangered Mexican salamander – these all seem like valid ways to get my point across. I guess because I like writing stories, and I think of these as stories as much as songs. But they all come from pretty personal experiences. Some more direct than others. But it’s always me.

NT: I have to touch on the really cool fact that you’ve been cast on the new incarnation of Twin Peaks. How did you meet David Lynch?

FA: Um, I met him at his house. It was just “another excellent thing that happens in California” sort of thing. One of the songs was recorded at his house, called In The Night Fall, the second to last song on the record. So we were recording it there and ran into him, and played him the record and it was great.

NT: You knew he was a fan of the band, and he’s used your music before…

FA: Yeah, yeah he’s great. You know, we’ve been such fans of him for so long, to have any sort of um…encouragement from him, it was just the coolest coolest weekend, you know? To hang out with him and shoot some stuff for that. It was great.

NT: How were you approached to be on the show?

FA: He asked us through Dean Hurley who produced In The Nightfall. We’re sort of not able to talk about it, about what we’re doing really. That’s what sucks, I’m not allowed to get into it. I’ll get thrown into some sort of strange David Lynch prison or something. I don’t want to be there.

NT: Thats a hard secret to keep. Finn, I appreciate your time. Good luck with the tour and the album.

FA: Ok! Cheers mate.

Interview by Matthew Poole