When I was much younger, I often used the word “transportive” to describe songs that had a certain effect on me. Those little gems that evoked a certain mood or allowed me to get lost in the music and transcend reality, even if it was just for three short minutes. Such is the case lately with Veil Veil Vanish. The melodic, mesmeric songs of the San Francisco-based quintet brim with layers of intricate guitars and beguiling vocals, and fondly recall a generation’s childhood favorites and beyond such as the Cure, Killing Joke, Ride, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. Equally as absorbing are the band’s live performances; full of energy, emotion, and singer Keven Tecon’s remarkable dance moves when he’s not busy slinging guitar.
Veil Veil Vanish, whose name stems from the notion of one’s identity being lost in city life, formed in San Francisco in 2006 and self-released their debut EP Into A New Mausoleum in 2007. Their recent full-length, Change in the Neon Light (Metropolis), is one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard this year, and with just those two releases under their belts, the rising group has been steadily winning over critics and fans alike, especially those with post-punk, dark wave and shoegaze leanings, and even some of my jaded friends who have, until now, “just ignored all of the new new wave and post-punk stuff.”
The band includes Tecon (vocals, guitars), Cameron Ray (guitars), Robert Marzio (drums), Amy Rosenoff (bass) and Justin Anastasi (keyboards). I caught up with the charming bunch in Brooklyn during a recent East Coast tour.
Let’s get this one out of the way first — are you sick of the Cure comparisons yet?
Keven: Erm [laughing], nah, I think it’s okay. I think it’s a point of entry into the music. A lot of bands, when they first start out, get compared to other bands, so I think that’s just natural. But I don’t think our album sounds that much like the Cure. Maybe the first song on the CD sounds the most like a Cure song, so I think that probably doesn’t help with the Cure comparisons, but I think that once people start to get more familiar with us, it will be less and less.
Justin: I doesn’t help that we were on a Cure tribute album either [laughs].
To me your sound seems like a blend of all the genres that I loved before, ‘80s post-punk and some dark wave stuff, ‘90s shoegaze. Was that much of an influence?
Cameron: Shoegaze was all I ever played. Slowdive, Ride, early Catherine Wheel. I’m even a closet Oasis fan [laughs]. I think they’re pop geniuses.
Keven: Yeah, definitely. We all have sort of a mix of a lot of influences. Justin is really into early punk and minimal synth stuff. Amy is really into pop, and it’s kind of a combination of all of those for me. So, yeah, a lot of those bands do have a lot of influence on us, but we definitely want to do something a lot more modern. Instead of being a retro band, we take a lot of those influences and try to push it further and make something that has some of the aspects of some of those bands but is a lot more current.
Were any of you Killing Joke fans? Your song “Detachment” is one of my favorites, and that one, as well as “This Is Violet,” reminds me of Killing Joke’s “Darkness Before Dawn.”
Cameron: We didn’t think anyone was going to like that song (“Detachment”) [laughing]. I think you’re the first person that’s ever referenced Killing Joke with us.
Justin: I’m a big Killing Joke fan.
Keven: It’s hard not to like Killing Joke, especially that first album. It was so good.
I haven’t listened to the Cure much recently, but the “The Upstairs Room” from the Japanese Whispers EP was one of my childhood favorites and hearing your cover of it on Perfect As Cats: A Tribute To The Cure reminded me of when I discovered that my mom actually listened to my music. She would sing along to “The Walk” and actually knew the lyrics. What made you choose that song?
Keven: We were going through a lot of the songs trying to figure out what to do, and we decided we wanted to do something that wasn’t completely ingrained in everyone’s mind, something that people would accept a little bit more interpretation of. So we decided to do the b-side to “The Walk.” When I was listening to it, I thought the song was beautiful but kind of unfinished. It sounded almost like an unfinished demo of this amazing song that no one knew, or that not everyone was super familiar with, like a diamond in the rough. So this was kind of our chance to finish it.
I read that Robert Smith liked your version as well.
Keven: We got an email from him and his manager saying he really liked it, which was great. We changed a lot about the song structure, and when we were reworking the song, we didn’t really have in mind that Robert Smith would be hearing it.
Cameron, I wanted to ask about your guitar style. I read somewhere that on Into a New Mausoleum, the parts that sound like synthesizers were actually your guitar. Were you influenced by Robert Fripp and the Frippertronics style at all?
Cameron: Not so much. I started getting into effects when I first heard Cocteau Twins. So when I was younger what I wanted to do was try to duplicate that sound, but there was no internet or anything like that, so I just kept buying pedals and buying effects trying to figure it out, and over time I just got washier and washier. So I’ve actually scaled back quite a bit. I used to have about 15 pedals, and now I only have five.
But now you have a keyboard player in the band.
Keven: Yeah, so on top of having the guitar effects we have more sounds, so we can have more textures. I don’t think any of us are particularly big prog-rock fans though.
Cameron: It’s so much fun to be creative with all those effects.
I also read in another interview somewhere you thought that San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York have a tremendous amount of really great energy for music, and I wanted to ask about that.
Keven: I think I said that [laughs]. Of course it’s not only those three cities, every city has its own amazing qualities. But I think it’s just the network of bands and music that we’re a part of right now. It seems like a lot of it is from those three cities and is kind of intertwined with a lot of clubs. Justin actually runs a few club nights in San Francisco and is a DJ there also. So there’s a lot of similar people…, like guest DJs from those cities who travel around and play a bunch of those nights, and a lot of the same bands know each other from those cities. So there’s a network between those three cities that I think is kind of exciting.
I’ve always been more into the music scenes in the UK and Scandinavia, but over the last couple of years there have been some really good American bands, which I find interesting.
Cameron: It’s about time, dammit! [laughs]
Keven: But a lot of it is influenced so much by a lot of the British, German and French scenes.
Justin: It goes back and forth, keeps trading, and that’s good.
When you started writing Change in the Neon Light, did you intend for it to be a concept album, or did it just kind of happen that way?
Keven: It kind of just happened that way as I was going. “Change In The Neon Light” was the first song we had. I was driving around San Francisco at night and looking at the city, and all these ideas came to me so I started writing the lyrics. I was driving and with the other hand I was writing lyrics on the back of a newspaper that was next to me in the car – I still have it. That song kind of inspired the direction of the album. It wasn’t all totally planned out, it just kind of ended up that way. But that song was definitely the catalyst for the rest of the album.
It’s very socially aware, socially conscious.
Keven: Yeah, I mean, I thought it was a time to write about it. That’s what was inspiring me as I was thinking about it. It’s definitely not an introspective album. There’s some of that, but it’s more social commentary — kind of about city life and things that are changing right now. It seems so selfish in a way to write like some kind of really introspective album right now, so it was a conscious effort to not do that. Also, with this album the lyrics are a lot more straightforward than with the EP. The EP lyrics were a lot more ambiguous. With this I felt like I had something to say. I have a tendency to try to mask what I’m trying to say, but with this I purposely made an effort to make it simple, kind of direct and a little less flowery with the language. But I think there’s still humor in it, a certain play on words. Certain songs will have some really humorous lines mixed with some really poignant ones, like “Detachment,” where some of the opening lines are like a dichotomy of playful naïve lyrics with some of the most straightforward poignant lyrics on the album. I thought that was fun. I’m not sure how much everyone picks up on all of it – it’s hard for me to tell, I don’t know.
I do a bit. I’m really bad at remembering lyrics, and for me it kind of depends on the band and the music. With Veil Veil Vanish, I’m really moved by the music, so that’s what I focus on and then I’ll listen to the lyrics later.
Keven: Well that’s great, and that’s what I wanted to have. The music is there and you can listen to it, and the songs are kind of catchy, and you can hear the vocal melodies. If you want depth, it’s there, free to find. So, it’s not pushed on you, but if you want to go further into it, it’s there for you, and you take it at that level, or you can take it at a surface level and be happy that way too.
I’ve listened to “Detachment” on repeat quite a few times and I love the vocal melodies and the backing vocals, especially the lower, kind of underlying vocals on the chorus.
Cameron: That one had like 20 vocal tracks, but some of them were pulled out.
Keven: I did all the vocal tracks on that one. We did a lot of experimenting with melodies on the album that we didn’t do on the EP, which was more straightforward and where we had a mood we stuck to. It was fun to try, and an interesting experiment, to kind of mix what we’re doing and these social aware lyrics with pop music.
How long did it take you to write and record?
Cameron: Total tracking was about six weeks. We went to Los Angeles, spent two weeks there in February 2009. Johnny Marr’s new band, the Cribs, had studio time booked where we were, so there was a fun crossover, and we hung out with Johnny Marr for a while. It was totally cool to meet that guy! But he had the studio booked for the next three months, and we had to wait three months to go back to finish the record. The entire process from beginning to end took about twelve months between mixing, tracking, mastering and actually getting it released.
So what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Keven: We’re trying to do another West Coast tour and we’re hoping to get to Europe, so we’ll see how soon that happens.
I missed your show at CMJ last year, but it was at another CMJ show where I first heard you when the DJ, James Minor from Blacklist and Mahogany, played one of your songs between sets, and I went over to ask him what was playing.
Cameron: So CMJ was a success [laughs]. We had a lot of fun on that trip, and we didn’t even know we were playing it until a couple of weeks before.
–Teresa Sampson, Photos by Tear-n Tan