VENINI the interview
BorrowOrRob webzine, summer 1999
'WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE FRUIT, AND WHY?'
"We've got these postcards in the new single that ask the fans, 'What's your
favourite fruit, and why?'." Nick, the bass player and manager of Venini's
record label reveals with an air of conspiracy. "We've got lots of
merchandise ideas and eventually want to find a way to send the fruit to
The three matching be-suited figures look casually at the replies they have
received so far. One of them is Russell Senior, the once Pulp violinist with
the legendary stare and a fetish for sunglasses. He now seems to have taken
the role as the guru of the band, songwriter, guitarist, producer and
general Director of Art. Robert, the drummer, says nothing for the next 40
minutes. The fourth male member, Danny, the keyboard player who runs
Liverpool's sixties nightclub, Liquidation, is absent. This adds even more
allure to the claims that he is the "fanny magnet" of the ensemble. A lone
female, Debbie, sits looking effortlessly stylish on the fur couch. As an
ex-model, lyricist and the frontwoman of the band, she is to become the
object d'art of the male contingency of the Venini fanbase.
They sit in a room adjacent to their rehearsal studio that is decorated to
suit the members' acquired tastes; a corner of sixties minimalism, with a
bit of glam and just a drop of kitsch. The location is part of a warehouse
that seems otherwise devoted to metal-works and joinery in Sheffield. "Have
you seen this, someone's put 'Banana: because it reminds me of someone'!"
Nick laughs loudly and the others join in. Russell gives a slight smile.
They find this smutty humour stranger than the fact they actually asked the
question. And, after a short period of time in their company, you realise
that they are right. Welcome to the Venini mindset. Believe me: it will all
make perfect sense with time. And a lot of effort on your part.
'WE ARE ALL MOTHS'
Venini make a striking first impression because to them, first impressions
are important. They want you to be able to look at them and know exactly
what they are about. This is why the location is so important. If this was
London you could mistake them for being fashion-conscious upstarts. But in
the industrial North, how they look is a badge. A sign that they belong to
an eclectic group of people; the gorgeous ones who stand at the back of
Suede gigs, the skinny-boys in suits and eyeliner in the mod clubs, those
with the expertly home-dyed hair and the forehead-skimming fringes. And if
you still don't know the type of people being addressed, then you will never
quite get Venini. "I quite like Marilyn Manson since he went all Glam,"
Nick reflects. "Some Mods seemed to have got into him recently... that's our
new movement, Mod-Goth. We are all Moths."
'LADS WEARING EYELINER'
If the truth be known, Venini are possibly the most post-modern band yet.
After releasing only one single - Mon Camion - that reached 20 in the indie
chart, and supporting Rialto on a few dates last year, they realize that
music alone isn't enough; people want a whole package deal. Their very
specific audience wants to feel that they are part of a gang in a time when
the rest of society feels so alienating. Debbie continues, "We want to
appeal to people who are scared to get dressed up to go to concerts because
they're going to get beaten up on the way there - lads wearing eyeliner and
that - so that they can do it and come and see us. Hopefully then they would
have found a band that they can relate to."
Venini offer a shelter to all those who thought that Gay Dad would be their
new musical messiah, only to realise they were more preoccupied with the New
Musical Express. But to Venini, the audience plays an integral role. "They
have always influenced me," reflects Russell, "with the fruits for example
and what clothes they are wearing."
Ah, those fruit again. And more importantly another theme that dominates the
Venini bubble: style. They may offer a social club for the outcasts of life,
but there is a very strict dress code that goes beyond no jeans or trainers.
"In the music scene at the moment the bands that are taken seriously are
the ones that aren't that conscious about their image," the effortlessly
sleek Debbie states, "but you can make good music and you can look good as
Russell, who incidentally is wearing a suit so well pressed you could cut
your finger on it, takes up this point. "We've got some hardline approaches
to things. In the style and presentation, what proportions of colour are
used and the spacing between letters follow a certain rigour that we decided
upon in advance. We are, if I can use the word without bad connotations,
'MUSICAL ABILITY WASN'T PART OF THE EQUATION'
If any other band talked in this way they could be immediately dismissed as
needing more matter and less art, labelled as pretentious and sold to Japan
at a discount price. But there is nothing fake about Venini, they are
genuinely moved by aesthetics. It is visible in every part of their persona,
and by osmosis it seeps into their music. "Personalities make music. Musical
ability wasn't part of the equation when making up this band," Russell
agrees. He looks to early Roxy Music as a template to the kind of success
Venini want to achieve: "At the same time as being totally advant garde
they were also totally pop.
"I hate the idea of having to choose whether you are indie and obscure but
have credibility, or you are cheesy and pop with none. The real fun, the
real art, is to be both at once. When you do that it's very easy to trip up
and look stupid and you give a lot of ammunition to those who wish to rip
you down in flames.
"If you're standing up there very stridently as Debbie does, people can rip
you to shreds. But I like that, I like the boldness. That speaks directly
through to members of the public. And that means more to me than getting in
'A SMALL CORNER SHOP COMPETING WITH SAINSBURY'S'
It is clear that here we see the business side to Venini. Their well thought
out ideas on how things will be done show just how serious these people are.
Nick, who runs their own record label, Bikini, says that making the decision
not to sell their souls to the majors was not a soft option. "I wouldn't
recommend anyone to do it. It is a massive learning curve. More downs than
ups. The day to day running and meeting deadlines, chasing everybody up..."
Russell continues, "It's like being a small corner shop and you're competing
with Sainsbury's. You have to pay more because you're small, and it tends to
make everything more expensive. You can press up 5 or 7 hundred copies and do the
'sell them to your mates' thing or you can also do the 'we signed to a major
record label' thing.
"What is hard to do is try and sell a few thousand records on your own label
and try to get across from just your mates and people in like-minded bands
in bed-sits. When you do that you come to a glass ceiling. Steve Lamacq will
play people who do their own 7" single in a brown paper bag, but if you try
to do it semi-properly it's not so easy."
'THAT'S JUST MY ATTEMPT AT ATTRACTING FRENCH MEN!'
It is only now that the whole issue of Venini's music comes up for
discussion. And it does make you question just how far up on the scale of
importance the actual music rates. Their debut album is currently in mixing,
and the previews of the material at Glastonbury seem to point at a
continuing French theme. "That's just my attempt at attracting French men!"
comments Debbie of her multi-lingual singing. So has this proved successful?
"No we haven't had one! I don't speak French; I get people to translate it
for me. There's also Russian as well."
However, the first single, Mon Camion, seems to suffer somewhat from... er...
"Yes, the production is terrible!" a guilty Russell winces. "But the song
still has a certain winsome charm. When we did it I had 'Smells Like Teen
Spirit' at the side and I wanted it to be bigger than that, and it was. Then
it all went wrong somewhere! I don't know what the hell happened, some of
the EQ fell off and it ended up lighter than air like a fluffy marshmallow.
And the other track, St Tropez, is alright," he rightly defends.
HASTENING... SLOWLY... HONESTLY
It is this honesty that prevents the band from becoming caricatures of
themselves. They are too self-aware to become victims of their own hype, and
so they avoid it altogether. "Well we had the chance of having a video on Jo
Whiley, but we weren't ready. I don't want to be on the cover of NME before
we've got 10 fans," Russell contemplates, "I think that hype is good and I
think it's fun, I enjoy that anticipation. But it's not right for us. We're
cool and cool is important to us."
For this reason the band are choosy about whom they will tour with. This may seem
ridiculous for such a new band, but as always they are right, "We've got to
find the right band to tour with," Nick demands. "I mean imagine if we
supported the Stereophonics... Gordon Bennett, could you see us playing to
COOL CLUBS ARE... COOL
Venini are looking to do a support tour in September, "But we are willing to
play any cool clubs," Russell adds. So, what would constitute a cool club? "A place that will allow us to come in the day and decorate it, bring our
trunk of stuff and make an atmosphere, a party.
"We try and enclose the place so that you are either through the curtains or
stand at the back and just listen. And it's all colour co-ordinated."
By being so selective of whom Venini want to make up their audience, it
would be easy to suggest that they will never have a wide enough appeal to
survive. However, as Debbie reveals, the response the band received in
Glastonbury – hardly a decadent Venini setting – was promising, "A lot of
people seemed to be getting into it. We thought everybody would be sat down
and that there wouldn't be many as it was in the morning. There was more
than were watching Gay Dad at the end of the evening."
And Russell should know how an outsider band could become tabloid fodder
from his Pulp days. This year Venini played Glastonbury. "There was us
playing bottom of the list in the new tent and Jarvis singing karoake in
another." A wry observation from Russell who is still friends with his
former associate. It's only a few years ago that he was part of the now-legendary Pulp headlining set. Now there seems the distinct feeling that
Russell has to pay his dues all over again but there appears to be little
regret and interested anticipation. Indeed, Venini itself seems to be a
reaction to when Pulp wandered from their original blueprint and Russell
left. "Not a response, no, but I have drawn on that. Now it can be faster
because I know to avoid wallowing about wondering about a mistake for six
months. Now I just do it for two days. That experience is useful but it is
not the same kind of band." This is a fair point. Whereas Pulp glamorised
the seediness of gutter-level life, Venini take you as far away from the
bedsit as you can get in three minutes of pop, to a totally distant Rivera.
AND THIS IS VENINI?
They don't just want to sell you records, but offer you a timeshare option
in France, or indeed Russia. They know the kind of people they want to
attract, and merely provide the backing track for the chosen few, as Russell
says, "You make a party, supply the food and drink and let people have what
fun they will have. I like that because you're putting people in a situation
were they will just express themselves and something will happen."
This, ladies and gentlemen, is not merely about music; that is just a
by-product. This is a lifestyle. And therein lies the real art.
(c) BorrowOrRob Ltd 1999, 2000