27th November 1999: Venini are in dressing room 2 of Shepherds Bush Empire, 60 minutes away from opening for Sparks. We join them as Debbie, Nick, Russell and Ash (the mysterious Bob is characteristically absent) are getting themselves slapped up...
Nick: I'm putting this make-up on to
hide me wrinkles. Did you know about that Sturdy? Brassy
(support act at the Camden Falcon gig)'s been dissing us.
Russell: Actually, that was funny - they said we were
putting make-up on to hide our wrinkles, and I'm the only one who doesn't
wear make-up, and all you lot are younger and prettier than I am. What's
going on here? Do you want to know the background to
that? Right. Dressing room smaller than this (ie small), we
were the headline band, and Debbie was getting changed. Now you open the
door to the dressing room, and there's the bar. When Debbie was getting
undressed, the tour manager was standing outside going "You can't come
in", so unfortunately that meant that Brassy - and our own drummer - were
prevented from getting into the dressing room. Then Brassy were sort of
making out that we'd banned them from coming in! Nonsense.
Debbie: They're sort of at war with us at the moment,
Russell: Which is a shame, cos I really like
So how did you get this gig with Sparks then?
Debbie: Good booking agent.
Nick: Yeah, well we just got a call from their manager
saying that they liked us. Everybody loved it apart from me, cos I didn't
understand who they were - I didn't grow up on this Sparks
culture. That's why I'm not as warped as
Venini started with you and Russ, Debbie. How did the two of you
end up working together?
Debbie: Well, I sort of knew him from ages back. I met him in
this really cool club in Paris, and we started talking. I was in the
shittest band in the world and he knew this, and he said he wanted to do
something and I did too, so... Oh, that's so boring isn't
it? Ugh! Anyway, we made Venini. Venini was born!
What were your ambitions at that point? You started writing stuff
together - was it always your intention to become a band and take
over the world?
Debbie: Yeah. I always wanted to, but in the Midlands you've
got a choice of either death metal or... er...
Ash: Death metal.
Debbie: Death metal, yeah. So the lyrics didn't fit -
they just sounded odd with the music. When I was singing with Russ, it
just seemed to fit and felt right.
Nick: Imagine Amsterdam Sam to
Debbie: I've got a version of that. I played him
(Nick) a tape of my old band the other day, cos he's a
promoter, you see. I was saying "Listen to this tape of this new band,
they're from the Midlands right, and they're brilliant!" and he's just
sitting there going "It's shit."
So were a lot of the lyrics to the Venini stuff from songs you did
with your old band then?
Debbie: Just one of them - Amsterdam Sam.
Don't think I've heard that one yet...
Nick: You'll hear it tonight. We did it at Glastonbury - went
down like a lead balloon.
Debbie: Mmm. (laughter)
So how did you get involved Nick?
Nick: When I were putting bands on and stuff, I got talking to
Russ. I knew he'd been in Pulp and I wasn't into Pulp that much - I just
vaguely knew him as this scary geezer. He approached me and I thought, shit,
what does he want? He asked me if I knew any good musicians knocking
about because he wanted to form this band, and I said "No, but if you want
me to play bass or drums or whatever then I'll play anything you want me
to." I didn't play any of these instruments at the time but I blagged my
way into it, and I've just been enjoying it ever since.
What about Bob?
Nick: I used to work in a supermarket, and I got talking to Bob
because he had this really cool haircut - kind of like Clint Eastwood
times 15, way out here (gesticulating). I just got talking
to him because he looked a bit different than your average Netto
supermarket shopper, and I asked him along to this session we had cos we
needed a drummer.
(Charlie Collins enters the dressing room.)
How did you get involved, Charlie?
Charlie: Oh, I've known Russell for years.
(Charlie pours himself a very large whiskey and leaves.)
I suppose Danny joined at around the same time...
Nick: Yeah. Russell knew Danny because Danny was a big Pulp
fan, and he knew him as this cool kid who had all these analogue
Debbie: He was in the Babies video as well, wasn't
Nick: Yeah. So we just roped him in.
Did you sound different at the start to the way you do now?
Nick: Just a bit looser really. It had a lot of good moments,
but I think we're really starting to find ourselves now we've played
together for quite a while. At first the songs were all written between
Debbie and Russell, but the longer we've all had our influences on it, the
more we've kind of bonded.
I suppose that's why when you first went out, you didn't try
to make any big splash - you were doing secret gigs and stuff.
Nick: Yeah. Although that first one we did, at Warwick, was one
of the best ones we've done.
Debbie: That was really good, but Le Citrus last month
was the best ever.
Then after a few months of being underground, you did Mon Camion. Were you happy with the
way that came out?
Nick: I think the production lets it down quite a lot. Compared
to when we play it in clubs, it sounds a bit quiet, not very
emphatic. The new version we've done for the album is a lot, lot better
than the single.
Debbie: Yeah, it's a lot more ballsy. On the single, it
should've been this big glam-rock stomp but it was a bit Stereolab.
Nick: Nothing against Stereolab, but that wasn't what
we'd anticipated going into the studio. But it's a good version I think,
when you turn it up.
When you went public and started playing gigs, the reviews
sort of ranged from bewilderment to complete...
...scorn. Were you surprised by that?
Nick: No, not at all.
Russell: It's not entirely true actually, because we got
a lot of good reviews from sources that weren't big papers. Basically
there was a bit of a watershed - people who were over 25 and thinking
"Well what can I refer this to" would have rather cynical views of it,
whereas people writing college mags would go "Wow." So our best reviews
are in things like the Gloucester Evening Argus. (laughter)
Debbie: iD as well, they gave us good reviews. Style
mags are really into us. It's just the NME and Melody Maker that think
Nick: People on the streets, I think, actually dig it
write good things about us. It's just people who aren't on the streets,
going to the same clubs in London.
Debbie: People with no aspirations!
Do you think any of the criticism is justified?
Nick: Well yeah, definitely. We ain't got no
charisma. Without a doubt. We haven't got no fucking songs! (much
Russell: I think some of it's justified. With Mon
Camion, there were some criticisms about the production. And Carnival
Star, much as I think it's unfair and snidey and trivial, they were
slagging it off as kind of being too Pulpy or too Blondie-ish. And it's
not the most stunningly original song in the world. I happen to think
it's a great song, but we kind of knew we were setting ourselves up to be
shot, you know? We knew we were going over the top with something we
could actually get shot down with, and we kind of knew it was coming. So
some of it is a little bit true, but we thought we wanted to get that... I
don't know, it's just bloody-mindedness, saying "Okay, shoot us
down". Because there's more to it than that - if you're not a cynic,
and you're 18, and you hear the song, I think there's a potential that it
might say something to you. If you're saying "Oh, what does this refer
to?", coming with lots of baggage, you can pick it to bits.
Debbie: Yeah, but if you pick that to bits then you can
pick every single other song that's out at the moment to
bits. Stereophonics, Oasis...
Russell: What I'm half-tempted to do is - the Melody
Maker wrote a terrible review of us, saying how derivative we were of
various things, and I would've liked to have said, "Okay, let's get every
band that's been on your front cover in the past year and get some serious
fucking musicologist on this. And let's just pick it to bits like
that." You know, if you're going to criticise us for that, Oasis have got
no right to exist. If you're going to say Carnival Star can't exist cos
it's too much like Blondie, then you rule out the possibility of
any music, because everybody's used a C chord
before. It's like Picasso used blue, so it's derivative to use blue -
forget it. It's ridiculous.
Nick: It's like using octaves on the bassline - Blondie
didn't get slated for ripping off Sylvester or Chic. I mean it sounds
good, so why not do it?
Russell: We've binned songs because they've been too
derivative. It comes from yourself but it ends up sounding like someone
else - a bit like this, a bit like that. We've chucked dozens of songs
away because it was too much like somebody else. So it's a bit
Some of the press criticism's been directed towards your
lyrics, Debbie. How would you respond to that?
Debbie: Has it? Nobody told me
this! (laughter) In what way?
Nick: (imitating whiney journalist voice)
Not as good as Jarvis!
Someone took the piss out of "dress me up in Gucci", I think.
Debbie: Oh yeah. That's bollocks though - it's just because
it's not going "I'm on the dole and I want to wear this fucking horrible
holey jumper". If you want to wear designer clothes and sing
about that, you're not allowed to and you're music's shite because of
it. And that's bollocks, I think.
Russell: I'll stick up for Debbie's lyrics. I really,
really will. I'll stick up for the line "dress me up in Gucci" - I think
it's one of the best opening lines of any song ever. It gets up right up
your nose - it gets up my nose, for God's sake. It's in-your-face, and
it's just... you know.
Compared to Pulp, Russell, you've changed your guitar approach
quite a lot. The whole thing with Pulp was you'd sound quite clean and
sharp, without many
effects. And now you've got eight pedals in front of you, you're playing acoustic on a couple of songs... what brought about the change?
Russell: There was a lot of noise going on in Pulp, and to make
something in Pulp it had to be quite trebly and toppy. So my role in that
was to kind of provide the gargoyles on the church, whereas I'm now rather
stuck with playing chords and grainy textures. It's whatever serves the
needs of music, really.
Is that the same reason why you don't use the violin anymore?
Russell: I'd like to, but nobody plays chords. I
mean, (pointing at Ash) his keyboards are monotonic.
Ash: I play chords! We were talking in the studio the
other night about using the violin.
Russell: Yeah, I mean I've got no aversion to playing
the violin, I like playing it. But this is different, it's gone its own
What happened to Danny?
Russell: He read the reviews, I think. (laughter)
No, honestly - I mean, Danny was very much "Please let me be a bigger
part of this band." We were like, "Hang on, you've got your other
projects..." And Danny's like a free spirit, I think he's ace, he's very
cool. He was going "Why aren't I more a part of the band, why aren't I
in more of the photos", and after those reviews it all changed. It might
be all coincidence, but that's when he stopped pushing.
How did you get involved, Ash?
Ash: I've known Nick for a couple of years. He played me some
of the material and asked me if I wanted to come and play. We had a
rehearsal together and I've been playing with them ever since.
How did Carnival Star do? Before it came out you were talking
about how it was a bit more commercial than Mon Camion...
Russell: Indie top 30. The distributors think it did really
well because they thought it was going to get completely swamped, and it
kind of did okay.
Debbie: I thought it did all right considering that
(former press agents) Coalition... well, we had no press.
Russell: There wasn't a single review of it in the week
it came out, as far as I'm aware.
Debbie: There was one in iD!
Russell: I think we've reached the limits of what we can
do with our own label. The thing with Carnvial Star was that there were a
lot of ways in which it could've been a lot bigger: make a video, which Jo
Whiley would've played apparently, HMV wanted to put signs up about it,
but it cost money, so we had so say we can't do that. We'd reached a
Your whole operation's been quite self-contained so far - you
don't have management, you've got your own label... Why did you choose
Russell: Because nobody was offering. And to go find
something isn't easy.
Nick: Especially in the position we were in - we were
still developing in ourselves, so we weren't in a position to find a major
label and go "Take us", because we didn't even know where we were at the
time. We still don't, really, but we've gelled more as a unit.
Russell: I mean, you must've seen us evolve to a
certain extent, from Glastonbury (June) to Leeds
Debbie: Yeah, I've moved from a nervous Stars in Their
Eyes contestant to... what am I now, what stage would you say I was at
Nick: A classy tart.
Debbie: (referring to a review elsewhere on this
site) Scariest woman in pop music.
Nick: (correcting her) In indie.
Russell: Who's the scariest woman in pop music?
Nick: Her from Steps, with the big massive
mouth! (General consensus and big-mouthed impersonations from all
Debbie: She isn't scary. I could eat her.
So. What kind of audience would you say you were reaching? Who's
the typical Venini fan?
Nick: Straight fringe. Feels sorta different with regard to
Steps, Stereophonics. Just someone who's looking for something
that isn't self-indulgent and wants to say, yes, this is what you can go
for, this is a different lifestyle. Just go for what you want sorta
thing, you know what I mean?
Debbie: Also, I think we appeal to people that were into
Shampoo and people that were into early Manics, Placebo...
Russell: We're picking up marginal goths.
Debbie: I think it crosses that thing because it's got
something for everyone. I know you don't like the word kitsch, Russell...
Russell: (aghast) I don't like
the word kitsch!
Debbie: But I think it's got elements of kitsch in
it. (Russell begins spluttering in a fit of impotent rage)
Shurrup! And I think it's got an element of darkness as well.
Nick: The new song in particular.
Debbie: I'm not saying it's completely kitsch...
Russell: I don't know what the fans are like
really. That fringe thing that Nick said...
Nick: It's sort of like between Belle & Sebastian and
Debbie: That's like saying you're between Steps and
Russell: There's this huge yawning gap. Basically
you're 13, you're into all the bands you're supposed to be into - boy
bands, post-Spice Girls, whatever. But maybe you're 16 and you're getting
out of that, and there's the rather boring tail-end of Britpop, with this
rather worthwhile stodgy stuff - someone in the press said "the
hod-carriers of Britpop". There's that, but in-between, there's nobody
out there, going out front and prepared to make a fool
of themselves. You know, Gay Dad were prepared to make a fool of
themselves and I like their audience... We're picking up marginal goths,
which is a bit odd, and there are piercings in the audience...
Debbie: I've got a piercing, d'you want to see it?
Nick: Oh don't get it out Debbie, it stinks.
(Debbie proudly displays her shining ring)
What are your ambitions now, then? You've done the album, what
can we expect from you next?
Russell: We've got this box of decor - lights, vibes, smells, masks, things
like that, and we'd like to take a venue over and make a kind of club
night. I would love it if we could take that kind of club tour on the
road. We've got DJs who want to do it, like Francophile-type
people. We'd do the Venini club tour, and the club isn't bangin'
Nick: ...continental, cool, sleazy pop, P-funk...
How big do you want to be, then? Are you planning on
world domination by 2002?
Debbie: I don't think we'd take over the
Nick: We'd upset too many people who either hate us or
Debbie: I don't think America likes that French-y,
Russell: Japenese girls like Photograph, and you can
kind of see why.
I've had quite a few people emailing from America actually, asking
how they can get hold of the single.
Russell: The thing about America is there's this really intense
subculture - the mod clubs in America are a damn sight more modern than
the mod clubs in England. There are subcultures that would completely dig
us. I don't know, really. We just do our stuff and hope people like
it. I'd like to break into Europe though - Italy would be nice, because
nobody seems to really break Italy.
Artery broke Italy!
Russell: You know about all that, do you? You
trainspotter! They were one of those bands who never got recorded
What can we expect from the album? Is that finished
Nick: We've still got the mixing to do - it's all recorded.
Russell: It's kind of like Carnival Star in that it's a
live album. There's nothing on it that couldn't be played live. There's
a few retakes, but the body of of it is actually recorded in one
continuous take. You can hear the plugs being unplugged between songs -
it's very very live. And so far it sounds bloody marvellous, to my
ears. I'd like to sit back and listen to it a week later, but it sounds
great at the moment.
When's it coming out?
Russell: When do you want it?
Russell: Well it's not finished yet...
Nick: Last week in January, ish. Although it'll
probably be a few weeks after.
Russell: I like the idea of the first minute of the new
millenium as a release date, but... We've got quite a bit of interest
picking up in the band now from actual music biz-type people.
Are we looking at a major deal?
Russell: No. And I'm not really concerned with pursuing
that. We've realized we have to deal with what our natural constituency
is, really, and build it from there. And that's happening - that's the
most encouraging thing.
You've mentioned before that there are certain things happening at
the moment in a similar vein to Venini - the phrase you used was something
like "new shoots emerging in music". Who would you say were your
peers? (pause) Gay Dad?
Russell: They were the first people over the top who got gunned
down, and maybe their content wasn't quite strong enough to do it.
Nick: Rachel Stamp. Are you aware of them? They're
cool - wicked album. Who else is there? Add N to X, Clinic...
Russell: Yeah, they're good. There's a Wakefield band
called Dolium who've moved to Sheffield, I think they're very
good. They're the only band in the country I'd be scared to go on stage
What's happening in Sheffield at the moment? Do you see
yourselves as a Sheffield band?
Nick: Kind of. We live there, we're influcened by what's going
off there, but we're on our own, do you know what I mean? We don't follow
anybody's leads in Sheffield because everybody there's so singular.
Russell: But that's the way it's always been in
Sheffield. There's never been a Sheffield sound - there's always been
that experimental edge to it. There's the All Seeing I and Moloko who
I've got a lot of respect for, and there's the hint of possible
collaboration with them. All Seeing I want to do a remix, and they'd
written a song for us on Pickled Eggs and Sherbert which we ended up not
doing because we didn't want to get too associated with anyone else at the
Debbie: Seafruit? (wry groans from
Nick: Yeah, we hate Seafruit.
Debbie: We don't hate them Nick. We just think they're,
Russell: These new shoots - I just believe that they are
there. I believe that there are people who've grown out of Steps and
aren't boring enough to be into the tail end of Britpop, and actually want
that thing in between, which is to go and see a band that makes some noise
and has got some personalities in it, and goes out and takes a
chance. Unfortunately there are precious few bands doing that. Every few
years you get the "Oh, every music with guitars in it is dead and will
never exist again because it's been replaced by superior technology" and
of course it's nonsense. There's nothing like the charge of an actual
live band who can look like utter idiots if they get it
wrong, going out there and if you catch them on a night when they get it
right then it's good.
Any final message for your fanbase?
Nick: Keep digging the new vibe.
Debbie: You can't say that! You sound like some ageing
'70s fucking rock star.
Nick: It's the new vibe, man!!
And with that, we left Venini to get their wigs on and their teeth in. See elsewhere on this site for a review of the show...