Venini interview


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, aren't they?
Russell: Which is a shame, cos I really like Brassy.

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 Debbie.

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 thrash!
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.

Some Veniniblokes, yesterday (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 synths.
Debbie: He was in the Babies video as well, wasn't he?
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...

Nick:
Wank.

...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 we're shite.
Nick: People on the streets, I think, actually dig it and 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!

An uncharismatic band with no songs 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 laughter)
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 annoying.

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 way.

The Huntmeister 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 glass ceiling.

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 that approach?

Less scary than her from Steps with the big massive mouth 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 (September).
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 now?
Nick: A classy tart.

Rock dominatrix!

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 concerned)
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 the Stereophonics.
Debbie: That's like saying you're between Steps and Briteny Spears!
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' hardcore, it's...
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 world...
Nick: We'd upset too many people who either hate us or love us.
Debbie: I don't think America likes that French-y, European thing...
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 properly, unfortunately...

What can we expect from the album? Is that finished now?

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?

Now.

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 with.

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 time.
Debbie: Seafruit? (wry groans from everyone)
Nick: Yeah, we hate Seafruit.
Debbie: We don't hate them Nick. We just think they're, erm, average.
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?

Debbie:
Umm...
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!!
Debbie: No!

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...
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