Disclaimer – this interview was originally written for and published by Scotcampus in January 2016.
The Vegan Leather are a four piece from Paisley that make infectious, experimental pop. They have branded their genre as ‘art pop,’ and while that phrase may make you think of Lady Gaga, there are only moderate similarities between the two. Their penchant for colourful, coordinated outfits onstage, attention to detail, unflinching talent and banging tunes have enabled them to amass a confidence that commands attention. The Vegan Leather are a band that look to go far next year and they’ll be taking their all of their energy, synthesizers and lipstick with them.
Could you introduce yourselves and tell me what you do in the band?
Marie: I’m Marie, I play guitar, synths, percussion, sing; basically just whatever they want me to do.
Matt: I’m Matt and I play bass.
Duncan: I’m Duncan, I press buttons and hit things.
Gianluca: I’m Gian, and I’m the overlord. No, I’m Gianluca and I play guitar, keyboards and sing.
So give me a bit of background about your band – how did you all meet?
Gian: Me and Duncan met a long time ago at the Loud and Proud rock school in Paisley, back in 2008. From then, we kinda formed a stupid, garage rock band. Then from that came something slightly more serious, I dare say, as a two piece drum and bass band. We played dubstep and a lot of dancey drums and keyboard. So that was cool. We still consider it band, but it’s on super hiatus. In 2013 I started making music by myself with the sole production and writing the songs. Then I played two gigs under ‘Vegan Leather,’ and it was just me playing keyboards and drum triggers. After that, me and Duncan were on a night out in Propaganda and I went up to him and asked him he wanted to start another band. We knew Matthew anyway, so we started playing with him. At that point, it was a very different band. It was very spacey, kind of warp-y, kind of proggy. We had one heavy pop song. We played as a three piece for about 11 months, and Marie had sung on our song Days Go By, which we put out in the June of 2014. After that we thought ‘Marie’s great, let’s get her in the real band,’ so we started playing as a four piece from November 2014 onwards, and that’s how we all came together. As a three piece though, that’s when we started writing more poppier songs with…
Matt: Something you can shout along to.
Gian: Yeah and now we are still kind of this pop outfit but we want to keep the progressive aspects there.
Then why did you make the shift to pop in your sound?
Matt: A lot of people did the spacey vibe [at the time] but we wanted to go for something poppy, that no one’s ever heard before. Something that we can comfortably say is that there isn’t anyone playing songs like us. We’re very unique in that way.
Gian: I’d say crowd reaction as well. There was a transitional period where we were playing half progressive, spacey songs and half were pop songs, and people would love the pop songs. So we thought, ‘let’s just write more pop songs,’ but let’s keep our integrity a wee bit but still keep it interesting.
Where did the name ‘The Vegan Leather’ come from?
Gian: It’s a pair of trousers that I have from Topman that I got a few years ago. They’re fake leather, and just thought it was really cool. I’m a vegetarian myself but ‘vegetarian leather’ didn’t roll off the tongue as well. So I used that and it stuck.
You cite some of your influences as being Radiohead, Warpaint and bands similar. Are there any influences that you have as individuals that you bring to the band?
Matt: I’d say we have our own influences and we have our own vibe to the instrument we play. I’ve – it’s cliche to say – but I listen to a lot of Chili Peppers and a lot of Muse, and their bass players are incredible. I studied jazz and jazz standards for a year to two years so I love improvising, and Gian has a lot of cool chords that I can improvise around.
Gian: I love chords!
Matt: He loves chords. I bring that rocky, improvised jazzy bass.
Marie: I’ve been doing solo stuff before I joined the The Vegan Leather, with Duncan actually. It was more indie/folk. I think our sounds are so different, but I think with my voice – it brings the playful, girl/boy, Belle and Sebastian, dancey kind of vibe.
Duncan: I think I’ve gone through the same transition that Gian has, because I’ve known him for so long and we’ve always been in bands together. From playing heavier stuff, to playing poppier jazzier stuff, to where we are now to this whole poppy funky kind of vibe. My biggest influence right now is Bernard Purdie just to name one.
How was the recording process for the material that you have just now?
Gian: Essentially, we went in with a few songs already written from when it was a solo project, so there were only a few ideas floating about. Quite DIY, aren’t we?
Matt: Gian would come up with fully fledged idea and we’d bring our edge to it. Now we’ve been a bit more collaborative.
Gian: More in the recent times, I’ve been the sausage meat and the band have been the filter. I’m the baccy, they’re the skins. The rest of the band structure the songs better than I do. The material we had, if we go back to the [This House] EP, the recording process of that was that we had the songs together from sessions. It was a long period of recording because it was sparse and done in bits. It was mostly recorded in my house because Matthew and I are both engineers, so it was easy to do high quality stuff by ourselves and not have to pay anyone for it. I think we all really enjoyed having such creative control over it because we’ve all got really big ideas.
Matt: Us having that knowledge – well, Gian more than me – of engineering and using programs to make music, we have a great control over. We don’t have to record stuff and send it away to another guy in a studio to record us. We have control of the timbre, the sounds and everything that goes into the song. Which is really, really important.
Gian: Though, sometimes, you come across a really beautiful person who can totally channel what you’re after and do it better than you. That’s what we found with Lewis – Gardiner, from Prides – when he mixed the single (This House). It’s the same song, with the same stems and recording and all that, but he just mixed it again.
Matt: He made magic on it and it’s fucking brilliant.
Gian: It’s brilliant. Big up to big L Gardiner.
At a show you played in Broadcast, there was a point during your song This House where everyone got down on the floor then jumped up. Where did that come from?
Gian: I’ve been to two Slipknot concerts.
Marie: That wasn’t even us.
Matt: I think a couple of our friends started going down, and I just thought, yeah, we’re gonna harness this. So I just started motioning for people to get down. Then it exploded.
Marie: It was mental.
So that’s never happened before?
Matt: Nope, never happened!
Do you think you’ll start to include that in your set now?
Marie: It was kind of a spontaneous thing.
Gian: I just depends if it’s appropriate or not. Obviously we always go wild and have a rockin’ time but it’s just when the crowd are that into going mental.
Marie: That was a late night gig as well.
Gian: So everyone was out of their face, so that was great. It was quite special.
I’ve noticed that you guys are specific with your style, at that show you were all wearing pink, and your graphics on your EP and single both keep with the pink theme. So, why all the pink?
Gian: Kate Miller did a lot of the graphic design for the band, she designed all the artwork for the EP. When we were getting everything together for it back last March, we asked her if she had any ideas for this? She heard the songs and she just went “pink,” and that’s all she said. And pink’s cool. The 1975 are like big fans of us, so they started doing it. We picked it because it sticks out. It’s beautiful.
Gian, you’ve also been known to wear lipstick onstage. Any particular reason behind that?
Matt: We’re massive KISS fans.Gian: Make up in the show has a theatrical element. It doesn’t really mean anything, it’s not really a deep thing.
So you’re not making a statement?
Gian: Well… maybe I am.Duncan: He is, he just doesn’t know about it.Gian: Make up’s just make up. It’s flairy, it’s not tramp make up. I am not a tramp. I’m not a wee tart, right? It’s just a bit of theatrical, a bit of flair.Matt: It gives a bit of edge to the live performance. I think people could be like, ‘Why is he doing that? Oh, but the music’s good.’
If you were to try and sell your band to someone that’s never heard you before to come to a show, what would you say to them?
Duncan: The drums are good. That’s not an easy one because no one really knows what to call us. We call ourselves ‘art pop’ but…
Matt: Basically, there’s no one in Glasgow like us. There’s no other band that’s doing what we’re doing. So, come and experience it.
Marie: You can definitely hear loads of individual influences, and there’s so many instruments on stage. It’s always good fun. I always say that I have so much fun when I’m playing, like it’s not serious.
Gian: That’s what people have said, seeing this band is just straight up fun. That’s what we’re trying to be. Maybe not so much that we’re marketing ourselves to be like LMFAO, like a party band, but like Arcade Fire type of fun, where there’s lots of people trying to jump about and stage dive. It’s big poppy. Cool pop, though. No one’s ever kissed anyone at our show though, that’s a guarantee. We’re all VL’s.
Now your EP and single are out, what’s next for the band in terms of recording and gigs?
Gian: We’re just writing constantly at the minute. We’ve got another single in the works, so we should have it out in 2016 at least. Probably not another EP, but most likely remixes. That’s something we’re really into – doing remixes for other bands. We’re currently working on ones for Miaoux Miaoux and Strawberry Wine. We mixed the Static Union a few months ago. I think the more constant thing that will be coming from us will be remixes I imagine. As far as original material goes, maybe another two singles.
The Vegan Leather are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud and probably more social networking sites because they will inevitably take over the world.