symbols Magazine: So, welcome back to LA. You missed us the last time around.
Ronan Harris: Yes. Indeed.
sM: You were here in 2012 for Automatic in San Diego. I think that was the replacement show.
RH: That’s right! Yes. That was weirdly raunchy.
sM: A little bit, yes. I tried not to be, but what can you do? This album seems to have a more uplifting feeling than the last one, more of a refreshing kind of feel. What’s changed within you for the last two years?
RH: I don’t know. I was in a very happy place after Automatic. We did a big long tour, then came back and I was just exhausted from it. I’d just gotten in a much clearer place. I had a very grueling 2013. There were a lot of things going on in my life that were pretty arduous, nothing pleasant in any shape or form. A lot of changes were about to happen. There were a lot of pent up frustrations, a lot of emotions and a lot of things about the world I wasn’t entirely happy about. But, I was exploring new ground in some respects which some people couldn’t necessarily recognize.
This is just something completely different. They weren’t expecting it; they’re calling “Where’s the hook?” “Where’s the originality?” Oh this is one of those albums. Yeah, it was like people were looking for quick and easy music. It’s a retrospective in a way. It’s very much based on a sort of way that I would have written the track in 1980.
I let it, as you say, I just let it go. I didn’t have a formal plan. I just did what I felt I wanted to do. And, I hoped that it would resonate with other people. Some people it resonated with. I found this lethargic, from the people who were stuck in the past, who want the band to consistently repeat something. I wanted to sound fresh and most people wanted us to go back to a period of process…
sM: You’re not going to have those same memories today. So, for those who were looking for that they get to actually experience it a little bit.
RH: They didn’t realize it. They couldn’t see it. They could not understand and it is actually quite sad. I found that if I were to ever go back and give some of those smaller groups of fans, if they call themselves… Actually I pain to see them as fans because they’re not. They’re stuck in something that isn’t… They want me to be something that I’m not. And, they want VNV to be something it’s not. To be honest, the important thing is the message.
sM: So, why do you make music now?
RH: There’s no difference to why I make music now and why I made it then. If I don’t make music I go mad. That’s quite the only way I can describe it because it’s constantly pouring out of me. Mentally, songs are written in my head. Songs I haven’t even written yet are singing over and over in my head. The Germans have this term “earworm.” I’ve never heard the term anywhere else.
sM: We use it here?
RH: Yeah, but only recently. The German word for ever has always been earworm. German words are creeping into the English language. That’s what’s so amazing. We needed a word like this because we didn’t have something like that.
sM: So this album, as we were talking about before, it’s not really being met with the same enthusiasm as the last one according to some of the long time listeners. Does it bother you? Is it increasingly bothersome for you or are they still just not getting it?
RH: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. They weren’t even listening to it. They were already criticizing it. There were people writing critiques of the album before they had even heard the sound. Where did all this pressure of this expectation come from? I’m very, very proud of it. There is this perpetual problem that the past was always better and I am not like that because it’s only in the future that I see our problems solved. The future is where I’m going. The future is where my hopes and dreams are. The past is living in the past. It’s pointless for me. The future is everything I want. I can’t tolerate a mentality that is so engrained in just having a successful band. We’re bringing a lot of different types of people into the fold and I’m so happy for it. I really genuinely am. I really want them to know that it’s always there and it’s not going to change. But, that doesn’t mean that every single thing that the band brings out has to sound like that.
sM: What do you see for, or hope for in the future?
RH: Oh I have… This year my big project is the Classical album because that was a disaster. I mean it was great. It was just about the greatest moment in my life and the worst one in my life. Greatest in the fact that I’ve never been so overwhelmed and so emotional and it’s been my dream since I was ten to actually perform in the classical orchestra. I was a soprano as a kid. I was in singing competitions and things like that. I kind of discovered it myself in school. My music teacher heard me singing on my own one day, singing a song. She said, “You should maybe learn how to sing, practice.”
So, I went to a singing teacher and
the next thing I know I’m doing competitions or something like that. I love classical music. I love opera. To have the opportunity to play with an orchestra and classical music is like living the lyrics because it’s all being played in a slow and emotional way. I find it really hard to take control of myself and to keep my composure.
I was so emotional like I have never been in my life. I’ve never felt so proud and yet, in a good and positive way, so fragile. I felt I was being torn apart by everything… all the ghosts of my life, all the people and the situations that have inspired the songs … they have been reborn. I lived every second of every element of my life, musically. And, the worst part of it is the song would be over and it would be gone and I would have had that experience. I mean it’s just knowing that I have experienced the greatest, most overwhelming moments of my life and I’ve done everything that I thought would be crap. I’ve always had these orchestral illusions in the music. I’m not going to be able to impersonate an orchestra, so it’s just the idea of one. Better to do that than to try to sound like an orchestra and do it badly. So, I’m working with an arranger who works in all the arrangements for those tracks and working on four more. I’m actually writing one myself, which is quite the challenge.
RH: Transnational, I think, was a very diverse album… very schizophrenic. Yes, I wrote that in a van while driving around on a tour. The track used to be a lot faster. I guess there was a lot of late ‘40s imagery that was playing around in my head, especially futurism… that kind of thing and I just imagined this kind of flash forwardness. The way I described it as what will be gangster rap. That’s how I described it to my girlfriend; she’s like “What?”
And I said, bumblebees, imagine bumblebees doing a gangster rap. She’s like, “Okay now goes the Aeroscope.” Think about it. Basically, telling people how hard it is growing up in the hive, you know, that kind of thing. This is the trippiest crap that goes on in my head.
sM: It’s going to be gangster rap.
RH: Yeah. Bumblebee gangster rap.
sM: So, interesting choice of tour buddies this time around with Whiteqube.
sM: You don’t think so?
RH: No, I really felt vindicated. There hasn’t been a crowd reaction to an act before us like this one.
sM: They’re an interesting duo. I’ve known Jason for a long time now and Ryan is married to a really good friend of mine, so it is nice to see them actually do this. And, they’ll be well received here in LA of course.
RH: You know them personally and you obviously seem to care. I’ve known Jason for a while just through the business. You have to think of the personality you can have on the bus. Everyone’s got to be able to get on. We’ve had some bad stuff that’s just not happened. It becomes a painful, painful process. But, Jason is just right. He’s a responsible person. He’s grown up. He has a vicious sense of humor. He’s so cynical. I’m constantly making jokes about this tour being already down to the dock before it started because they allowed Patties and Jews on the tour. That’s our kind of mutual self deprecation. Dudes just go at each other the whole time about this kind of stuff. This has become our little joke. And I love it. We have a great friendship as well as the tour.
Anyway, the first show we were in the United States and I was just going mental… people want to dance… they’re loving it. They played in New Orleans, which is a notoriously difficult town to play because they just don’t want to hear new music. It’s like for a family.
People are cheering. People are going absolutely ape shit about this. Love it. So, I feel greatly vindicated and I know what I was trying to do.
sM: And, you did it. What are you hoping that people take away from this tour at the end?
RH: A reminder. I think it’s a refresher of a lot of things they already know. I think it has become more potent, but definitely stronger. The lighting guy is amazing. That’s really something. I think tonight takes it up to a whole other level of one show. He’s like a young kid. First night out… I haven’t danced on stage like that since 2001. I have not lost my shit on stage like that. It was injected in like a B-12 shot and said go on get out there. It hit me like some kind of speed darts, whatever. We were having the best time. We were like, “Where was this kid before?”
It’s a bit of an inspiration. It’s like you can’t make up that feeling. You can’t just fake it. He does an incredible job and people are just like, “Wow!” That’s it. That’s really what I love. I want people to remember no matter what the time. They are who they are. They feel what they feel. The music is good for a reason. That’s it.