Leeds’ Vessels have managed to impress a great number of people with their follow-up to 2008’s White Fields and Open Devices. Helioscope is a stunning record, and one worth checking out if you’re into the likes of Mogwai and bands of that ilk. If what I said about the album hasn’t convinced you, then have a read of what guitarist/vocalist Tom Evans has to say of their record, and what went on behind the scenes.
The Only Thing I Know For Sure: Hello Vessels, how are you all?
Tom Evans: Very well thanks. Chuffed that the response to the new album seems to be mostly positive!
TOTIKFS: It’s been a three-year gap between White Fields and Open Devices and Helioscope. What have you learned about Vessels as a band in that time?
TE: We’ve learned that actually we wanna make music that people can dance to. Not ‘dance’ music as such (Lee produces proper techno under his full name Lee J. Malcolm), but music which is danceable whilst still retaining enough of a cerebral quality that you can listen on headphones in your armchair and enjoy it all the same. This doesn’t apply to all of the tracks on the new album — there’s a few ambient numbers on there and I suspect they’ll be some on the next one as well, but that’s definitely the general vibe in camp Vessels right now.
TOTIKFS: Having taken your time recording Helioscope, there must have been a lot of inspirations and ideas that developed throughout the course of recording. Care to share?
TE: We spent the first year and a half pretty much going down musical dead ends — we were still trying to write all the music through developing jams into full compositions, which can work sometimes but is pretty arduous and frustrating when it doesn’t work. We ended up with about 25 or 30 ideas that we were convinced would be the basis for the new album, but in the end none of them made it on. It’s not that they weren’t any good, either — they just weren’t exciting us in terms of direction. It was only when we started demoing all the new music as we wrote it that we started making real progress. Just having the capacity to have an idea, record it, listen to and evaluate it within minutes sped the process up massively. With jams the same process can take hours. We still jammed together to get ideas and inspiration, but when it comes to putting the composition of the tunes together, demoing is definitely the way forward.
TOTIKFS: Just what is a Helioscope, and what relevance does it have to the music on the record?
TE: A Helioscope is a device for looking at the sun, like a pin-hole camera but with a telescope attached. Just as the first album, White Fields… was recorded in snowy Minneapolis, this album was recorded under the scorching sun of a Texan summer. I think the album definitely sounds a bit more sun-scorched than the last-one. Not in a Beach Boys way, mind. It’s definitely more sun-scorched than sun-drenched.
TOTIKFS: White Fields… was a great album, but it did suffer from feeling a bit disjointed at times. Helioscope certainly feels to be a more coherent collection of songs — do you think you’ve nailed the Vessels ‘sound’?
TE: I don’t think so, and I kind of hope not. I agree that this album is more coherent — the debut was basically a collection of the best tunes we’d written up to that point, whereas we definitely tried to approach this as one piece of work. But whilst we’ve got closer to achieving our own ‘sound’ on this record, I would like think that this ‘sound’ is fluid and constantly changing, so I wouldn’t want to ever ‘nail’ it.
TOTIKFS: How did Stuart Warwick’s (who sings on lead single ‘Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute’) involvement come about?
TE: He’s been a friend of ours for several years now and we’d watched him as Jacob’s Stories loads and always been blown away. We’d been chatting about a collaboration for ages, and it finally came together with this track. He came to Leeds for the weekend and wrote and recorded these vocals onto the demo version in one afternoon, the talented fella that he is. We then took the data files of his voice and dropped them onto the final mix, et voila!
TOTIKFS: Given that Vessels originated from that instrumental-esque, post-rock vibe, what was it like working with John Congleton, who has already worked with some big names in this genre?
TE: The reason we initially contacted him was after hearing his work on the Explosions In The Sky and Appleseed Cast albums, and it was a shot in the dark so we were surprised that we ended up with the opportunity to work with him. He’s great to work with though — very understanding of the need to be in a good mood to make a good record.
TOTIKFS: How much did his experience influence the direction you saw Vessels going in?
TE: His ability to make massive drums sound even more massive was an important factor in us choosing to work with him again. In terms of influence on Vessels’ direction, it was probably the fact that we loved the records he made and they influenced us by being so awesome!
TOTIKFS: Who’s behind the fantastic artwork that features on the cover of Helioscope?
TE: An artist called Luke Drozd (lukedrozd.com), who has done all of our artwork and T-shirt designs since our second 7″ single. The story is just a nice bit of synchronicity, really – I’d been talking to a friend who’d been working for a planetarium at the festivals last summer, and when describing it he said: “They also have a helioscope… well, solar-telescope actually, but helioscope sounds cooler.” This was at the time we were trying to think of album titles, so any cool sounding words were instantly added to the list of potentials. A few days later, Luke sent through sketches for album cover art ideas, his favourite of which was a massive hand setting fire to a city with a magnifying glass. The combination of name and image were far too good to resist, and he really pulled out the goods for the final design. The vinyl album looks truly beautiful.
TOTIKFS: As a relatively small band, it’s interesting to see you embrace the internet for promotion purposes. What’s the idea behind giving away tracks for free, and using platforms like Soundcloud to get your music across to new ears – do you see this as essential to getting as many people listening to Vessels as possible?
TE: Definitely. There’s a million bands vying for your attention, and why shouldn’t people have the chance to hear some of your music before deciding whether they like you or not? If that means giving it away as a free download so people can spend some time with it rather than just streaming online, then that’s fine. Hopefully enough people will like it enough to buy the album or come to our shows, and help us clamber out of debt once again!
TOTIKFS: Leeds really has a stunning output of bands at the moment – Chickenhawk, Pulled Apart By Horses etc — where’s all this talent erupted from? What’s the kinsmanship like between the bands in the scene?
TE: There’s been more great bands in Leeds than I could count for as long as I can remember. I’ve known some of the guys in those bands for nearly ten years now. There’s a lot of mutual love and cross-fertilisation — when one good band splits up, two great bands appear from its ashes. Someone once told me that LS6 has the highest population density of musicians in the country, and that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
TOTIKFS: What’s in store for Vessels for the rest of the year?
TE: We’re touring Europe in May, and hopefully will play somewhere outdoors this summer. We’ll probably play some more shows later in the year as well.
TOTIKFS: What are you looking forward to most throughout the rest of the year?
TE: Probably utilising our awesome new studio space to start writing album number three! We’ve got some ambitious ideas brewing in our bonces, and we can’t wait to try them all out!