In Conversation With... The Vanity Project
Words by Angelika May
The Northern theatrical duo known as “The Vanity Project”, whose earthly names as Rob and Flora made their debut with the single ‘Conquistador’ in 2020. Three years later, they have unleashed their inaugural album, “We Never Should Have Come Here”, which imbued the term ‘queer’ with a completely new significance. Through their unorthodox and experimental processes, such as crawling beneath the piano to pluck its strings, the band has cultivated a distinct quality of enigmatic creativity. I caught up with “The Vanity Project” to discuss ‘centrist rock’, the queer self and tubular bells.
Credit: Jamie Chapman
You’ve defined your sound as “queer, freak, pop”, how do you intertwine the queer self/politics into your music?
Flora A large part of the album explores feelings of dislocation, confusion and a kind of anxiety around the self, trying to distance yourself from the heteronormative/cisnormative of what “body” and what a “person” is. Earthbound, in particular, is quite explicitly about the early trans experience, even though I wrote it quite late on in my transition. The politics of the album is generally quite overtly leftist.
Rob We had a guy come up to us once after a gig and say “It's so great to finally have centrist musicians”... which appalled us to such a degree that we’re now trying to be as overtly leftist as possible. Just to clarify, we are not centrist rock.
F A lot of our older material is more explicitly tied to the trans experience. For this album, we wanted to give a wider shot at the injustices of the world.
R Our visual presentation is also very “campy”. We do use the band as a bit of an excuse to dress up and be theatrical.
When writing about these issues, is the intention to process your thoughts or give others something to relate to?
F A bit of both, some tracks were written in a removed position and others in the depths of those depressive states. We’re trying to look at these sentiments (mental health, body issues) from a wider angle.
R I find it challenging to utilise the depths of a negative feeling creatively. My approach to writing is storytelling which has a root in something genuine. ‘Conquistador’, for example, is about a South American hallucinogenic drug, packaged in a soft drink, which came from feelings I had towards my first job out of uni. A lot of my songs are about not liking having to go to work.
Epoch single artwork
Does sonic incoherence, which you have described as a “surprisingly coherent fever dream” nod to your intrinsic ideas surrounding humanity, both internally and externally?
F The world is chaos and we are just portioning out a bit of that chaos.
R In terms of incoherence, we find changing time signatures, tempo or adding a Hawaiian section too tempting. Our recording studio feeds a lot of this temptation, they even have tubular bells.
F That comes from having a theatre background and using “yes, and.”
Has anything ever been rejected?
F I had intended to use an AI-generated fade for the song “Memory”, AI was at the stage where it was good enough to sound interesting but not good enough to sound human. We decided against it in the end, as it was too morally and creatively complicated, so we ended it like a Coldplay song instead.
Can you tell me the thoughts behind these lyrics in “Earthbound”, “Water my mind but it will not grow?”
F For the past twenty years, I thought the song “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, was Kate Bush demanding to swap places with God, which I thought was very ballsy of her, but if anyone can pull it off it would be her. Turns out it’s a woman asking God to swap her and her partner's places. So I wanted to write a song demanding God's power, questioning why I have to be a corporeal human being, wanting to break the bonds of physical existence etc. There are also ideas surrounding no matter how much you try to understand the world, I will still be -
R A little speck.
F A little speck, trying to transform myself into a deity. And if it sounds pretentious it’s because I am.
There seem to be a lot of connotations surrounding nature and sci-fi in your sound, are there any pieces of media/literature that influence your writing?
F ‘War of the Worlds’.
R ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’. In terms of music, BC Camplight influences my lyrics, he strikes a great balance between a conversational tone and staging them in a fantastical circumstance.
F Thomas Dolby as well, we’ve listened to him for decades. Video games have also been a huge influence, such as ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, which deals with ideas of government manufacturing ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, which influenced ‘Centaur’ and how violence is used to control and keep societies in cyclical abuse. There is a reference to ‘Beyond Good and Evil' hidden in the lyrics, you would have to be a real geek to spot it on first listen.
There’s a prize for anyone who does.
R I’ll give a grand.
We Never Should Have Come Here album artwork
Congratulations on your release of “We Should Never Have Come Home”, what has been the response to the album?
R Pretty good, my dad’s favourite on the album is ‘Eureka’.
F It was my mum’s favourite too! I guess it’s ‘the one for the mum’s and dad’s’.
R Our highest streams have been in Kyiv, which is interesting.
F We also saw someone had made a playlist on Spotify and named it ‘For My Sister’s Birthday’ and put “Conquistador’ on it. That was very touching, also that’s the song about destroying a capitalist society through psychedelics.
What are you currently working on, and will it follow suit or do you intend the next album to be a complete shift of this alter-ego?
F Running our ‘Carboot Cabaret’, a night of live music, silliness and games. For long-term plans, we have discussed doing something more along the lines of ‘hyper pop’ or making some very weird, obtuse music.
Live dates we should be aware of?
F ‘Carboot Cabaret’ which is the first Friday of every month. The last one of the year is on Friday the 1st of December. We are keeping gig dates a secret for now…
The Vanity Project:
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