British rock band VEGA are set to release their new album ‘Grit Your Teeth’ on Friday 12th June 2020 via Frontier Records. Altogether an edgier album than might have been expected, ‘Grit Your Teeth’ packs an almighty punch that will take some by surprise. Vocalist Nick Workman took time out from an evening of lockdown to talk about the recording process, working with producers The Graves Brothers, and what frustrates him about the music industry.
So during lockdown, who amongst the band takes on the role of Mother and checks in on everyone?
None of us give a fuck, to be honest! (laughs) No, we’ve got a couple of group threads, one that’s just the band, and one that’s both the band and the crew, so there are messages flying about all day, every day. If someone was silent for a day or two, then you might think that they are lying dead in a ditch somewhere. But yeah, we are in touch.
Cool! On to the forthcoming new album ‘Grit Your Teeth’. Is there any deep meaning behind the title? Let’s face it, it’s almost prophetic!
Well, we were going to joke that it’s about anal sex, but the whole premise behind the title song, the lyrics, the album title, the album cover, is all David and Goliath. It’s all about, whatever you are going through, once you’ve done it, then you are going to feel better for it. So it’s very appropriate for the moment, yeah. It may be shit right now, but once we are through it, then we might not even think about how shit it was. Once you’ve had that first night down the pub, and you get so obliterated that the next morning you say, “Never again!”. But joking aside, ‘Grit Your Teeth’ is about pushing through the pain barrier of whatever you are going through.
This is the sixth Vega album. Would you say that it gets easier, or does it get harder?
I think that it’s been a pretty level playing field, to be honest. We’ve never written any song to any specific recipe, we’ve just written what we’ve felt like writing. For the eleven songs on the album, there were probably eleven or twelve songs that weren’t good enough, but you’ve got to write the average songs to get to the good songs. We just keep writing until we get eleven songs that we are passionate about. With this album, it was February last year when we were just finishing the Skid Row tour, then the Frontiers Rock Festival, and two of the guys from Frontiers were there and they said, “Well, if you can get the album to us by December, we’ll have it out in Spring the following year”. At that point, we only had three songs that we were happy with, and only one of those has made the album, and that was ‘(I Don’t Need) Perfection’. We literally wrote the rest of the album between February and July, and they are the songs on the album now. So that’s how hard it was!
The album opens up with ‘Blind’, a really powerful opening track. Is there any particular meaning behind the “blind leading the blind” lyric?
Yeah, there are a couple of social media references in there. All these people asking for your prayers. It’s like, “Really?”. Someone’s loved one has died, which is sad, but to ask people for their prayers… to me, social media is just an output for people sympathy seeking. It drives me insane! So there are sly little digs at that sort of stuff.
Or an output for people that know someone who knows someone who knows an epidemiologist?
Yes exactly! Everyone is suddenly a coronavirus expert! I really miss the days when people just used to post pictures of their dinner!
Ah the good old days! Back to the new album, ‘Blind’ leads into another banger; ‘(I Don’t Need) Perfection’. That’s quite a powerful opening one-two. Was this by design?
Yes. To be honest with you, I think we purposely front-loaded the first five songs with our favourites. From the minute I wrote ‘(I Don’t Need) Perfection’ with Tom, the moment I sent the twins (Tom Martin on bass and James Martin on keyboards) my finished demo, they were like, “Fucking hell! That’s the one!”, and they would say that maybe, on an album, you have one song where you say, “Yes! That’s the fucker, right there!”. They said it with ‘Kiss Of Life’. I think that they said it with ‘Every Little Monster’. Ones that you just think “Yes!” They had that vibe more than me on this particular song, but yeah, all of us would put it down as one of our favourites.
Dare I say it, but the album has some bite to it?!
And that’s why there is an alligator on the cover! Or a crocodile, I don’t fucking know which it is!
Answers on a postcard, please. Now, with six band members, how much to-ing and fro-ing goes into the process of picking a single?
I think that we always end up on the same page. We don’t record the album and then decide on the singles. We had a good idea what they were, and discussed what we thought were the main songs going in to record the album. At the end of the day, because myself and the twins write the songs, we push things down a certain direction and the others normally agree, or disagree!
There’s loads of different flavours on the album. ‘Man On A Mission’ is rather tasty…
I think so!
… and then a track like ‘Consequence Of Having A Heart’, which is both timely and timeless. Was there any agenda before you hit the record button?
Well, it’s funny, because ‘Man On A Mission’ is one of my favourites, and that kind of song is an autobiography for me, as I had a divorce about a year and a half ago. When Tom sent me the music for this one as a demo, I turned into Dr Frankenstein as I had a vision for this one and I chopped into it. I wanted that sort of mono verse that just went fucking nuts half way through, where it explodes each time. That’s how that one came into play.
With ‘Consequence Of Having A Heart’, we had two songs that we had backing tracks for, and forgotten about, and Tom mentioned that he really liked these songs that we hadn’t done anything with; one being ‘Consequence Of Having A Heart’ and the other was ‘Save Me From Myself’. So, I think that I literally wrote those two songs over the next few days. Because we have so many ideas going backwards and forwards, sometimes things get forgotten about. ‘Consequence Of Having A Heart’ was nearly the album title. It was the album title for about six months, up until we went into the studio. I think that we thought that it was a bit long for an album title. The song is about having the elation, but then you have the sadness, and that’s the consequence of having a heart.
‘Battles Ain’t A War’; that’s another corker isn’t it!
That one was a bit of a challenge vocally, because it’s pretty much the same chords in the verse as the chorus. Coming up with the melody was a real bitch, but it needed to be one of those songs where Marcus (Thurston – guitar) could go nuts. I think that he got about four solos in this one?! We chucked in the kitchen sink on this one!
The album was produced by The Graves Brothers. What was different about them compared to those that produced the previous albums?
Obviously, first and foremost, is the sound that we’ve gone for, it’s a lot more punchy. It’s still Vega, but we wanted the album to basically have a bigger set of bollocks! They gave us a fresh perspective. In terms of songwriting; nothing, because everything had been demoed and they recorded them the way that they had been demoed, but in terms of ways of recording, and getting the form until it was brilliant. For instance, when Marcus was soloing, he did those with Joe Graves, who would offer things up and then it would be nailed. Joe also did the rhythms with Tom who played both rhythm and bass guitars on the album, and they’re all very precise. There are two rooms at the studio, and while they were doing that, I was doing my vocals with Sam Graves. We would do four or five takes per song, and use the best. All the chants like on ‘Man On A Mission’, he would just loop them over like ten times. I was doing different impressions to get that crowd vocal feeling, but it was all me. To make them sound different, I did impressions, including one of Ozzy singing the words! Just random, shouty voices!
It was really, really easy working with both of them. They’ve just moved into a brand new studio, but the time we were with them, it was in a fucking shithole, like an industrial estate. We said it was like Rocky IV when Ivan Drago is in a really posh gym, and Rocky is in a hut! We were definitely Rocky! But the good thing is, when you are in that situation, all you can do is work. You can’t be in a pool or darts competition in the break room. So we just got really busy, and worked our arses off.
With this being your sixth album, what album are you most proud of?
At the end of the day, you’re proud of each album, as and when you do it. There’s not one album that I’m not proud of. I’m really proud of this album. We did everything that we wanted to do. I maybe get a bit frustrated when people say that their favourite Vega album is ‘Kiss Of Life’. It’s like, “Come on, we’re not even the same band anymore, and it’s completely different to what we do now”. I get that perhaps that’s more to do with that individual person’s circumstances, or where they heard it. They’re not necessarily comparing the songs. It’s like me saying that ‘Hysteria’ is my favourite album of all time. There are albums that have gone by since which are probably better than it, but this one takes you to a certain place.
You mentioned frustrations. Speaking as someone with quite a few years experience, what aspects of the music industry would you like to see changed?
Well fucking corona for a start! Apart from that, agents. All they are worried about is sure things. So you will see a three band bill with three bands that are maybe past their prime, but together they can play an arena. It’s like fucking Jurassic Park out there. What happens when these bands retire and the agents haven’t put anything into up-and-coming bands to fill that void? I find that frustrating. You don’t need to have Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Poison. How about Def Leppard, Whitesnake and someone new? Even just give them half an hour, but obviously, I am going to say that, aren’t I?
You mean like some sort of FIFA type ruling where each team needs to have a certain amount of young talent in the squad?
Absolutely, yes! Fair play to Thunder, they’ve given that option to local bands on their forthcoming arena tour, and that’s really, really cool. If other bands got that opportunity, then it would make a massive difference.
We can only hope. Now, one last question, due to the time of evening we are speaking… is it tea, or is it dinner?
Ah, good one. Dinner for me. It’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tea is something that your granny has with cucumber sandwiches… afternoon tea! No mate, it’s dinner all the way.
There you have it, debate is no longer required, it is dinner. Full stop. Besides, if you were to ask (Vega drummer) Hutch what “tea’s out” means in Scotland, you will get a very different response!
Vega release ‘Grit Your Teeth’ through Frontiers Music SRL on June 12th, pre-order here.
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Interview – Dave