Shouting With... Vasa

by Kyle McCormick
Kyle McCormick
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on 23 October 2015 in Features

This interview was going to be, then it wasn’t, and then it was. Conducted over the wondrous platform of Facebook Messenger – because we like to embrace the future – bassist John Niblock informed us of the inner workings of Vasa whilst enjoying the pleasures of touring mainland Europe. From those insights, this feature piece was constructed:

Named after a Swedish warship launched in 1627 (not a Finnish football club or a type of parrot) following a serious debate resolved by a random search on Wikipedia, Vasa are an instrumental rock quartet from Glasgow. Originally formed by bassist John Niblock and guitarist Blaine Thompson in 2011, during their years at the University of the West of Scotland, they were soon by joined additional guitarist Scott Coupar, and later in 2014 by drummer Niall Morison MacRae following a line-up reshuffle on the classical grounds of “musical differences.” Following the release of their debut EP Never Have Dreams in 2012, the personnel change was followed by the catalysed creation of what would ultimately become their recently released debut album Colours, a truly optimistic and colourful declaration of Vasa’s current status.

Colours has already been “properly” reviewed by Shout4Music, but to quickly summarise: it captures the band’s “post-rock” label with ease and confidence, and injects a sense of undeniable optimistic energy into the listener. Or, in the words of Mr Niblock himself, the record is “really full on” and a “relentless assault of very upbeat music.” Drawing influence from a “vast and varied” pool of talent, Vasa’s musical vision does not include emulating those who have come before, but rather constitutes carving out a unique sound of their own, with infrequent yet respectful homages to the past of instrumental rock music where appropriate. Having said that, when pressed for some influential artist names, the list appeared to flow with ease; covering a broad spectrum of artists from fellow countrymen Biffy Clyro to the ambience of This Will Destroy You via some intense black metal outfits. This eclectic yet cohesive melting pot recipe makes it easy to discern where the roots of the quartet’s frenetic sound are buried, as they draw on the melodic and brashest elements of their teenage favourites. In particular, the song ‘Ergonomic Keyboard’ is highlighted as being most representative of the band’s current position, with its soaring dynamics and characteristic guitar noodling. On being instrumental, the band always have been and always will be, particularly given that the notion of interjecting additional or guest vocals is “a little bit tired and done to death recently”, by bands such as Battles and And So I Watch You From Afar. Additionally, there’s no compulsive feeling to account for a lack of emotion or passion in the absence of lyrics, as this energy appears to manifest itself naturally both on record and to a greater level of ferocity in a live setting, likely a direct consequence of the quartet’s inherent passion from their craft.

Upon listening to Vasa, it would not be unreasonable to ask yourself the following question due to the perplexing complexity: “How do you even write this stuff?” The answer lies in the mind of creative champion Blaine Thompson. With the musical ideas finding their origins within his conscience before being unfolded into fully fledged technical numbers by the full band. Furthermore, if you asked yourself the following question after seeing Colours on the shelf of your local record store: “Who even designs something like that?” The person you would be looking for is Niall Morison MacRae, who imagined and perfected the artwork in digital form. Whilst the lack of actual paint and the associated mess – and potential promotional shots – may be disappointing, the finished work does hold a certain level of minimalist and colourful Jackson Pollock appeal, and the ingenious choice to release the record on matching splattered vinyl did not go begging. With even the artwork curated by the band, Colours is surely a DIY work to be proud of, but what do the critics and fans have to say? Described by Niblock as simply “extremely positive”, the reviews seem to agree, from an ecstatic 8/10 from Clash to an optimistic though not entirely lauding 3/5 from The Skinny. No doubt the fans adore what and quartet have created, and with a general consensus somewhere between “fantastic” and “promising”, there is not much space for complaint.

Continuing on the theme of potential questions, some of the band’s more avid followers, or members of Glasgow music community in general, may wonder what happened to the seemingly promising collective that was Overlook Records – home of Vasa’s Never Have Dreams EP and other promising bands now also defunct. Unfortunately the label “dissolved due to the guys who ran it being swamped with personal stuff”, but with Colours comes an exciting new venture and prospect in Black Sheep Records. Despite keeping proceedings decidedly hush-hush, there was this to say about the new entity: “it is going to be a very interesting thing that people will definitely take notice of.” Which serves to pique interest on what will hopefully prove to be another rung on the strong ladder of the Glasgow music community alongside the likes of Struggletown and Bloc+Music, only time will tell what is in store for Black Sheep. On being from Glasgow, it would appear the city’s strong community and reputation have “only been a positive thing” for Vasa, particularly when playing in England, with the label of “Glaswegian band” being able to draw larger crowds and subsequently having a direct impact on the overall fanbase size. This combination of a recognisable background and an abundance of talent is sure to propel Vasa to greater things in the near future.

Perhaps the only question that remains now is "Why should I buy a copy of Colours?" The answer: “Because if you don't John Niblock is going to go round Glasgow kneecapping people.” That’s a direct quote folks (admittedly with the pronouns changed), which has definitely not been taken out of context.

Colours is out now on Black Sheep Records, and you can purchase it in digital or physical (CD and limited splattered vinyl) form via the band’s Bandcamp page, and all other sensible musical outlets. Additionally, you can stream the record in full on the same Bandcamp page, or via Soundcloud is that’s more your thing, to help you assess its quality and monetary value. Finally, you can catch the band live at their two support slots in Scotland in the next few weeks:

Wednesday 28th October - Broadcast, Glasgow (with Liturgy) - TICKETS
Saturday 7th November - Opium, Edinburgh (with 3 Days From Retirement) - TICKETS

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