Having emerged during the earliest throes of Britpop as something of a musical anomaly, Death In Vegas have continued to confound expectations ever since. Formed in 1994 as a vehicle for Richard Fearless and then co-conspirator Steve Hellier's genre crossing experiments, Death In Vegas have maintained a high degree of quality rather than churning out an endless stream of continually inferior but prolific records.
With Tim Holmes having replaced Hellier, 1999's second long player The Contino Sessions and its successor Scorpio Rising brought about mainstream recognition and commercial success, album number four Satan's Circus took an even more disparate route into Germanic territories and ultimately, remains their "lost classic".
Now essentially a solo project for Fearless, current album Trans Love Energies, the first Death In Vegas record for seven years, fuses minimal techno, obtuse beats and looped electronica with shoegaze inspired noise rock. Awarded 8/10 on this very site, Dan Lucas calling it "an album that is musically and thematically filled with space, both roomy and outer."
Next week Fearless and his band will embark on Death In Vegas first full UK tour since the release of its predecessor back in 2004. Bearing that in mind, DiS found the frontman-cum-engineer/producer in a buoyant, if slightly apprehensive mood.
DiS: Trans-Love Energies is your first album for seven years. Why did it take so long to make and were there ever times when it looked like a new album might not happen?
Richard Fearless: To be honest, it didn't take that long to make as I only started the album about eighteen months ago. I got to a point where I needed to have a break from just doing Death In Vegas and being in England. I moved to America for five years and got more involved in producing and it wasn't until I moved back over here a couple of years ago that I thought about making another Death In Vegas record. Andrew Weatherall knew I was looking for a studio so he offered me a space in his building and I moved in there. It was at that point when I started writing again and it made sense to do Death In Vegas again and it came back naturally but I think the break in between did me good. Once I'd started everything really flowed; I mean, I've made albums before that have taken three years but this one was quite easy to make.
DiS: Three years ago you mentioned some old surf films which you'd re-scored and hinted that they could ultimately form the fifth Death In Vegas record. Did any of these pieces make it onto Trans-Love Energies, and if not, will they ever see the light of day?
RF: No, none of them made it onto the new album. With the surf films, I re-scored them and then we played one night at London's Barbican Theatre. It was basically three films edited together to make one continuous ninety-minute piece. We rehearsed it for about six weeks and worked on it for a few months after and then performed the whole ninety minutes in its entirety. We then went back into the studio a few days later and recorded it, but I've actually never mixed that record, so there is another album's worth of material there as well. It didn't seem as relevant to mix or put that out as it did to do something fresh. I kind of stopped working with Tim (Holmes) when I moved away, so to then go back and start working on this again would be like taking a step backwards really.
DiS: I was going to ask you about Tim Holmes, as he's not credited on Trans-Love Energies. Is he no longer a part of Death In Vegas, and do you see yourself working together again in the future?
RF: Tim's role in the band really was as an engineer. He did write as well; we wrote quite a lot of stuff together, but the way the relationship worked - and Tim would probably be the first to admit this - was that Death In Vegas had always been my band. I'd have ideas, but not being a competent engineer would then pass these onto Tim, who'd put a lot of these ideas into practice. Then, due to circumstances of being in America and not having Tim around, I got to learn a lot more about the engineering side and when I came back there was one stage where I was working on the record and Tim came to listen to it to see where I was at, and told me I'd done a great job and ultimately came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to need him. It was weird at first but we're quite cool about it. Workwise I guess we've just drifted apart a lot from where we were, and that was purely down to me being in America, but over the same period of time I became more confident as a producer and also realised that working on my own meant I could be truer to what I was trying to achieve. I think if you become involved with any project; photography for example, which is what I tended to do a lot of over the last five years, there's a process that if you take a picture, then develop the film, that's one way you can actually have control of the printing by how you choose to develop the film. And then when it comes to printing, you can take the picture to a whole different level. To start with there are maybe three people you'd need to work with when undergoing that process, but then as time goes on you learn to combine all those processes yourself, and ultimately have even more control over the project. I kind of think that's what music's like, in that eventually you become the engineer as well as the musician, whereas if you're constantly having to run those ideas through someone else you can end up compromising or diluting those ideas slightly, because their interpretation rather than yours.
DiS: Now that you've become more established as an engineer and producer, will you be working on other people's records as well as your own?
RF: Yeah I think so. I've just done the Von Haze record. They're supporting us on our UK tour this month and I'm really proud of them and that album to be honest. I have been getting into working more with other artists, which is great. I've been doing quite a bit of remixing as well.
DiS: It's interesting you say that, particularly in respect of Trans-Love Energies, which although not strictly a double album, has a bunch of remixes, instrumentals and alternative versions on the second CD for songs on the first part of the album. Do you prefer any of the remixes to the originals?
RF: What happened with the second CD was the label wanted me to make a remix album, and I put my foot down at that point and said "No way!". I wasn't ready to hand my record over to a load of other people and give them a similar amount of money to what it would cost me to remix the album myself. So I told the label if they wanted any remixes then I'd do them. All of the remixes on Trans-Love Energies are a reflection of what I'd play as part of my DJ set; to be honest, that's what I've always done with my records in the past. The second CD is purely geared towards that kind of environment. It's really weird because whenever I make a record I tend to put on several different heads. There's my songwriting head, then my production head, and this was just my DJ head. I'm really pleased with how that second CD turned out.
DiS: Personally, I prefer the Nightcrawler Mix of 'Medication' on CD2 to the original.
RF: I was particularly pleased with that myself, although there are now three versions of that song. There's also a live version which we're putting out as part of the 'Medication' single, and I think that's my favourite of the lot. Basically, when we play that song live we do it completely different to the recorded version. We mixed it with a guy called Finn Eiles, who's been working with Kevin Shields for the last two years.
DiS: One of the songs on Trans-Love Energies, 'Black Hole', reminds me of My Bloody Valentine in many ways, and also your side-project Black Acid. Did it evolve from the work you were doing with Black Acid and will there be any more releases under that guise?
RF: Well, the Black Acid album is actually finished and mastered. I'm just waiting for the right person to come along and want to put it out. I guess I need to start knocking on some doors as I haven't put the word out. Basically what happened was I had the Black Acid record, and then my manager and I decided we were going to put it out, but then we thought it best to do the Death In Vegas record first. If anything, that will probably help the Black Acid record in terms of making people aware of its existence. Hopefully that will gain some kind of recognition, because in these dire times of poor record sales everything needs to be given as big a push as possible. Going back to what you were saying, 'Black Hole' is quite similar in sound to the Black Acid material. Originally when we started Black Acid there were two guitarists. The idea was to have a sort of Ron Asheton type rock and roll vibe mixed with a Kevin Shields wall of sound. At the beginning for the wall of sound I ended up getting Oliver Ackermann from A Place To Bury Strangers, and he's something of an effects pedal guru, so we ended up with this crazy pedal set=up. After A Place To Bury Strangers signed to Mute things started getting really busy for him and the band so he left us. Before he went, he agreed to pass on the pedal set-up he created for us to the rest of the band and taught us how to use it, and we've managed to retain that pedal knowledge throughout all of our recordings since. When I mixed it, I wanted to embellish that whole wall of sound more than anything else. There are a few songs on the Black Acid album that are just a big wall of sonic annihilation.
DiS: You've got Katie Stelmanis from Austra contributing vocals on 'Your Loft My Acid' and 'Witchdance'. How did that collaboration come about and do you see yourself working with her again in the future?
RF: I wanted a female voice on 'Your Loft My Acid' and I heard 'Beat And The Pulse' prior to it getting released on Domino. Originally it came out on a Canadian label called Paper Bag Records. I was only aware of that one song; I've never even heard her album to this day, but there was something about her voice on that track which really hit it, so I emailed her and she just happened to be a Death In Vegas fan, so it ended up working out quite easily. I didn't necessarily want her to sing in the same way she does with Austra, so the big deal for me was to try and get her to pull the reigns in a little bit, which is hard when you're a trained singer used to fronting your own band, but it worked. I'd love to work with her again in the future, so I guess we'll just see what happens.
DiS: Will she be coming on tour with you or appearing at any of the forthcoming shows?
RF: Not on this tour, but I think she may well do in the future. To be honest it's a weird one because we really struggle to do 'Your Loft My Acid' in rehearsal. Then we had an idea to try and play it in a different way using just a sample of Katie's voice, and at the moment it seems to be working. It's quite hard to try and do some of the more electronic based songs justice when playing them live, and several have been drastically reworked. It's only really the past five or six gigs where we've become fairly satisfied with how the songs are sounding, and I'd like to think by the time the tour starts the live show will be really up there.
DiS: With regards to your tour, what can we expect from the live shows in general?
RF: A different band for a start. Death In Vegas has always essentially been a studio project rather than a set band. Live we often had the same musicians, but not necessarily for recording, and over the past seven years I've found myself working with a lot of different people. For example, my guitarist Travis (Caine) is also in Black Acid and Dom from Dark Horses - who I've also recently been working with - is also in the band, while the keyboard player James Greenwood was also my programmer for this record so it kind of fell into place quite naturally. I'd been working with most of these people when I was recording Trans-Love Energies so it made sense to carry on working with them for the live shows rather than call up the guys I'd worked with in the past. Plus, some of those guys circumstances have changed as well. For example I know Mat (Flint) has two young children now and a whole load of other things going on. It's much more about live performance with this line-up than previous Death In Vegas live shows and it just feels right for what we're doing at the moment. There's also the possibility that we could end up fucking things up a lot more, but it's more organic and the last few shows we've played have been excellent.
DiS: Will the live set incorporate songs from each Death In Vegas album?
RF: We'll be playing a lot of songs off the new album but there will be some older material in there as well. We're doing about six or seven old songs but again we really struggled with some of those because I knew how they were performed in that understated way that we'd been accustomed to with Death In Vegas. We did struggle with the live rehearsals for quite some time, and even during the first few shows as well, but now I actually think we're doing better interpretations of the old songs than we did before. We're not playing anything off Dead Elvis but there's material in the set from The Contino Sessions onwards.
DiS: The reviews for Trans-Love Energies have been universally positive. Do you pay much attention to what's written about you or Death In Vegas in the press and if so, has it ever influenced the way you write or make music?
RF: I pretend I don't, but I guess I do. With this record I thought I was setting myself up for a fall. There was a lot of pressure on this album. Firstly because it had been such a long time, secondly because I was doing it all by myself, and thirdly because I was also standing in front of a microphone for most of it, so I was really setting myself up for a kicking from the press. I was very apprehensive about Trans-Love Energies, because it wasn't as if I was in a position where I could blame so-and-so for their contribution because essentially it was my record. The best thing for me with most of the reviews I've read hasn't just been out how positive they are, but also how they've tended to focus on different parts of the album. For example Q and Mojo both focused on how dark the album sounded in places and then Mixmag awarded it album of the month, which is great for me because I've never wanted to pinpoint or have Death In Vegas associated with just one genre. When 'Satan's Circus' came out - which I still believe to be one of the best records I've ever made - that seemed to be a turning point as far as the press is concerned. We weren't the golden children any more. I'd been used to positive reviews up to that point and handed in what I thought was our best record to date only for most of the reviews to be along the lines of "What the fuck is this?!?" I remember the NME review being particularly bad, and then it's almost like a chain seemed to develop elsewhere. The irony was that a week after they published the album review, NME sent someone along to the live show and even though it was essentially Satan's Circus played in full, the review called it one of the best live shows they'd ever seen! Admittedly it was a totally different journalist but that album review totally knocked the wind out of my sails. I still stand by that record and I think you can hear its influence in what various other bands are doing today, The Horrors for example. Satan's Circus was quite ahead of its time in that way.
DiS: I guess the most upsetting aspect must be when journalists use the phrase "return to form" when describing Trans-Love Energies as though its predecessor was a disappointment.
RF: I've noticed over the past few years that there are so many people writing reviews nowadays that really shouldn't be! I mean, some of the online stuff in particular is just awful. I don't know what the qualifications are for being a writer these days. It seems like anyone and everyone can be a journalist nowadays. Some of the questions I've been asked in interviews you wouldn't believe. Like "What jacket were you wearing when you made this record?!?" It beggars belief!
DiS: You've just been confirmed for Primavera Sound 2012. Will there be any more festival dates next year?
RF: There's quite a few but I'm not sure whether we're contractually obliged to say anything just yet. I'm not sure how it all works to be honest? For example, I didn't know Primavera had been announced until you just told me because we'd been told not to say anything until further notice. We've just come back from Australia and I know that there were festival promoters at every one of those gigs, so maybe the fact we've been away for seven years is what's rekindled the interest on that front? But yeah, we're pencilled in to play several festivals next year, so watch this space. I guess Primavera is like a golden ticket in many ways. It's seen as the benchmark for a lot of promoters, so we've had several bookings off the back of that and hopefully we'll get some more.
DiS: What else have you got planned for next year?
RF: We're actually working on new material. There's a lot of songs that didn't make this album.
DiS: So are you planning to release any of this new material within the next twelve months?
RF: Yeah, definitely. I've also been working on a television score which hasn't been confirmed for release yet, but will be really mental if it happens. I've a lot of DJ bookings as well, which gives me the opportunity to pull back from the studio side somewhat.
DiS: Is DJing something you enjoy more than playing in a band or do you value both equally?
RF: I think they're both very different things but I believe my DJ side helps Death In Vegas in terms of providing a sense of timing and perspective. Part of me probably does prefer DJing to being in Death In Vegas actually, although I'd like to think this new live set-up will make being in a band more enjoyable.
Death In Vegas play the following shows throughout December:-
13 Bristol Thekla
14 Cambridge Junction 1
15 London Electric Ballroom
For more information on Richard Fearless & Death In Vegas visit their official website.