The Vaselines: No Qualms, Have Toast
There's something intangible about what the Vaselines do. It's simple, yes, uncomplicated and straightforward. They make pop songs with choruses sung in harmony by a man and a woman. The man and woman are Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee from Glasgow, Scotland. Nothing they do is overwrought. Passing thoughts are channeled into lyrics and extended with ease into song. You could say it's feel-good music and not feel bad about saying it. But if it's so simple and easy, what's the big deal? Why does it strike a chord? Why did Kurt Cobain name his daughter after McKee? The answer is also simple. It's having the knack to write a hook and melody. It's the honesty of their frank sexuality and irreverence. It's letting it be what it is. Like, what do you do when you're thirsty? You get a glass of water. Simple. Or what do you do when you're hungry? Sometimes you just make some toast. See, Kurt just wanted some nice, warm toast. In September, the Vaselines released their first full-length album in 20 years, called Sex with an X (Sub Pop). They broke up in 1989, they were gone for a while, and now they're back, in full swing. The Vaselines spoke for a bit. I had toast.
If your band weren't called the Vaselines, what would it be called? Would it be called Toast?
FM: I think I would have called it Could Try Harder.
EK: I can't tell you the names we thought of before the Vaselines. They were so awful. I'm glad our friend Stephen Pastel suggested the name. Although sometimes these days I wish we'd thought of a different name.
How many times have you answered the question "So what made you all want to get back together?"
FM: Many times.
Are you bored of that question?
FM: No, not really. Any questions I get bored with I just make up an interesting answer.
EK: I'm not bored of it either, but I can imagine it'll get to us eventually.
What's your favorite thing about touring and playing again?
FM: Having a room to myself on tour.
EK: Playing concerts.
What's your least favorite thing about touring and playing again?
FM: Touring and playing.
EK: The nervous pee before I go onstage that never delivers its promise. And all the waiting around. Constant questions directed by everyone to the tour manager. But there's just so much sitting around. By the time we get onstage, we're ready to let it rip.
What's changed for the band?
FM: We actually have an audience that likes us.
EK: Twenty years ago, we played to small crowds that mostly disliked us. We're more confident onstage now and more vocal.
What hasn't changed?
FM: Our sense of humor and Eugene's pants.
EK: We haven't had the rough edges knocked off us yet.
When you think of Seattle, what do you think of?
EK: An eagle. When we played the SP20 Festival, the weather was fantastic and an eagle flew right overhead. I'd never seen one before.
Have you ever eaten a Dick's hamburger and topped it off with a strawberry milkshake?
FM: No. I've been vegan for many years.
What? Well, that's wrong. When you guys get to Seattle, get to Dick's. The Dick's Deluxe/milkshake combo will change you.
If you all were inanimate objects, what would the other one be?
FM: Eugene would be a stone—hard, cold, and impenetrable.
EK: Frances would be a bear trap, hidden under a bunch of lovely flowers.
What music are you all listening to right now?
FM: I like Jeffrey Lewis, Cornershop, Bridget Storm, Haight Ashbury, and the Treenails.
EK: I haven't listened to much music lately. I like Dum Dum Girls, Avi Buffalo.
Why would you say certain songs have longevity? What makes music last?
FM: I'd say a good tune or melody with good lyrics.
EK: If I knew that, I wouldn't have written so many unmemorable ones. I think it's all about the melody. If you can whistle it after one hearing, then it's going to last.
Where did you record Sex with an X? Who produced?
EK: We recorded at Analogue Catalogue in Mossley, near Manchester, England. We did 14 songs in 13 days. Jamie Watson produced.
What amps did you use?
EK: I used a Fender Deluxe and sometimes a small Marshall.
How did you get your sounds?
EK: By plugging in my guitar and turning it up, listening, then trying another, tweaking it a bit, then playing.
How did the sessions go?
EK: Sessions were great. The second week was intense. We were in a rush to finish in two weeks and had lots to do, but we like to keep it fresh.
How do the Vaselines write their material?
EK: We sit in my front room every Monday evening and work. Lyrics have to amuse us. We laugh a lot and disregard many lines.
Where does the Vaselines' magic come from?
EK: Melody is the magic. We don't know where it comes from. It's still a mystery. But probably from listening to lots of music. We don't want to answer that because then the story ends.