Possibly...in fact actually best known for Nirvana covers of three of their songs, Scottish indie-poppers The Vaselines are just one of those cult bands. They only released one album and an EP before splitting up in 1990, only to be convinced to reform by Mr. Cobain in 1992. Theirs was a candle which was barely alight before being blown, but they recently re-reformed and returned triumphantly playing to a sell-out London Forum audience, which they never could have dreamed of 20 years ago.
DiS caught up with Eugene Kelly on the eve of Sub Pop's re-issuing of Enter The Vaselines...
DiS: First things first then...why did you decide to reform after so many years?
It was the start of last year, we were writing some songs and Frances asked me if we wanted to play a charity show... I said maybe yeah do a Vaselines set, do that and get some people to back us up. We got Steve and Bobby from Belle & Sebastian to be our band and it was just such a good night that we thought “woah”. I was kinda surprised, the fact that we'd be doing it. We just thought “it's time”, then we got the offer from Sub Pop to go to do their festival. Before that, we played together in 2006, we toured together doing solo stuff – it wasn't even The Vaselines, I'd just come on at the end of the night and play acoustic versions of a couple of Vaselines songs. But last year we did the charity show and Sub Pop had offered us money and all expenses to come and play at their festival we said “why not?”, we were having such a great time doing it.
DiS: How was that?
We played two New York shows before it and that was the first time we'd played as The Vaselines outside Britain. The New York shows were great - the reception was pretty mental. We kept it on multi-track so we could try and release it but I didn't listen to it for a year because I thought it'd put me off. I wasn't sure how good it'd be and I listened to it recently and the audience went crazy, as soon as we came on they were screaming and the reaction is the kind of reaction we've never got anywhere else. We played a place in New Jersey that was about 200, 250 and Southpaw in Brooklyn was around 400. The shows were mobbed! We're playing slightly bigger venues when we go back in May.
DiS: Was the band something you missed? It was obviously quite a short period of time that the band even existed. Were you curious to how things had changed?
I think we'd both been playing solo and I'd been sick of playing on stage on my own, playing acoustic guitar. It was just great to get back to playing electric again. We'd been doing other stuff for years, separately, so enough time had passed for us to think about doing The Vaselines again.
DiS: I guess you'd have accumulated 15 or so year's worth of people stumbling over you through the Kurt Cobain/Nirvana connection...
The good thing about it is that we've had 20 odd years of people who've heard of us now. We played recently and there was lots of young people at the shows, which is great, and there's lots of people our age, too, in their 30s and 40s. So there's an audience there for us now that wasn't really there 20 years or so ago. They've always said the best thing we ever did for our career is splitting up.
DiS: What have you both been doing in the time between breaking up and reforming?
Frances released some records with The Painkillers and then Suckle released two records on Chemikal Underground. I've had Captain America, Eugenius, the solo record and then nothing much... it kind of petered off. I was trying to work out what to do next and then this kinda landed on me.
DiS: Have you managed to keep music the main part of your life, and income, or have you had to work other jobs at all?
No, I've always managed to make a living from music. If you keep touring, making money and keep surviving then you won't have to go and get another job. I've been pretty lucky.
DiS: Did you ever see yourselves in this position when you were playing your first shows and even when putting out the album?
I think when we were doing it we didn't know how long it would last, we were just making it up as we went along. We were both at college and at that point we didn't really have any kind of ambition. You can't really imagine a band like The Vaselines on the small label that we were on getting anywhere and getting anything like a hit-record. I don't think there was ever any interest from any other labels trying to sign us, we were just so under the radar. When it ended it was because it went as far as we could take it, we never thought we'd be doing it in 20 years time... we had no idea what we'd be doing.
DiS: As long as it lasted it was great...
The thing at the time was that there was a type of music getting made at the time - in Britain and in Glasgow - we were completely away from it, doing our own thing. It was so left-field that we were doing it just for the sake of doing it, having fun, getting to travel and play some shows in England and that was it. You never thought it was a career and I was trying to get into art school doing graphic design and that was what I thought I'd be doing. Frances was trying to be a teacher and that's what she'd thought she'd end up doing but the music kinda...as you were doing it it was fun but when it stopped and we thought “OK it's time to do something else”, but luckily for me I managed to continue music and the fact that Nirvana recorded the songs gave us some money to concentrate on making music.
DiS: How much say did you have for Enter The Vaselines, what with the extra tracks, artwork and so on...
We've pretty much had sole control over it really, we decided what the extra tracks were. We spoke to our A&R guy over there and he consulted with them [Sub Pop] because initially we sent them the recording of the last concert we did and they said they didn't like it, that it sounded terrible. But we convinced them that it was all worth putting on there. I provided all the pictures for the artwork, any of the designs had to be approved by us, so it was our kinda thing.
There's the very first show we ever did, in Bristol, that's on there. And one of our very last shows in London, the one at the Fulham Greyhound, that's on there. There's also some of the first songs we ever recorded, the really early demos that were done on a 4-track machine.
DiS: Do you think your music has had much of an influence on the bands in the last decade, or even the bands around today?
I don't really know. Some people say they can hear Vaselines type music being played by bands today but I just think it's people who have got the same influences as us and just try to keep it pretty simple and just play catchy music on guitars. I don't really know how much of an influence we've had on anyone.
DiS: You played the London for the first time in 20 years in March, what was the previous show in London?
I think it might have been the Fulham Greyhound.
DiS: I'm guessing it was a slightly different experience to the Forum show?
Yeah, it was just a small, back-room of a pub type thing and maybe 50 people turned up.
DiS: How did the Forum show go?
Yeah, it was great fun, really excellent, one of the best shows we've done just for enjoyment and playing well and things. We'd like to do some more like that.
DiS: What's happening with the US tour in May?
We're playing about eight shows, I think. Just all over the place in America. The biggest one is 800 and the smallest one is about 300.
DiS: Should be good to play Seattle again?
Yeah, I hope so because the festival was fantastic, it was just a beautiful day. Seattle's kinda like Glasgow – the weather's usually terrible but it was a brilliant couple of days.
DiS: Any preference in playing in the States or the UK?
I just like playing anywhere really, as long as there's people to see us! I think at least now there's definitely going to be people coming up who know the songs. Before it was kinda just trying to push our order up hill or something it was hard work. We weren't great players but it was all kinda punk rock and pretty confrontational and spontaneous.
DiS: Are the guys from B&S making the jaunt over to the US as well?
Yeah, yeah we've got the same people playing with us and Michael on drums from the 1990s who are from Glasgow, so it's gonna be the same line-up for as long as we can. We're just working around other peoples' schedules and trying to stick together with this line-up. They're kind of busy right now because Stuart's doing a record on his own right now and they've had to do other stuff as well. Last year, when we asked them and because it was just a one off for charity they were quite happy to get on board and told them we might need them in Seattle and then Brazil last year. As long as they're happy to keep doing it while they can until Belle & Sebastian start again.
We played a few shows over in Brazil in November, one in Goiânia one in Sao Paolo. It was great, really good.
DiS: You played some new songs, at the Forum...
Yeah, we played two new songs.
DiS: Any plans to continue to write and and maybe record some of it?
As soon as we started doing shows last year, in America, we thought if we were gonna maybe play some more shows, tour or headline shows we needed a longer set. No Vaselines CD that's out there... the longest is only 54 minutes so we must right some more songs to fill our set. We started writing things and it came pretty easy... we've written about five songs now and we're gonna introduce them into the set when we've got a good duration of them. We dunno what's gonna happen about another record... we're just gonna see.
DiS: I guess it's similar to the first time round, if it goes on and you're having fun, the longer the better?
As long as there's people who are interested in coming to see us live then we'll continue playing. We can only play if there's people there to buy the records and come and see us.
Read our review of the band's re-released debut album Enter the Vaselines here
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