Their fans call them "a sonic hand-grenade", their critics call them a "My Bloody Valentine tribute band". Since erupting into the consciousness of UK music fans a couple of years ago in a haze of shimmering, wrecked guitars, chemically imbalanced emotion and biting, sugar-free pop songs, My Vitriol have divided opinion from the word go. The controversial repackaging a few weeks ago of their cinematically-styled debut, Finelines, with the inclusion of a b-sides cd [cunningly monikered Between the Lines] but no new material to speak of, has provided ample fodder for their detractors, triumphantly denouncing the foursome as sell-outs. However frontman Som Wardner is derisive of this attitude. "Infectious said they'd do it for £11, and that's no way that could be a con to anybody really," he explains. "We thought that if we put any new tracks on Finelines/Between The Lines, it would have been like a purchase incentive, so you have to buy this album for £11, just to get hold of these two tracks - loads of bands always do that and I've always hated that. I just don't think that's fair - if they do that, they should be giving them out as free downloads on their site - or some other way. Our way of getting around that was that the so-called exclusive tracks were all on Moodswings, so you could just buy the single and forget about the album."
It’s an issue that Wardner has no doubt had to answer to a fair few times lately. Sitting in a plush, tucked-away underground bar just off the Strand with Wardner, one thing's deafeningly apparent; he has a lot to say. It's clear that this won't be one of those interviews where each word is dragged excruciatingly from the unwilling interviewee; get Som started on any topic and it's unlikely that he'll stop for the next ten or fifteen minutes. The impression one gets is of a young man beset by quiet but rabid determination; he talks as one who has very clear and unwavering ideas what they want to achieve. It's perhaps this unabashed confidence that has led people to brand him, among other things, as arrogant and not a little contrived. “We’re not as naïve as we used to be,” he declares. A change has certainly taken place; the optimistic but self-deprecating and shy character whose songs were hungrily pounced upon by the likes of Steve Lamacq two years ago while he sat his university finals is now wiser to the ways of the music industry, in particular the band’s record label, Infectious. “You’ve got to be realistic,” he explains. “We're all aiming for the same thing, but their bias is more towards money, and ours is more towards art – it’s the famous art/commerce divide. We’ve got some really good people at the label who know exactly what we want to do and don’t care as much about selling records; but then you have the executives right at the top who you might never have met, who only care about that.”
The re-release, coupled with the lack of change in the London quartet's live set has led many, even a significant portion of their fans, to ponder on whether My Vitriol are running out of steam. Talk to Som about this, however, and it would seem that the opposite is true; he's full of ideas for the next record. “I was in quite a few mindsets about the next album. I wanted it to be very very raw at one stage, to almost go back to the roots of what I was playing before in my previous band, Shock Syndrome. That was very punk-pop, very melodically-orientated, all about the melody.”
However it's unlikely that My Vitriol are about to become the British Blink 182; as ever with My Vitriol, things look like being a little skewed. Wardner also has one beady eye discreetly fixed on another market entirely. “I might not always have the band around me in rehearsals so I'll play about with pianos, acoustic guitars, and now computers. It's an instrument in its own right. A lot of people say it's soulless but that's a very lowest-common-denominator way of describing computers - just because it's got 0 and 1 in it, doesn't mean that it can't have as much expression. Maybe at some point I might try a whole electronic thing. I don't really know yet, it certainly wouldn't be the cleverest thing to do, to make an electronic album, in terms of keeping your label happy. Not that I give a crap but my label will! They'll have another heart attack - though that might actually be quite fun...” he muses, mischievously. Another one…? He recalls the band’s debut, and the opening instrumental sequence, described by one reviewer as “the sound of a jet engine taking off”. “With Finelines, I knew that two minutes of instrumental was tantamount to commercial suicide. Someone who did an interview with me in America asked me ‘Why did you stick two minutes of instrumental on the beginning of your album?’ - and I said ‘Because I wanted to, I liked the sound of it, it was more exciting than your average record when you stick it on’ –‘But that's commercial suicide!’, and I'm like ‘..Yeah...so?!?’” he laughs. When it comes to music, Wardner is clearly a man who likes to do things his way.
Such is the band's haste to crack on with album #2 that they're quite happy to stay home and do that, and even abandon plans to raise their profile stateside by touring Finelines over there [just released in the US]. “We've all decided that we'll only go over if it's definitely gonna be worth our while. They can just get you to play a load of showcases in front of a lot of industry types, and ultimately that kind of stuff can be a waste of time. It's probably better to just move onto the next album, because we'd get more exciting about doing that than playing in front a lot of industry people.”
One thing is apparent throughout the course of our conversation, and that is Wardner's distrust of the music press. As ever, he's more than happy to throw his opinions into the ring, not least when it comes to certain weekly music magazines. "“I think that a lot of the press care more about record sales than anybody else,” he announces. But is that simply because it's a quick way to demonstrate an artist's success? “Yeah, but then how can you keep telling people you grew up on Fugazi - did they ever sell any fucking records? Did it matter? No. It didn't. But it's all about commerce, and certain publications are desperate to latch onto the new trend, because it's all about them losing their marketshare. You hardly ever get a review in a magazine about how the music moved them, it's all about how many records they sold and how they're the new hot property.”
Weren't My Vitriol subject to this themselves though? When the band first emerged, they were thrown in alongside Coldplay, Muse and Crashland as "ones to watch" by all of the music weeklies; weren't they as hyped as any other band? “I don't ever think we were hyped. I really consider stuff like The Strokes and The Vines hyped.. as far as I was aware, every single NME review we had was bad.” It's something of an exaggeration, but Som continues, “All the press we get is all part and parcel of this game that's being played. It's never about the music. Often you read some of these magazines and they slate the artist for whatever reason, because maybe they're considered unfashionable, because anything that's, y'know, a month old...” At this point it becomes clear what's troubling him. “It's all very polarised, and it's quite depressing to see bands get subjected to that - bands like Seafood, they're always the butt end of it - 'Oh they're indie-under-achievers, they're never gonna get anywhere...'. I mean.. fuck off!! They expect everything to happen straight away now, they expect you to sell 10 million records, in which case they'll support you because they need all your 10 million fans, at least 1% of them, to buy their fucking magazine. And if you don't, they think that obviously nobody likes you, and they'll have to go with the trend.”
Throughout the course of our conversation, Wardner seems to feel a strong sense of loyalty to his peers. He's happy to rave about a number of bands that he admires, but has nothing negative to say about any other artists, and maintains a kind of solidarity against parts of the music press whose fickle natures have been fatal to other bands. He’s keen to defend the bands he feels have gotten a rough deal - “I feel really sad about the fact that bands like The Junket, bands like Cay, and a million other bands, didn't get to carry on what they were doing that was so special, just because they didn't play their cards right.”
In fact he seems keen to talk about other bands in any context, heaping praise on Texan post-rock noise terrorists ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - “They're a great, great band, 'Another Morning Stoner' is an amazing song,” he raves. Ask him what he's listening to at the moment and you'll get an eclectic list. “I haven't got the new Queen Adreena album but I've been listening to a lot of the first one... I can't stop listening to Helmet for whatever reason... and The Piano by Michael Nyman. It really evokes something in me. The first girl I ever fell in love with used to always play that on the piano. I used to walk into to the room watching her play it. Whenever I hear that it really takes me back to that time, y'know, first love and all that... you haven't got any of that cynicism, you're not looking for how it's gonna end, and it just reminds me of that time when I just thought things would never end,” he reminisces.
It’s unquestionably clear that Wardner loves – and is completely absorbed by – music in every sense, both as a musician and a music fan. He talks constantly about the records he loves, the bands he admires, what music means to him and the creative process with which he is steadily becoming more and more familiar. However at the same time he still has to use that creative process to pay the bills, something that one senses he’s keenly aware of. The “familiar art/commerce divide is something that comes up again and again, as Som talks fervently about maintaining one’s integrity while musing on how Infectious will react to his proposed musical directions. While My Vitriol now seem to have a pretty clear idea of what they are and what they want to do, it’s evident that they’re still learning how to do it. The band that captured people’s hearts with punch, three-minute pop nuggets have evolved in the direction of precisely layered, raging crescendos sandwiched between sobbing and sighing instrumentals; to some it’s the sound of a band finding their feet and honing their own sound. To others it’s a far cry from their initial expectations of a band who were at one stage described as “a better Foo Fighters”. Two years have passed and in that time a slew of new bands have been ready to take MV’s place if they should fall; Som’s determination seems well-timed. “I feel bad looking at certain other bands, and I don't want it to be the same story with us really, I don't want to be stuck in our little bubble and not realise what's going on around us."