I would like to say that this interview took place in Soho, the band lolling on zebra print baroque furniture in some Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen baroque nightmare, being served cocaine and caviar by transvestite waitresses. This would be a suitably glam’n’sleazy setting for a band who’ve filched their name, Venus In Furs, from a Velvet Underground song about a book by a certain Mr Masoch that features the original dominatrix.
And their band name isn’t the only thing they’ve nicked. You don’t get born a Becky Stefani, Johnny Monroe, Shannon O’Hara or Ashley James (well maybe an Ashley James). You go and make your own names up. 10 points if you can guess where they’ve come from.
So, why do you all call yourselves by other names?
Becky: “Eeerm…..Just ‘cos it sounds better than our normal names, basically. ‘Cos they’re all really boooooooring aren’t they?”
Shannon: “No they’re not!”
Becky: “Noooooo! Luvverly names but not popstar names!”
We’re conducting this interview in the rather less glamourous surroundings of the Water Rats, and we spent about 15 minutes trying to find a “quiet” spot. As a result we’re in a corridor on the way to the loos. Shannon O’Hara, Becky Stefani and Johnny Monroe have turned up, and Ashley James has gone to look after his drums.
So what do you think of today’s popstars: Coldplay, Muse and anybody in the charts?
Giggles all around. Johnny: points to Becky: “I think Becky’s got some views on that….”
Becky: “I really don’t like Coldplay at all. I just think they’re boooooooring. They might be five nice luvverly guys but their music’s just boring.”
Which I’d agree with.
Becky: continues: “Yeah they’re not very good [To Johnny ] Do you like ‘em?”
“They make pleasant music but…..”
“But you don’t want pleasant music!!”
“…..there’s no imagery or anything like that.”
Shannon: “No there’s no imagery.”
Johnny: “There’s no controversy."
Becky: “There’s no rawk!”
So, do you think that’s what you’re going to bring to the music scene. A bit of controversy?
Johnny: “Yeah! If people just wanted to listen to good music they’d buy stuff by session musicians wouldn’t they? That’s all they are really."
Becky: [in full swing and as scornful as you can be]: “Yeah. They don’t just want to listen to a bunch of students strumming a guitar!”
Johnny [emphatically]: "Image is just as important."
So when you get interviewed by the NME you’re not gonna come out with any lines just saying: “Come and interview us in thirty years time”?
The Furs look genuinely horrified: “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” “Definitely not” Well that’s reassuring in a world when there are too many boring say-nothing twits laughingly called celebrities. *Do you think there are too many celebrities around now, what with all the people from Big Brother and docusoaps being catapulted to fame and fortune and Hello Magazine front covers? *
Johnny: “Yeah that’s a little bit dodgy isn’t it?”
Becky: “I don’t know, I think celebrities are good.”
Johnny: “Yeah, but the idea of somebody just being plucked from obscurity from the public on a show like that.”
You’ve had a lot of success through the internet. Do you think a lot more people are going to start bypassing record companies and A&R and just going to start doing it themselves?
Johnny: “Definitely, yeah.”
Becky: “It just makes it a lot easier doesn’t it? I mean, we haven’t got a record deal or anything but because of, like, MP3s and stuff, we’ve got people all around the world listening to our stuff.”
You’ve also had a couple of things put out on compilation albums…
Becky: “Yeah, we’re going out on Abuse Your Friends 3 which is out in February. That’ll be really good.”
Johnny though has an axe to grind: “That doesn’t completely mean that people are gonna come to see us in the North or anything. We still have to come down here. But it does mean that people will be able to listen to us. Which helps us a lot, yeah.”
In a discussion before the Furs’ set he was saying that to get an audience at their gigs the band have to come down south to London to play. In their home town of Darlington nobody turns up at their gigs. Gigs in general don’t have the same support in the North East as they do in other parts of Britain, and as a result the venues are closing down. It’s all a bit depressing but in the Smoke people don’t seem to mind gambling a fiver’s entry on an unknown band (albeit one which has had national radio airplay).
Right then, you’ve had a lot of radio coverage. How did that come about?
Becky: “We sent a demo to Claire Sturgess and she got back in touch with us and she wanted to put us on, so it was realy good. And we invented a little bit about ourselves..but a true bit.”
Johnny: “Steve Lamacq seems to have taken a fancy to us as well.”
Becky: goes all starry eyed: “Yeah, Steve’s been great….”
What are you going to do when your gigs end?
Becky: “probaly do some more recording. We’re gonna do like….after we’ve done all these gigs we’re going to write more songs. Go back and record the new demo…We wanna put our own single out as well: seven inch. So hopefully we’ll do that next.”
*So do you have any pre-gig superstitions that “if we don’t do this everything will blow up”? *
At this point Venus In Furs collapse with laughter. Johnny: “Oh we have this…[points to Becky as he has the giggles] You explain that.”
Becky: “We just basically whack each other on the arm like that [whacks Johnny and Shannon on their arms] and then it makes everything go alright.It didn’t work tonight though.”
Johnny: “Didn’t it? I thought we were alright?”
Well it looked alright to me.
Becky: still pouting: “Yeah, but strings knackered everywhere.” (er…one string, I think.)
Johnny: “It was alright. It wasn’t a disaster….”
Becky: “Nah, it was cool, it was cool.”
Johnny: “It does work. The time we didn’t do it we had a really bad gig.”
*So what happened? *
“I just remember it being a bad gig” shrugs Johnny.
Becky: “I think it was the Tap and Spile.”
Becky: “My guitar just went…”
Johnny: “Guitars just blew up"
“Everything broke. Amps exploded. Wasn’t good.”
*Any other bands you’d recommend? *
Johnny: “It’s difficult to pick one at the moment actually.”
Becky: “At the moment I’m really into Sleater Kinney.”
Johnny: “But then, they’ve been around for a while haven’t they?”
Johnny: “There’s nothing new really at the moment.”
Becky: “Angelica. I really like them, they’re really good.”
Now if you aren’t familiar with the way a mag works I didn’t think up all these questions. Some of the following were given to me by James Moore who threatened me with doing the news for a month unless I asked them. Now the first one on his list is: “Becky, would you ever write a song that is not about love, relationships and stuff?” Venus in Furs are lovely, but the fact still remains that there are three of them, and one of me, and I’m a coward. So here goes:
**Erm…I’ve got a few questions here from James who also writes in Drowned in Sound, and if I don’t ask them he’ll make me do the news so pleeeease be nice to me.
“Becky , would you ever write a song that is not about love, relationships and stuff?”**
Oh my Gad! I’ve killed Becky !!! Her eyes open up to beermat size, and her jaw drops to the ground. What, ten mimutes ago was a self assured starlet now looks like something the NME cartoonist came up with:
“AAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!! Tell James I’m gonna kick his ass!!!!! OOOOOOOHerrrrrrr!!!!!!!!”
Johnny, in between giggles: “Shocking.”
By this time Becky's become beligerent and she’s sulkily pouting: “Ask James if he’ll ever write a song!!”
As Venus in Furs come from Sunderland and write glistening pop songs they do get compared to a little band that begin with the letter “k”.
So do you get bored with the Kenickie comparisons? Becky: “YES!!!”
Johnny: “Totally, yes!”
Becky: “Com-per-leeetely bored!”
Johnny: [sounding like a cross between Victor Meldrew and William Hague during PM’s question time]: “It’s lazy journalism!” I almost expect him to start a “No Kenickie for Furs” campaign.
Becky: “People, get your act together!”
Have you ever thought about changing your producer? Becky is completely incredulous: “Changing our producer?”
both Johnny and Becky answer at the same time, same words:
“Well we don’t really have a producer!!”
Becky adds “It’s just, like, we know Andy [Carpenter, who also produced Kenickie.] so he does it for us, and he’s really nice too.”
Johnny: ”We don’t have any set preferences, so he’s our producer….”
Becky: “We’ll have anyone!!”
Johnny: “Yeah! As long as they’re good.”
Becky: “As long as they’re cheap.”
Johnny: “As long as they make a nice cuppa tea!!”
Well obviously nice cuppas tea are the most essential bit in chosing a producer. Now, do you know the reason dogs hate cats?
Johnny: “Oh, I’ve got a good one here ‘cos I’ve got a dog and a cat, yeah? My theory is that the dog realises the cat is more intelligent. So it has to destroy it!”
DiS, Becky and Shannon collapse with the giggles as Johnny tries to convince us that he’s in the wrong job and should go off and become a dog psychologist: “I think there’s a deep rooted anxiety…there’s a real hatred there.” Oookay then.
So do you know the reason why cats hate mice? Becky looks at me as though I’ve just grown two extra heads: “They don’t hate them, they just eat ‘em, don’t they?” Johnny is still in Doctor Dolittle mode: “It’s genetic.” We all giggle. “I know it’s genetic.”
So, going along the same lines, do you know the reason why mice don’t hate anything?
Becky: “They’re too small, they can’t afford to hate anything!”
And now let’s get onto the really important question courtesy of Mr Moore:
The Clangers vs. Bagbuss?
Becky: “Bagpuss! Definitelyyyyyyyyyy! How dare he ask such a thing?”
Johnny is by now completely outraged: “Such a thing as GOSPEL!?”
Becky: “I’ve got a Bagpuss Beanie!”
So what would you call yourselves if you were in the TellyTubbies?
Complete silence. All three Venus in Furs look completely non-plussed. For a whole 30 seconds they say nothing, rien, nada. And then comes a round of “Oh my god” and “nightmare!”
Johnny: “That is a real poser that one. It’s gonna haunt me.”
Oh course this has to be understandable for 3 year olds.
Johnny: “Hehe, ok. So you’ve got what? Po, Dipsy, La la and what?!”
Becky tries to jog her memory: “Po, Dipsy La La…”
Shannon puts us all out of our misery: “And Tinky Winky!”
Johnny: “Erm, I would be RAH-RAH!”
Becky: “Rah-Rah??!! Mine’d be Pom-Pom.”
Shannon: “Oh I really don’t know what I’d be.”
Becky: “Shannon thinks the Telletubbies are god!”
*How would you react if gnomes started turning up on your doorsteps looking for a new home? *
Becky: “Oooh I’d let ‘em in!”
Johnny: “I’d let ‘em in easily, yeah!”
What would happen if they were evil gnomes?
Johnny: “As long as they pay the rent they’ll be fine. They’d be quite useful. They could do household chores and stuff.”
At this point Ashley trundles back in, Becky asks him what Telletubby he would be. Whithout any heasitation whatsoever we get the emphatic answer: “Zorg!”. It’s almost as though he’d already thought about it.
So to tie everything up, are there any big things in the pipeline?
Becky: “God noooooo!”
Johnny: “We’ve just made an interactive CD-Rom.”
Which is available from The Venus In Furs site if you ask nicely.