Veronica Falls (est. 2009) are an upbeat indie pop hybrid out of London and Glasgow. Mixing equal parts shoegaze, C-86, and euphonious 60′s-era harmonies, Roxanne Clifford (vocals, guitar), James Hoare (guitar, vocals), Marion Herbain (bass) and Patrick Doyle (drums, vocals) released their eponymous debut in September 2011 on Slumberland Records and have been on the rise ever since. Despite descriptions like ‘breezy’, ‘warm’, ‘organic’ and even ‘perfect’ the band is far from being twee or pristine. Their themes are dark (think suicide, hauntings, and long, cold winters ) their guitars are forceful and exact, and one imagines a slightly-tense Roxanne singing a track like Beachy Head – about the raging sea, rip tides and dying – with arms folded, jaw set and occasionally kicking at things. Having supported the likes of The Pastels, The Drums and Belle and Sebastian, the co-ed quartet are about to headline a series of their own shows in North America, the U.K. and Europe. Shortly before their departure, Patrick Doyle chats with me about their influences, the learning curve associated with debut recordings, and wonders if a new jacket purchase is really so necessary for Toronto in February.
I love to hear the story of bands names…Will you indulge me?
Sure (laughs). We went through a few different ideas when we first started and it took us a long time to come up with Veronica Falls. We had only played together in a studio and never had to think about a name until we started playing shows and realized we needed something to go on the poster. We really liked the name Veronica and we liked the idea that it could be a person or a fictional place. It didn’t feel obvious.
Why music as a career choice?
For me, it’s all I’ve done since I left school, really. I left home when I was 17 and started in a band and I’ve basically been in bands ever since. There weren’t really any other options as far as I could see. It’s something that’s stayed consistent for me, and Veronica Falls just makes sense. It’s been a fun couple of years so far and hopefully this year will only be better.
What were the bands you were crazy about growing up?
Lots of American indie stuff and lots of K Records in the 90s. I liked very minimal stuff: Young Marble Giants, Felt, The Feelies…
The last little while I’ve been listening to the first five REM albums…like, obsessively. Collectively, we bonded over minimal, primal bands – Beat Happening, Velvet Underground, The Chills – and we all had a mutual appreciation of that first Violent Femmes record with just the bare bones of a song and the melody…
So is a band’s sound simply born from their shared love of the same bands or is it more formed in the chemistry that happens once you write and play together?
We never really had a conscious game plan for our sound; we never said, ‘Let’s write a song that sounds like this band,’ or ‘Let’s write something that sounds kind of like that song.’ We got together because a friend of ours had a free studio in East London where we all lived and Roxanne and I were looking to write together. We didn’t have a drummer – and I’d never played drums before – so I decided to do it. I couldn’t play overly well having just started so we kind of had to keep things simple and that kind of primal drumming became the backbone of our sound. Aside from that, there wasn’t an agenda; we just wanted to have fun and enjoy the writing process, and enjoy playing together and playing off each other.
When I listen to you’re your music, I hear traces of Lush, My Bloody Valentine, the Mighty Lemondrops, and even 60’s-style harmonies…When you were writing and recording could you hear all that too, or do you have a listen at the end and think, ‘Oh, wow, look what crept in there!’
I think it’s easy to look back in retrospect and say like, ‘Oh I see where that part came from now.’ When I listen to the record I think I could’ve written it a bit differently,but when you’re in the middle of it and you’re writing, you’re completely absorbed by it and not really thinking, ‘Hmmm, this sounds a bit like The Byrds.’ You’re just concentrating on getting the song to where you’re happy with it and comfortable putting it down. We’re all big fans of The Beach Boys and harmonies are very important to us; James in particular is a big 60’s fan so I think his guitar parts are naturally quite 60’s-inspired.
So, you loved The Beach Boys and American indie as a teen and I adored shoegaze and Brit Pop – was this some sort of ‘grass is greener’ thing do you think?
(laughs) I’m not sure if it’s to do with where you’ve grown up or even how you’ve grown up…I definitely think American bands do minimalism very well. Bands like Devo with really basic, repetitive riffs; it’s something that Britain’s not done as well with. Maybe it was a type of ‘grass is greener’ situation and it was somehow more exotic to look to America and be interested in what was going on there as opposed to what happening at home – which was indeed loads of Brit Pop. Brit Pop definitely had some good parts to it though…We’re big fans of Elastica.
You worked with Guy Fixsen who’s worked with My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, Pixies, Stereo Lab, Throwing Muses, Slowdive, The Sundays…
It’s a pretty impressive CV, isn’t it? (laughs).
It is! Is it at all intimidating for a young band to enter into the studio with someone so experienced who’s worked with so many accomplished acts?
You know, I remember specifically the day we met Guy: I was incredibly, incredibly hung over (laughs). I think that immediately got rid of any sort of nervousness or insecurity. I was just concentrating on not throwing up, so the ice was broken because he was seeing me at my worst. Really though, he’s an incredibly friendly, gentle person and not very scary.
Did he bring the qualities you were hoping he would bring to the material?
Unfortunately, we ended up scrapping about 80 percent of what we did with Guy and re-recording. He’s an incredible producer but his style of recording didn’t really work for our band and that’s a shame because the songs we did keep, I really like. The quality of his recordings and his ability to get the most out of us as individuals was so great but overall, I think the energy just wasn’t really there.
With his level of experience and talent, how does that happen?
We were recording in a style we’ve never recorded in before – tracking everything separately – and we were a bit out of our depth, I think. I can imagine for the right band he’d be perfect but I guess you just don’t know until you try that certain styles just don’t translate to the sound you’re looking for. It’s a shame but its part of the learning curve and we learned a lot from it. It was such an interesting time.
Who did you turn to complete the record?
We worked with a guy named Ash Workman who worked on the last Metronomy album and on with The Drums too. He’s really young – like, 20 – and quite talented. He engineered it and we produced it in the end. He was great. We expect big things from him in the future.
Wow, sounds like the world is his oyster starting out so young.
He’s one of those people that you just can’t believe knows so much at that age. In a way, I think that made him more intimidating to me than a producer who’s recorded with The Pixies (laughs).
How does your last studio experience affect your writing for the new album?
We realized after working with Guy that some of the songs maybe weren’t quite ready, so we’ve effectively done some very expensive demos. We’re going to try and do a lot more recording and preparation on our own and try to take a step back and dissect the songs a little more. We also learned that we wanted to write a lot quicker: we’re all perfectionists and tend to get hung up on little things. I think we’ll likely produce this next one on our own as well.
And when do you think the next record will be ready?
Hopefully we’ll have another album out by the end of this year if all goes to plan.
Where do your ideas come from for your songs?
Relationships…unrequited love; I think most of the songs on the album are love songs in one way or another. That’s something I definitely find easiest to write about; I’m not sure about Roxanne or James.
Do you all come to the table with your various ideas?
Yeah, every song arrives at the studio at a different stage of completion. Sometimes one of us will bring a song that’s nearly finished and the others add their own parts, or sometimes there will only be a guitar riff and we’re like, ‘What can we do with this?’ Every song is different but we all have our input; it’s a nice way to write and it seems to work very well for us.
Your songs are disarmingly up-tempo for such moody content. Do you like to throw musical curve my heart curve balls like that where you can?
I think that juxtaposition comes from the fact that we’re not very good at writing slow, sad songs; we’re inclined to play fast, loud pop songs. At the same time, our sense of humor is quite dark and sometimes it might come across as quite gloomy but often it’s meant to be more tongue-in-cheek.
You’ve been touring a lot of late and I know you’re about to start a new leg over here in North America – how’s it been going?
It’s been really good! We’ve been lucky – because you hear horror stories of bands going to America and playing to two people in a room and having a horrible time – and I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad show. Last time we were in America we did some shows on the west coast in L.A. and San Diego, and then did a couple shows over in New York before we joined The Drums in Boston and did the rest of North America with them. We had a really good response from The Drums fans and I think we won over a few people.
So you’re looking forward to coming back?
I’m really looking forward to it. It’s all headline shows for us this time so hopefully some of our new fans will come out. I’m really excited about it because generally, touring is great. We recently did some shows in Holland that were crazy and really well-attended. We’re really been just so lucky.
Are you all feeling rather comfortable playing on stage at this point?
Once in a while someone will tell us something right before we go on that will kind of freak us out – like that someone of particular importance is there to watch us – but generally, we’ve played so much now that I don’t get nervous anymore. There were some shows with Belle and Sebastian here in London which was at some of the biggest venues we ever played. When we walked out on the stage in front of an audience of that sheer size we were, um, just terrified (laughs) but once we start playing, we forget about it. If you get worried it comes across and people will know…You’ve just got to get over it and do what you can do.
Patrick recently admitted on Twitter that he ignored this writer’s advice about purchasing a proper coat for the tour and subsequently froze while in Toronto: “Wish I’d listened to @april_r when she told me just how cold it would be in Canada #unprepared.” Hear My Heart Beats, their brand new single (recorded on a boat on the Thames) below, and find a complete list of upcoming Veronica Falls tour dates on the band’s Facebook page.