The punk scene of the 70’s was born out of political and economic unease. The youth of the day were enraged, anti-authoritarian and out of work.
Contrast this with 2016, a year that’s arguably the worst ever! There’s political unease from Brexit to Trump and economic anxiety with a record weak pound. If that’s not enough to exasperate we’ve had soaring hate crimes, lost Bowie and an abysmal England football team. The worst thing is I’m only at the tip of the cataclysmic ice berg that has been 2016. To say punk is needed is an understatement, it is imperative to unite and inform an increasingly divided Britain.
Is there a silver lining in music? It gives rise to politically enraged artists arguably producing their most vital and best work to date – look at ANHONI’s HOPELESSNESS and PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project. When artists are most oppressed in times of adversity they often produce their best art.
Where modern political music is lacking is in it’s inability to resonate with young people. I don’t think that’s a flaw on ANHONI or PJ Harvey’s part, both have released infectious, impassioned albums. However, both have been sidelined as more Radio 6 than daytime Radio 1. Consequently, young people are perhaps too concerned with pulling a frat boy closer in the back seat of their rover, listening to consumerist pop music.
Thankfully, four piece VANT hailing from “planet earth” are bucking this trend. VANT have been a regular fixture on daytime radio and their single ‘KARMA SEEKER’ was even been named as Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World! The band channel the sounds of Pixies, DFA 1979 and MC5 with a real menace.
Their songs cover gigantic subjects that range from the meaning of life (‘KARMA SEEKER’), chemical conflict (‘THE ANSWER’) and even an alien visiting earth (‘FLY-BY-ALIEN’). ‘BIRTH CERTIFICATE’ features poignant lines “Patriotism is a f**king lie/ I’ll be branded British ’til the day I lie.”
Anyway, I sat down with frontman Mattie Vant and guitarist Henry Eastham at their support slot for You Me at Six. We discussed VANT’s socially conscious message, Brexit in Sunderland and their new single ‘PEACE & LOVE’.
Songs have a distinct social or political message, is it important that your music says something?
Definitely! I think it’s more wanting to say something as a human as we all do and embrace discussion – music happens to be our chosen platform to do so because it’s naturally what we’re good at. It’s not trying to be something for the sake of being something. I think there is not a enough discussion in the real world at the moment.
In this current political climate with Brexit, Trump, refugee crisis etc. do you think there’s a need for this discussion more than ever?
Absolutely! We get on stage every night and we’re talking to people through our lyrics, through our stage banter. It’s this moment in time when everything exists in it’s own sort of fake world. It’s about speaking to people directly, that’s the only way you’re ever going to change anything.
At the moment, especially in guitar music there seems to be a lack of politically motivated bands. Why do you think guitar music has become detached from politics?
I think all music has really- particularly rock music though! This was why I was so adamant that we would be saying something with our own music really. Okay you do have artists like PJ Harvey, Björk, Beyonce who are all on the cusp of societal problems, but, rock music has always categorically been at the front of those movements. Whether it’s Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, however, I could name on one hand the name of bands that have stood for something in the last twenty years.
Are you feeling a pressure on your shoulders to say something then?
Not at all. It’s not just about the music, but it’s important to get our message across and hopefully in the process inspire others.
How do you decide topics you want to talk about? Is it seeing something on the news or what really?
I think it’s when something shock and apposes you in such a way that it eats away at your sanity and you have to oppose it. You have to express yourself in some way and release that demon in some form and you need to address those issues. Instead of just writing it into a Facebook post that people will see for a day or two and then people won’t see anymore – if you put it into a piece of art it will last forever.
Talking about Facebook, I know labels previously have had an involvement in band’s social media, however now it seems not so much. Social media seems like a marmite topic for artists. Do you enjoy the use of social media or is it more of a hindrance?
It’s a pain in the arse really! It’s great that you can use it to express opinion, however, you’re preaching to the converted anyway. The way algorithms work, I’m not physically changing people’s opinions anyway. If you believe in equality, environmental conservation then you’re news feeds will be filled with articles expressing that. If you’re a racist and believe that we should still be teaching heavy religion in schools and you think global warming is a fictitious lie – then that’s all you’re gonna see. So it’s kind of pointless in a way. All the other bullshit you have to do with it is just soul destroying. I hope we get to the point that we don’t have to do it and can get someone at the label for it, but at this stage it is important to convey our personality.
Additionally on Facebook, I noticed you’ve set your home town as “PLANET EARTH”. Is that a tongue and cheek comment, or is no nationalities/ borders etc. something you consciously believe in?
It’s fact. There’s no reason to believe in boundaries. Our tour manager literally just bought up the fact that 1000 years ago in some sort of battle in the UK, vikings took power. Britain doesn’t exist, it’s literally just a name that someone has chosen in some point in history. It’s just mental to me that people can’t understand the concept of equality and luck that we have. We’re lucky that we’re white straight males from England that allows us to go anywhere and have a career – or at least it did until Brexit. I think we don’t appreciate that we need greater equality throughout the society, whether that’s race, gender or sexual orientation or whether it’s simply nationality. If you can’t see refugees in the Calais camp and all the children suffering, and you can’t put your own children in that position and know what it feels like, and using your life savings to send your children across to a foreign land that you think is going to be better for them. If you can’t empathise with that, you’re not a good person.
Being a band actually from Sunderland, a place that voted heavily to leave the EU- is it a particularly frustrating place to be at the moment?
Why do you think I left?! Why do you think I don’t live there anymore?! It’s because they don’t share the same views as I do. The whole reason my whole life I have had a fantasy of not living in the UK. I want to leave to the Netherlands, Finland or Scandinavia, Germany – somewhere that has a majority in society that shares the same views as I do. That right is being torn away from me as we speak, I want to find a way to keep doing it and get other people to retain that opportunity. I don’t associate myself with the UK, let alone Sunderland and it’s incredibly sad to know that where you’re coming from is so full of hate and prejudice.
I didn’t really see a black person until I was 14. I think that’s the reality of the north east because it’s isolated and so far behind the rest of the UK. If you look at the map of the EU referendum, and look at all the major cities, all voted to remain because they’re cosmopolitan. People see on a day to day basis that we’re all the same and in fact the people who migrate here are a huge benefit to society and open us up to new ideas with new skill sets and backgrounds that can enrich culture and economic growth. But if you look in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and only know Bessy around the corner and Jim who runs the local pub and Trevor that does the paper round then everyone else is alien. I can totally understand why people voted that way- that’s why we need our education system to change!
I do agree with you, the issue is fear of the unknown! However, we’ll go back onto music now which is why you’re here supporting You Me at Six. You’ve had hottest records in the world, been played on day time Radio 1, how does it feel to get that sort of publicity!
Amazing! We can’t thank BBC enough for the support that they’ve shown us. They’ve been instrumental in our rise over the last 18 months, and long may it continue. From a personal perspective, it’s good to hear music with a message on the radio.
Additionally you’re signed to the very iconic label Parlophone, you’re alongside bands like Blur, Radiohead and Iron Maden. How’s it feel to be on such an iconic band?
It’s such a privilege to have. You listen to a lot of those bands like Radiohead and Blur- those bands were given such an opportunity to develop and grow their sound, it’s a truly exciting time for us. They seem like a label that really stick by their bands.
You’ve recently release new single “Peace & Love”, can you put some context behind the song?
The core idea behind the song is that we take those words for granted. Those words do not hold the same weight as they used to in the 60’s and 70’s. I think now it’s just a throwaway phrase, it’s a fashion statement and not something of worth. We take a photo and we hold up a peace sign, we don’t think about what it means and the history of it. When we have photos with fans, I consciously put a peace sign up because I actually believe in what it stands for.
The verses try to address everything we were trying to talk about before. It’s easy to express yourself online and think that you’re changing something, like changing your profile picture to a new filter or sharing someone else’s words. It just comes to a point where you have to form your own thoughts and beliefs. I’m not trying to tell anyone that my opinion is right, I just want people form their own opinions and use their voice around the dinner table, at school with friends, or whatever it is. Just be involved in the real world and leave the digital world. The digital world is great for a number of things, but there comes to a point that it doesn’t matter, and doesn’t change anything at all!
It’s time for our generation to stand up and do something because nobody knows what the f**k is going on anymore. We pretend everything is fine because that we live in this world that we have everything we could ever want or need but the reality is that this isn’t going to last forever. The bubble is going to burst- we need to be more conscious of the world we live in! Society preaches survival of the fittest, a lion would eat its young if it needed to survive and so much of society is about self and what we do as an individual. This is totally true through politics, corporations everything, it is all about individual gain. That’s just how we have been geared to survive. The problem is that the only way that we could possibly survive is unification and coming together as a planet, realistically if we don’t do that we’re going to destroy ourselves through nuclear weaponry, global warming or natural disasters provoked from us as a species. It’s just important that we start to treat each other with the same respect as we treat ourselves. That is something that is really lacking at the moment.
It’s honestly so refreshing to hear a band speaking out so openly about all these issues! Back to the music, how is supporting You Me at Six?
It’s been amazing, they’re such wonderful people. They’ve been so helpful in every aspect of this tour. It’s given us the opportunity to play to a completely new audience and you can never underestimate an audience. Today people go to a Stormy show and a Wolf Alice show- there’s no real collective groups anymore! For some reason our music seems to work really well alongside You Me at Six’s, and I’m sure we’ve won some new fans along the way and it’s been a great tour for us!
It’s great to hear you’ve having a good support slot. I heard that you described your reaction supporting Blossoms as “f**king awful.”
I don’t know how everyone has seen that! I suppose it’s hot goss though. I do think Blossoms are a great band, it just didn’t work for us.
If you could collaborate with anyone alive or dead who would it be?
Neil Young, John Lennon, George Harrison.
As I mentioned before, you’ve had loads and loads of interviews. Is there any questions you wished you had been asked, but currently have not?
I can think of plenty of questions that I wished I hadn’t been asked. That’s a really good question! There’s only so many times you can answer where does the name VANT come from, and those really mundane things. What we’ve talked about is amazing. The whole reason we do this is to start conversation. I’m sure you’ve interviewed a million bands before and never once talked about politics. The show itself is about escapism and taking yourself out of normality for half an hour, it’s important for us because we put a lot into what we do. These discussions that we’re having and I think you need to find some sort of release in your art, and that’s the moment to do so.
By writing about topics, naturally it generates questions about those topics. To answer your question, it’s just asking us about what we do and understanding what we do. It’s fairly new to some people, it hasn’t been part of rock music for some time and we want to change that.
Do you get frustrated when interviewers ask about the mundane topics then?
I just find it bizarre and I spent my whole time saying “what did you choose that chord sequence” or “was a girl really that nasty to you”, then the opportunity to talk about something different I would relish it- and I guess that’s the sign of a good interviewer. It’s important to find out what that band is about and understand what that band is about and give them an opportunity to speak about it!
VANT’S NEW SINGLE ‘PEACE & LOVE’ IS OUT NOW AND YOU CAN CATCH VANT ON THEIR HEADLINE TOUR IN NOVEMBER.