Interviews

The Go-Betweens, Mikey Young and the 86 tram: a chat with RVG at BIGSOUND

When we ran into Jess Locke, Body Type, and Jade Imagine at this year’s BIGSOUND we noticed something. As diverse as their individual musical tastes may have been, they were united in their enthusiasm for RVG. Fronted by Romy Vager, the Melbourne outfit draws influence from a rich tradition of literate and guitar-driven pop. Live, they feel like they’re taking it further.

These aren’t phonies or aesthetic cripples, they play with flair and feel. Their set showcases mostly music from debut A Quality of Mercy, a formidable recording captured at The Tote and mastered by Total Control and Eddy Current Suppression Ring recordist Mikey Young. It’s a music which swirls with a frenzy of honesty and anxiety. Smart, imaginative and expressive guitar play lays at its forefront.

RVG could simply be another excellent-bar-none underground group that turns out a great live show and a series of cherished recordings, but equally, it feels that they may be destined for something great. Regardless, there’s something special about them.

At BIGSOUND, we caught up with Vager and drummer Marc Nolte.

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For those outside of Melbourne RVG seem like one of those groups which arrive fully formed, the sort of group you might even be able to pin a little hope and expectation upon.

HAPPY: More than a few of the acts I’ve had a chance to talk to at BIGSOUND and a lot of people from Melbourne are really excited about your debut LP. It feels like there’s some real momentum. Can you tell me a little about how the year has been going for the band?

ROMY: It’s been going really well. It’s just been kind of softly ascending which has been really nice. There haven’t been any spikes, we’ve just been having a really nice time.

MARC: We’ve built a fairly good community as well. We’ve met a lot of people and we’ve built a good relationship with them. It’s kind of been like…

ROMY: Easy! When we put some singles out last year a lot of community radio stations in Melbourne started playing, which was weird because we were just playing a few shows and I’ve never had that experience before. I’d never heard myself on the radio before then. It’s really amazing. We’re where we are now because of a lot of community support and just a lot of really good people.

MARC: We’ve been surrounded by a bunch of friends down in Melbourne. The real test is coming up here where we don’t know anyone!

HAPPY: Are you happy with the response you’ve been having playing these BIGSOUND sets?

ROMY: Yeah! Really good responses. We’ve been playing in Melbourne for around two years now, but it’s just been really exciting to play other cities. It’s different, it’s a bit fresh which is good. We’re kind of a bit established in Melbourne. We played Sydney last month and coming to Brisbane, it’s been like, “Well okay, we can take this outside of Melbourne. Outside of the 86 Tram Line!”

HAPPY: In past interviews, you’ve talked about The Go-Betweens being an influence, the Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express period specifically…

ROMY: Definitely!

HAPPY: Another one of their long-players, 16 Lovers Lane, just turned 30 this year. Do you have a favourite track from 16 Lovers?

ROMY: I don’t know! They’re all so fucking good. What’s the one that’s like “You can have hearing loss/When you’re Boyfriend says he’s boss”? You Can’t Say No Forever! That one – I love that one, it’s so groovy!

HAPPY: The Go-Betweens were a group with a very interesting songwriting dynamic. What’s the writing dynamic like in RVG?

ROMY: Well it starts with me. A lot of the songs we play I’ve made little demos of and put them on the internet. Sonically they’re not great, but then I’ve taken them to the band and they’ve made it good! They’ve fixed it, they’ve made things more interesting and listenable.

MARC: Your ideas are appreciated! It’s not like a set song demo…

ROMY: Of course, not. It’s not like, “you have to follow this!”

MARC: (laughs) I guess the songs generally can be more or less like demos. Most of the time we just add more dynamic, but in other instances, songs have been completely turned upside down…

ROMY: Sped up…

MARC: Rhythmically or stylistically – it hasn’t been a tedious process at all!

HAPPY: This is one for Romy specifically. What do you find to be the most challenging thing about writing for you?

ROMY: It’s difficult in the sense that for a lot of these songs you have to go to a certain kind of depth. I have to explore parts of myself that maybe I’m not always comfortable with. It’s a bit difficult sometimes, if you want to do some things which are quite cathartic and confessional then it can’t come from a place that isn’t true. It’s partly also figuring out what’s going on with yourself while you’re writing I think.

HAPPY: You recorded parts of debut record A Quality of Mercy in the Tote band room! Obviously, it’s an iconic venue, but what was your motivation for recording there? What is it like as recording space?

MARC: (laughing) It was free!

ROMY: Free! Our bassist Angus Bell works there and he basically produced the record. He knew the desk because he mixes bands there when they’re playing live in the band room. We just kind of plugged everything into the mixing desk there and we used the venue’s microphones that they save for the sound engineers. The whole record cost us like $200.

HAPPY: Were you recording it as a live performance or were you more tracking and comping it?

ROMY: We tracked the drums, the bass and the guitars and then we did everything else back at my house.

MARC: But very live yes!

HAPPY: Angus did lot of the recording and mixing but when you got to the mastering stage you had Mikey Young coming in to lend a hand…

ROMY: Well yeah, but he masters everybody!

MARC: (laughs) because he’s good! And cheap.

ROMY: Apparently, he said the album has three hits on it. I’m not sure what hits they are but that was really good.

HAPPY: There’s something about the way he handles production that always really clicks. What was it like having him lend an ear?

ROMY: Well Gus had mixed it all and I was pretty funny about it still. I didn’t know if it sounded right. But then when we got the masters back it was like, “Oh there we go!” It had all the boom and dynamics. Apparently, he just quite casually does it. I’ve never met him but he’s really cool.

HAPPY: You all live together in Preston so I’m guessing you know each other pretty well. Who’s the weirdest member of the group?

ROMY: Gus!

MARC: Gus! Because you just don’t know how he feels. You don’t know if he’s pissed off at you or he’s delighted with you.

ROMY: (lovingly) Sometimes I feel he could just drop a box of matches on the ground and he’d be able to count them all straight away.

(Laughter all round)

HAPPY: You’ve played in a number of outfits before, what is it that you wanted to achieve with RVG? Is there a goal or a message?

ROMY: I think the songs sort of have messages and I think the reason people are liking them a lot is because they are a bit unique in what they’re trying to say to them. There are a lot of things in there that I don’t think a lot of other groups are doing. I think we just want to make another album…

MARC: Yeah!

ROMY: …then just keep playing and try to challenge ourselves in some way, because I think that’s why we’re here really.

MARC: I guess the album is a little naïve and I guess that might give off the DIY feel, which I always like because I’m right into all that stuff. The music is brutally honest.

HAPPY: What are you looking forward to most this year? You’ve got a set at Meredith coming up in December, which is a pretty big deal!

ROMY: Meredith! We were really humbled to have gotten that.

MARC: Meredith is very special to me because I work with the family, the Norman family.

HAPPY: It’s been a really hard year for them.

MARC: I’m a carer for Chris Nolan. I’ve always been there when the festival’s on, I’ve been with the family for Christmases and Easter. It’s going to be rather emotional because it’s the first festival without Jack, the father. It’s going to be emotional, but so special. It’s the best reason to come to a festival a lot of the money goes back into the support for Chris and his family. It’s such an honour to be playing.