Vichy Government Interview
e-mail questionnaire, September 2006
The Vichy Government press spoken-word provocative
philosophy into infantile casio macabre. Endlessly quotable, they snap
protests about Cliché Guevara across Kate Moss's tits or creepily
purr Make love to the cam-er-a, c'mon like a deb-u-tante. They have
been daubed with a reputation for antagonistic, anti-consensus pop and
their agit-cabaret live show has become a thing of legend.
The Vichy Government- who, what and why? Jamie Manners, lead vocals. Love child of Gene Pitney and Delphine Seyrig. Andrew Chilton, other stuff. Mild-mannered Ramones fan, presently answering these questions. An aspirant pop group. It seemed like a good idea at the tine, which was approximately 7.30pm, Februrary 14th 2002, the Bull & Gate, Kentish Town.
Describe your sound to a brain-dead, Arctic Monkeys loving, Etnies wearing indie kid. Who or what are Etnies? I'd say we sounded a bit like Arctic Monkeys, in the hope that they'd buy one of our albums. I don't really have anything against Arctic Monkeys, by the way.
You have been described as "the most thrilling outsiders around"- can you expand further, please? It's a very old quote. I suppose we can be quite surprising if you've never encountered us before.
Do you prefer hostility or adoration? I don't know that we've ever really been adored, although I doubt that I would have noticed if we had. Hostility can be fun, especially when we've played two songs and people are already reduced to shouting "Please stop now!" at us.
You seem to have garnered a fairly impressive underground reputation. Tell us a bit about this and how you explain it? Have we? It doesn't really feel like there's an eager subculture hanging on our every utterance. Which may be best for all concerned.
"Elvis & The Beatles" suggests that pop music (or at least pop stars) is totally irrelevant and impotent. In that case, why form a band? At this point, people mainly form bands if they can't get onto a reality TV show, or if they want to show off their musical tastes by lamely imitating their favourite bands. Or both. I actually thought "Elvis & The Beatles" was about how any kind of audience bring very specific expectations to music and will refuse to consider anything that doesn't fulfill these preconceptions to be worth their attention. Also that the conservatism of the "100 best albums"/hall of fame mentality the music industry and press leads to anything that isn't comparable to Elvis, The Beatles or Radiohead being ignored. It could also be Jamie complaining that he didn't get the Fosca box set for Christmas. Either way, a whinge- but a brilliant one. [Believe it or not, I am capable of acknowledging that Elvis & The Beatles each had a handful of brilliant songs. The song mourns the fact that once you attain a certain level of success, you get swallowed up by light entertainment and what you do is blunted, neutered. Whether you're Elvis, Jarvis, Johnny Rotten or Bin Laden, you end up as Mickey Mouse. Yet all today's bands want, it seems, is to get as big as possible. We just want to be as good as possible. -Jamie]
What is the Vichy Government live experience like? Don't know, I've never seen us. I'd like to be able to say it's a cross between Artaud's theatre of cruelty and the Tamla Motown revue, but it's more like erratic performances of eight or nine songs, with us shouting at each other in between.
Your songs are often full of caustic wit and venomous poetry, yet you also have an ear for a tune so strong that even Greg McDonald of The Visions has been known to namecheck you. Is that a deliberate marrying of honeyed melodies and poisonous lyrics, or is that an accident? If that is the case, it's probably an accident. Not all our songs are 'caustic' and 'venomous', but anyone not actually in a coma may have noticed that quite a few things are deserving of that kind of response. The resort to the comforts and familiarity of pop song structure is probably a result of gnawing and deep-rooted insecurity, in my case anyway. Greg's a very nice person and it was nice of him to say those things about us, and it would have been even nicer if his band had been any good.
Who are your heroes? Musical, political, artistic, literary, etc. I tend to think that people are, in many circumstances, capable of actions that can be considered heroic. Calling someone a hero seems like an attempt to deny that the rest of their life is probably given over to weakness, self-interest, stupidity or cruelty- as everyone else's is, to one degree or another. That said, I've been wearing a figurative black armband since Arthur Lee died.
What makes you proudest about being in The Vichy Government? I think the idea that there isn't anyone quite like us, that we aren't intimidated by other people's ideas of what a band should be and do.
What was the last song you heard that you just had to copy and play at a friend? Can't remember. I usually at least attempt not to evangelise about music too much now, unless I think I detect a predisposition towards something in someone's tastes. "The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain)" by The Blue Orchids has mainly been contending for listening space with the Electrelane singles compilation recently though.
Tell us a bit about your albums- how they were recorded, how realeased, who listens to them? They were recorded in a high-tech living room and a no-tech bedroom. Some time after the Filthy Little Angels label, who previously released some tracks on a split 7" EP, asked to put out an album. They pressed up copies of our 2nd album, Whores In Taxis, and tried to sell them through their website. Undeterred by the experience they repeated the procedure with Carrion Camping, our debut, in early 2006. Apparently some people do listen to them, I've actually met one or two.
Do you think you 'make more sense' to a Northern Irish audience than to a crowd in a pub backroom in Cambridge? We tend to be able to confuse people wherever we play. Dedicating songs to murdered loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast is probably at least as incomprehensible an act as playing a song which requires Portland Arms habitués to imagine Jamie as Catherine Deneuve.
What are your aims for 2006? Our main aim for 2006 has been to complete this questionnaire. We've found it quite an undertaking.
How can our readers get hold of your music and why should they bother?
Oliver Cromwell or Toasted Heretic?
Stan Bowles or Lee Trundle?
Chips or cream buns?
Pix from http://www.verot.net/vichygov/
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Lucy: 'Taxidermy' and 'Drink Me' are quite drastically different in their
styles, so what kind of sound can we expect from the 3rd album?
KJG: We don't know yet. We're playing a lot of new material tonight so you'll be able to judge that for yourself. When I'm this close up to it, it's really difficult to tell. I'm on a bit of a negative slant today, but usually with our music I can only hear the bits that have gone wrong rather
than anything that went right. When you reflect back on something it's very difficult to give an objective opinion, and I don't believe in objectivity anyway, I think everything's subjective. I just throw a deck of cards and
wherever they land, that's where she finds herself. I'm not really the one to explain my part in it, you must do that as the observer really, and of course that will reflect your part in the grand scheme of things.
Lucy: Do you enjoy playing live more than the creative process in the studio?
KJG: (Laughs) I don't enjoy any of it. It comes and it goes, ok? There's nothing like when you're writing and you manage to catch something by its
tail; when you're looking for those things underground that are skittering out of sight just when you're about to catch them. And when you catch them it is worth it, but it's a momentary pleasure. I've got so much noise upstairs, and I can hear things in my head that to me are absolutely devastatingly beautiful. I'm always trying to download them and get them
here, but they never get here in the right state, they're always very disabled and they don't even begin to imitate what I can hear in my head.
It's a frustrating process in the main.
Lucy: Your lyrics are simultaneously emotionally expressive and cryptic. Are you looking to be understood by your audience?
KJG: I'm always trying to understand myself, but it's like there's a point in the centre of the room, and there's a hundred windows to look at the same point from. All I can do is give you different angles on the same thing. God, you know, if I could find one conclusive thing in anything I would probably have something to put an anchor down on. But I cant, and I haven't met anyone that can. You can pick out anything you like in my lyrics, I don't seek to be cryptic. I love words for the sake of words, for me they're kind of free standing, and they don't really need to be explained. I think every word has its own character and colour and picture and the result you get with lyrics just depends how you put them together. You could just do it in a William Burroughs esque way, or throw the deck of cards, and you'd probably still find something that our tiny little minds would latch on to in order to gain some kind of emotional understanding. I don't think there's a constant, the only constant that there is for me is that there is no constant. I use myself as my canvas, I gut myself and fillet myself the whole fucking time, I'm always hooking myself out of the water, I'm always cutting my own head off and disembowelling myself, and as you can probably tell I'm quite angry about it at the moment. I'm very tired of it all, of my
process and how I find life, because it always seems to be about living and dying all in one breath. I'm getting pretty fucking tired of that.
Lucy: Do you think drugs stimulate or hinder creativity?
KJG: Well that depends on the drug, because I think most things arrive in the form of a drug really. I know in myself that if anything I am, much to my greater expense, an adrenalin junkie. My synapses don't work well enough to put pills in my mouth, I can't do that, despite popular opinion. I don't need any help breaking down, put it that way. There's not much holding it
together. If there was a drug that could put aline between two polar opposites and make them in to one thing I'm sure I would have it
intravenous, but I haven't found it. I think drugscan be a bit of a lazy way for creativity anyway, you're better off in the cold light of day in the mirror.
Lucy: As a band, you are distinguished by the extreme physicality of your
live performances. Do you consciously make an effort to put on a show or do
your performances just naturally come to you, and whatever happens, happens?
KJG: It's a bit of both, because you see, I think taking the stage is one of the most unnatural things anyone can do. In a way, just walking on stage actually creates an altered state - its not right, no one's meant to do that, unless you're a priest or a magician, or something like that. To put somebody who's very incapable in many ways in to that position creates a combustion reaction inside me. I know that, and I take the stage knowing that. Obviously there's all the usual things that affect my performance; if I'm on my 45th day of a tour I'm probably gonna be pretty fucking tired, so I'll be dictated by that. If I'm doing new material like tonight I don't
know what's going to happen, because we haven't built the train tracks yet. The beauty of playing live is when my drummer goes in to 5th gear or in to 10th gear, and for some reason there's something that hits me in the base of the spine and I'm gone, and that's Halleluiah for me. During the last few months a lot of strange things have been happening onstage, I think the process is changing. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, I've been having quite a tough time on stage, I feel like something's pulling me under, as if something's got me.
Lucy: So does the crowd influence your performances on stage?
KJG: Yes they do. I'm unkind enough to be pretty impersonal about how I do it, so I use them for me to kick against in effect, or to surf on, (I don't
mean physically surf). If you're in an empty roomand there's a couple of people at the back, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a bad show -
they might get the show of their lives. And then again when something's really heaving and going off, I get quite a distorted view of it, because I
can feel quite overwhelmed lose my sense of place in the situation. I lose control of myself. I don't know, I probably wasn't meant to do this, I
wasn't built for this. It wasn't a career option, I didn't start there and go there, I didn't pick up the things on the way. I've sort of gone round
Lucy: As the lead singer of the band, most media interest is focused on you.
Do you feel pressurised by your position or do you enjoy being the centre
KJG: I've been here on this wheel long enough,(and I say this with a little bit of trepidation because I think you have to be really careful with this kind of thing, because the motivation to do it in itself I think is usually pretty corrupt) I'm not doing it for anyone else, I need a cheque through the door like anybody else does, you have to keep eating, you have to keep living. I'm looking for some sense of going home on my own terms, and people's critique of me is not relevant, whether it's positive of negative.
I do need a cheque through the door though, otherwise I'll have to go and be a butcher or something.
Lucy: What is the religious meaning behind the song "For I am the way"?
KJG: If you use the word religion in its truest sense, all it means is communion, it hasn't got any of the attachments to any written word. My
understanding of the word communion is loss of the sense. Another way of looking at it is you've got to get in to get out, and the only thing that I
know to be true is me, is this tiny little dot in the centre of the universe. It's the only thing that I know feels pain; I can see other people's pain and I can feel it in an emotional way, but not in a physical way. I find myself in the unfortunate position of feeling like I am the
centre of the universe and that everything is a projection, made by me - i.e. you two don't exist, you're something that I created. I don't wish that
sense upon anybody because it's not a good one. Through 'For I am the way' I'm saying that you've got to get in, because the only thing one knows to be true is oneself. And on a good day, if you stand on top of a mountain or go to the desert or stand in the ocean, and become completely inconsequential, linear time stops and you become everything and nothing. That for me is
communion, that's how I define religion. I thinkthere's a line in there which goes "Today the only bridge I have I burn" which sums it up really, because it is about cutting all lines of communication in order to really truly commune.
Lucy: Do you think that in the future your creativity will move from the sphere of music in to literature for example?
KJG: It's real hard to say. In a way, that sounds like a much easier life. But for all I know I'm deluding myself. I'm looking for someone to help me frame something at the moment, and someone is actually, someone's being really good to me. I would love to write, but I don't know if I'm good
enough to do it.