An exclusive interview with Ronan Harris (VNV Nation)

An exclusive interview with Ronan Harris (VNV Nation)

This band doesn’t have to be introduced. «VNV Nation» is futurepop style in the flesh. And Ronan Harris, the frontman of the band, was one of those who first voiced this term «futurepop». Their songs are full of energy, feelings and just life in all its manifestations. That’s why «VNV Nation» has a massive and strong fanbase.

In spite of previous achievements, the last album of «VNV Nation» — «Judgement» is full of new musical ideas and directions. And I had a chance to talk to Ronan on the «VI Synthetic Snow Festival».

Hello, Ronan!

Hello! So what is this inerview for?

I represent a belarussian synthpop/EBM/futurepop site Synthez.net.

So, let’s begin! You’ve been planning so many releases recently: Modcom album, OST for «Gene Generation», re-release of «Praise The Fallen». Why have all these realeases gathered almost in one period of time?

Well, the Modcom album is not out yet. Mainly because I’m working on so many things at the moment. Really there are not so many releases in the last while. There will be a special realease of «Praise The Fallen», yes, but we want to re-release this with a lot of extra material. So the main plan for 2009 is a fan album — everything in one with live tracks, unreleased tracks, other versions of tracks from «Matter And Form» and from «Judgement» and a lot of extra material as well, and after that the album, the next album. And afterwards you can see all these little releases. They probably will come at the same time.

You wrote at your blog on My space that you were very happy to make a soundtrack for «Gene Generation», how this collabaration worked out?

It was a small director, making a low budget sci-fi movie, but his ideas were very interesting. For me mainly the personality is important, so I liked him, we connected. And I thought I always wanted to make something like a soundtrack. So I made about 6 pieces for the movie, main themes, because mostly music in movies is like «tam-ta-dam», nothing happens. It’s just atmosphere. So I made a lot of big themes, like a love theme, I had to do a big intro theme and all these kind of things. It was really an experience for me. It was very very interesting project. I’m writing music now for a computer game.

Which one?

I’m not allowed to say. I’m sorry. I’ve signed a contract and I can’t tell anything until this game is released. It’s stupid but the world unfortunately works like this.

What else am I doing? Oh, God I’m going to co-produce tracks now, in a few weeks with AFI . I co-produced with them on their last album. That album was very successful and helped us a lot. We’re good friends. And I’m doing other production work with other bands. So I have a full work for 2009 and of course a tour. So I think I’ll have to bring a recording studio with me on the bus.

About the studio, you have a new studio almost every album, and this one is in Hamburg. So which extra equipment have you bought this time, new synthesizers, drum machines?

Yes, you’re synth community, why not? I love old synthesizers, I’m really crazy about this. I’ve bought one of my dream old synthesizers since I was a child «Roland System 100». It’s an old modular from about 1978, where you connect everything together. I’m using this and other synths, I’m using a lot at the moment «The Dave Smith Evolver», it’s a poly evolver rack. Again it’s analogue, and it’s a really nice feeling on the computer. I’ve worked with things like «Reactor», which is a great synthesizer, because I’ve used this on every single album for many of the main sounds. I have three synthesizers in it, you build the synthesizer in this program, I took the original synth, and added things or changed things and made it my own. And I used this on almost every song, it’s my inspiration. I connect with the sounds.

What happened with the new studio, we rented like an old small factory, not a big one, renovated it and built our studios into it. And we are very happy there because it costs almost nothing and it’s ours. Nobody can ever say to me «Get out!», nobody can ever say this. There is no contract or anything where I have to worry but I feel very comfortable and it’s like a house. And we can work there like a proper. When you’re working on an album you need a kitchen, you need a shower, you need a place to sleep because it becomes a home for a while. I’m really happy I have a lot of equipment I’ve been buying over the last years for it, mostly processor equipment for the sound and things like this.

Sorry for changing topic so rapidly, but you were talking about inspiration. What is your personal motivation that inspires you to write songs, sometimes very sad like «Illusion» or sometimes more harsh, tough tracks like «Procession», «Fearless»?

I don’t know. I mean if I don’t write music I think I will stop living. I cannot stop writing songs in my head. Like when you hear a song on the radio and you cannnot forget it. I get a feeling like this in my head. I hear songs playing over and over. And I have to write them down, I become obssesed with them. «Illusion» was a very good example. I spent a lot of time writing it, writing little ideas, lyrics, melodies. I don’t want to stop. It’s not really an inspiration, it’s like in my heart, in my soul. But writing «Illusion» was very important to me because it was me also speaking not just to young people I know, it was also speaking in a way to myself. This is what kind of people we are. We will always be this, we cannot change it. I believe that it’is better to be true to yourself, to your nature, not try to be what other people want you to be.

Not try to pretend.

Yes, most people must live like this.

To tell you the truth, «Illusion» is one of my favourite songs of yours. When I first listened to it, a sample of the song on Side-line’s web-site, I was really impressed. It seemed like someone voiced my thoughts.

But these are my thoughts. I use music like a diary, I write what I’m seeing, what’s happening to me in my life at that time. I’m singing about a subject and the people hearing the album, they hear what decribes my personal feelings. But the reason I have chosen to make this song is because of some events or something that is happenning in my life. And I also want to say something very important to some people who I know, who are only at the beginning of their journey, to realise that. The person I’m speaking to in this song has a choice to listen, to advice, to go out at the door feeling lots of pain and anger and destroy themselves through going with the wrong people, trying to be pretending to be something else, getting involved in drugs, going down the wrong path. Without understanding who you are, how angry you feel. It’s not about that you must go out and display this anger and destroy youself. You have to turn this feeling around and understand who you are and use this as your hammer. It’s a very powerful force that can guide you through your life. And you will be everything you want to be. Bit it’s hard to tell to the young person.

I see, though I’m a young person.

On your official web-site it’s possible to watch your video «Standing Live Studio Perfomance» for Fearless.tv. Tell, please, something more about this cooperation.

Oh, it’s not really a cooperation. Except they contacted us in America for this show. And we said «Ok!». Our first time in the studio recording songs like for a TV show and it was a lot of fun. It was very weird experience because there is no audeince that’s why I’m standing and singing, doing impression like my favourite singers. But it was really really successful. I was surprised because normally they have bands like «Blockparty» and british new indie-bands who are very cool for them. And I thought but we are not cool, we are not the latest trends, we are not young, we are not 18 or 20 years old.

You don’t have to be young for being cool.

In american industry you have to. Johny Cash is cool but he is dead, I mean he was cool when he was still alive in his 70s. So I suppose you’re right. He had a renaissance with young people, alternative people, just like doing this cover version of «Nine Inch Nails» song. And everyone thought how much feeling can you put into a song. It’s a song like puts a knife into your heart and pulls it apart. It’s like every experince that we have in our life.

Speaking further about your videos. The video for the song «Illusion». It was a completely accidetial thing that the song and video matched.

The fan put this together the video and the song.

Will you cooperate with the director of the video, Andy Huang, in the future?

Yeah, I met Andy Huang in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. We had a lovely conversation because I did not want business people there because it always changes the direction of the meeting. And I wanted to meet us one artist to another. And to understand how he sees the world. There is a reason why we’ve never really done official videos. Because, one, they cost too much money and I don’t understand the purpose and the other thing is that I received ideas from many directors and I think that you have no idea what our music’s about, you just want to make a video, you don’t want to make something a part of the song. I want two one halves of the other thing.

I don’t want someone just making a video: just a band standing looking cool with nice effects. It must say something. For me not having an official video is better because the song speaks more. I would not want to harm the song by having a video which almost waters down the message in the song. The message for me is everything. To me having just a video is just being a part of music indusrty. We’ve never had an official videoand yet we still sell an incradable number of CDs. People come to our live shows because it’s honest, it’s very directed, you are a part of the show, the audience is a part of the show. Have you ever seen us live?

I think it will be my first time.

Ok, because tonight one half is not here. The drummer hi did not get his visa in time. But there still will be a lot of energy. And we will play «Illusion», so don’t cry, I reall meant it, please, don’t cry.

Ok, I’ll try my best.

If to trace the number of instrumentals and the songs with vocal it’s seen that younger album have more intrumental tracks, except «Empires».

«Praise The Fallen» has the same number as «Matter And Form».

«Empires» was very different. To me it’s not important if the song has words or not. I listen a lot to classical music, soundtrack music, instrumental ambient music, every type of music. For me a song can speak without my voice. It’s a nice compliment for me that people always want my voice and my words. But if they actually sit back and listen, these are not feeler songs, they are not there to feel space. And emotions being painted there as much as in songs with words. I don’t want to be a stereotype or be put into a box where people expect one or the other. I like singing of course but I also like what I can imagine and what I can picture while listening to one of the imstrumental song. «Electronaut» was very successful without any words.

You’ve invented future-pop style of music, you released 6 stufio albums, you’re a part of well-known band. Do you feel that you’ve succeded everything you planned, or you still have more goals to reach?

On the last album I had the whole new styles, the whole new horizons, the whole new sounds. I was having a lot of fun. I haven’t reached all of my goals, I still explore new songs with testament and the songs on the last album I started to explore new territories. With the next album I have whole new ideas and I want to explore more bigger and more bombastic than ant I’ve done before. In some way our work has been finished but it has not reached the conclusion. But I want to finish those ideas before and say «Ok, I’ve reached the end of that idea before I move on to another thing». Every album has different influences and different styles of music that I take inspiration from. With the last one it was a lot of underground music, new waves of underground music. And it’s important to listen to it. Because there a lot of bands on our scene do not listen to the music outside of our scene. And this, I think, is a problem because at the beginning of synthpop people were listening to everything from James Brown to The Biggies, to ABBA, to everything. They had no choice they listened to as many bands as possible. And it inspires you to take this sound and make it a part of your own sound. Thus what’s really important. So I listen to a lot ot the underground alternative music of every type, I listen to a lot of opera, I listen to a ot of classical, I listen to a lot of experimental and it inspires me somehow.

So we will listen to a lot more new albums by VNV Nation and your side project.

Of course.

Interview by Morituri
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