Formed in 2005, Australian electro pop indie band, Van She, is comprised of Michael Di Francesco (synth), Tomek Archer (drums), Nick Routledge (vocals/guitar) and Matt Van Schie (bass). Each member originally responded to an ad in Sydney’s Drum Magazine and arrived at an audition for a vocalist for a doom metal band, which ended up being a scam. The foursome’s chance meeting resulted in the creation of Van She, derived from bassist Matt Van Schie’s last name. Van She signed to Modular Recordings in 2006 and released a hyped self-titled EP that same year. The band’s sophomore release, Idea of Happiness, was released in July 2012. The album was produced and recorded in Kings Cross, Sydney, and mixed in Los Angeles with Tony Hoffer (Air, Phoenix, M83).
Back in 2006, Sydney, Australia's Van She burst into living rooms and dance floors around the world on the strength of electropop powerhouse singles like "Kelly" and "Sex in the City." It was the heady days pre-MGMT and Cut Copy's worldwide fame, back when synths and dance music were first starting to heat up in the indie world. Van She did it as well as anyone six years ago; fast forward to 2012, a world where synths are just as common as guitars, and they're still at the top of the pack.
We caught up with vocalist/guitarist/producer Nick Routledge to chat about Van She's excellent new album, Idea of Happiness. He discusses the inspiration behind the album's Caribbean influences, what the hell EDM means and the best part about being in a renowned dance rock band.
Band of the Day: Question: You guys must be pretty excited for your new album to come out.
Nick: Yeah, so excited! So over eagerly excited.
Band of the Day: Has it been done for a while?
Nick: Yeah, we finished mixing it about a year ago, so it has been done for a while. But it's kind of like, it was a process. The last year's been about artwork, video clips, getting the right guys to do what we need to do. Last time we rushed into a whole bunch of things, and this time we want to make it look the right way and feel the right way, aligned visually.
Band of the Day: What's the ideal way for someone to be introduced to the new album?
Nick: I don't really know…maybe just chuck it on, I guess?
Band of the Day: Should they be in a club, a dimly lit room with lots of incense?
Nick: Definitely not incense. I reckon the best would be a sunset on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean. With rum inside a coconut with ice and a little umbrella. Whilst also listening to some '90s hip hop and R&B. That would be my ideal setting to show people.
Band of the Day: On a yacht or smaller boat?
Nick: Yeah, it could be a yacht. I reckon a yacht's probably the most comfortable. Nothing too big. Enough for maybe you and 10 friends. Eight friends maybe. Nothing too pimp.
Band of the Day: Yeah I guess you guys didn't go too far in the R&B direction.
Nick: No, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind being pimp at some point just to see what's it like, but it wouldn't work for this record.
Band of the Day: What drove the Caribean touches and themes throughout the album?
Nick: My mom lives in the Caribbean. I spent some time with her, and I was going through some stuff. It was a really good place to escape. It's so chilled out and cheap, and so beautiful and dramatic. If you're on an island—I went during the wet season—the storms always seem to originate on the mainland. But if you're on a boat—she was living on a boat on the time—you look back, and the water is blue and so warm, and you're just chilling out eating amazing food, fresh fish. You look back, and there's this huge powerful storm looming over the mainland. It's very dramatic, I kind of felt like I was taking time out from that really busy, crazy mainland.
That influenced it a lot. Also we were listening to a lot of yacht rock on the last tour. Getting involved in making a bit more whilst on the tour bus. Also, I live opposite the beach. I'm looking at the beach right now.
Someone asked me the other day, "Do you reckon this album is about escapism?" Well, I guess so. There's a lot music out there that's really real and quite poignant about where they are in life, like urban music—it's explaining their situation, how they're overcoming it and what they are. And I guess our music is a bit more fantasy-driven, sometimes. It's also about girls most of the time. It's really hard to disappear from that factor of our lives.
Band of the Day: There's a lot less guitar on this new album, and it's leaning further towards electronic music than rock. What inspired that change from the last album?
Nick: We found it really hard to rely on our engineers live. The way we overcame that was by making our synths sound really good without having lots of gear to complicate things. That was one driving force in making it more electronic. We listen to a lot of electronic music anyway. For the last record we were listening to a lot more guitar-driven stuff. We've been writing a lot besides the Van She stuff, which has been quite electronic, and that influenced it a lot as well. We also kind of like the idea that, when Phoenix made their record, they recorded all of their drums, but sampled and used them like an electronic drum machine. That's kind of what we did, too. We recorded all the hits and Tomek playing the drums, and then we kind of sat there, cut it up and replaced the sound. It's all played in—nothing's sequenced as such—but we did kind of cut it up and replace it with more synthesized sounds in a bit more of an electronic fashion.
Band of the Day: As the album was more constructed electronically, do you guys still jam out as a band to write songs?
Nick: Yes and no. We did the whole album in pieces. We didn't spend much time together in the studio unless we were recording cuts. We'd kind of just sit at home, write stuff and then maybe email parts to Mikey or Tomek. They'd send it back, and I'd kind of arrange it, put it together. And then we'd get into the studio and say, "What do you reckon sounds the best with this?" And just do it that way. Every time we jam out, we seem to lose focus and just end up hanging out. It stops becoming about the music and more of us hanging out when we jam. We did a little bit, but if we do that, we may as well put down our instruments and go to the pub. We'd probably get more done.
Band of the Day: You worked with a producer for your last album, but engineered and produced everything by yourselves, this time. I imagine it wasn't better or worse exactly, but can you talk about that change?
Nick: I can say that it was definitely better. This record is very much us, whereas the record we did, we were kind of rushed into the studio and didn't know where we wanted to be. We didn't really click with the producer as much. In our band we're all kinds of producers. We all write music seperately for ourselves and for other people and can produce it quite well, so we thought, well, we've got everything we need. We just went into Pott's Point, built a studio and did it ourselves. We knew how to do it all, so we thought we'd own this record a little more. And if this wasn't a record that we really liked, so be it, but it turned out that everything we did was in the direction we all wanted to go. The last record was a little more all over the place, and we weren't necessarily that happy with it. In this one, we really like and believe in the songs. We don't mind the fact that we may have to play them for the next three years.
Band of the Day: You guys have made some really great hooks througout your career. Are there any moments when you'll finish something and think, "Wow, that was amazing and dramatic!"?
Nick: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes, you'll go, "Oh wow, that was amazing," but no one else will say it was amazing. You think, "OK, maybe it wasn't so amazing." But there are parts where I'll sing something, and Mikey and the guys will be like, "Dude, that was fucking great. Wow. Don't change anything." And I'll go, "Oh cool, great. I don't know what I did but great." Yeah there are moments when that happens, and we do stupid Zoolander high-fives, but there are also moments when you think it's amazing when it's not actually that amazing. It's like when people go, "Do you reckon that's going to be your best single?" And I'm like, "Look, I don't know anything about which is going to be the best single." You just kind of do the music, and whatever happens with it happens with it.
Band of the Day: Has there been any music that especially inspired you or the band in general between now and when the last album came out?
Nick: Yeah, there's been a lot of music that's come out lately that I think is amazing. All that UK beat stuff like Hudson Mohawk and post-dubstep stuff like James Blake and Jamie xx... all that stuff is pretty incredible because it's so stripped back. It's almost like the anti-… I don't know it just feels really good. It's really clever and jazzy. I call things like that jazzy because it's really smart. And there's also SBTRKT, obviously. English stuff, this year. Before making the record, we were listening to a little bit of reggae, little bit of yacht rock. We went through a huge yacht rock phase. Chris Rea, Toto, all those guys. It was kind of really fun.
Band of the Day: As I was thinking about how your last album tilted further to rock and this new one much more to electronic, I was thinking about electronic music's amazing rise over the last few years. Maybe it hasnt been as dramatic in Australia as the states but…
Nick: Yeah, I think in Australia, it's been electronic for a while now. It's definitely more electronic than it was a couple years ago, but I know for a fact that it's not as dramatic as the United States. The States seem pretty crazy … I think it's called EDM now? What the fuck does EDM mean?
Band of the Day: It just means electronic dance music.
Nick: When I was hanging out with a couple of guys from the states who make EDM, they kept saying that, and I had no idea what they were talking about. It's crazy how huge dance music has become in the states.
What I find funny is that dance music is trance, trancy dance music, but with really Dutch or Swedish House Mafia-style kick drums. Crazy build-ups. Then, they just talk about VIP areas and champagne. How many songs can you have about that? There must be more important things in life.
Band of the Day: One of the lyrics that struck me in the new album was "We're running our lives to the beat of the drum." Do you ever feel like being in a band and all the pressure and stuff that goes along with that can get tiresome?
Nick: Umm, I think it's more... the beat of the drum is... I'm referring to having to pay rent every week—the constant movement of life. It always moves forward, which isn't a band thing. We all get old, but it's just commentary on it.
Band of the Day: Is it tiring to be in a band for so long? Does it feel like it's becoming more of a career?
Nick: Yeah, definitely. You know what? There isn't anything tiring about being in a band at all. There isn't anything tiring about doing music as a career. Tiring shit is like if you do stuff outside of the band like chasing up invoices, working out how to pay sound guys, doing budgets for tours with the record label, working out how much money we have left for a lighting show. Just the normal things in life, but then having to deal with normal stuff like getting your taxes done on time.
Band of the Day: Then, what's the best part about being in Van She?
Nick: That we get to go out, DJ and play in different countries, and people fly us out to do that. All we really have to do is make sure we play the best show we can. We get to meet some amazing people and don't have to put up with shit like a boss who's an egotistical pervert, likes to do cocaine during office hours and stare down your girlfriend's top. We get to be whoever we want to be and make a living out of it, and we're incredibly lucky to do that, because I have friends who don't enjoy what they do, but do it because they get paid a shit load. I guess they get to do other things because of it, but we don't have to do that.
Band of the Day: On a side note, while preparing for this interview, I saw that Nick Routledge, the organic seed amabassador from Oregon, is beating you on Google search engine visibility. Is there anyway you'd like to respond to this threat?
Nick: Well, I would say I will now go out and invest in some kind of organic seed market just so I can get my hits up. I don't know how to respond to that, actually? How do you respond to that?
Band of the Day: Well, we're a few miles away from Google's headquarters here in Mountain View, so I could mount a protest?
Nick: Maybe you could drop a little bottle of champagne for me. I'll send you the money and say, "Dear Google, Nicholas should definitely be the highest ranking guy in Google and not the organic seed grower because that just seems pathetic, you know?" You know what? I'm happy for him. I'm glad that he has more hits than me. I have no problem with him beating me. He probably makes the planet a better place, and I take up a lot of electricity. I probably have a higher carbon footprint than he does.