Festivalphoto asked Serpentine bassist Gareth Vanstone some questions about their latest album, touring plans and the band in general.
Festivalphoto: Your new album "Living And Dying In High Definition" has just been released, right at the end of August. Can you tell us a bit about the album?
Gareth: “Well, it came together quite quickly. We started writing fairly soon after the debut came out, as we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to make an album that was an improvement on the first; and, you know, I think we did that?”
“There’s definitely a slightly heavier vibe to it and you can see that tracks like ‘Dreamer’, which has some quality, galloping guitar work from Chris, definitely benefit; .... and Roy’s drumming throughout the album is heavier too. He hits the drum so hard; it’s no wonder he breaks so many sticks in rehearsal! There’s definitely a general vibe of heartbreak on the album too, which I think also lends itself to the heavier sound?”
Festivalphoto: How would you say the new album compares to your debut then?
Gareth: “I think it’s a natural progression from the first album! It’s a heavier sound as I said, but still maintains our style. There are a lot more dynamics on this album, which was something we really worked hard to include more of this time.
We knew what Tony was looking for in terms of the dynamics in the music and he knew what we wanted in terms of lyrics and melodies.”
Festivalphoto: Who writes the songs - is it a group effort or are there one or two main songwriters?
Gareth: “Usually the music is written first, basically. And, on this album, Gareth and Chris wrote all the music. We then send it to Tony to write the lyrics and record the vocals....., but this time, two tracks actually worked the other way around because Gareth and Chris got two ideas from Tony that were simply vocals.....?”
“Tony had been working on the new Shy album, but part of the way through the recording they decided they wanted to release the album sooner, so they scrapped what Tony had done and reverted back to what Lee Small had recorded. Tony sent us two vocal tracks without any music and Gareth and Chris wrote the music to those.”
“I co-wrote lyrics with Tony on “Heartbreak Town” and “Forgotten Heroes” too. Tony tends to write alone, so I think he enjoyed bouncing ideas of someone else, for a change?”
“It’ll possibly all change now though?”
Festivalphoto: You mentioned Tony Mills there! The album features him rather than new singer Matt Black due to contract issues. Was Matt involved in the album, as he is now the one singing the songs live?
Gareth: “Not as such... Matt joined the band when the album was already being recorded, so it was difficult to get him involved to the degree we probably would have liked. He does do some backing vocals on the album and sings one of the bonus tracks.”
Festivalphoto: As you mention, the Japanese version features a bonus track with Matt singing. Why wasn't this included in the UK release too?
Gareth: “Well, the bonus track was “Lonely Nights”, which of course, was on the first album and we didn’t want to put it on the main release here as it wasn’t a new track. We wanted the UK fans to have 10 new tracks to get their teeth into. We didn’t want them to feel short changed with only 9!”
Festivalphoto: How has it been working with someone with as much experience as Tony Mills?
Gareth: “Wonderful! It has helped us all develop in terms of performance for sure, but more so in terms of our song writing. How can you not learn and develop, working with someone so experienced as Tony? I certainly learnt a lot when I spent some time at his house writing lyrics with him. Seeing the way he thinks in terms of lyrical content and vocal melody was great and helped me improve a lot. He is still a great sounding board now and he is always there if we want some advice.”
Festivalphoto: You recently had a major one-off UK date this year playing Firefest in October, and more recently supporting Amaranthe at the Borderline in December. Are there plans for a tour now the album is out?
Gareth: Yes, discussions for 2 tours are in the works. Probably for around April/May, which will promote the current album! Both will be package deals of probably 3 bands, but that’s all I can say at the moment? That’s a teaser I know!”
Festivalphoto: What bands do you think actually have influenced your music?
Gareth: “Bands like Toto and Journey have certainly influenced most of the band, but we all have our individual influences. Gareth likes a lot of High Tech AOR and some country music; Chris likes a lot of metal, and I like more bluesy stuff, like the early Whitesnake and the MK3 and MK4 lineups of Deep Purple as well; we have lots of influences that form our sound.”
Festivalphoto: Why do you think there has been such a revival of AOR/Melodic rock in the last few years?
Gareth: “It definitely helps that the bigger bands like Journey and Foreigner, etc. are getting on mainstream radio again, but I think there are a lot of younger bands that are giving the genre a kick start as well. A lot of it though is down to people liking the retro thing, so it’s not seen as uncool now to be in a band that sounds like it’s 1984? Which is a good thing, even though only 1 member of the band was born at that point!”