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Holy Vessels - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 6 / 12 / 2012

Holy Vessels - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Robert Mavers, the guitarist with energetic and harmonic young Brighton-based band about their just released debut album Last Orders at The Marshall Arms’, which was financed by a PledgeMusic campaign

Holy Vessels are an energetic, young group from Brighton with a harmonious sound. The band, a five-piece, consists of Frank Ryan (vocals, guitar), Robert Mavers (bass, vocals), Tommy Heaps (piano/organ, vocals), Joe Heaselgrave (guitar, lap steel vocals) and Thom Mills (drums). They have just released their debut album, ‘Last Orders at The Marshall Arms’, which was financed by a PledgeMusic campaign, on their own label, Hello Babe Records. ‘Last Orders at The Marshall Arms’ was recorded over a two week period last summer with ex-Del Amitri guitarist and producer Iain Harvie in a one-time lambing shed in Cropredy in rural Oxfordshire. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Robert Mavers about his group and ‘Last Orders at The Marshall Arms’. PB: The critics have had a hard time defining Holy Vessels. You have put into various categories including country, folk, bluegrass, psychedelia and rock and roll. How would you describe yourselves and define your sound? RM: In a nutshell we’re a rock and roll band - just in a more modern sense of how a purist would define it. To us, original rock and roll was a melting pot of loads of different things like gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz and rootsier stuff. We’re getting up to the same thing as those guys were, just at a different point in time, and coming from a different source. Loads of our influences - from when we were born until we made the record - went into this album, so there were a lot of sounds flying around when we started playing together. And when all these different styles naturally come together into something cohesive, people have always called it rock and roll. PB: Where does the title of the album, ‘Last Orders at The Marshall Arms’, take its name from? Is there a real-life Marshall Arms and what is its significance to the group? RM: The Marshall Arms came into life when we were living together with Frank as our lodger. It’s a real-life pub, but it isn’t part of this material manifestation we now call home; it could exist as easily in Plaistow as it could in the heart of the Kentish countryside, but it only really exists in the hearts and minds of its patrons. Everything is free, everybody serves each other, there’s a piano in the corner - there’s no trouble there. It’s the nearest thing to utopia we could conjure up really. It’s our idea of home, and everyone’s welcome for a knees-up, any time they like. PB: The album was recorded with former Del Amitri guitarist Iain Harvie. How did you become involved with him? What do you think that he brought to the recording? RM: We were so lucky to meet Iain. The Maccabees guys and our good friend Derek Meins, all of whom we knew from Brighton, had worked with him, so between us we’d known him for a while – and he was the only person we knew who was up for relocating to a dusty old farm to make a record with a bunch of guys no-one had heard of for no money, so with that attitude he was definitely our kind of guy. As for the album, he has such an ear for the simplicity of good pop music, which was really important to us, but he marries that with a natural flair for experimentation and a really thorough work ethic. He just brought everything together very naturally, in a very simple, understated way that made teasing the songs out of us a very painless experience, and I think you can hear that all over the album. PB: It is a very exuberant, enormously entertaining record. One gets the impression that you had a brilliant time recording it. Was that the case? RM: Yeah, it was a ball really – we knew the guys who owned the farm from doing the River Rat Pack Tour the same year, so it was a bit of a reunion in that sense, which was great. And there was a real homely feel to the place – they had a beautiful newborn daughter, and we ate, drank and played cards together, hung our washing out on the line, played with the pigs and goats. So in amongst the 14-hour days there were loads of really beautiful moments. PB: It was recorded quickly over a two week period. Do you think the fact that it was recorded so quickly gives it a lot of its bounce and energy? RM: Absolutely. We were conscious that we didn’t want it to sound laboured at all – it was always going to be a flat-out rock & roll record. The songs themselves dictated how they should be recorded. And we were very careful to try and listen to what the songs were telling us. Two weeks was all we had, so we just had to go there and lay it down. Our drummer, Grills, only joined the band a week before we got to the farm, and had never played with us prior to recording – which wasn’t part of the plan – but he just took the baton and ran with it. He was phenomenal in that barn! So the whole way through there was an element of excitement, of flying by the seat of our pants and loving it. We were in our element for that fortnight, for sure. PB: You went up from Brighton to record it in Cropredy in rural Oxfordshire. Why did you decide to go up there to record it and in a worn-out lambing shed of all places? Fairport Convention have an annual festival in Cropredy every summer. Was that a factor in your decision to go there? RM: We didn’t actually know about the festival until we were buying supplies in the village shop – in truth it was a matter of necessity, but it was one which worked out perfectly. Our mates said we could use the farm and stay in their caravan there. It was in Iain’s neck of the woods – and it was free, which was the clincher. But we definitely wanted to get out of town for a while to record, as most studios can get a bit business-like and sterile, you know? We wanted the album to have something of its surroundings in it. PB: ‘Last Orders at the Marshall Arms’ has been released on your own Hello Babe Records and self-funded through PledgeMusic. More bands are using PledgeMusic as a means of releasing albums. Did you ever consider using more old-fashioned methods and looking for a label, or did you want to self-release your album from the start? RM: We always said we’d put it out with a label if one came along who suited us, but that never really happened, and at any rate it can take ages thrashing these things out with people, so with no lawyers or management to help us we didn’t really look too hard. We had had these songs for a while plus the band had come together in terms of personnel and sound, and the album was finished. I think our attitude was one of ‘Why hang around for someone else to tell us what to do?’ PB: Amongst the PledgeMusic items you have been offering is a cassette version of ‘Last Orders at the Marshall Arms’. Vinyl is back in, but you’re one of the very few acts to offer something on cassette since they died out in the late 90s. Did that attract a lot of interest? RM: In all honesty, I think we sold maybe two of those tapes! But maybe 90% of our favourite albums were all recorded on analogue gear, and we really wanted that to be a part of the record – but getting a reel-to-reel tape machine into a knackered old barn is a pretty expensive business, so we had to be a little pragmatic. As far as tapes go though, we’re big fans. So what if you can’t hear what model of tambourine someone played on the middle eight of that song? Tapes have this warmth and vibe to them. They look great, you can’t skip tracks – which you can even do on vinyl, to an extent – and they’re portable, too. They’re the perfect format for listening to albums on in many ways. PB: Your last single ‘Queen of Alimony’ was remixed by various people including Sam Simon from the rising Brighton band Cave Painting, and your latest single ‘Golden Hair’ was written by Derek Meins, another local musician, who will be supporting you at your album launch gigs in Brighton and London. The album was also mixed by local producer Jag Jago. Is there a particularly vibrant and supportive local scene in Brighton? RM: Massively supportive – if people see you and like you, they’ll come again and bring their mates, and even better than that, they’ll say hello in the street or the post office too. With so many creative people crammed into such a small city, there aren’t really any scenes or cliques here as such, it’s just one huge melting pot, which we love. You don’t get lumped in with other bands into a shorthand, homogenous lump. Your individuality is really valued, and, despite the vast differences in taste and style, a tangible sense of community still prevails amongst all the uniqueness. PB: You are doing the launch shows in December. What plans do Holy Vessels have for after that and into next year? RM: Well, the Brighton label One Inch Badge have asked us to be part of their annual Sea Monsters festival in January, which we’re really excited about, and some summer festival slots are trickling in already, but we’ve not booked much as yet because there’s definitely another album brewing amongst us at the moment. A few mixtapes have been flying around in the van, which we’re all buzzing about, and we’ve been writing more as a unit, so we’ve played a few new songs at recent shows which are coming along nicely. Some of those will most likely end up being singles next summer, while the next album falls into shape. Recent rehearsals suggest it’s going to be a very different beast to ‘Last Orders…’ But who knows?! If this year is anything to go by then I think we’ve all learned not to make too many plans. If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen - we’re just glad to be there while it does. PB: Thank you.

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Holy Vessels - Interview

Holy Vessels - Interview

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