Featured Musician: Vicky Cryer
There’s little middle ground when treading the path of Jason Hill. What this musical mastermind cranks out you tend to either love or hate, and I happen to always love it. If there’s one man that has taken the glam-rock era of yore (T.Rex, Queen) and reappropriated it to fit the parameters of the 2000s, Hill is your best bet. Hill’s first major band, Louis XIV, was one of those blasts of nasty fun. There wasn’t anything that was going to change your worldview, but both The Best Little Secrets Are Kept and Dogs and Ponies were jam-packed with giant hooks and blistering solos. You never went to Louis XIV to have your mind blown; you went to remember why you loved rock’n’roll in the first place.
Louis has been out of the spotlight for a few years now and Hill’s whereabouts would cross my mind whenever I’d come across Louis on my iPod. Well, he’s been busy. Very busy. At the moment he is gearing up for a tour with Louis XIV (though a new album is not imminent) and also pushing his new band’s album. Vicky Cryer, and it’s debut LP, The Synthetic Love Of Emotional Engineering, was born in the hills of Los Angeles with a batch of some of the most respected players in rock, including a New York Dolls legend. The finished album is worth the wait for those who love what Hill does. Hill’s talents have obviously been honed because I must say that the debut Vicky Cryer album is his most infectious work to date. Even the 8-minute title track is a blast because Hill knows the importance of pacing a song and throwing in unexpected nuggets of guitar filth.
One gets the feeling that Hill knows what he’s talking about. The guy is a multi-instrumentalist who is as learned in production as he is stomping a fuzz-pedal and going to town. Bangstyle had the distinct pleasure of catching up with Hill on his new band, what’s up with Louis XIV, and why you shouldn’t sleep on a certain Rolling Stones guitarists’ solo album.
BANGSTYLE: How did the band get started? Was it an organic process or was everyone looking to start a band?
Hill: It started just by me beginning to write songs after Louis XIV had broken up and wanting to explore and make something new sounding. I was originally put in contact with Nick Fyffe, who was in London, and Alex Carapetis who had come over from Australia. Nick and I started writing and recording, then then Alex came over and started recording and from there, over time the others would just start popping over to my place. I spend most of my time in the studio making stuff up so when friends started dropping in I would put them to work on one instrument or another. It was never really intended to be a band, it’s a much more fluid thing and more of a recording thing, although we have played shows all together. But the line-up will be a revolving thing, not a rigid thing.
BANGSTYLE: What’s the writing process like?
Hill: Writing, for me, is quite similar to putting a 6-year-old kid in a room full of fun toys. I just start playing around. Like a box of Legos in front of me, I just start building something. It can’t be over thought and you have to sort of look at the song your making from the peripheral. Because, if you look right at its face it will disappear. In that regard, you have to let the song just find its way as opposed to forcing your will on the song. It can be different from song to song but usually I will start by either playing piano, or guitar, to get an idea and then jumping to the drums and laying a beat and recording that first. Then, I’ll just jump from instrument to instrument very quickly, reacting to what I’ve already put down. If someone comes over, such as Alex, Dom or Dave, I might have them record on top of my drums or rerecord the drums. Usually, there are two sets of drums on most songs on the record, mine and one of the other guys. On “I’ll take the pain” though, we actually recorded Dom and Alex rerecording over my drums together in the same room at the same time. With Mark or Nick, they often would come over and replay the bass, although there are a few tracks that we just left my original bass such as on “A single Cut is worth a thousand words.” But, a lot of the process is just done quickly and as I’m recording, I print things like plate reverbs and other effects on things so that I’m reacting off those layered sounds and it influences where the song may end up. The sound of things and the song go hand in hand with me. To me, finding new and unique sounds is what it’s all about. It’s a constant exploration.
BANGSTYLE: What is your first musical memory? Did you know you wanted to be a musician right away?
Hill: As far as I can remember, there was never anything other than being a musician that consumed my life. I suppose chasing girls did for a time while I was in high school, but that was always second to music. I cant ever remember thinking about doing anything other than music for my life’s work. It wasn’t exactly a path I chose, it was just always there. I can remember writing a song as a little kid, maybe between 4 or 5 years old, somewhere in there. My older brother was a big Police fan and I can remember sort of writing new lyrics to the melody of “King of Pain” and changing it a little. I remember hearing melodies in my head all the time as a kid, it used to frustrate me because it would keep me up at night, tossing and turning with these sounds in my head. I don’t even know if I was aware of what they were, they were just these sounds rustling around my head constantly. It stayed frustrating until I finally picked up a guitar around 13 years old and it was then, I think, that I realized I could get those things in my head out into the air. But, it also opened up a new frustration of hearing these elaborate things in my head and not being able to fully play them yet. Little by little, the fog would lift, and more and more I was able to translate what was in my mind. At the same time, I began to trust in just letting myself go and follow it instead of trying to control it.
BANGSTYLE: What’s been your favorite venue to perform at? Why?
Hill: That’s a hard question actually, because I’ve enjoyed many. Certain shows stand out, Irving plaza in NYC (I had the flu but somehow the adrenaline kicked in and it’s one of my favorites), The Fillmore in San Francisco, O2 Arena in London and then a few clubs I can’t remember the names of, like this place in East Berlin that Louis XIV played on our first tour there. A dirty, almost abandoned looking club but with a dark, exciting vibe and also some obscure venues in France as well. It’s always fun to play The Casbah in San Diego too.
BANGSTYLE: What are some of your non-musical influences that inform the music?
Hill: I think books, art and movies are very big influencers in some way. Not specifically, but just when something creative is done well it inspires. My relationships are always a source of inspiration, the good and the bad. Anything that makes me feel something. I can be a real softy sometimes, I can get emotional. I don’t mean blubbering on the floor, I mean just being opened up to the moment, to feeling. I often have so much going on in my life, as everyone does, that I can’t wait to shut it all out and escape from it, turn off my mind to those things. I escape by writing and recording something, riding what comes out very much like riding a wave, and those things that are going on in my life often make their way into the music. If I didn’t have that outlet I can’t imagine what life would be like for me. Miserable, I’m sure.
BANGSTYLE: If you could choose one band that you admire who is it and for what reason?
Hill: I admire a lot of bands, especially the ones that stay together for a long time. That can be a hard thing to do, dealing with egos and insecurities as well as creative differences, not to mention the financial and music business things that always seem to weigh heavy on bands, especially when handled poorly. And of course, the constant party that goes on during touring and the tolls that strains on people’s moods. But, I also like bands that aren’t afraid to get deep, that aren’t afraid to explore and do new things. Hearing a band make the same record time and again is very boring to me.
BANGSTYLE: You’re exiled to a desert island, but are allowed to take 5 albums with you. What are they and why?
Hill: Serge Gainsbourg- Histoire de Melody Nelson. I listen to this record more than any other. I love the sound of it, the haunting string arrangements and everything is very sparse. There is no clutter at all, it’s a beautiful album, and since it’s in French, for a very long time I didn’t know what Serge was saying but when I found out, it was pretty much exactly what I thought it was about. It’s a very unique record and I connect with it very deeply.
Ronnie Wood – I’ve got my own album to do. I love this record. I used to listen to it over and over and over. I’ve owned it in so many ways over the years, several vinyl and several CDs and digital downloads. It was made just before Ronnie joined the Rolling Stones, Keith was staying at his place in the English countryside and in the basement was the studio. It’s basically a record that Keith and Ronnie made together, singing, playing and writing together on everything. Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger make cameos and whomever else happened to drop by, I think Pete Townsend is in there somewhere. It’s my sort of album: friends messing about in the studio. The song “Mystifies Me” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.
Vangelis – Themes. It’s a compilation record of his movie themes. It has the Blade Runner main themes and the theme from the Jack lemon movie from 1982 called Missing as well as the incredible opening and closing titles music for the 80s movie Mutiny on the Bounty. The soundscapes that Vangelis builds are just so incredible. They are worlds unto themselves.
Roxy Music – The Atlantic Years. It’s a compilation of their music from 1973-1980 and it reminds me of 2 summers ago, listening to it everyday, warm California breezes shooting in through the windows, me and a certain someone playing it over and over again. Bob Clearmountain mixed most of it and it has this wonderful space and depth to it, you can hear the air in it. I love the song “Oh Yeah,” it’s an amazing track.
David Bowie – Hunky Dory. “Life on Mars” alone is reason enough to have this record. One of the best songs ever written. Complex and yet very attainable, incredible piano by Rick Wakeman. Just a great sounding record. Tony Visconti gets most of the credit for producing Bowie but this one was Abbey Roads’ Ken Scott and it sounds spectacular. I don’t listen to this as much anymore but I used to wear the record thin.
BANGSTYLE: When you’re not jamming or doing shows, what do you find yourself getting into?
Hill: I truly don’t do much other than music, except for the normal things like cooking, which I enjoy doing as I find it very creative. Sometimes, and often, I have friends over, make dinner and just hang about, but inevitably that turns into venturing into the studio. I do enjoy going out to dinner with friends and just talking. The simple pleasures in life. I love watching movies, especially the dark slow metered ones from the 70s like The Conversation or Chinatown. The exploration that was occurring during that period in filmmaking is spectacular, before everything got so fast paced, action packed and homogenized. There’s still incredible filmmaking happening though. For that period in the late 60s to the early 80s though, there was great use of silence, music and sound in very subtle ways and usually focused on one main theme. There were some guys making new movies, in a new way and defining it as they went. I suppose I can get into anything that has room to invent. I enjoy building things as well, whether it’s trying to make my own analog keyboard to building rooms and things. It’s all the same though to me, whether it’s music or film or making a chair. It’s all the same sort of thing: building things from nothing.
BANGSTYLE: If there’s something you hope someone gets out of your live performance, what is it?
Hill: Maybe a sense that things can often fall apart. If you aren’t treading the line between something amazing and a disastrous fall from 1,000ft, than you aren’t really doing anything I would want to see. I like to see performances that break from the script. It’s the same with writing lyrics, if you aren’t saying something real and direct, or personal, or that may even upset someone because of the intimacy, or put yourself out there with a see thru glass heart, than you really aren’t saying anything worth saying. For Vicky Cryer, I want it to be about the music, not about any particular person that might be playing something.
BANGSTYLE: How do you get psyched for a live show? Any rituals?
Hill: I don’t like being at the venue until the last minute, than I just arrive, pour a glass of red wine and walk on stage. I try and just relax and get my head together before a show, I prefer to be alone or with my girl. Usually, I just kind of like quiet around me so that when the first chords come out of my amp it’s like the parting of the seas, like a hurricane coming in.
BANGSTYLE: What’s next for you guys? Is there a new Louis XIV album coming soon?
Hill: We are doing this European tour for a few weeks. Just keeping it loose, there’s talk of a tour in the states in May with The Killers, playing Madison Square Garden and what not, but I’m not sure yet with the Vicky Cryer album coming out and wanting to figure out how to do that live with some kind of line up. Louis XIV getting together to do this tour for the first time in 4 years is really just to have a good time, it won’t be real for me until we record something new, and there are no plans to do that yet. We haven’t even rehearsed and the tour begins in 9 days. But we have a great chemistry together, it’s easy and intuitive between us, very easy to communicate musically. This tour will be blast I’m sure, so who knows what will happen in the future.