RGM Introducing – Villanelle & The Northern Wonder

Hiya folks, thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.

What made you decide to start the band?

Kieran: It was really just for creative expression. I’d been in a few bands and worked with a couple of artists on their songs but always had a vision of the kind of stuff I really wanted to do. I’d finally figured out I had something I wanted to say and nothing was stopping me doing it, so I sat in my garden and started writing.  It all spiralled from there I guess.

Introduce us all to the members and your musical history?

Kieran: I’m Kieran Greville. I’ve been in a few bands across the country, the first ‘serious’ band I was in was actually with Dan about 10 years ago, I played bass and Dan played guitar and we shared the writing for most of the tracks. When we all went our separate ways to go to university I found myself working more as a producer/writing partner until I joined Plastic People. We had a good time in that band playing gigs and festivals across the country, we even made it over to France once which was crazy to me. After we wound down it brought me to where we are now I guess. I started writing and had a bunch of tracks ready. I originally planned for Villanelle & The Northern Wonder to be more like a solo project with a rotating collaborative feel, a bit like QOTSA or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

Dan:So obviously I’d been in the band with Kieran and another, more bluesy project, but then I left to do a degree in Acoustics and started focusing on more stripped back singer-songwriter stuff that I could record myself, learning how to sing and working all that all out. AfterI moved up to Manchester, Kieran originally asked me to be part of the live band before they played their first gig at Band On The Wall. I initially declined but did come to the gig and liked the music and style so much that afterwards I asked if the offer still stood. The next Monday I was in rehearsals with him and playing at the next gig. When the lockdown hit Kieran sent over about 50 pages of lyric ideas he hadn’t turned into anything so I could have a play with them. 

Kieran: Needless to say the tracks he sent back were incredible and I think we figured that we were better as a duo because we bounce off each other so well, I think you can hear that on this new EP. 

It’s been a bit of a wild last year, how have you guys managed to pass time and stay sane during lockdown?

Dan: It’s been great for providing an incentive to be creative – we’ve written so many songs over this period and I’ve dabbled in other bits of art like watercolours and lino printing, but the thing that’s been the most helpful has been getting out and exploring close to where I live.

Kieran: It’s definitely given us the chance to get lots of material written and work out a rough plan for the next year or so in terms of goals for the band and recording tracks. I’ve also done a bit of painting, read a lot of Leonard Cohen poetry and built a few guitars.

How positive are you feeling now we are in 2021?

Dan: Seeing things getting ready to open, lights at the end of the tunnel, more and more time spent with friends and ready to get more of our music out there makes me really positive for 2021.

Kieran: Yeah it’s going to be great to see people again. It feels like such a long time but when everything opens back up I’m sure it’ll feel exactly like before, though I’ll appreciate it a lot more than before I’m sure.

How has 2020 affected your mental health?

Dan: It’s brought me a realisation of how much energy we gain from real, physical social interactions and how that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Kieran: I agree with Dan on that but personally I’m a nightmare for finding motivation sometimes. If I don’t have something set for my day then I just start really late in the afternoon and continue until the early hours, it’s a vicious cycle. So I just try and fill my time, if I stop I’ll drown. 

How are you feeling now the road map has been announced and live gigs can return?

Dan: Fantastic, it all seems to be going to plan for now, and I can’t wait to see a crowd in front of me again, even if they are socially distanced.

Kieran: I honestly can’t wait until we can get out there. I’m not religious at all but performing to people in this band has been one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had. It makes sense to me and it makes me feel comfortable.

What’s your favourite song right now from another band currently on the circuit?

Dan: Our producers recently put out a song with Bobby West who’s got a great voice and all his songs are such a vibe – a fighter and a lover kinda guy.

Kieran: Yeah he’s a real cool cat. 

What support is out there for new artists in Manchester ?

Kieran: There’s loads of support out there. There are loads of venues and the city as a whole just has this pride and desire for its up and coming acts to do well. You don’t really get that in the places I’ve been based before –  sure there is support for new acts in other parts of the country but not on the same city-wide, multi genre scale as there is in Manchester. In my experience anyway.

Who is inspiring you at the minute on the Manchester unsigned scene?

Dan: Thin-Skinned played at the Band on the Wall gig that I came to. They were a really interesting group, introverted but mesmerising, a bit like Black Country New Road. It’s great seeing all the different facets to Manchester’s music scene.

If your fans could remember one thing about you what would it be?

Kieran: For me it’d be the music and the live shows. That’s cliché, but when all else is said and done and all the visuals, social media and the other things that go into being a band are removed all you have left are the songs and the memories you make through them. 

What useless talent do you have/ party trick? 

Kieran: I can make loads of weird and random sounds. Like gremlin style whistling and weird useless stuff like that. Does that count? I’m not sure if it’s talent but it’s great for annoying people at parties.

Dan: It’s been quite a while, but I’ve never lost a game of Twister – I’ve now got to keep yoga going in case I’m unexpectedly challenged by any drunk friends.

What was the most fun you have had on stage?

Kieran: One of my all time favourites was playing to a full tent at Isle of Wight with Plastic People. It was one of the first time strangers were singing the songs back to us, it was a very special moment. With Villanelle & The Northern wonder I really enjoyed our last gig before lockdown at AATMA, we’d sold out our ticket quota and the setlist was really slick, I think it’s our band’s best performance yet.

Dan: Back home before leaving for uni I played a gig which ended with me making a load of feedback, walking into the crowd with my guitar screaming as they chanted my name. Even if it’s just 50 teenagers, that stayed with me.

What was the worst experience on stage?

Dan: When I first joined Villanelle & The Northern Wonder I had very little time to prepare before the upcoming gig, so at one point I started a song in the wrong time signature.There were a few glances between everyone, but we made it work, and it wasn’t half bad to be fair. 

Kieran: That was actually really funny, I think we styled it out well! For me though it has to be the mini set we did at Castlefield Bowl, multiple band members received bad news on the day so we went on without the full line up, just two guitars, bass and drums. At the time we usually had 3 guitars, bass drums and keys and we had another gig in the evening in Middlesbrough I think so we’d packed light in terms of equipment as well. Halfway through the second song my amp blew up so we did the rest of the gig with just one guitar. 

Tell us something about each member that you think people would be surprised about? 

Dan: I’m actually bald but wear a cheap wig.

Kieran:I lost my left leg to a small shark on holiday in Tunisia. 

Best drink to have on stage?

Kieran: I’m a water guy on stage. But I do have a pre show drink consisting of green tea, fresh lemon, turmeric,  ginger peel, fresh red chilli and some agave to balance the heat. I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s great and it really opens up my voice. I don’t drink alcohol before or during a gig but after you’ll find me with some form of beer, tequila or an espresso martini.

Dan: I’ve played a gig with a bottle of Jack ready on the amp but won’t be doing that again – the fewer things on stage to accidentally kick over the better.

What advice would you give your younger selves?

Kieran: Just sit down and write. I’ve figured out over the last few years that writer’s block isn’t a real thing. It’s just an excuse to procrastinate out of fear. If you sit yourself down and just start writing you may write some terrible music or lyrics but more often than not within the crap you’ll find something to latch onto or you can frankenstein lines together to form a great song. You have to treat it like a job as well as a form of creative expression, give it the time it needs and keep going but eventually you’ll strike something that unlocks the gate. I find that a lot of people, my younger self included, had this romantic idea that songwriting is all bursts of inspiration that strikes at random. But I find that that only happens for me about 5-10% of the time. The rest is putting the work in and allowing the time.

Dan: Also, lyrics don’t have to rhyme – that’s really freeing for just getting stuff written and having things flow in a way that suits the words and serves the music and avoids cliche. 

What’s your biggest achievement as a band?

Kieran: I think it’d be making this EP. From the tracks themselves to the process of writing and recording during a global pandemic. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve come up with, something cohesive, dynamic and just very ‘us’.

Dan:Yeah, this has been several months of writing, developing the sound, mixing and mastering in-house, so it’s a great marker of all the work that’s gone into it.

What makes you stand out as a band?

Kieran: I think it’s our sound. Dan and I both have a really varied musical taste so between us there is quite a rich and diverse pool of influences to pull from. We’ve drawn inspiration for so many places over the years and I think there aren’t too many bands out there that have as recognisable a sound as the one that we’ve created. 

Tell us about a time when you had a proper reyt laugh while you were all together?

Kieran: In person, it was probably the last photoshoot we did. I don’t think we expected the ground to be as muddy as it was and halfway to the location Dan stacked it and nearly ended up in the canal, It was hilarious.

What’s your favourite song to play live and why?

Dan: I love playing Pedro’s live, everything gets locked into a flow and it just naturally grows, there’s such an opportunity to be big and theatrical with it. Loads of the new songs we’ve written have a similar feel and we just know they’re going to be great once we’re able to play them live.

Kieran: I agree, Pedro’s all the way! It’s always the closer of the set, it swells from this calm retro sounding track into an unruly, wild creature. It’s very cathartic. 

I hear you have a new EP brewing, what can you tell us about it?

Dan: Yeah, it’s our debut EP – ‘Dark Days at the Grand’, coming out 16 April. It’s such a visual, cinematic collection of songs, they’re all so vivid and have great grooves throughout. We’ve been playing with a kind of dark americana and 70s fuzz rock thing, and we love what Father John Misty, Josh Homme, and Alex Turner put out in terms of tonal palette, lyricism and feel, so that’s influenced the EP a lot. 

We recorded it with Dave and Oscar from Sunglasses for Jaws, who added so much from a production side of things, it’s been fantastic working with them

Kieran: I think we’ve really captured a sound throughout the EP. It’s got a fantastic sonic palette and really paints a picture. Dave and Oscar were great to work with, they really helped us take the tracks to another level.

How was the recording process given the various restrictions the UK has been under of late?

Dan: We managed to time everything really well, did pre-production in home studios during the lull just after the first lockdown, then we were able to head down to Dave and Oscar’s studio in Hackney Wick right at the very last moment in September before all that got shut down. Having Kieran mix and master everything over the past few months has helped keep everything moving along.

Kieran: It really was a massive stroke of luck in regards to the timing of it all. We managed to get down to the studio for 5 days or so and just knuckled down, it was intense yet really smooth at the same time.

What are your plans for the year ahead 

Kieran: I think we are going to concentrate on building on our fanbase in Manchester and the north of England, play as many gigs as we can and get our music out there and in front of as many people as possible. We’ve also been working on some reimagined versions of the first three releases which has been fun so they might see the light of day at some point and we’re already planning a few more recording sessions for later in the year so we’re fairly busy. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

Dan: I for one love hearing people’s thoughts and perspectives on music, hearing what other people are bringing into the world and what they think about what we’ve done, so I’d love for as many people as possible to engage with us, drop us DMs, and start conversations with us.