The 405 meets Viv Albertine
After twenty five years away from music, influential guitarist and songwriter, Viv Albertine, releases her first solo album The Vermilion Border - out 5th November 2012 through Cadiz Music. The album features a renowned bass player on each track, and even reunites Viv with Mick Jones of The Clash, who plays guitar on 'Confessions of a MILF'.
Viv's former group, The Slits, were one of the first bands within the 'Punk' era to draw on - and tour with - different musical genres, and filter them through their music, especially reggae, improvised jazz and free improvisation. The band are considered to be the forerunners of 'post punk' and the riot grrrl movements and they - and Viv's guitar playing - have also been cited as an influence on many bands as diverse as Gang of Four, Sonic Youth, The Beastie Boys, Tricky and Massive Attack, to new bands such as Chapter 24 and Warpaint.
What is the meaning behind the album title – The Vermilion Border?
The Vermilion Border is a biological term for the border between the red of the lips and the more regular skin of the face. The term resonated with me because I felt on the edge - or border - of a new life when I was making the record, a new physical life and a new emotional life. I was exiting a long marriage and embarking upon a creative and extremely uncertain path. At times I felt I was bordering on madness. I still do. Throughout this period, I had a recurring image that would present itself in my mind, of a long dark tunnel with a pinhole of light at the end. I felt a sickening panic that I would never be able to reach that tiny speck of light. That I would collapse from fear, or effort, or self-consciousness before I got there.
After not writing music for quite a while, and then starting again in 2007, what inspired this new burst of creativity?
I became well. I was a very driven and creative person from the age of about 17. I went to art school, did The Slits, went to film school, then I became extremely ill - at the same time as I had my daughter. It hobbled me. Wiped me out. It took about ten years to come back mentally, physically and emotionally. I never thought about healing, or creating, or the person I used to be, I was so far from it. But gradually, without me even noticing, I began to come back to life.
You collaborated with some amazing musicians [and friends] on this album, how did that all come about?
When I picked up the guitar again, after 25 years of not playing it, I couldn't play a note. The guy in the local guitar shop in Rye had to show me a couple of things to do to get my fingers moving again. Then I went to a guitar teacher in Hastings - who had no idea who I was or what I had done in the past - he wouldn't teach me. He said you've got something unique, I don't want to fuck it up by teaching you chords and scales. Let's just go to pubs and play these little songs you've written. I wanted to die. It was agonising, but having come so close to death, I really couldn't say no to anything anymore. Even though it was unbearable. Anyway, I didn't know anyone in the music world, I had left them all behind, and I was in denial about The Slits, I never talked about them. It was like it had happened to another person - and I can't bear nostalgia. I found the musicians that I played with on this album by happenstance. Maybe a friend would introduce me to a harp player and I liked her voice and her haircut, so I invited her to play - the same way we used to do it in the 70s - choices were based on intuition. I got bolder and bolder, asking people I didn't know to play on the record and trusting my instincts.
You've been in the business a long time, how have attitudes changed [if they have] towards women in music, particularly with women who play more extreme music?
I don't feel like I've been in the business a long time because I was completely out of it for 25 years. Talking to young women who are starting out now, there still seem to be issues around, being taken seriously, being confident, feeling scared to make a fool of themselves, manipulation, it's still a male dominated world, but sometimes being the underdog is the more exciting stance. That is how I've felt all my life, I'd rather come from behind, have to fight to be heard, be marginal, than be mainstream.
How do you view the term 'riot grrrrl'?
I'm very ignorant about that term, I was somewhere else when that was happening. In retrospect, I have met some very intelligent and inspiring women who were part of that movement.
Tell me about some of your favourite tracks on the album?
I love 'I Want More' which opens the record, although the order of tracks is a journey with the newer songs last, I put his one first to lay out my stall. It annoys me how so many girls tow the line and conform and I wanted to speak about this. Also, you reach an age when the majority of people would rather you shut up and disappeared and didn't expect too much of life. Well not me. I also love the beat.
Are you looking forward to playing them live, or is recording a more comfortable process for you?
Recording in the studio was very creative and stimulating, it stretched me beyond my knowledge of myself, past my limits. Playing live is completely different because of the audience. It is more immediate, less considered. Although there are elements of improvisation in both processes, a live show tests your reactions and quickness of thought to the extreme. Especially as I welcome my own mistakes and interaction with the audience. I want to work towards eliminating the separation between performer and audience more and more. Not just physically but emotionally too. 'Punk' started to do that with the refusal to sign autographs and be 'stars', the spitting at the performers and saying being in a band is easy, anyone can do it, but music is returning to hero worship and virtuosity.
What current bands/ artists are really grabbing your attention at the moment?
I am not inspired by bands, I find inspiration in new people I meet, everyday life, an exhibition, a book.
You have another couple of projects going on, you are currently composing a verbal score for a collaboration with the Turner nominated artist, Fiona Banner, and writing a book about your life, 'Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, how are those going?
Do you think the spirit of punk lives on, or is it long gone?
Still lives in me.
For latest news and forthcoming tour information visit http://www.vivalbertine.com/