Vessels are an experimental post-rock five-piece that call the creative city of Leeds their home. Having spent the last few years making numerous festival appearances, touring Europe with Oceansize and showcasing their impressively frenetic live shows up and down the country the band put their touring scheduels on hold early last year to record their long-awaited follow-up long player. Slowly bubbling under the surface of the UK rock scene for over five years, Vessels are championing a new breed of electronic, industrial music and are surely set to explode with the eventual release of their incredible second album 'Helioscope' later this month. The 405 caught up with drummer Tim Mitchell to discuss collaborations, 'Helioscope', summer festival plans and the bands that they would most love to share a stage with in the future. For any readers unfamiliar with Vessels, can you tell us a little bit about your history and formation, and also how you would describe your music, as general opinion seems to be quite split between post-rock, experimental rock and electronic/guitar-based dance music? We have all been part of the Leeds music scene in one way or another…usually in this way…for the last 10 years or more. Vessels has been a five piece since mid-2007 when Pete (guitars/bass/keys) joined the band to give our sound and more importantly, onstage image, a much needed extra boost! Prior to that we were a four piece, and prior to Vessels formation in 2005 we were part of a post-hardcore band called A Day Left. In terms of our sound, I think it has taken us a while to get to the point where the music we write and play sounds anything like the music we all listen to and are passionate about. Some bands seem to arrive fully formed with a coherent identity and aesthetic. We never did, which was frustrating because we knew what we wanted to sound like, and as such it has been a long road to the point over the last few years where we feel like we do. As a band we all have a fairly eclectic taste in music, much of which we share, and some we don’t. We have tried to encompass a few different styles over the years from prog/math/post-rock, electronica, indie, dance and ambient which might explain the split in opinion over how to pigeon-hole us. We are not trying to be wilfully obtuse and avoid categorisation; we just like a lot of different music and try to incorporate those influences. Describe it how you wish. Your second full length ‘Helioscope’ has been a long time coming. Why has there been such a delay in its release and how is it different from your previous releases? We spent quite a while touring after White Fields in order to get a sense of how people were responding to the record. We can also be notoriously slow at writing music; partly due to the way in which we used to rehearse and write tunes which was very labour intensive and not always that productive. Part of the problem is a desire to be as democratic as possible, which is a noble trait but not always one with the best creative results. We ended up writing a lot of material that hasn’t been used and Lee and Tom went away and wrote much of the material that has. Something which I think has made for a more coherent album than the last. I think the major difference lies in the slightly more dancey and toe-tapping nature of a lot of the tunes, there are a few vocal ones as there were on the last one and hopefully the music hasn’t lost its cerebral nature. You recorded the new album with John Congleton as you did with your debut. Has this created a seamless transition and progression between the two albums? I hope so. That was partly the rationale for recording with John again – the other was that we really get on with him which is important when you are recording. Also, we were happy to go and hang out with him in Dallas and perversely it wasn’t that much more expensive than him coming to the UK. As one of the drummers in Vessels it is an honour to record with John who is capable of creating a huge drum sound (eg. Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You) as a solid foundation to the many musical textures we then lay on top, although I am currently listening to Lisbon by The Walkmen a lot, which is a very different kind of record and exemplifies his range as a producer. Much of Vessels’ music is predominantly instrumental. How do vocals and lyrics play a part during your song writing and when included in your songs as a whole? Even though we are primarily thought of as an instrumental band, vocals are an aspect of our music we don’t ever want to lose completely. We all listen to a lot of vocal based music as well as instrumental and as such are aware of what a powerful dimension voice and lyrics can contribute. That said we tend to focus far more of our attention on writing interesting instrumental music and laying vocals over the top of that at a later stage if they are deemed appropriate. We tend to use the studio as the place to take time perfecting the vocals and showcasing this side of the band. This is certainly the case on the new album where there are four tracks in which vocals play a primary role and are not merely an add-on. Is Vessels everyone’s full time job now, or do you all still have to juggle the band with other work commitments? Well…I have just moved to Bristol for a full time job so I guess the latter. I now have to juggle the band, the job and the M42! Martin has to juggle the band and his work for the government and the others are all variously involved in teaching, production and other musical pursuits which generally pay more money than being in Vessels does…. So yes, still juggling! Stuart Warwick has appeared on your latest track ‘Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute’. He’s also supporting most of your dates on your upcoming tour. Which collaboration came about first and will you be performing the song together on tour? Stuart has been a friend for many years and we have played with him in his guise of Jacob Stories a few times. Given that he is one of the best singers in the country, in most of our opinions, it didn’t take long to come up with the idea to collaborate, though it did take a while to get it to happen. I think he was legitimately worried than any collaboration with us might ruin his credibility! We will probably play the song live on tour, unless that would be too predictable? Who’s responsible for your album artwork, and do you think that in a time where digital downloads are more prevalent, creating aesthetically appealing album artwork is important for promoting physical releases? We have been very privileged to collaborate with some amazing artists. You just mentioned Stuart and, Luke Drozd, who is responsible for our artwork, is in the same category. He is a prodigiously talented illustrator and one of the nice things about being in a financially precarious business such as the arts is that people stick together and help each other out if there is mutual admiration and respect. Regardless of the digital age we live in, it is still incredibly important to think about how to represent yourself visually and create artwork that is striking and appealing. I still buy music in hard copy, but am much more likely to be drawn to something which has obviously had some thought and time put into it, two things Luke certainly does and for which we are grateful. We are also going to release Helioscope on double vinyl so it is doubly important to get the presentation right. How was the European tour with Oceansize? Where there any particular tour highlights? The whole tour was brilliant (though I disgraced myself a number of times) certainly the most fun we have had as a band since we started and something which made all the hard work up until this point worthwhile. The highlight for most of us was a sold out gig in Madrid where hundreds of people who had never seen or possibly heard of us before were cheering from the first song. I think it was also one of Oceansize’s favourite gigs ever. The lowest point was a ferry across the Baltic sea in which we were all acutely sea sick for about 12 hours and thought we were going to drown – which would have been ironic for two bands with such nautical names! You’ve toured with incredible bands and artists such as The Appleseed Cast, Dave Gedge and Oceansize. Who has been your favourite band to play with and are there any particular bands that Vessels aspire to share a stage with in the future? Apart from Oceansize, it was an honour to play with The Appleseed Cast who are a criminally underrated band and also The Paperchase. I think we would all love to share a stage with Battles and/or Do Make Say Think. Also Caribou. You played one of the best sets of the weekend at 2000 Trees Festival last year. Have you got any festival appearances lined up this year? Thanks and yes, Botanique Festival in Brussels – with Caribou. Others to be confirmed. Vessels often use visual projections during shows. Is this something that you aim to do during all live performances and is the audio/visual aspect something that you think is an essential component to the soundscapes that you create? I certainly don’t think that visual projections are an essential component to our live show, however it is perhaps undeniable that any soundscape based, epic music lends itself very well to an audio/visual presentation. Some post-rock bands tend to rely on visuals a little too heavily though and I think the best post-rock gigs I have seen haven’t used projections at all. However, done well and not lazily, they can lift a concert to the next level. We are lucky to have people involved with the band who are extremely talented in this field and are currently helping us to experiment with a visual and interactive dimension to Vessels. Your new single has been made available as a free download. What was your decision behind this and do you think that this is a reflection on the current state of the music industry where bands have to seek income through alternative routes instead of relying on album sales? There are of course pros and cons to making your work free. More people have heard our single as a result of making it available in this manner and at this stage in our development exposure is as important as the small amounts of money we may have made from the traditional methods of releasing a single. Hopefully, having more people aware of your work and potentially liking it may mean that they come to see you play or buy a release further down the line. I do think that the state of the music industry is such that bands have to work harder now and generate income from playing more rather than relying on album sales. This is great for live music fans though ticket prices have certainly risen as a result, it is not so great for small independent record labels! Being from a city with a vibrant music scene, do you think that cities such as Leeds are vital for creating a musical community and an atmosphere that promotes and nurtures its bands? Definitely. It is certainly easier to form bands within a community that is full of musicians and like-minded people, it is also easier to get gigs and have the possibility of playing to a receptive audience. Leeds is great because it is big enough to have a large musical community but small enough that most people involved in it know each other and are supportive rather than competitive. We have certainly benefited from the support of a number of local artists, promoters, venues and engineers over the years. I think being based in Leeds has contributed to our longevity as a band. Besides the album release what else is in store for Vessels for 2011? We are playing around the UK and Ireland in Feb/March then we are off to Europe in May. Hopefully some festival dates over the summer and then back to Europe in November. We are also setting up a new studio in Leeds so hopefully there won’t be such a long wait until the next album.
'Helioscope' is released on March 21st through Cuckundoo Records Header image by Bart Pettman