When The Sun Hits Interviews Charles & Nancy Nieland of Her Vanished Grace.
Her Vanished Grace are Charles & Nancy Nieland, with Maria Theodosiadou and Billy Loose. In the past seven years they have released six studio albums - Paradise (2004), Get Up (2005), Satellites (2006), Twilight (2007), Blue (2009) and See The Moon (2011). Releasing six studio albums is a feat unto itself - and for all of those to be high quality, which they are, is even more rare. We've heard their music described in all sorts of beautiful ways that we couldn't possibly hope to match - they make "dark urgent pop singed with white noise" ... "Her Vanished Grace is a vivid, shape-throwing bliss machine" ... "HVG captures the enormous sound of the Earth spinning on its axis" ... you get the idea. And yes, Her Vanished Grace sounds like all of those things and more. This band is more than primed for the limelight, and When The Sun Hits wants to make sure they get there and stay there, so get onboard. Enjoy the interview with Charlie and Nancy of Her Vanished Grace, and follow the links to discover what many of us gazers already have - this band is epic.
How and when was the band formed? Is there a story behind the band name?
Charlie: Nance and I met in front of the Ionic Column while working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City 25 years ago this month. There was instant chemistry and our relationship quickly formed as we talked about music and art while working and hanging out at the museum. We were both into Siouxsie & The Banshees, Love & Rockets, The Cure and Cocteau Twins. Several months later, I quit the museum, we started working on music together and by the summer of 1987, we formed Her Vanished Grace along with a guy I knew from college named Sean Stromsten. He contributed the name, which he got from an alchemy text, but he didn't stay very long. By 1988, HVG was a duo and Nance and I were married. We've continued through several lineups and we're currently a four piece, with Nance and I on vocals and guitars, Maria Theodosiadou, who joined in 1997, on bass and Billy Loose, who joined in 2003, on drums. 11 self released albums later, the music of HVG is still an expression of the mysterious something that brought us together.
Nance: I just did music back then to try and be with Charlie. I listened to SKYLARKING for a month to try and impress him (laughs).
Charlie: I liked XTC a lot.
Can you tell us what Her Vanished Grace has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc)?
Charlie: We've been promoting and performing songs from our 2011 CD, SEE THE MOON, and we've been getting our best response so far. Starting this summer, we began writing and recording a new release for 2012. We're playing with more layers and more noise. This is going to be a dense and dreamy set of songs, with guest appearances, so far, by LG of Dead Leaf Echo, Daniel from The Invisible Kid and Andee Blacksugar from Black Sugar Transmission.
Nance: I really love the new songs. So far "Bridge of Sighs" is my favorite, but they're not all done yet.
Do you consider Her Vanished Grace's music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?
Charlie: We've always had our own sound so I think that deciding whether Her Vanished Grace is part of any scene is really best left to others. Shoegaze bands were originally an obvious influence but we went on to explore stylistic hybrids with prog and post punk. Our music has always been some combination of strong melodies and dreamy noise. Recently, we've found a more consistent way to both gaze and be a driving pop band all at once, which has led to a productive run of 6 records in 7 years. Anyway, genres like shoegaze or alternative or post punk or indie have all become broad outlines that have less descriptive power with each passing year. So we made up the name "power dream pop".
Nance: I really don't think about it. If someone's gonna connect us to a genre, it can't be us. I think they have funny cute names though. What was that one I liked? Oh yeah "chill wave".
You guys are newly signed to XD Records. How does it feel?
It's great to be part of a musical family after being on our own for so long. We're really glad that XD approached us. What a sweet roster! It's exciting to be getting in on something that's just starting. We had such a great time in Chicago in November at the XD Festival with Bloody Knives, bliss.city.east, Music for Headphones, Panda Riot and Lightfoils.
Nance: It feels great. It's just funny. We've been doing this for so long....
Her Vanished Grace. Desire.
What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?
Charlie: To me shoegaze, dream pop and psych describe music where the mood and atmosphere are put front and center and there are lots of new bands that do this well. I really love Animal Collective with their detailed atmospheres; School Of Seven Bells songs are dreamlike hymns; Washed Out is lush and erotic; A Sunny Day in Glasgow is delirious: and this year Drowner's hypnotic debut really stands out. Of course, I love our NYC friends like Dead Leaf Echo, Desire Lines, Me You Us Them, The Invisible Kid and The Stargazer Lilies.
Nance: I usually think new bands are mostly bad. Charlie filters it for me and plays me the best stuff. I don't need it though; I have so much good music to listen to. I don't have that much time. I just want to be entertained. I like the friendship with the music I have already. I just want to hang out with my old friends over and over. I did like School of Seven Bells, though, when I saw them open for Interpol. The three of them really held it down. It reminded me of us a lot. Different but.... I wish I had her outfit. I also really love Blonde Redhead.
Charlie: She hates all her new favorite bands at first.
What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?
Charlie: Our most important pieces of gear are our main guitars: my '74 Hagstrom Swede Guitar and Nance's '66 Fender Jazzmaster Guitar. As far as effects go, much of my sound comes from the Digitech RP-10 (early '90s multi fx with a completely programmable expression pedal), the Digitech WH-1 Whammy (the first one) and the Roland GR-33 Guitar Synth. I also use the Digitech XP-300 Space Station, Digitech PD 8000 Echo Plus (for looping) and the MXR Micro Amp for a boost. Nance uses the Digitech RP-70 for her effects and we both use Marshall 900 series amps. There's lots more stuff we use in the studio.
A recent debate sparked the following question, and remains unresolved: must shoegaze or dream pop songs, by their very definitions, include some use of reverb?
Charlie: I love great use of reverb, especially if its dirtied up a bit, but sometimes less is more when it's used conventionally. I have a bootleg of Slowdive in Oslo from 1993 and it's my favorite recording of their music. With less billowy reverb in the mix, a real intensity comes through. The question gets into "What is Shoegaze?" There are bands like Chavez that use zero reverb and feel like shoegaze to me so I really don't have an answer.
Nance: I like the way Charlie makes me sound pretty. I like the reverb on Kate Bush's voice. I think all vocals should sound like that.
How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?
Charlie: The music industry has been shattering in slow motion since we got into it. I feel hopeful though. There is so much great music that I've been exposed to solely because artists can now easily produce and promote themselves. So many assumptions are being tossed out. I don't agree, though, with the argument that all music should be free and that ownership of copyrights is an outdated concept. People have no idea how much work goes into writing and recording something that's been truly cared for.
Nance: What music industry. I miss record stores. Does that have anything to do with it? I miss Tower Records. I miss Virgin. I liked it better in the 90s.
When it comes to label releases versus DIY/bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?
Charlie: Well we've been DIY for our entire career, first getting consignment deals with record stores and later, using CD Baby to get digital distribution and more recently Bandcamp. And now we're with XD, so we'll let you know how it goes being on a label. We think it will build on our years of DIY.
Nance: We write 'em produce 'em and then mix them ourselves. It's just us doing this thing. If XD can make it better and they can spread it further that that will be great. I only care about the songs. I don't really care about the rest of it.
Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?
Charlie: I love vinyl (we of course grew up with records), but my turntable is broken. We listen to 320 kb MP3s most of the time. There are audible differences between even high quality MP3s and full bandwidth WAV files and CDs but they don't bother me. MP3 players mean less scratched up CDs.
Nance: I like the way it sounds in my V Moda headphones coming out of my IPod. I like that I can hear it over my Toro.
What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?
Charlie: The Beatles, then Led Zeppelin, Yes and Bowie were my childhood musical heroes, and inspired me to start playing. Cocteau Twins really changed me. I heard PINK OPAQUE in a record store and I ran to see who it was. It was like music that I'd heard in my head for years. Then Echo & the Bunnymen with their dark jangle and Ian's fantastic voice. There was Daniel Ash's amazing guitar work. Of course along came My Bloody Valentine and Curve then Shudder to Think and Chavez then Flaming Lips and Interpol. All these artists inspired me to find a cinematic approach to playing, writing and producing. We still go to the Met to get inspired by the dark romantic modernism of Cezanne, Kandinsky, Klimt, Balthus and so many more. I love Tom Robbins and David Lynch and "Donnie Darko".
Nance: There's Kate Bush, Elizabeth Frasier, Siouxsie and PJ Harvey. I don't know how much they've influenced me. I just want to be like them 'cause they're the best. I need a lot of visual stimulation; I get it from surrounding myself with beauty. That's what influences my music.
Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc)?
Charlie: I'm watching Boardwalk Empire and Joseph Campbell's Mythos. I've been listing to The Horrors SKYING, The Joy Formidable THE BIG ROAR and I've recently discovered the electronic music duo Silver Apples from the late 60s.
Nance: George RR Martin, Edith Wharton, Interpol, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Otis Redding. I listened to a lot of Chavez and Shudder To Think this year. A lot of boy music.
If you had to choose one Her Vanished Grace track that was the ultimate definition of your sound, which would it be and why?
Charlie: The answer to this question changes on whatever day you ask me. I feel that "Passenger" is a good choice. It just does exactly what I hoped it would do. I love the intro. I think B.A Miale brought it to life with her video too. I always thought that "Early Bird" (from 2005's GET UP ) summed everything up: the zero gravity guitars, the galloping rhythm and Nance's voice slicing through the whole thing.
Her Vanished Grace. Passenger.
Nance: "Make it Lighter" is my favorite right now. My favorites are what's new. They aren't going to be my favorites after we make something new next year. I do love "Remember" from BLUE. I think that's the perfect HVG song.
Can you tell us a little about the band’s song writing process?
Charlie: Some songs like "Desire" and "See The Moon" came from spontaneous moments recorded during rehearsals. While I'm plugging in all my pedals, Maria will start a cool bass line, Billy begins pounding away and Nance starts a stream of consciousness creation of lyrics, melodies and guitar. I'm standing there going, "This is two parts of a great song!" When I'm finally plugged in, I get to jump in and tie it all together. Then Nance and I work on intros, choruses and bridges. Of course, there are many other songs that Nance and I write on our own and present to the band. They always come up with the perfect parts. Of course, at this point we can't help but write with them in mind.
Nance: I get song writing ideas while I'm working in the garden. I get inspired by nature and I spend a lot of time outside. I write about mowing and how much I love Charlie and my friends but some of my songs are about characters I invent. I also get up very early; I think it makes me more creative.
What is the band's goal for 2011?
Charlie: To get to the end of the year with the tracking done on the new album so we can focus on mixing in January. Really we've surpassed a lot of goals this year. The music seems to be getting it's own momentum and reaching more people than ever.
Nance: I'm done. I don't have a goal now. This year is so over. (laughs)
What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?
Charlie: What we are looking for is an experience of being alive.
Nance: I have a very organic philosophy on life. You live. You die and then you're compost.