THE VRYLL SOCIETY are a brand new band on the block, breathing a breath of fresh air to cult Liverpool label Deltasonic Records. We catch up with them after a whirlwind few months on the road to find out what’s fuelling their current resurgence.
Sometimes, in our grab-bag culture, waiting is the hardest part. Yet, in the gentle words of A.A. Milne, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.” Perhaps more bands should take heed from someone who was happy to write about a yellow bear and a honey pot, especially if their vision of success is likewise stuck fast to the bottom of an imagined receptacle, just out of reach forever. My evening with The Vryll Society – one of the hottest new acts in the city – has left me with a number of impressions, all of which hold great hopes for the intractability of Merseyside music. The biggest, however, is just how they’ve been willing to cut to the heart of their exceptionalism without revealing too much of themselves too early. As singer Mike Ellis, slumped on a small chair, says: “Once you’re up there, the knives are out straight away. People just want to annihilate you. So, if we’re that good, there’s nothing you can say to me. You have to say, ‘They’re really good at what they do’.” He takes a moment, measuring me with his eyes, almost daring me to challenge his bold intent. “And thus far, it’s worked.”
I saw the Vrylls for the first time only recently. The Kazimier, of course, could inject drama into a Seasick Steve show if it wanted to, but this gig was tauter, leaner and more intense than I expected. Those responsible were five guys I’d spotted on one of those kaleidoscopic press photos you’re used to seeing nowadays. Live, they are liquid, drawing shadows from strange angles, unashamedly tuneful and cabalistic in pursuit of a fresh sound; in person, they seem to have learnt all their strengths through their mentor, the late Alan Wills, who smiles out of a photograph to my right when I catch up with the band a week after the show. The Deltasonic boss has pride of place in the band’s rehearsal room, deep in the belly of Crash studios. Stitched above him: a mosaic of baggies, which I realise might have had more of an influence on the Vrylls than anything an eager journalist could reference.
“He’s always got a smile on his face, like,” Mike says with reverence. “He said to us: ‘You only need a practice room to conquer the world’. And he’s right, isn’t he?”
Judging by the décor – low ceiling, low lamps, reams of mystical wall tapestry – I can safely agree with him. This is the best practice room I’ve encountered thus far. It makes you want to sigh out something implausibly meaningful, meditate on a bong hit, perch both feet on the sofa as you admire how closely the instruments are arranged together.
“He’s the one that put us onto what we do,” says Lloyd Shearer, the bassist. I’m deciding that he and Benjamin (Drums) are the ones paying attention to the band’s musical development, then Ryan Ellis (Guitar) chips in: “We were working with Alan since we were that old band [The Dirty Rivers], when we were like, ‘Turn everything on that you can!’ But he’s the one that really made us listen to what we are.”
The Vryll Society’s earlier incarnation, they tell me, was laddish and unexcitable. They had to step back from their egos to fix it; the songs became delicate, seductive, charged by a sense of freedom and encroaching darkness. All the while, Alan watched them. He told them to hold off gigging for as long as they could. To this day, they think he was right. The group hunkered down, spending three or four weeks on any given track, and emerged with a newfound appreciation for mood and texture. Just don’t ever, ever call them psychedelic.
“Oh man, no!” Benjamin moans to the others’ agreement. “We like it, but we don’t want to be part of it.”
“So that’s the worst thing someone can say about you?” I ask.
Lewis McGuiness (Guitar), the quietest of the bunch, says, “It’s too bland of a label just to throw at someone.”
“There are psychedelic elements,” Mike explains, “but I guess we’ve only put out two tracks and an EP – we know there’s so much more to discover. No-one else knows that. Hopefully, soon, you’ll get more of the picture.”
A look at Benjamin’s 70s prog hairdo and bandana cresting the Indian wall-print does not quite banish my psychedelic suspicions. What else are they interested in? Unsurprisingly, it’s what they claim other people are not doing. Ghosts of The Verve and Ian Brown’s solo records can be found in their new EP, Pangea, but the majority of it eschews the trappings of Northern Soul and wants instead to meddle with how one can approach relief and catharsis.
Take the lyrics to Coshh, in the main hook: “Cos your son still needs you/And the mud will heal you/And Jesus loves you/With his God above you”, stung by tightly tremolo-ing strings. Offsetting images of power and dominance in the cleansing mud recalls the suffering of the martyr, or the pained suburbanite, or maybe the aged scenester waking up to a flood of acts that no longer categorise him as a key demographic. It’s alluring to break free from what we’re told is important, because it is hard to get there, and means our selfishness is absolved for an impression of spirituality we may not fully understand. The band give a miasmic thrill when they play, fey and sinister and not wholly present, as if communion with an eldritch god has got stuck at the ritual stage and they’re having too much fun to stop, but disappointment lies just around the corner.
Probing them, I try to define what makes fantasy the key to interesting art. “Mimetic qualities aside”, I say, “perhaps it’s more difficult to write songs about an average person’s experiences than totally making them up, and making them purposefully vague? Even with the hum of erotic charge in the material, people might want a little to chew on aside from carnal, subconscious revel-rousers that aim well away from Northern grit.” Mike jumps at the chance to speak of surrealism and its implications. He crackles when he talks, recommending Andrei Tarkovsky films, a concept for the underground survivors of World War 3, and a mandate to stay away from Arctic Monkeys-aping noughties leftovers. “It’s easier for me to write abstract, instinctual stuff inspired by movies and other things – bits of jazz that I hear. I like soundtracks, really patient pieces of music with a feeling that the story is beneath them.” Here again is the sensitivity that knocks me, fortified though it is in self-imposed isolation from contemporary Scousers. “Will you be popular?” I wonder. “All I know is that magazines like a movement,” he says. “They create the movement by themselves. It’s them doing it.”
“Bands look out for themselves,” adds Benjamin.
So, it turns out, does Lloyd. He admits to a fascination with other planets when I ask for any quirks in the closet. He says he would happily go to Mars and never come back.
Ryan reckons this sums them up perfectly: going to space every night. I’d go further and say they want their own universe, somewhere distant and un-guessable, and they’re readying themselves to leap into the unchartered light of a fresh star. For now, content yourselves that they’ve toured, gained momentum, and are hungry to add a trail to their comet. As I close the rehearsal room door, I think: I will remember this.
Pangea is out now via Deltasonic Records.