All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.
"You’ll hear it another time and it’s going to resonate with you in a way that you need it."
The tour bus that ferries about and serves as home base for a band of internationally known musicians is surprisingly pristine and neat. The air conditioning is on full blast giving the space a delightful chill against the late spring humidity. Only a lone bottle of sriracha sauce sits on the kitchen counter, waiting for a meal to break out.
Ronan Harris, the vocalist and mastermind behind the electronics and lyrics of the powerhouse duo VNV Nation rushes to adjust the temperature controls, ever the lovely host. He and Mark Jackson, drummer extraordinaire, are currently winding down a tour of the United States and playing two sold out nights at the iconic lower east side of Manhattan haunt, The Bowery Ballroom along with a team of support musicians on keyboards. There's something familiar about Harris, his warm handshake, easy smile and quick wit. He's like a pal from school that you've just reconnected with, or your new neighbor, friendly and eager to share stories. His open face breaks into a grin when he receives a photo on his mobile phone.
"I'm a vintage hat wearing and clothing wearing chap," he explains, slightly giddy. "There's a guy in Milwaukee who has a store called The Brass Rooster. He's a master hat man." Harris explains the nuances of colors and fabrics that remain untouched from the 1930s. A hat the color of petrol, an unusual blue, has just been constructed for him, to perfectly match a suit that he possesses. The owner of the store has become a fan of the band. "He's been to our shows and my friend is a good friend, a supporter of his...so this guy is making this hat and the band is vintage fabric, silk and the thread he's using is from a vintage roll, everything is new old stock. Inside the hat band, in the sweat band, he's actually punched my name into it. I never asked for this, he's going above and beyond." He proudly brandishes his phone to show a photo of a stylish hat with a silver band.
Considering right before us is the man who coined the genre Futurepop , Harris is an enigma. His affinity and love for the past would seem to fight his love of new technology and the electronic-style music he creates. Instead, the sides of Harris seem to complement each other perfectly.
He and his girlfriend, who he affectionately gushes is "too glamorous for words," enjoy dressing up in retro duds together. His pride and joy is a 1938 Nash Ambassador. "The only two door sedan in the world. It is liquid silver. It's not glossed, there's no topcoat. It looks like the car is carved out of liquid aluminum, the way an aircraft looked in those days. It just sails past." The gearshift which is "three on the tree" sports an old Electro Voice microphone that fit perfectly on the stick. Harris designed the color teal scheme for the interior, selected the paint himself, wanting to keep things authentic with a few adjustments to make it custom. It's been a labor of love and very accurately showcases his dedication and amazing eye for detail.
"Uh, oh...police. They're not happy with us being here, " notices Harris through the curtains. An NYPD traffic officer takes note of the tour bus, though the band had been assured that it is fine to park there. Our talk continues.
VNV Nation now calls Hamburg, Germany home. Harris hails from Dublin and Jackson from Essex. Their music, is accurately dubbed "composed by humans; built with machines." Part alternative electronic rock with heavy doses of industrial, 80s, new wave and hints of orchestral waves, VNV nation is hard to pigeonhole, which is just fine with their legions of fans.
When asked how he created the term Futurepop, Harris answered, "Radio wouldn't play us. Anything that had the words EBM (Electronic Body Music) or goth associated with it in Germany, which was not intentional because I don't come from that background, was a death sentence. It still is. We were making a style of music where we were listening to a lot of underground electronic music which was rather euphoric and it was inspiring for us to adapt that. This was everything we'd listened to in the early 80s like Italo-disco and other forms of electronic music. It just wasn't commercial yet. We grew up in the New Romantic era, we listened to a lot of progressive electronic music in the 80s and we wanted to have this amazing anthemic quality about our music. We all seemed to like orchestral music. And we tricked radio into playing us by giving it this name and creating the idea that this is some crazy new genre."
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.