Prince Vaseline – Interview – 2015

Photos by Jolyon Holroyd
The most satisfying way of finding a band is always “unexpectedly”, and at the release show for CLOWwNS debut album, that is exactly what happened when I was blown away by an enthralling set by the support band Prince Vasiline. After buying their most recent album (A Natural Coloured Pleasure) at the gig, I was even more taken by their powerful blissed sound and I had to find out more about this new discovery.  I met up with front-man Max Erle to get more information on when, how and why Prince Vaseline came about.
Can you remember you introduction to music?
I grew up in London, but moved to Brighton when I was 11 and formed all my lasting friendships in here. Being at school and meeting people who are listening to similar records. My mum was big into music big time – stuff like Patti Smith and Lou Reed. When I was about 14 I met this guy who was also into that kind of music as well, and his dad had left him this insane collection of records. There was really obscure 60s psychedelia, stuff like Family, Traffic and Love. We used to listen to that all the time. I never really studied music, but the idea of a band like The Velvet Underground who didn’t need classical training to be a musician gave me the confidence to play the guitar and not really needing to know how to play it.
When growing up in Brighton, did you immerse yourself in the music scene?
When we were fifteen we would go drinking in The Barley Mow which had bands like The Pipettes, 80s Matchbox, Tenterfoot, Actress Hands and Electric Soft Parade playing around 2002 time which was really good. There seemed to be a specific moment in time from about 2002 to 2006 where there was all this incredible stuff happening in Brighton, and I feel it is starting to happen again.
When did you first start playing an instrument?
I sort of played piano when I was really young. Both my uncles and my great uncles as well as my grandad where all boogie-woogie piano players, and they used to teach me how to play stride, honkey tonk and rag-time songs. But I never learnt it formally. I started playing the guitar when I was 14. I went back to piano to play synths for a few different bands, and then a couple of years ago I started singing.
How do you attack the writing process?
I have quite a specific method. I have a nylon string guitar, and playing around with chord progressions or maybe a riff which I then record. Then I come up with the lyrics second, which tends to be the thing I spend the most time on. A melody will be quite instantaneous and then the lyrics I almost have to urge out.
What are your main influences?
I have always been into quite spacey sounding records, like Joe Meek as a producer and the band Broadcast, things that sound quite alien and weird. The Island EP was more in line with that – it was just me and Eleanor Whittle and we spent a lot of time working on the textures and overall atmosphere. The idea for our last release, A Naturally Coloured Pleasure, was to take the songs I had written and do them totally stripped down. We tracked it all live and overdubbed the guitars, but there is very little that isn’t what we would do live.
How did Prince Vaseline start?
I came up with the concept of Prince Vaseline years ago. I’m quite into the idea of a character that isn’t me, which can tell stories and sing songs that I don’t feel are directly linked to me, even if they are. It was initially just me on my own writing demos. I then started playing with Evan (Reinhold), Eleanor and Marc Beatty, who are in their own right incredible musicians, and brought my songs to a new level.
How did you meet everyone in the band?
Marc I have known since I was young but have only got to properly know him in the last few years. Just because he has always been a linchpin in Brighton’s music scene, playing with bands like Brakes, and has done a lot of work with British Sea Power as well as running Mockingbird Studios which spawned loads of amazing bands. Eleanor and I were in a band called Restlesslist a while ago as well as Milk And Biscuits. Evan I have known since I was 14 years old and we have been in a bunch of different bands. Matthew Davies (from Milk And Biscuits) is kind of in our band now, he moved away so he only does it now and then.
What’s the story behind the name?
I was reading a book (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy) and there was a character in it called Prince Vasili, which I kept reading as Prince Vaseline. It triggered this memory from when I was about 10 years old and watching a lot of Saved By The Bell. There was a character called Zack who had a massive blonde quiff, and I really wanted to have hair like his. My mum wouldn’t let me buy hair gel, so before I went to school I would put a load of Vaseline in my hair, which clogged it all up. That memory along with reading that book formed the name.
How did you find the recording process for your most recent album?
We went to our friend Matt studio, Dino’s in North London, and did 5 days with him quickly recoding it then getting it mastered. Eleanor did all the art work. Evan did the design for the tape sleeves and my mum helped with the graphic design of the CDs. It was all done very much in-house. Instead of finding the label and then maybe waiting another year until its release, we thought since it was our first official release we would put it out on our own label which is Sunhorse Records.
Are you now thinking about the next album?
We are working on that now and meeting up once a week, demoing tracks. We have a about 15 to 20 track now. On the last record there was the theme of nature, this one lyrically is a bit more concise. A Natural Coloured Pleasure was quite abstract, but this one I am a lot more proud of lyrically.
What has been a musical eye-opener?
I must have been about 8 years old and I went to Ireland with my mum, her best friend and her son. We were driving around Ireland in my mums little VW Polo, and she had on tape Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake by the Small Faces. I played it so much that the tape started to warble. I can remember going round this huge steep cliff and she just chucked the tape out the window because she was so sick off it. I think for me, as it was such a bizarre record because of Stanley Unwin spoken-word narration in his own language with this explosive weird psychedelic pop tune, it was very important to me.
Is there an album that you wish you could have made?
I think Berlin by Lou Reed is probably the most beautiful album I have ever heard, in the sense that it is so beautiful, so disturbing and so visceral all at the same time. There’s so many though; Horses by Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground.
What would be your perfect line-up of 3 artists and where would they perform?
I would love to see Transformer era Lou Reed. There is something magical about that time for him and that would be really exciting to see. Soft Machine when it was Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt – to see them would be awesome. Then probably The Jimmy Hendrix Experience. I think the concert would be on an island, somewhere remote and small.
If you could work with any artist, who would it be and what would they add to the Prince Vaseline sound?
I would have liked to have been around in the No Wave scene in New York during 1980s. People like Thurston Moore, Rhys Chatam, the guys from DNA and Mars. I think they would be really exciting people to be around. To work with people who had this completely new vision of writing music and doing almost “performance art” style gigs would be really inspiring to me. Sonic Youth could have written amazing pop tunes, but they purposely played with weirdly tuned guitars and made this insane, metallic, industrial noise. It’s a good example of someone who had a totally good ear for melody and catchiness and could have easily been super successful but wanted to bring this insolent, dissonant rage to their music.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I saw Ultimate Painting recently who were great. A band called Novella – I’ve seen them from the start and they have always been good but recently, I don’t know what they have done but it’s fucking incredible. Really worth checking out, they are a motorik/Stereolab psychedelic girl band. Bands like Toy I really love and Jessica Pratt.