Even though Brighton has a thriving music scene, it is getting increasingly rare to find musicians who are actually born and bred in our lovely city. Theo Varney has spent his whole life by the sea and has created a mighty reputation as one of the most talked about and highly rated musicians in Brighton at the moment. Theo’s music definitely talks for its self with tracks like ‘Heavy Sun’ and ‘Mountain Rose’, and he has started putting his influence on a variety of Brighton bands by acting as a producer and engineer. I had a quick drink with Theo before the recent launch of his stirring third EP Brain Disease to find out more about Brighton’s nicest guy in Rock.
Do you think living in Brighton has influenced your music?
To be honest, what I would say has influenced me more is my Fathers taste in music – Prog and Classic Rock. Bands like King Crimson and Caravan, or Free, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. It’s more that era – I love Jazz and Blues as well.
What was the first instrument you learnt to play?
I started playing violin when I was 4 years old. I did want to play the guitar earlier than that, but my Mum said it was just physically too large for me to play. I had a really great music teacher called Stuart Deeks who would say “play what you want Theo”, and as a hyper active kid I was playing this horrible screeching noise. He would say “that was good, but let’s refine it”. I’m really grateful to him as I can remember him asking if I wanted to do the graded system. I asked him what it was as I didn’t know and he said “you have to learn some songs and play them to some people”, I asked if I can choose the songs and he said “no”. I was like “why would I want to do that”, and he totally agreed with me. So he would go through violin books playing me songs until we found one I liked, and then I would learn it by ear as I can’t really read music.
What drives you to make music?
It has always been the thing I wanted to do. School was pointless for me almost as I knew from day one that I wanted to be a musician. So whenever I didn’t to any homework, I would just say “I want to be a musician”. We had a good music teacher at school who would come in at the beginning of the lesson and say we could jam for the whole of the two hour lesson – it was at the time of UK Hip-Hop and Grime so we would jam out with everyone being an MC.
Has your music always had a Rock sound?
I’ve had a funny musical “path”. I started off playing rock guitar – I would mainly just learn Black Sabbath guitar solos – but then I went into producing Hip-Hop for my mates, which then lead me to more weird electronic stuff. I was playing gigs as an electronic musician playing shit on my laptop, and I was slightly disillusioned with it all as I was watching all these band like the Black Lips playing these rocking shows. So about four/five years ago I came back to my hard rock roots, but it has given me an interesting perspective on production and mixing.
When did you start playing as Theo Verney?
There was a very distinct point. I was playing in a hard garage band before this, and I was writing all the songs as well as recording them and putting a lot of effort into it. As the people in the band had other interests and I have always known what I wanted to do, I thought I may as well go solo which was about two years ago.
How do approach the writing process on your own?
It is kind of part of the demoing process. I come up with guitar lines, then vocal lines and then record some drums. I put it together in quite a digital sense by looping things. Once the structure is there, I will take it to John Daves who is recording the drums on the records who refines it and puts things in place. My three EPs have been all recorded at my place, as I have built up a good collection of nice mics and amps, but I have started working in a studio called Church Road Studios in Hove and I am recording my album there which has been a big step up production wise, and I am getting to use classic analogue gear which has been really cool.
Are you working with any else on your album (engineer/producer)?
I produce, engineer and mix all my own stuff. I did a degree in Music Production and am very particular with it. I’m a fan of the 70s production where it was big, plush and warm but not fake sounding. It was still layered instruments in a room with effects and reverb on it, rather than drum replacement and over quantizing things.
What inspires you lyrics?
It’s all personal. I don’t really think about it too much. Whilst demoing I record the guitar, drum and bass parts, loop it and then start saying nonsense over it. Something will then stick out and then I build the lyrics around that. I don’t sing about things I don’t know about because honesty is a huge thing in music.
Is there a theme to your recent EP, Brain Disease?
I wrote all the songs two years ago where I was in a bit of a weird situation and I felt like my brain was going to explode dealing with things. I have now gone into writing more mellow stuff as I have chilled out as a human being a bit, but back then I was pretty angry and just wanted to play really hard rock.
Has there been any main influences on this EP?
Always Black Sabbath. A lot of people have been comparing me to bands like The Stone Roses, but in all honesty I have never listened to them or anything from that Madchester scene. I think that those guys were listening to the same stuff as me when writing their music, taking influence from the same music.
What has been a musical eye-opener for you?
Metal was the first music that I got into that was separate to my parents taste – obviously I have now reverted back to my parents taste. The period of early Black Lips, Turbo Fruits, Jeff The Brotherhood and that Atlanta scene made me question what I was doing and it excited me. Seeing Ty Segall live too – I supported him with my old band when he was at the Green Door Store touring his Slaughterhouse EP, and seeing him do everything himself was a key moment for me.
If you could work with any artist, who would it be?
It’s so obvious, but I would love to jam with Jimi Hendrix. I would love to work with Ty Segall and the White Fence guys, have a jam and record some things. I think it would be really fun as I see them as contemporaries, so I hope it could happen one day.
What would be your line-up of any three acts and where would it be?
I would have Pink Floyd opening with their Pompeii set creating a spacy vibe, then Jimi Hendrix with Black Sabbath finishing the show. All at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii.
What have you been listening to at the moment?
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, No Other by Gene Clark, a lot of the Grateful Dead, all the Neil Young albums and Crosby, Steels & Nash.