It can often feel like you’re being constantly hit over the head with new bands, largely due to the vast number of platforms and outlets hedging their bets in the modern age, eager to say they were there first. The method of natural, fortuitous discovery has primarily been replaced with that of the hard sell, or so it seems. There’s a refreshing sense of the withheld and unknown about Virginia Wing, though. They were all in a few other different bands prior to this one, but that’s neither particularly interesting nor relevant in this context. They released a single on Critical Heights and an EP on Faux Disc (two labels hardly shy of housing a generous host of new ‘buzz’ bands), yet their presence online is minimal, few interviews exist and the press release that accompanies their debut album, ‘Measures of Joy’ (released last month via Fire Records), is taut and succinct. We are told that the album “Is a work of psychedelic majesty that avoids the rockist trappings that many contemporary bands fall into; speaking to everyday anxiety and isolation and in contrast, seeking to evoke an inner world of pastoral fortification.” And that “The startlingly realised collection draws influence from the radiophonic sounds of Broadcast, the kosmische wonder of Cluster and the rhythmic propulsion of This Heat whilst never directly emulating any particular style.” Which turns out to be pretty accurate. It also happens to be one of my favourite records of the year.
Nestled in an empty, basement room of a London pub, I sit down with the three-piece of Alice Merida Richards, Sam Pillay and Sebastian Truskolaski with the intention of unearthing one of the year’s greatest shot-in-the dark records. It turns out the group are indeed somewhat selective about what information is out there. “Ubiquity isn’t necessarily a good thing, is it?” says Pillay, as the on-going swing of the nearby toilet door and the blast of the hairdryer starts a pattern for our conversation during the next hour. “We turned down a lot of stuff because there’s no point in just answering the same question over and over again, is there? Although I’m not saying for one second we’re inundated with press requests and we’re turning them down.”
“It’s not like we’re cultivating some mysterious image,” says Richards.
The group started as a bedroom project of Pillay’s and blossomed into a three-piece with Truskolaski’s extensive drum palette being utilised and Richards being brought on board to sing and initially play bass to Sam’s songs. However, it soon turned into a collective project, with them creating a shared vision. The group’s sound has changed fairly drastically since their initial incarnation, it’s grown and flourished, developed and deepened, something the group are all too happy to let the public see, despite an apparent trend from others who don’t want to.
“The band has never really been more than the three of us – and again we’re not trying to cultivate any sort of mystique,” says Pillay once again. “It would have been very easy to just change the name of the band when Alice first started singing and the first single came out but it implies that you’re worried about growing up in public, which just isn’t an issue for a band of our size. A band operating anywhere outside of London has no problem with that, it’s just a process of a band coming together…”
“You don’t just come out as this fully formed thing,” notes Richards.
“… but in London it seems that you’re way more encouraged to be like that,” continues Pillay, “like you only have a finite amount of time to be like, ‘this is what we’re about’. Everyone follows the same paradigm and it seems weird – just do what you want, it doesn’t matter. But as the three of us we knew what we wanted to set out to do.”
“Maybe something a bit more immersive than some of the guitar stuff I was coming up with. Guitar music can be very immersive, you know? Just not when I write it.
“I think on the EP we sound like a very straight forward indie band or a guitar band with a kind of veneer of experimentation on top and that just comes from not really knowing what you’re doing when you’re recording – wild stabs in the dark.”
“The album started with this list of things that you want your output to be,” says Richards.
“And the biggest thing is the self editing process,” says Pillay, “especially when making music at home. Because you have a seemingly endless amount of time, you can be pretty maximalist with things, just adding more layers and making these ridiculous songs. When we started, like Alice says, it was as literal as us having a list of things that we like and wanted to put in there. I remember writing down specifically ‘woody repetitive bass’ and ‘layered drums’; there was this Niagara record that we really liked…
“… Or I want processed vocals like in ‘God Is Alive, Magic is a Foot’ by Buffy Saint-Marie,” says Richards. “Or I really want a bit in a song that is like that bit in a song from ‘Parallelograms’ by Linda Perhacs, or a bit like this song that White Noise do. You just kind of have this wish list.”
“Objectively, I can see it’s definitely a very derivative way of writing music,” says Pillay, “but there’s also something very satisfying about it, especially when you’re coming from such an abstract place, having a literal list of things and points to achieve. It was actually quite exciting seeing it all written down, as you would with a Christmas list.”
Richards [to Truskolaski]: “It’s like being a kid. Like you used to say that when you were a kid you used to design your own tour buses?”
Truskolaski: “Yeah. When I was a kid that was my favourite thing. I used to draw cross sections for camper vans when I was like eight or nine. I was obsessed with it for a while.”
Understanding this method of making lists of musical parts, sections and references makes sense. The resulting album is indeed a busy one. CAN-like drum flurries explode from inside heady fogs of Broadcast-tinged atmospheres. From the opening song to the rest of the record is a varied, immersive bubble that floats and frequently shifts in tone, tempo and pulse, yet all the while maintaining a wonderfully coherent sound. It’s testament to the group’s ability to, as they say, “self-edit”, because the album feels like it could have been a messy, ill-conceived affair.
“All the best records, I think, are an issue of posterity,” says Pillay. “I’ve never really gotten anything from a record that, say, gives me an insight into the downtown scene of the ’80s or anything like that. People are inherently narcissistic; they want to put their own feeling on it – I know I do.
“The only thing that we actively sought to do, and I don’t know if we necessarily have, was for it to be this world with no time – it’s not trying to be specifically evocative of a place, a time or an era or anything like that; it’s just something that you can reflect with.”
“We wanted to avoid having this imprint of London 2014 and actually make the record into its own world and own universe and everything that ties into that feeling,” says Richards, with Pillay concluding: “I’ve always liked, when listening to music, that feeling of being in an impenetrable little fortress.”
The group, whilst very keen to stress their enjoyment of playing live shows, are also a little selective about when and where they play, often finding it difficult to find venues and line-ups that they feel can allow them to perform at their best. “Unfortunately, we are quite selective about what we play, but only for the benefit of the people watching us,” insists Pillay. “To be blunt, people think we’re dickheads because we turn down the odd show or that we’re not into their kind of thing. You know, I have plenty of friends who are in bands that I think are great but I have no intention of operating in the same way [as them].”
“We’re not an easy band to place on a bill as well,” says Richards. “It can sometimes feel like you’re playing to the wrong crowd yet at the same time you don’t know who that crowd is.”
Pillay: “The closest we’ve gotten in terms of outlook, and how well we’ve been received, is with Hookworms, specifically in Leeds. All bands that operate at this level, we’re not in the entertainment business. There doesn’t need to be this façade, there can be this [existence of] ‘well, this is shit, you think it’s shit, so let’s just stop.’ Why bother? This is the thing that blows my mind – that small bands, who ostensibly should be doing it for themselves because they get creative fulfilment out of it, operate in the exact same way a huge rock band would. It’s tragic.
“Going back to the Hookworms thing, I think it’s the most comfortable we’ve ever felt playing. You know, sometimes it’s nice to feel like you stick out a bit, but that was the happiest because I felt like we stuck out enough because we weren’t just someone trying to rip off Hookworms and then at the same time it wasn’t ‘who are these dickheads?’.”
The same can’t be said of some of the responses to Virginia Wing’s Metronomy tour support.
“I’m not a mad, mad Google yourself kind of person,” says Pillay, “but when we toured with Metronomy, all of us were like unbridled with finding out what people thought because we felt so out of our depth. It was interesting because there would be loads of people getting into it and then you’d see some people on their phone just disdainfully looking at you and I know they are going to write something fucking horrible about me and I’m literally playing right now, like whilst I am playing you are writing something about us. Some of them were awful, one person hash-tagged ‘ear-rape’. That was along with ‘worst support band ever’.”
“It was a rape joke,” says Richards, “and no one likes those!”
Tomorrow the band are meeting new super fan and BBC Radio 6 Music broadcaster Tom Ravenscroft, and ‘Measures of Joy’ is likely to create many more admirers still. The idea of turning this into a job or career, however, is implausible to the group, as Pillay tells me through one final blast of the hairdryer whooshing through the toilet door. “It’s classic cliché stuff, but as soon as you start doing that you are artistically compromised. I would absolutely hate, hate, hate to get a certain element of this record that was successful and continue with it for no other reason than because it was popular.”