San Diego, CA – This carefully crafted 9th album from the future-pop, synthmasters VNV Nation, has no less impact for the art it embodies. In true VNV tradition, the overall feel of this release is empowering, uplifting and inspiring. Bracketed with lush instrumentals, the strength of this album is in the soul-stirring anthems. Ronan is a master at blending classic musical elements with rich synth layers yielding a hybrid of traditional and ultra modern. The art & design of the album jacket is also a tribute to the blending of past & future using classic elements of Art Moderne and the retro Streamline font.
The opening track, On-Air, leads us into their sonic landscape and to Space & Time, the first delightful and catchy piece that harkens us to “look back in time”. The next song, Resolution, is a personal favorite and total crowd pleaser ~ the audience at the show I attended spent the entire song jumping up and down, fists in the air, singing along with every word. Resolution IS empowerment – the relentless beat and beautiful melody are more than a nod to individualism and the power of human potential.
Control harkens back to VNV’s EBM roots and will be a dancefloor treasure with DJs spinning this hard-driving gem often. Goodbye 20th Century with it’s nod to bygone eras bridges us to the future visions illustrated in the second half of the album Streamline is the clearest reference to the era Ronan is paying tribute to with this album (see Interview below). With his look back in time Ronan creates his own timeless designs with style and grace using tones and beat instead of chrome and glass. Gratitude reminds us of “the soul in the software”, melodic and uplifting this song offers thanks for all the miseries of life that instead of defeating us, create in us amazing strength… “My God, look at what we are now!” Nova is the most powerful track on the album – cosmic and otherworldly, this is the first song I’ve felt was truly ‘transcendent’ in some time. (Tran∙scen∙dent: adj. 1a: exceeding usual limits, surpassing b: extending beyond the limits of ordinary experience 2a: transcending the universe or material existence.)
It speaks to the body, mind and soul with equal strength and with life-changing impact. As Nova sends us forth into the cosmos, the instrumental Photon provides the fuel for our journey onwards.
Radio is a fitting epilogue, that could easily qualify as the bands theme song, as it challenges Ronan & Mark to carry their message across the ether to the world ~ “The Future is a gift – The Past is a treasure”!
An Interview with Ronan Harris, Nov.19, 2011 at the House of Blues in San Diego:
DOOM!: So tell me about the new album, Automatic – and let me say that after following VNV Nation for a decade this is possibly my favorite album so far. I don’t know that I could even choose between my many favorites.
RONAN: You’re gonna hear most of them tonight! Space & Time, Resolution, Control, Gratitude, Nova – Streamline we haven’t played live as yet. We played Radio live a few times in Europe – doesn’t work well live, I don’t know why.
DOOM!: I got the sense of a timeline with Goodbye 20th Century…
RONAN: No one will understand where I was coming from unless they could see into my head and see what I was into at the time. I had re-immersed myself in an era that I’m in love with – the American 1930’s. It had it’s insidious aspects as well, philosophies that would never be accepted in modern times, however, overall it was a decade that was an absolute explosion of art, creativity, expression and invention. I was re-immersing my self in books, documentaries and movies made in that time. A favorite of mine was the 1933 Worlds Fair in Chicago – it was the epitome of the vision of that time: “The 1920’s were the last decade of the old world – we are now out of the ‘struggling farmers with no power’ lifestyle – we’re now entering the modern age! We can envisage it, we can make it and we can give it to you”. They called it and it’s written on the cover of the album as my tribute to that time – the slogan of the 1933 Worlds Fair “Marking 100 Years of Progress”. There are a ton of references on the cover to that decade – the styling, visual references, even the typeface Streamline is a unmistakable representation of that era.
RONAN:The making of Automatic had it’s share of disasters. I had reached this point where when one computer ‘blows up’ and I stress “blows up”… I mean that’s a bit weird but when two computers ‘blow up’ you know there is definitely something very weird going on. There’s something strange at play here that was making us do things, almost guiding us. Each disaster brought us to a better situation, led us to do something different, that made things a hundred times better than what we had before. Though it took years off my life it was a phenomenal experience and I knew this album was really going to be something special. The final days of producing this album included two 30 hour days, re-doing tracks and re-recording a vocal at 4am the day it went to the mastering company.
RONAN: It was a grueling experience that in the end produced the very best. From my point of view, as the person who makes the music, and I don’t say it’s our best album or it’s my favorite album… but this album floors me… absolutely floors me!
DOOM!: Because “inquiring minds want to know” what does the future hold for your EP The Great Divide?
RONAN: I keep getting distracted from this! I wanted to have it available and uploaded after Automatic was released but then Automatic went to #8 on the German charts and things just exploded!
DOOM!: I noticed your free downloads of “Control” is at 10,500 – that must be pretty gratifying.
RONAN: The statistics the public sees on Soundcloud are different from what I get , the real count… it’s actually over 50,000… and yes, it’s quite gratifying!
DOOM!: I love the environmental friendly packaging you’ve been using for “Of Faith, Power and Glory, “Reformation” and now “Automatic”. What are your other fav ways to save the planet?
RONAN: Hmmmm… try to convince humans that being environmentally friendly isn’t so much about global warming as it is about clean air being a right of everybody. Would you rather live in a chemically infested wasteland or in someplace that’s clean. It begins with every individual on the street and if you don’t speak-up against corporations that pollute willy-nilly, because they don’t give a damn and live out in the suburbs where they don’t have to breathe that stuff then you’re contributing to the problem. Apathy is the tool of evil.
DOOM!: How did you and Mark meet up?
RONAN: I’d moved back to London from Canada in 1990 and meet up with an old friend that suggested seeing a Mesh show at a local bar. A guy in the support band, who looked huge, was playing drums and trying to do vocals, standing there with his knees locked looking nervous as hell. I met him after and I said I really liked the music and was working on a compilation in Germany and would he like me to get one of his tracks on it. Later he said “By the way the drums are mine” and I was like “Oh! I’ve got this band and I’d love to do gigs”… it was all kind of ad hoc, I asked if he would like to play electronic drums with me and Mark has been with me ever since. Mark’s always been part of the process and always loved the music we were creating but when he heard this album he just lost it… in a good way! Of course, he especially loved Control ~ we knew he could really destroy some drum pads with that one.
DOOM!: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician/songwriter?
RONAN: I always knew… always! I never wanted to be a star – never stood in front of the mirror posing or any of that rubbish. I was so happy to grow up in a time when synth music was becoming the next ‘big thing’. I was just a teenager in the UK, when the whole new romantic thing was exploding. When I was a young boy in the ’70’s, I got to see synthesizers on TV played by all the pioneers of that technology. Even when I was very young I remember a track on the charts that my mom used to play in the kitchen – I heard these sounds and didn’t know what they were but I was instantly mesmerized by them – they really did something to me, they excited me… whether it was the frequencies in them or whatever but I knew I was destined to… that I would always have, from day one, a love affair with electronics. Kraftwerk was on the charts in the 70’s and I used to listen with shortwave radio then but anything to do with radio signals, weird modulations, frequencies electronics – anything – just the sound of the words…
DOOM!: You were really ready for all things synth…
RONAN: Oh, I was born for it!! Synths were also connected with Sci-Fi in a big way and I loved sci-fi (insert a discussion here of our mutual love of various classic sci-fi books) I guess that was the start. I made music for myself… it was soothing to me but never in the wildest corners of my imagination did I think I be up there in a band performing. I guess I toyed with the idea when I was a teenager making some synth-pop with my friends… we were mostly just having fun…
DOOM!: Was there any kind of training or education you pursued or did you just jump right in?
RONAN: Oh I jumped right in! My parents bought us a piano when I was about 6 – they thought someone might be musical – and anytime something was set in front of me that required you to work out a system, I was right on it. I worked out tones and semi-tones… taught myself to play Happy Birthday and now, of course, the parents are thinking “prodigy”. The problem with that was they decided to send me to lessons to force me to do what I already loved… that was coming from me naturally … and I Hated it!! The teacher was a vindictive, authoritarian person… I just wanted to play music for myself. I learned about synthesizers by going into a local shop every Saturday and playing one for 4 hours and annoying the crap out of everyone. I read magazines, watched documentaries on TV and collected any information I could find about synthesizers and how they worked.
RONAN: To get my first synthesizer, I worked all summer to earn the money for it. I didn’t come from a house where my Dad would say “Oh sure – here, have whatever money you need…” it wasn’t like that at all. My parents were very austere. My Dad was a certified accountant and an accomplished auditor and he believed in austerity from the word go. We earned what we had. He always made sure we had everything that we needed but other than that we had to earned our own. My parents weren’t too keen on me spending the money I had earned, my money, on a synthesizer. They thought it was a waste but I said “Oh no, no, no… not a waste!” So I bought my own synthesizer and things continued on from there.
DOOM!: Were there obstacles you had to overcome to continue to make your music?
RONAN: I never had that situation – I did my music as a hobby and I had a career. I gave up that career when it came to the point that I could have one or the other but not both.
RONAN: I never had that situation – I did my music as a hobby and I had a career. I gave up that career when it came to the point that I could have one or the other but not both. I was still living in London and went off to play a festival in Germany and it was phenomenally successful. Something happened to me that night… and it wasn’t just about “Oh the audience loves us” – something really, truly happened inside me!
RONAN: And for the first time I realized there were thousands of opportunities in this.
RONAN: I knew already I wasn’t happy with my career, that it was a job I had to do and the older I got the less fun it would be because I’d be moved into management and away from all the things that had made it fun in the first place. People can’t stay programmers forever. I wanted to design software and be a programmer – I was with a corporation doing systems analysis and cryptology and all kinds of fun stuff. I got scapegoated by a manager when I was away that weekend – scapegoated to cover their arses and I wouldn’t accept it. I sat in the next office and wrote my resignation letter right there an then and said ‘see ya’.
DOOM!: …and you had just come home from the festival where you had experienced such an epiphany…
RONAN: Yes… and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew I had to think carefully about this and… whether you want to think about this kind of thing spiritually or not the universe has a way that everything slots together, things happening for a purpose…
DOOM!: Isn’t hindsight amazing…
RONAN: It not even hindsight – I begin seeing a pattern in life as certain events start happening and I know…I can’t explain this to people. I know a number of people who understand it and have seen it happening too. Signs start happening within your life and it actually means you’re ‘being pushed’ to do something and it’s not necessarily by an intelligent force – this isn’t some sort of spiritualist thing. As far as I’m concerned, I just think whether you want to be spiritual about it and think that a higher power is involved or if you just want to think that this is the general way the universe works and this is how things slot together, then great. But it seems there are rules and patterns to our interactions and how everything happens within our lives and when I start to see those signs I know that, whether I like it or not, this is going to happen. Since I’ve figured this out I’ve never been wrong.
RONAN: I knew I’d had an epiphany and I had this ‘right’ moment but if I started to try an plan for it… no… it was made to happen for me and in fact a number of things happen in the weeks following that made the path even more apparent and I survived really well.
RONAN: Something has always been on my side that’s helped and guided me even at the most difficult moments – times when I thought we’d never get something done in spite of the disasters.
RONAN: In fact, in the editing of the very DVD sitting beside you, Futureperfect, many disasters occurred ~ the editing company folded, the drug addicted editor absconded with the tapes but this all turned out to a blessing. I ended up working with someone who was “made” to create this DVD. It turned into the most benevolent, beautiful situation ever.
RONAN: The people I worked with were phenomenal and someone I knew as a singer turned out to also be a video editor and one of the most powerful and inspiring people I’ve ever met… and only because of this adverse experience did I meet these people and work solidly with them for a month. I thought I’m so happy to know them and I had a beautiful experience. I learned to edit and all this other stuff, which empowered me. I did the complete edit of DVD two… the whole thing! The public was a bit peeved – it came out a year late, we finally got the tapes back and a wonderful experience was had by all.
DOOM!: Our traditional final question at Doom Magazine regards the bands response to the threat of the impending Zombie Apocalypse ~ Have you made emergency plans, perhaps increased the fortification of your studios in Hamburg so VNV can survive the apocalypse intact and be ready to lead your followers out of the bedlam and darkness to come with your never-ending light?
RONAN: (pause for chuckles) A fav funny of mine was a headline in the Glasgow Standard “Zombies Walk the Streets of Glasgow” and a comment from a friend was “So… just like any other day”.
RONAN: A very good friend of mine, who’s mad about the whole “zombie thing” – all tongue-in-cheek, swears he’s read all the books on how to survive a Zombie attack. I have other friends that are survival nuts, such as “if the world came to an end” or “if the polarity of the magnetic field flipped” or “the skin of the earth slipped”… where would you go?
RONAN: It’s now it’s become part of our weekly ritual to meet up and have a hefty discussion about “what would you do if…?”
RONAN: What started it was watching the film “2012” one day ~ we found it to be one of the most laughable films… thank you, Roland Emmerich, for some of the finest, worst moments in Hollywood. He’s like, to me, the equivalent of the best, bad “B-side” movies of the 70’s, he’s the 21st century version – we just can’t see it yet cause we’re not being attacked by giant spiders.
… and rest assured, with VNV’s music to strengthen our resolve, we can survive anything!
VNV Nation on November 19, 2011 at The House Of Blues in San Diego, California. ©2011 Janice Nowinski, All Rights Reserved.