London is a city where you are never at a loss to find a new talent. There is always an artist making their debut, so it’s often hard to sift through the expansive list of music and find something that truly resonates. Vaults, however, is a band that somehow does this. This three-piece made up of friends Ben Vella, Barney Freeman and Blythe Pepino, first came to our attention through their standout single “One Last Night”, which was featured on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. However, every one of their songs is something special. We speak to them at the end of their debut US tour about life, love, and the New Year. (While you read, enjoy this playlist that Blythe put together on Spotify.)
Blythe: We met about 3-and-a-half years ago, I think? Ben came to a gig of mine that I was doing with a previous project—his girlfriend and I were friends from university. Ben and Barney were already friends and we all just ended talking music, which lead to forming the band.
Is your dynamic different in the studio? If so, how does it differ?
Barney: We think as a group always, however, I quite often bring the sort of general concept, which will either be a song that needs to be finished or a rough idea and we will all work on it. We figure out the vocals and see where the melodies sit with Blythe’s vocals and then put the lyrics together. Ben then starts focusing on the production.
Ben: Yeah, that’s generally how it works, but not always.
Barney: When the A&R man says so. [Laughs.] No, joking, that’s not true.
Ben: I guess when we stop arguing about it.
Barney: We’ve done a lot of reworking, Some of our tracks are on version eighty. I think we know a song is done when we start making changes and it sounds worse and we have to go back to the older versions.
Ben: We’ve had that happen with quite a few actually. One of the tracks we now enjoy playing live the most, “Hurricanes”, was one we struggled with for quite a while. None of us could quite get it right and it literally just took us spending an afternoon going back to older versions to finally finish it.
How do your songs translate live? Do thoughts of how it will be performed live come into consideration when writing?
Ben: Yeah, there are a good few that we’ve been trying out live and it’s quite an interesting process because it really pushes forward the tracks that are the strongest. When you start dropping tracks from the live set, they’re the ones that you realize might not have the kind of power you want.
Do you change up the songs live from the recorded versions?
Barney: Honestly, it’s kinda the opposite for us at the moment. We try out the songs live and we then get an idea of how we should record them. Like, for instance, after playing that song “Hurricane” live, we did end up putting it back as a track for our album. It’s constantly changing as we are producing the album at the same time as playing gigs.
Blythe: It also depends on the track. Like, this year we were getting way more “real instrument-y,” so trying to do that live we need to rethink a couple of things.
Speaking of instrumentation, Mark, what is that crazy instrument you play live?
Ben: It’s a Danish instrument called Aluphone. Pronounced like aluminum, aluphone.
It looks similar to a xylophone?
Barney: Kinda, but it’s bells you are hitting.
How do you even train to play that?
Barney: [Laughs.] Training is a very formal description of what I did to learn to play those. It’s actually not as hard as it looks, it’s laid out like a xylophone, so it was pretty easy to learn to play. It does give a unique sound to our live sets.
So stepping back and taking in your whole aesthetic, how did it evolve?
Barney: It came from the first bunch of songs we created. It definitely had a vibe that was slightly surreal and dark, somewhat Lynchian. There are certain films and visuals we all liked and agreed on liking and we wanted to choose quite a strong aesthetic right from the beginning. We are all quite sensitive people really, I think, and the dark side probably comes through that, but dark is definitely not necessarily a negative thing.
I agree, love and pain are a similar feeling.
Ben: True, and our songs are quite cathartic and delve into a darker world a bit, but we don’t wallow around in it. We are all quite positive people and take a lot of pleasure from writing the music and the process doesn’t have that darker side.
You guys are quite a self-contained unit, working on everything from writing and production yourselves. Is there anyone you’d particularly want to work with?
Barney: That’s quite a hard question to answer. I think at the moment we’d be more interested in working with choirs and orchestras.
Your last UK tour was with a three-piece correct?
Barney: Yeah, we did! Back when we were less frugal. [Laughs.]
Ben: Our US label was telling us that out here that band Local Natives played with an orchestra and we’d definitely like to do something like that.
Barney: We’d love to do that!
Blythe: We’ve got high ambitions...
What’s your plans after the US tour?
Barney: Well, we have this random festival in Lithuania.
Barney: True, but this one is definitely cool—it has had Caribou, DJ Shadow, and loads of really good people have played it.
Blythe: Once we get back to England, however, we will concentrate on finishing up our album.
When do you hope for that to be done?
Barney: Really it could be from a few weeks to a few months, we aren’t sure yet.
Are there any planned release dates?
Barney: The goal is for next spring or summer.
Blythe: I’m hoping next spring because we’ve been making people wait quite a long time. It will be worth it! We’d rather put out an album we love, but I really want it to come out for spring.
Vaults’ sound definitely would make more sense as a spring release than a summer one.
Barney: Yeah because it’s colder. [Laughs.]
Blythe: We will also probably be releasing another single and video before the album.
Do you have an idea what that track will be yet?
Blythe: That’s what we are debating at the moment.
How do you decide things like that?
Barney: It sorta weirdly just becomes quite obvious after a while, doesn’t it?
Blythe: Yeah, after a while. I’m still a little confused by the whole situation. There is also word of a US tour next year in spring, but we aren’t too sure about that yet.
How have the US audiences been?
Blythe: We’ve been getting a really good reception—it’s been fun!
Audiences must be impressed with how big your sound is, especially in comparison to a lot of the bands you’ve played with.
Ben: [Laughs.] But unlike us, they get to set up in 15 minutes.
I mean, you guys probably already have 400 inputs and then you bring out that Aluphone...
Barney: Honestly I think sound guys hearts must sink when we turn up.