Davy Vain, as a singer, songwriter and performer is without doubt one of the most unique and captivating in rock n roll over the last 25 years. This is no better illustrated than the regard Vain’s debut album No Respect is held today, some 20 odd years after it’s release, when many other albums released in that era have long, long, long faded from memory.
On October 28th, Vain will be releasing a new studio album, Enough Rope. Whether you have followed the trail of Vain or Davy Vain releases in the 20 years since No Respect or whether you are part of the new generation of Vain fans, quite simply, you will find Enough Rope to be pure classic Vain.
Generously giving up nearly an hour of his time for this interview, Davy discusses the making of Enough Rope as well as taking us right back to the days when a young and hungry (quite literally!) bunch of rockers blazed a trail from their native San Francisco down to L.A to before being signed to Island Records.
Hey Davy, thanks for taking the time to do this interview, in a few weeks a new Vain album is set for release titled “Enough Rope”. How would you describe what you were shooting for musically with this album?
I really didn’t have anything specific in mind, it was just the batch of songs I was working on and then trying a few other songs that were kind of left back in the day that I wanted to jam on and give a listen to and see how they felt. So I was going back and forth whether I liked them or not, so I said let’s track them and see how it feels. But sonically, I definitely wanted to go for a bit of a heavier sound. Just since we have been doing a lot of touring, the crowds have been turning a lot less from the original Vain fans into new Vain fans and kids again and not the 30 or 40 something crowd, it’s more the younger kids that really want to rock and are just discovering us now. Most of the stuff has always been pretty much rock, but we’ve just been experimenting over the years with a few different guitar sounds and softer sounds here and there. This time we were like let’s really go for it and make it really rocking and I think I’ve gotten better at producing the drums and making everything heavier. My studio is pretty vintage with 70’s gear, which I think is the best sounding gear, but this time we wanted to make sure that I didn’t just mix it to sound 70’s as I’ve already done that on a couple of records, so we wanted a more in your face sound.
For someone hearing Enough Rope as their first introduction to the band, do you feel this new album is representative of Vain in general, meaning the history of the band?
Yes I really do think so. This time I had some people such as my assistant producer who I did some of the vocals with, who is a huge fan of Vain from like the early days. So when I’d be kind of down on something like a song I wrote back in the early days, such as the song called Vain which is on the new record, a song we used to play in the clubs before we even made it, it’s got a lot of great melodies but for some reason we just never recorded it. Even though the chorus says Vain, it’s not really about us, it’s almost like a you’re so vain kind of thing you know. But it still says Vain, Vain and I used to have friends like back in the day who would be at the Rainbow or somewhere and go Vain, Vain, it was such a joke, because we used to play that song all the time. I always thought I don’t want to have that song with the title in there and we would change it a bunch if times because it had some great melodies, but then we would always just brush over it. This time I had like Ash and Tommy our original drummer in the same room together and we were jamming and we hadn’t played with our original drummer in the studio since the second Vain record. So in the studio one day I started playing Vain and it’s like really simplistic and they sounded really locked in and so tight and it reminded me so much of the old sound, even before we did No Respect. I started singing it and they were like god, those are the greatest melodies. So we decided right there, if we’re going to record it, we have to do it exactly like the original. So I was like, ok… you guys are right, because that songs already a song. Then it was on YouTube for a while, the original version and a bunch of people at my record company were also talking about it. But to get to my point about my assistant producer, he was like “oh man, that’s just like the Davy from No Respect. So I think just the fact we have stuff I had written a long time ago, then new stuff and stuff that had been tracked a long time ago that had a different kind of energy and feeling to it and it’s all mixed together, I think it’s really representative of our own sound. We are lucky enough that we have our own Vain sound. The only real experimenting I’ve done on this record is that I sang in a few lower registers than I normally would here and there and on one song specifically, otherwise I don’t even think about it, I just do what I do.
Just picking up on something you mentioned earlier about the songs on this album, so some of the tracks go back to the early days then?
Well Vain would be the earliest one and Enough Rope is something I wrote right after the second record, it was something I was working on around then and we even played it with Steven Adler when I was doing the Roadcrew era with him and I still had it sitting around, but we never really recorded it. So I thought I really like the context of it and what it’s about. There’s an American saying that goes “I’ll give you enough rope and you’ll hang yourself”, the song is kind of about that and I just thought it was a cool riff, so we jammed on it and I really started to like it again, it’s really got this cool sound and it was a bit different to the new songs I was writing, a little bit more upbeat. It kind of reminded me of Beat The Bullet, where it has an intense part, and you know on Beat The Bullet in the b-section where it has a bit of a lighter section before it then goes into a more intense section. So I decided to rewrite the middle part and then do this whole big extravaganza thing and James Scott did a bunch of cool stuff on there, so it’s this really nice update. When I played it for my manager, she hadn’t heard it since we did it in the old days, she really liked it. I think its got this nice fresh feel to it.
It was about 6 years since the last album was released, when did you actually start working on Enough Rope?
I’d like to have done it a little quicker than we did it, but I had a lot of life going on around the time. Some of the first stuff was probably started a couple of years ago, which seems like a long time ago, but in the way we get things done, it doesn’t feel that long ago. Now that we are older and stuff, it feels like that went by really quick, but I think it was good that we had a little bit of a break. We tracked the guitars and the drums and then when I went in to do the vocals, I did all of them pretty much at the same time. In the break I took, I moved to Germany and kind of left America and went on a whole adventure and met some new musicians and experienced a lot of different stuff and intense heavy stuff too. Then when I went back, I went ok, now I am going to focus on finishing the record and I think I came back with a lot of fresh ideas and it was good to mix it up.
So as far as the Vain line up used on this album, it’s appears as though it was essentially the classic line up as on “No Respect”?
Well like I said, Tommy hadn’t played on a Vain record since the second one, so we hadn’t played with him in a long time. There are actually three drummers on it, Tommy, Steven Adler and the drummer I had for like 10 years and he’s on some tracks too. I kind of like the way it feels as they all have their own little thing. I mean, I think the average listener is just going to be listening to my voice more and the way that it’s mixed is so rockin’ and over the top that it just sounds like all hell is breaking loose, but I can tell the different feels and I think it keeps things really fresh and I like it. But the main songs are pretty much done with the classic guys and a lot of people think that Danny West is the main lead guitar player, but Jamie Scott is really the main guitar player.
How much do you feel your song writing has changed from the beginning days to now?
I really don’t know. I’m a lot more picky now and I write a lot slower that’s for sure. I used to just whip them out, so many of them and the band would be there with their head spinning. I would be in my room writing and going crazy and then bring the songs to practice and back then we used to practice 3 or 4 nights a week, back before we got signed. We didn’t have lives, we didn’t have jobs, everybody knew we were going to make it and we had a nice team of people that would help us keep going and we played gigs and they would always be sold out, so we had enough money to pay for our studio and a place to live. So if you were working on songs back then, you could instantly share them with the band. That’s how I like to write, I don’t like to sit around on the computer or the home studio or all that stuff, people spend more time these days tracking stuff and hooking stuff up when you could be just sitting there with a guitar working on the actual song and you are likely to come up with something quicker. You know, it’s still pretty much the same, I haven’t changed the way I write, I’ll just keep playing until I hear a couple of chords or whatever that moves me and it’ll all start coming out and I’ll know where it’s going to go. I just have to keep jamming on something until it all starts happening, then I will know what it’s going to be. The hardest part is to finish all the lyrics and tell the story the way I want to tell it. Sometimes I’ll have big holes here and there but I just keep working on it and making it better and better. Especially if I have a bunch of songs going on at once, there’s a lot of stuff to finish. I think my writing still has the key Vain sound.
Do you have any major influences when it comes to specifically song writing?
No, not really. I think that’s been one of my strengths and probably what made it tougher for Vain to become big really fast because I have my own unique style and way of singing and own way of doing melodies. Usually when you are taking about a band like that, it takes a few albums to make it. A giant band like AC/DC, when people first heard it, it was cool, but thought it sounded a bit different and it took them a couple of albums before people really accepted that sound and got used to the way they sounded. So I don’t really have any other people’s voices in my head or anything. I’m just always looking for a key or a mood, I like to find the right chord progression or right feel and rhythm to the point where I can do my thing and feel passionate about singing on it or whatever the vibe is going to be.
Taking what we just discussed there a bit further, in hindsight, would you say that’s probably been one of the reasons why No Respect has the cult status that it does today, that it was musically that little bit different to what was happening at the time, where a lot of those albums now in 2011 have been long forgotten?
Yes that’s very true and it makes me proud because we even thought about that. We weren’t thinking 20 years, we were thinking more like 10 years. We really thought when making that record, to not be tempted to overdo it and not be too 80’s, even though there’s some hints of that with the giant drum sound and stuff like that. Some of those records coming out had like a billion vocal tracks and we were like if we’re not careful, that’s going to sound like a now sound, so let’s keep the vocals simple and make it sound more real and like a band that is recording as a live band and that will always work. People will always be able to like that and listen to the energy in the tracks and not hear a bunch of stuff that is just out of vogue now. You don’t hear things on that album like a chorus on No Respect with a thousand voices, that was kind of like a big 80’s thing that obviously other bands got off on. There were some other big records that had just come out and we were in the studio listening to them and we were like, nah we don’t want to do that. We kind of had a thing going when we were in the studio, because the guy that was producing it with us Paul Northfield, had done a lot of slick records like Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche and stuff with Rush, and we were like we definitely don’t want that, but we need a guy good enough to get great sounds because tonality was very important to our sound. We weren’t just one of those bands that could sound trashy and it would sound good, our stuff is a little more sexy and slow and it needs to have good sounds and tones. Especially my voice, some of the attitude of it has to do with the tone of it and I knew we could get that. So I said hey, even though we don’t sound anything like it, if we have the Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks album sitting around the studio and while we are listening to our stuff, if I put that on and our stuff in comparison instantly sounds really fucking gay, like the musical part, not even my vocal, if it sounds like over produced bullshit compared to that, then we already have gone too far. So once in a while I would be like “hey, should we do our little test”and we would throw that in and we would be like “alright, no problems!” So we were thinking about that kind of stuff and that’s why we didn’t get signed earlier. We could have got signed many times before that, but they really wanted us to play the game and bring in songwriters and back then we were pretty good looking boys so they wanted to also use our look and image and have a lot of pop songs to go along with it all. Kind of like a Warrant thing, not that, that’s bad, it’s just that we don’t sound anything like that commercial. We were always like, no, we just want to make a real honest rock n roll record and not look back badly on our first record.
It was kind of funny as well with Island Records the label we were on, they didn’t really want us to try and have a huge first record. They took me in and said “the worst thing we want you to do right now is go and sound like the biggest band in the world”. I’m like oh ok and he’s like, “we’ve already got the biggest band in the world right now and they’re called U2 and you can’t beat that as they have too much experience of touring and making records and this is an art form, you can’t just go in there and bang it out.”. The best way we feel is for you to build your career slowly and get all these real fans that follow you for life, then your 3rd or 4th album, make that one your big huge successful album. I was like, sounds good to me! He was like what we want you to do is go and be the band that we found, a young, broke, hungry band that just wants to kick ass and take over the fucking world. Then he looked at me and goes, “guess what…U2 can’t make that record! This is your chance to make a record that the big stars can’t get away with now”. So it made a lot of sense and we had no problem. So that’s when we made the decision to do pretty much everything live, we pretty much just did our club stage show in the studio for every song we recorded.
Starting up in the Bay Area of San Francisco as you did, how was it for Vain given that scene would have been more well known for thrash metal? Looking back now, do you think this may have even been a good thing?
Well I guess we weren’t part of that whole scene as such, but a lot of those guys sure came to our shows to get chicks haha! I was working with a lot of different bands in the studio and stuff and I would make sure I would put on a ton of eyeliner and stuff just to trip them out! They’d be like oh Davy worked with Death Angel, maybe we could get him in to work on our guitars. At first they would be tripped out because they were supposed to hate us and it was a real macho kind of thing. The joke was after a while that a good guitar sound is a good guitar sound whether you were singing about Satan like they were, or sex like we were haha! So we just kind of got our own niche going, part of that kind of hurt us a bit too because we were a bunch of loyal guys and we felt proud and loyal to our audience in San Francisco because we were doing it for a few years and selling out every place and breaking every record and it’s getting bigger and bigger and we were making all this money, but instead of splitting it all up and giving it to the band, we would go and buy more extravagant lights or rent more shit so the next show was even bigger. When record companies first started to come see us, they felt kind of safe that we were in San Francisco because most bands like us moved to L.A, even bands from San Fran that were trying to do something. Even a few record companies offered to get us a house and get us to move down there and see what we could do, but we didn’t really care because we thought if we leave San Francisco that will make us look really lame because we are so loyal to our San Francisco thing, we wanted to have our own unique thing. Then we finally started playing down there and trading other shows with bands that wanted to play in packed places, so all the L.A bands really liked us because they didn’t feel as competitive with us as we were going to go away back to San Francisco.
So once we started regularly playing L.A and doing well there, that’s when the record companies really started pulling the trigger. It was sort of like a movie or something, the very last unsigned gig we ever played, it was at the Roxy and Geffen Records was there and Island Records guy was there and we were really close to him because he followed us all around everywhere for months before that to every show and hung out backstage and we really liked him and he loved the music you know. Then after the gig we were at the Rainbow and one table had the Geffen guy and another had the Island guy and they’re both on their phones to their bosses and it was like we had finally won, finally rather than us going to them, they were there begging for us, that was pretty cool! That era was such a different era to what it is now, we went from 5 completely broke guys living in a house, eating like a burrito a day, having strippers buying us dinner. One of the guys was dating a stripper and we would go and wait until they got off work at 2am so they could go take us to a dinner or something like that as we hadn’t eaten all day, and just like living like that. We went from that kind of thing back then, to then having that record deal and limos coming to the house and picking you up at the airport and fly to London and be like staying at the Hilton in London. Even though you owe all that, it doesn’t really matter, all of a sudden you went to the big time instantly, with everything first class! It was fun to be part of all that and have that kind of experience. We never really took it for granted, we spent three years trying to do it, which doesn’t seem that long now, we’d take longer to record a song now right haha?
Even on our way to the studio, we were like 3,000 miles from home being driven up to the studio and I’m like to the driver “where’s the studio” and he goes “right around the corner” and I say “pull the car over”. So he pulls it over and I go, everybody get out, so all the band gets out and I say huddle around me in a circle. Then I go “right now we are going to go and make our major fucking label record, do you know how many people never thought a bunch of kids from Santa Rosa could do this? Let’s not take this for granted, no matter what happens, even if we don’t sell 1 copy, this is so fucking hard, this is like going to the Olympics, this is almost impossible and we did it, let’s go do this thing and enjoy every note of it and they can never take this away from us.”. It was great to just all recognize that moment, then when we all hopped in and pulled around the corner to the studio. It was this insane studio with all these platinum records and the producer was sitting there in like this flight suit and he hadn’t seen anything like us before, a young band that was embracing every moment of everything. He was used to working with these jaded rock starts or people who were real formulated. Here we were crying and stuff whilst we were doing tracks haha! The first solo I did on the record was the solo in Without You, I had my guitar, it was the very first real Les Paul I had, when I got it I sucked so bad that I could tell that the guitar was sad. So I’m holding this guitar and I’m thinking when I first got this thing I couldn’t even play lead and now I’m about to do my first solo and it was night and I was all by myself with just the producer and I’m back by my Amps and I had headphones on and all of a sudden I got really emotional and then I got choked up and then he’s talking to me and he’s like “ok I’m going to start rolling”, and he could hear me kind of sniffling and he’s like hey man are you alright? And I was like yeah, I just got a bit choked up and he’s like are you crying? And I go, yeah a little bit, but it’s ok, I can’t believe I’m just about to record my first ever solo on my first guitar”. And he’s like “that’s fucking brilliant we are recording this right now, you better get ready, I want this on tape”, then I started playing. The whole experience was incredible and until I started working with other producers and stuff after that, I never realized how magical that experience was. I’m sure there’s other records that have been made in worse conditions or whatever, but I think the positive energy and the camaraderie and brotherhood and all of us coming from the same geographic area, it’s just a bunch of guys from the same little town, the pulse is the same and the way you think is the same and I can think you can hear that in everything. Then finding someone else that can get into that pulse and make it blossom and not throw negative weird shit into it and not fuck it up. Because it’s a simple formula, it’s like a simple recipe and one little thing could fuck it all up.
And here you are some twenty years later making a new album…
Yeah I know it’s crazy, I really didn’t think that would be happening! I’m pretty happy with the album, I think people are going to love it, it’s pretty slamming! The only song that maybe feels a little different is a song like Stray Kitten which I went back and forth on how heavy to make the guitars and Jamie just did that and it felt right with the vocals because you really hear the voicing of the chord a lot and when we added tons of distortion you didn’t really hear the chord as nicely. So when I listen to that song it’s not as heavy, but it still has it’s moments. I love it, I had a lot to say on it and it’s like a true story so when I hear that song I feel like, ok so I got that point across, I had something to say and I got it out of my system. Same with Greener, I really had to live that, to be able to write that song.
Is it fair to say that it’s been the likes of Europe, the UK and Japan have been the stronger markets for Vain over the years, as opposed to the USA?
Yes definitely. We haven’t really tried touring the USA for a really long time so I don’t know anymore. But every time we play in L.A it’s always good, or San Francisco, but it’s just it’s so big. Plus the band I was touring with for so many years, kind of had a limited time for touring. So now I’ve decided the last couple of years to tour a lot more and if one of the original members couldn’t make it, I wouldn’t worry about it anymore and not wait around for anybody. Now I’ve kind of got a young, hot touring band that are really good that’s kind of revitalized the whole thing for live shows. We broke a lot bigger in Europe because our record company was better over there. We were really lucky actually that No Respect even came out. We went through three regime changes, distribution changes, the record company got sold while we were making the album, so we didn’t really have the right promotion it takes to break a band, so we just kind of did it on our own. In Europe the press and stuff like that latched onto us far more. The Skid Row and Vain tour through the UK, we never really had anything like that in the States when we started. We just headlined clubs and packed clubs, but to really make it in the USA you just had to be on TV the whole time. Even Guns N Roses took a long time to break and they had a company really pumping them. You’ve got to get onto a big tour or something to happen and if you have a crippled record company in America you’re not going to get that chance. There was a lot of stuff going on at that same time and we came out a little late on the scene because of our inability to compromise on a record deal and wanting to have the complete artistic control. Which is good now, because if we could change all that and maybe we sold a few more records in America and people would just think we are lame now and you wouldn’t even be wanting to talk to me!
You have kept busy over the years doing engineering and producing work, including some work with Christina Aguilera and more, how do you enjoy that side of things?
Well I like it and I like that I can do it for myself as well! A lot of the vocal tracks that I did, I could just set up and experiment with some sounds. Just knowing a whole bunch of stuff far more than simply being just able to throw a microphone up there and sing. Working with other people is cool too as it’s a completely different artform. I’ve been working with more single artists lately because there are not as many bands around that are good and that can record. I think they trust me a lot more than other people because they know I’ve done videos and been on stage and made records and keep everybody happy and also not overtake the project and get what they want and keep the quality at a really high level. I think I am better now than I ever was at getting sounds and knowing what I’m doing. It’s like playing an instrument or something, I don’t think you ever just kind of get there, I feel you’re always kind of growing and learning new things.
This may seem like a weird question, but it’s something that I have been intrigued by and finally have the chance to ask you haha….performing barefoot as you have all your career, what’s the attraction?
You know I’ve always done it, as it just feels really comfortable. People always said when I was younger that I was like some wild jungle boy and stuff when I perform. I just wanted to be original and look more like my own thing and not like every single guy that was trying to be a rockstar and try to create my own persona and that was all part of it. The first gig I ever did I ended up doing that because the very first band I was ever in was called The Brats, some little punk rock kind of band. I came to practice one day and I’d only been singing for like three months and they’re like “hey we’ve got this gig at like some backyard keg party” and I’m like when is it and they’re like “right now”. I go, well why didn’t you tell me and they go “because man we didn’t want to tell you so you didn’t get scared, sometimes singers get scared”. So I’m like that’s going to be a trip singing in front of people as we just has our kittle jam room. So I just had these flip-flops on my feet and I thought I would just go bare feet as I was always running around half naked anyway, so I went out there and did the show and it all felt so natural. So when I got Vain going and got the whole persona of what I wanted to do, I just really thought barefoot is just like I’ll come out on stage so comfortable it will just be like coming out of my bedroom and I thought it would feel right and it has always felt great!
With such a strong album as what Enough Rope is, I assume that you are keen to tour the album as much as possible?
Yeah I really want to go for it and work as hard as possible on it. Right now I’m getting ready to take off next week and do a little promotional tour in Sweden and Berlin, since the guys I’m working with are all over there. They’ve done such a good job and they’ve worked so hard on everything I’ve done in the last few years. My manager who is Linda Perry and who works with major labels all the time and she’s like you’re with the right people, these guys really love and care about it. That’s what it really takes, besides promotion and stuff of course. My thing right now is I just want to make a great record and have as many people as possible hear it. I’m not trying to take the world over or “make it”, I just want to play as many shows as possible and get it out there so people can hear what I dud.
And it’s an album that rock fans can dig, not just purely Vain fans!
Exactly! I think the people that always liked us will dig it, but we thought about the new people that are just getting into us now. Even putting the order together, it’s very tough to sequence an album, it seems easy, but it’s hard! What’s going to open, what’s going third, what’s fourth?, and everybody argues and you go back and forth. So I said to our bass player who’s really good with that stuff what do you think? And he’s like Greener then Triple X and I’m like, that’s the funniest most kicking ass song on there, don’t you think it’s a bit early? He’s like, “hey you said this is for the new kids so why make them fucking wait!” And I’m like yeah you’re right, you’re right. That would be a song, just say I met some chick in a coffee shop and she’s like oh you’re in a band I think I’ve heard of you and I’ll be like here’s my CD and she would hear the first song and then Triple X would come on and she’d be like I’m not dating that guy haha!
Well Davy, I think we will wrap it up here. Thanks for your time to do this interview and importantly, hope the album release goes great and that people dig it as much as they should!
Yeah I’m excited and so far everyone’s dug it that has heard it and I’m curious to see how people feel. I think it’s a little heavier maybe than our last couple of records. But then there are the people who I know that say as soon as you start singing on stuff it sounds like Vain anyway haha!
Band members: Davy Vain – Vocals, Guitars, Jamie Scott – Guitars, Ashley Mitchell – Bass, Tommy Rickard – Drums, Danny West – Guitars
Additional musicians: Steven Adler – Drums, Louie Senor – Drums, Fraser Lunney – Bass
Latest release: Enough Rope (28 October, 2011 – Jackie Rainbow Records) Click here to pre-order….