I accidentally interrupted a writing session between Jimmy Vann and Cam Little of The VANNS, half of the cheeky indie-rock outfit from NSW’s South Coast, to discuss their musical journey thus far and their imminent return to thrashing about on stages around Australia.
“In country venues,” says Vann, “people just want good music. It’s like The Blues Brothers. If you’re not any good, you’re gonna need a cage up there in front of you.”
“Have you… needed a cage?” I ask.
“We’ve had a few unexpected items,” he says with his casual coastal drawl. “A beer glass flew up, smashed Tom’s lip open and bled. Not intentional. My front teeth are shot from a mic stand bashing into my face where we played level to the crowd.” “I appreciate any gig with an actual stage,” adds Little.
When I call, they tell me they’re working on the upcoming album following the release of third EP Shake The Hand That Picks The Fight. They’re in a dark room, drinking beers, writing songs. This seems to be how their creative process unfolds; now venturing into concerns of greater maturity, musically and otherwise. “We’re not 17 anymore,” says Little. “Not to say that we’ve been through heaps or anything, but you do go through shit. Then you write about it.”
“It’s more meaningful for us,” says Vann. “It’s not just surf-rock songs.” The same goes for the band’s new music video for the single, Harder To Find. “All the decisions we’ve made prior to this video have been horrible,” says Vann. “Very hungover. This one just showed us doing what we do.” “Not running around in convict outfits,” laughs Cam.
Pretty soon we got down to brass tacks over loves, fears, and love itself. “I’m a loveless man,” says Vann. “You could say instead we’re just running amok.” “You’re not in a town long enough to find love on tour,” says Little with some dismay. “And what do I fear? Good question… I dunno! I love playing live. And I fear technical difficulties. Or rocking up and the rider’s not at the gig. I’m not even talking ’bout the booze. I’m talking the cheese platters.” “I have an irrational fear of showing up and the gig’s just… not even on. And cars breaking down!” adds Vann.
The band’s luck has run thin with vehicles – one was written off by a kangaroo. Lachie Jones, the drummer, had his car stolen. Now, their beloved Kombi, which has toured faithfully with them for years, is having a break. “When I say ‘break’,” says Vann, “I mean it’s breaking down.”
Things don’t seem so gloomy in the world of The VANNS, though. They tell me how supportive people have been, even with fans in Brisbane wishing them well for gigs in Tasmania. “The fans keep coming back,” says Vann, “so that’s a good sign.” They don’t seem too worried about media engagement, focussing instead on an ethos of authenticity and quality music. “We just take any opportunity to get our music out there and be real to our fans,” says Vann, “and not talk shit. The more real and honest you are to yourself, the better the reception from people.” “We’re just trying to write the best songs,” adds Little.
One way The VANNS did gain more listeners was through a chance link with Australian YouTube comedian, Frenchy. “He was looking for music to put in his videos,” explains Vann, “and a random person said our name. He’s a comedian, we’re musos, but it all comes down to helping one another. I’m helping him write an album at the moment, which is the most interesting time of my life. Any gig he can get to of ours, he’ll either be front row with his shirt off, or playing keys very badly with his shirt off.”
We kept chatting gigs, the risks of performing barefoot on black stages in the sun, the music of John Mayer, Bon Iver, Catfish & The Bottlemen, and the unexpected circle-pit moshes that the band jumps in, because why not? “Lots of blood, sweat, and broken strings,” says Vann. “Our music appeals to the people getting loose at the front,” Little pipes up, “and the people that just wanna have a fun night.” “There’s a fine line,” raises Vann.
The next step is to finish the album and hit the road for their upcoming Australian tour, with hopes to perform internationally this year. “We’re looking for a producer who just gets us and pushes us to our limits, but doesn’t change us too much,” muses Vann. “That’s actually one of my fears! If we got a shit producer, how different the album could turn out. If you have any producers in mind let us know!”
We’ll let these guys get back to the beers and writing. Which is, as Vann says, why they do what they do. “At the end of the day we’re in it ‘coz we love writing songs and playing instruments. Not emailing.”