When Villainy go into a studio to make a new album, they arm up and go to war.
“The studio is the battlefield,” says frontman Neill Fraser. “What happens in the room, stays in the room. That’s the place of magic and danger and anger.”
They’re not kidding. Recorded over two intense month-long sessions with Shihad drummer Tom Larkin in Melbourne, Villainy’s second album is a raw rock record with a vitriolic streak running through its heart.
Showcased on fierce singles Safe Passage and Syria, and Shihad-esque stompers like Give Up the Ghost and Tantalus, there’s a very good reason Dead Sight sounds meaner and leaner than Villainy’s 2012 debut Mode. Set. Clear.
There is, they admit, a “violent relationship” within the band.
It came to a head during recording sessions, with the group’s four members – Fraser, guitarist Thom Watts, drummer Dave Johnson and bassist James Dylan – suffering cabin fever while sharing a flat and recording live in Larkin’s small Melbourne studio.
Tempers quickly frayed and sessions became fractious. Watts admits things occasionally got out of hand, forcing Larkin – the album’s producer – to step in.
“Tom (Larkin) didn’t yell as much as we did,” says Watts. “A lot of the policing happened within the band ourselves. Every now and then Tom would chime in because we were focused more on the conflict rather than resolving the conflict … there were a few swings that didn’t quite connect.”
It doesn’t sound like a recipe for creating great rock music, but sitting in a Warner Music office laughing about it are Fraser and Watts, who say it’s just how the Auckland band operates.
Fraser admits he can be blunt, which others often taken the wrong way. But the foursome have forged a solid relationship while touring heavily for their first album, which means fights are quickly forgotten. More importantly, they’ve been channelled into Villainy’s best record yet.
“You go insane. We were there two-and-a-half months, and maybe went into town twice. It’s a really abstract world. Everything was abrupt, ideas were communicated as quickly as possible, tempers were lost, things were thrown, people stormed out, but that level of intensity is on the record,” says Watts.
Larkin, who had just made a similar record with Shihad’s Jaz Coleman-produced FVEY, was key to turning that energy into a dynamic record.
“We’d get locked in the room, take for take, until he was happy. Sometimes it was three takes, sometimes it was 20. On Safe Passage, the take that you hear is the one that ends with Tom yelling at us to do another one.
“He didn’t want us to lose that energy, which tells you something about the process.”
Any imperfections, including missed notes and yelling, have deliberately been left on the record to recreate the feel of Villainy’s live shows.
“It’s not a technically perfect album,” says Watts. “There are sounds of equipment breaking and weird humming in the songs because that’s what the room sounds like. We could take that out, but why would you? F*** it – that’s what real bands sound like.”
By Chris Schulz