On September 21, UK shoegazer The Virgance released “Paradigm 3”, his third LP in a little over 18 months, on the El Vals del Conejo label. The Virgance is Nathan Smith, formerly guitarist with nineties UK indie band Ripley, which saw BBC Radio 1 and MTV Europe airplay, and co-producer of noughties electronica outfit Loveless. Smith’s first solo LP as The Virgance was ‘Lost Continent’, which was released in February 2014, followed by the ‘Hiko Shrine’ LP in January 2015. Both received critical acclaim in the shoegaze community and blogosphere.
Drowned In Sound recently featured this second album in their shoegaze highlights of 2015, alongside Swervedriver, writing “Hiko Shrine is one of the most beautifully constructed albums to grace the stereo this year, combining elements of ambient post-rock with errant, effects-laden melodies”. The Virgance also got his first airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music a few weeks ago courtesy of The Tom Robinson Show .
‘Paradigm 3″ builds on the momentum gained from these first two releases, serving up a fresh cerebral road trip for shoegaze and post-rock fans to absorb. Smith demonstrates the strength of the album format as an art form and reminds us of the rewards of patient listening in this modern, digital age of instant gratification and short attention spans. This is perhaps the most balanced Virgance release so far, embracing the more emotional aspects of shoegaze while retaining some experimental rock attributes, as well as the aesthetics of both beautiful noise and ambient music.
(from their press)
Hi, my project’s name is…The Virgance.
This sound is…an instrumental mix of Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Post Rock, Noise Rock and Ambient, fronted by effects-laden guitar and synthesized female vocal sounds.
I am from…Colchester in England and currently live in the village of Acton, about a half hour’s drive north west of my hometown.
Tell us about your latest release…
‘Paradigm 3’ is the third instalment in a trilogy of albums released over the last year and a half on the label El Vals del Conejo. This one is a little more emotional, with a softer but more spacious sound than the first two, which were noisier and more experimental respectively. This may be my last full-length album as The Virgance as I expect future releases to be EPs.
Who are some artists who have influenced you?
Verve, Stone Roses, Ride, Slowdive, MBV, Mogwai, The Who, Hendrix, Beatles, Can, Neu, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin
How old were you when you started to play music and what do you play exactly?
I learnt violin from age 9 to 14, but never really enjoyed it so I stopped in order to teach myself guitar. I am primarily a guitarist, but also enjoy playing keys/synths. I cannot physically play drums so I use what drum theory I know to program them as best I can.
Can you tell us about the process you use, from writing the songs all the way through to releasing them?
Each song is built around an initial guitar idea – once I’ve settled on a tuning that feels comfortable, the idea then usually comes as an almost meditative form of expression rather than a conscious, calculated effort as much of the rest of the production is. I enjoy and develop the guitar idea until I’m happy to record it to a click-track. Then in this order, I work on and add to the mix drums, bass, synthesized female vocals, and after that any extra synths, sound design and, very occasionally, a guitar overdub.
Have you ever collaborated with other artists as The Virgance? With whom and in what capacity?
Yes just once, on a track from this latest album. Shauna McLarnon of renowned dream pop duo
Ummagma recently sent me a vocal track, parts of which I cut up, stretched and transposed to fit with an idea I’d been playing with. The result is ‘Down The River’.
What are some of the challenges you face as a musician and how have you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge is to keep coming up with guitar ideas, and like Keith Richards says in his book, alternative tunings can give you a new lease of life as a guitarist/composer. I’ve not researched tunings but really just tried things out to see what happens, what possibilities present themselves. I try to create guitar performances that sound full as a single live take and exploring different tunings allows this to happen. The vast majority of Virgance tracks were born this way. Another big challenge is making the drums sound natural. I’ve come to realise that it takes a huge amount of time and effort to design and manipulate computer-based rhythm section components into anything that sounds human and organic, but I feel I’m learning and improving in this respect with each release.
1st rock concert you went to and age….
My first “proper” rock concert was Queen + guests at Wembley in ’92, I’d just turned 16.
Coolest band t-shirt you ever bought…
Don’t know about the coolest, but pretty rare and close to my heart. I have one with a picture of a young John Entwistle caressing his bass pre-gig circa ’66.
The most insane concert you ever went to or were a part of….
Actually, a few months after that Queen show I was back at Wembley for Guns ‘n’ Roses, Faith No More & Soundgarden. I think it must have been one of the hottest days of that year. The friend I went with wanted to get to the snakepit. Once we got there it went nuts as Soundgarden came on – an increasingly violent churning sea of bodies and no air to breathe. Soundgarden were monstrously big. I remember seeing stars as Chris Cornell started screaming his arse off, then I passed out and came to a while later on at the edge of the stadium with paramedics. Pretty scary at the time.
If you could open for any band/ artist right now who would that be and why?
That would have to be Slowdive, not just because there is the mutual female vocal shoegaze thing going on, but also because of the memories of hearing them for the first time. They were the first shoegazeband I listened to as my older brother used to play them quite a bit.
My youngest son is 13 and in a band. What advice would you offer him? …
As an ex-band member now solo, I would say this, without wanting to come across as too preachy! Be committed, but make sure it remains fun, don’t put too much pressure on yourself too soon. Take your time, work steadily and always keep trying to improve – remember that even great artists and musicians never stop learning. Being in a band that does original music has its tricky, political moments, so it really helps if you have a strong friendship and good communication with your band mates, as you will have to compromise your point of view at times and stand your ground at others, but when you’re all on the same page and it clicks there is nothing quite like it.
Your thoughts on the state of rock ‘n’ roll in 2015…..
I think in terms of music being released, “rock’n’roll” is ok in 2015, you just have to go looking for it more now. It is the new jazz. It’s all out there and as passionate as ever, we just don’t get much of it in mainstream media channels any more, but no-one can deny the fact that a hell of a lot of kids around the world still want to learn and play a rock instrument for real (not just pretend on an Xbox), even if that is probably mostly due to the legacy of 20th century artists? I think we’ve reached a point where risks are now very rarely taken by the people with the money, meaning the pop charts get more banal and sterile and its constituents almost seem to merge into one similar-sounding blob of (not so) dark matter, while in contrast the underground seems to me to be as determined as ever to express its own respective, as-individual-as-possible form of identity and art, resulting in an ever-expanding multi-coloured universe of sounds waiting to be stumbled upon by internet users.Thanks to the digital age we can now make records at home for very little or no money, so that is a big positive for working-class musicians, but with regards to the live scene, in the UK at least, the steady deletion of inner city venues is pretty depressing – commerce is quite literally chasing new music out of the bigger towns (luckily my hometown has an admirable commitment to being an exception to this rule). Similarly, another thing that bothers me is how Facebook and Twitter now charge artists to allow more than a tiny fraction of their followers to see their feed. Doesn’t seem right to me, unless you’ve reached a point where you’re flying fairly high and making good money. So artists with high-paying jobs or wealthy families behind them have a distinct advantage over those less fortunate, as let’s face it, internet presence is a huge factor in this day and age unless you gig in a different town every day of your life (which is in itself now more difficult than ever to do as I’ve said). This sort of divide may not
necessarily be a wholly new thing – whether or not you can afford PR has always been an issue for example (money has always talked), but with regards to social media, surely there should be some kind of threshold or proportionate charge depending on how successful you are? All in all I would say the spirit of “rock’n’roll” is still alive, despite the commercial world’s best efforts to smother it.
Any bands you recommend we add to our playlists?
So Called Humans, Ummagma, Flying Cape Experience, joaquim barato
What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
I’ve been overdoing it a bit this year and am now feeling the effects, so will be taking it as easy as possible. Day job at a minimum and no new music, that is for certain. Time to recharge a bit and then hopefully sometime next year I will get the spark to try for new ideas once more