Death In Vegas Interview
by Alexander Laurence
Death In Vegas Interview
Death in Vegas is a band that conjures up leather sheets, aggressive sex, and torturing small animals. Their new album, Scorpio Rising, takes its name after a film by Kenneth Anger. There are rumors that they built their studio, The Contino Rooms, on a site once inhabited by Aleister Crowley. Whether they channeled the spirit of Crowley on this record or not, is open for debate. The dark truth of this album is that it's dedicated to an engulfing evil in the world.
Born out of the London club scene that included The Chemical Brothers, Richard Fearless formed a studio only project in 1996 named Death in Vegas. With Steve Hellier, Fearless spent two years pumping out a similar type of audio adrenaline, mixing hip hop, samples, and heavy music. The result was their first album, Dead Elvis (1997). The single "Dirt" became a MTV hit later that year. Many people thought that this was a band that would be the new Nine Inch Nails.
Hellier soon left and was replaced by Tim Holmes (who engineered Dead Elvis). For the next album, Fearless gained a new partner as well as a few celebrity guests like Iggy Pop and Bobby Gillespie. This made the second album, The Contino Sessions (1999), buzzworthy and quite spectacular. The single "Aisha" dealt with a first person narrative by a serial killer. Death in Vegas became more of a live act during this time, by forming a real band of musicians. They became known more as a psychedelic/electro rock band.
Recently they have released their third album Scorpio Rising (2003). This album includes vocals by Dot Allison, Hope Sandoval, Paul Weller, Nicola Kuperas, and Liam Gallagher. This A-list cast has generated a lot of excitement and media attention for the band. They are currently preparing to work on their next record. I spoke to Tim Holmes recently, during some time off. Richard Fearless refuses to speak about any of his own work. Death in Vegas should be playing in the US sometime in fall 2003.
AL: When did you start recording this record, Scorpio Rising?
Tim: A long time ago now. It was released in the UK in October of 2002. We finished it last February. We are already busy starting to do the next record. It's weird to still be talking about this same record when my head is into the new one.
AL: Did you do a tour for Scorpio Rising already?
Tim: We did tour. We haven't been to America yet. We toured Europe quite extensively. We have done the UK and Japan. We are playing in the UK and Australia this summer. We are doing all the festivals, like Glastonbury.
AL: You have been in the band for a few years now?
Tim: Yeah. I worked on the first album as a recording engineer. I worked on the mixes too. On the back of that I worked on remixes for other people with Richard. I got more and more involved with writing and creative stuff. Richard had a parting of the ways with the other founding member. I was asked to wear the reserve goal keeper's jumper, if you like.
AL: The first record sounds different from what you did later. With the exception of "Dirt" most of the first record, Dead Elvis, is a hiphop records with spoken word samples. Do you still play those songs?
Tim: We do a few of them. The songs have changed a little bit. We do "Rekkit" but it sounds like a dub song live. It sounds like early Public Image the way we do it now. You could say that with a lot the songs we perform live. We don't necessarily stick with the way the sound on the records. It would be a bit daft to try really some of them. For instance, with the title track "Scorpio Rising" it didn't work to use the vocals as they stand. We use a little of the vocals as a sample and we extend it a bit. It's more bass driven. It's more dubbed out.
AL: They are no longer songs?
Tim: They are songs. They are recognizable, but they have changed. We have toured as a band for four years now. When you sound check, you try out different things. Sometimes we do the songs, and sometimes we don't. It's an ongoing ever changing process. We have seven people in the group: two guitars, bass, keyboards, and a drummer. Richard and I do all the electronic stuff. We used a lot of visuals. We have films projected onto us and behind us. That is an integral part of the band.
AL: Have you performed with a singer?
Tim: We have done. We have been lucky enough to perform with Bobby Gillespie when he is around. Dot Allison and Jim Reid have played with us. I doubt that we will be lucky enough to get Hope Sandoval. She is a shy young lady. I have only seen her play in the dark.
AL: Have you played in America before?
Tim: Not extensively. We have played New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We did a tour with the Chemical Brothers. On our own we have also played Seattle, Chicago, and Detroit. That's pretty much it. I am looking forward to coming there again.
AL: Are you a DJ too?
Tim: No. Richard does. I do it occasionally, but I hesitate to call myself a club DJ. I am quite proficient at putting records on. When one is finished, I put the next one on. That's as far as it goes. I have a good collection of old Punk Rock and new records. You can jump around to it but it's not dance music. We did a night in New York recently. I did the first two hours and Richard did two hours. I played Krautrock and Kraftwerk, and stuff like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Von Bondies. It was a mix of noisy electronic guitar acid house punk rock. Richard played two hours of moody techno and took them where they want to go.
AL: When you did Contino Sessions, that's when you got a few different lead singers. Why did you do that?
Tim: I guess the songs lent themselves more to be that way. For instance, when we did "Soul Auctioneer" with Bobby, we were sort of going for a tripped out hiphop vibe, like on that Dr. Octagon "Blue Flowers." We wanted to do a track like that. We don't write a song for anyone specifically. We don't say: "Let's write a song for Liam Gallagher." We do the song first, and then it becomes apparent who would be good to approach. Sometimes they say "No" but most of the time they say "Yes."
AL: Well who are some of the people who said "No?"
Tim: I knew you were going to ask me that. Jason Pierce from Spiritualized. We asked him four times. Eventually we got the message. We have been lucky. It's that old saying: if you don't ask, you don't get.
AL: When you did the demo track of "Scorpio Rising" who sang on that and what did you send to Liam Gallagher?
Tim: We both did quite badly. Yeah. (laughter) No one is ever going to hear it. It's so awful. It was enough for him to get the idea. We wrote the lyrics for him. First of all, we sent him an instrumental. After a long time he got back to us. He said he liked it, and he'd do it, but he didn't want to write any lyrics. Now he's written a few songs himself, but at the time he said at the time he didn't write lyrics. We send him the lyrics with our really bad guide vocals. He obviously spent a lot of time learning it because he came down to our studio and banged it out in two hours. That take on the album is just one take from start to finish. I didn't have to do anything to the vocals. That man is a genius I think.
AL: How did you choose working with Susan Dillane? She sings on the song "23 Girls."
Tim: I heard her band Woodbine. I heard a track called "Neskwik" and thought it was brilliant. She has a wicked voice. She doesn't have a mobile phone. We were able to track her down somewhere in the Midlands. I don't know how we did it. She came down to our studio with a gram of speed and eight cans of cider.
AL: Was the song you did with Paul Weller "So You Say You Your Baby" done at Contino?
Tim: That was done here at Contino. What happened was we were at Abbey Road doing something for the BBC. It was a weekend of music. The BBC had given up all the TV programs and the radio all for charity. We were doing a live thing for the radio. Paul was there. He said how much he liked the Contino Sessions. We asked him to collaborate on our next record. He agreed. It was Richard's idea to do the cover of the Gene Clark song. Paul Weller sang and Mani from Primal Scream played the bass. Paul actually stole our keyboard player. We have been doing good at losing musicians at the moment. We used to have a keyboard player named Shamus. We got a telephone call from paul asking for Shamus' telephone number. Now, Shamus is playing with Paul Weller and not Death in Vegas.
AL: Did you listen to Adult.?
Tim: Yeah. I love all the the Le Car records. I like all the Ersatz Audio records. It's very musical. Their songs are not just anonymous electronic tracks. Adult. has a personality about them. I think they are great. I haven't seen them play yet. Richard put them in a compilation he did. Richard is very knowledgeable about some of those records. But I am a bit older than him.
AL: Did you work with Nicola Kuperus of Adult.?
Tim: No. That was the only person who we didn't actually meet to do the vocals. With everyone else, I actually recorded the vocals. At first "Hands Around My Throat" was a very electronic song. I did it when Richard was away in India on holiday. When he came back, I played it to him. He said "Let's send it to Nicola." Before we did that, we replaced all the parts with live musicians. If you listen to it now, the bass line is an octave. It was originally on a synth and sounded like Giorgio Moroder. We did a rough mix of the version with live instruments and sent it to her. They did their version. Sent it back with the vocals. We did our own version.
AL: How did you get Dr. L. Subramaniam involved? It seemed like when you did "Neptune City" that was a preview of what was coming?
Tim: I guess it was heading in that direction slightly. We have both been to India a few times. We were traveling and having a holiday. We would buy music. We bought one record that was called "Beyond" that was by Dr. Subramaniam. It's a classical piece of music. We found out more about him via the internet. We found an address for him. We wrote to him. Then we met him in London. He was on his way back to India from New York. We told him what we wanted to do and he was very open to our ideas. We kept in touch and sent him rough mixes of what we were doing. He was scoring strings. We went to his house in India to talk about the music. At some point you can't do everything on the phone. You have to meet in person. So that's what we did. Around Christmas in 2001, we went to Madras, and spent a week out there recording the strings, with an Indian orchestra. We had twenty-two violinists. We had Indian sound engineers. We had an Indian conductor, being Dr. Subramaniam. We wanted to get that shrill sound. It wasn't a spiritual thing.
AL: Do you like Roky Erickson?
Tim: Yeah. I like all good music. I like everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to The Beach Boys. I have a lot of records. I live in London which is handy for buying vinyl. There's more vinyl in New York, it must be said. I live in Brixton and Richard lives in Islington. There's two Rough Trade Records in London. One is more electronic. You have to look around. There are a bunch of shops that have vinyl. These are shops full of men looking at records.
AL: What about Fad Gadget? Is Frank Tovey an influence anymore?
Tim: Yeah. I was into Fad Gadget when they were going. I saw him play not long before he died. He played at a place in North London. A lot of that music came out of punk rock: Throbbing Gristle, Fad Gadget, and Cabaret Voltaire. I was into all of that stuff. That's my background really. That's where I come from.
AL: Have you played any shows with any punk of electro groups?
Tim: No. We should organize something like that. The closest we have come is Soft Cell. We did the Sonar Music Festival in Barcelona. It is an electronic music festival. We played in the same venue as them. I think we played right before Soft Cell.
AL: What are some new bands that you listen to?
Tim: Loads. I am listening to The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Suicide, The Cramps.
AL: Have you seen any films recently?
Tim: I have just seen a brilliant Japanese film called The Dolls. It's about two lovers. It's very sad and typically Japanese. It's about betrayal, love, honor and respect. It's beautifully filmed. It's just stunning. The director is Takeshi Kitano. He does a lot of gangster films. I have seen Secretary and Donnie Darko. I haven't seen Matrix yet.
AL: Have you read any good books?
Tim: I should read more. At the moment I reading The Shipping News. I haven't read it for a week, so I know that I am going to have to skim the start again.
AL: What is the set list like for the Death in Vegas show?
Tim: It's about half the new album. Maybe more. There's about four tracks from Contino Sessions. We do a few songs that were released as vinyl only. They were very electronic. Now they sound like Krautrock. It varies where we play and if it is our own gig. We can play long sets if it our own gig. People don't want you to get too experimental if it a festival. They just want to hear songs where they can jump around.
AL: Many people in America have seen the video for "Aisha." Have you done some videos for the new album?
Tim: We've done a video for "Scorpio Rising" and "Hands Around My Throat." We are working with filmmakers too. When we made the album Scorpio Rising we documented a lot of it. We filmed nearly everone who we worked with. We filmed all the sessions with Paul and Liam, and our trip to India. We are going to do a DVD. I don't know when it is coming out. On that DVD there will be some videos by some unknown filmmakers. They won't be videos geared toward MTV. They won't be very commercial. But they won't be like Richard Kern. I won't be able to show it to my mother.
AL: Have you ran into Iggy Pop since you did "Aisha?"
Tim: Yeah, we saw him in Scotland. We were doing T in The Park. We were playing at different times on different stages. We met up with him for a nice glass of red wine. He is really such a gentleman. When he was living in Berlin with David Bowie in the mid 1970s, and Bowie did Low and Heroes, and Iggy did Lust For Life and The Idiot, and the wall was still up. I was fourteen years old then and I was wondering what it was like being there in that place and making the kind of music they were making. I thought that was absolutely fascinating.
AL: When are you coming to America to do a proper tour next?
Tim: We are coming in the autumn. We are coming to New York to do some more interviews and DJing. The record is coming out in America later in June 2003. The real tour will happen in September I think. That's when all the summer festivals will be over. We will be over. I want to do Burning Man if we ever get the chance.