Since their emergence in 2010 exciting UK rockers VEGA have been spearheading a resurgent and rejuvenated Birtish melodic rock scene. Their third album ‘Stereo Messiah’ sees them going from strength to strength and is sure not to just please established fans but to win more fans to their highly commercial brand of melodic rock. Woody caught up with the VEGA guys to discuss their latest opus.
You have recently announced guitarist Marcus Thurston as a full member of Vega. Marcus has been part of your live band for some time now, but what were the deciding factors in making him a full time member and what do you think he will bring to the band?
Nick Workman: He has been with us a couple of years now and as much as we try to get rid, he keeps coming back! Haha. In all seriousness Marcus brings a lot to the band. His guitar playing is second to none but for VEGA it’s all about the personality. We enjoy a good laugh and Marcus fits in perfectly with that. It was great for me because the other guys live up in York and I was all on my Jack Jones in the Midlands. Marcus lives 30 mins away so I finally had some company for the drives to the studio!
Dan Chantrey: Marcus brings a nice hard edge to the band, his playing and drinking style is very important to us.
You guys never stand still with your song writing and one of the biggest things I noticed about ‘Stereo Messiah’ was the uplifting feel good factor which the album as a whole exudes. Was the upbeat nature of the music intentional, just how the songs turned out or are all you scratching your heads wondering what the hell I’m going on about? And are you happy with the how the finished album sounds?
NW: We are more than happy with how the album sounds. There was no real time limit so we could have kept going if we wanted, but we achieved what we set out to do. A lot of bands use programmed drums and we never have other than for demo’s. Getting the drum sound we wanted was top of the list. John Mitchell, his guys and Dan got that very quick and the rest we could build on top. As for the feel good factor, I think it was just one of those things. It certainly wasn’t because we were on top of the world. Our 2nd album was very well received but the label in Sweden didn’t have a clue what to do. We just wrote what came naturally and as with everything VEGA, what you see and hear is what you get.
‘Stereo Messiah’ seems more melodic, smoother and with a bigger sound than previously, was setting out to write ‘stadium rock anthems’ what you originally intended to do?
James Martin: yeah i guess so, that’s the kind of band we are. We all love a big catchy chorus, but there’s a fine line with too much melody and overkill using the best chords. We always try and put a twist in the song , either with a different chord sequence or what Nick does with the melody and lyrics. The bigger sound John Mitchell helped with , he gets a great drum sound.
James, the Keyboards seem more prominent on ‘Stereo Messiah’ than the integral but understated Keyboard’s on ‘What The Hell’. As a massive fan of strong keyboard’s in my rock music it’s awesome hearing more keyboard lead tracks and the infectious Key’s on ‘With Both Hands’ and ‘The Wild, The Weird and The Wonderful’ got instantly stuck in my head. Why did you decide to feature more keyboards in the forefront this time around and were you worried new fans won with the more guitar orientated ‘What The Hell’ might not get it?
JM: There was no pre planned idea on how much keyboards to use, some songs need more and some need less , it also depends what the guitars are doing, 'With both hands' keyboard part was actually Toms line, The hook in the chorus of 'www' happened in the studio last minute and really brought the chorus together and is one of Nick’s favourite moments on the album.
James, one thing that defines you as a superior keyboard player in melodic rock circles is your non- traditional ‘Melodic Rock’ song writing style and how you will incorporate different styles and sounds into the music that many musicians fear to use or fear may be seen as too modern for the melodic rock market. For example the keyboards on the title track ‘Stereo Messiah’ are insistent and create a lot of energy which make me think this track will be a great track live BUT they could be placed easily on a high energy dance track! Is pushing boundaries and making Vega’s sound unique important to you or is it just simply how you write?
JM: There was always an intention to have a sequenced arpeggio keys line doing something in 'Stereo messiah' and when we came across the sound and the part we all liked it , it gave a nice movement to the track. With so many great sounds available these days with new 'plugins' that leading dance ,rock and pop producers use when incorporating keys into songs, some of the old sounds just don't sound as good. We still bring along some classic keyboards for parts as well though.
Tom, you are constantly song writing but what is the song writing process like for you? Do you come up with guitar riffs and hooks and then work with James and Nick to expand on them – or do you write full tracks and then others add their parts or even do you add your guitars to Nick’s vocal melodies or James Keyboards?
Tom Martin: Normally I get inspired by a piece of music, i could be watching a documentary or a cooking program and i'll think that could be a nice intro for Vega. Then I map out a basic drum track and generally add the instruments send to Nick, then he writes the rest. Seven times out of ten they are normally great. Other times Jim could have an idea, he´ll come over to mine or send me the demo drums and keys then i just add the guitars, then over to Nick. It's like a production line.
Tom, for me Vega have always pushed the boundaries of traditional melodic rock in your song writing. It makes the band unique in many ways especially as you embrace many influences and sounds which many other artists steer clear of. When you write is it always your intention to push boundaries and modernize your own brand of melodic rock?
TM: To be honest, i'm not massively into traditional melodic rock. I loved it a lot more when i was in my teens, but i've discovered other bands since then. I'm more of a song person, so to me we aren't pushing boundaries that much as i'd probably go heavier on the trance keyboards. But that would probably not appeal to Dan and Nick. Then again, i think the other lads would probably go heavier with the guitars so we meet in the middle and that makes Vega. I don't look at us as pushing boundaries musically, but compared to other bands in our genre we probably are. In my opinion most don't try do anything different and to me that just gives our music a bad name and makes it just re hashed 80's. Lyrically i think we do push a few boundaries.
Another thing that makes VEGA stand out amongst the crowd is the lyrics. Nick, you tend to steer clear of the usual clichés and melodic rock staples. So when you write what are your inspirations? do you always set out with an idea or do things pop into your head after hearing Tom & James’s music?
NW: I do have a whole load of ideas that I add into my phone whenever inspiration strikes but normally I only look to that when I hit a brick wall in the middle of writing a song. I like things to come naturally because trying to fit a melody around a lyric limits where you can go. So I’ll just be singing along and a lyric can just come out of nowhere. On the other hand I had the title Stereo Messiah before any music and I was desperate to use it. As soon as the backing came along that was it, title sorted!
Nick, Do you ever think about just opening up the ABC book of melodic rock lyric writing for an easy life and connecting with the ‘melodic rock’ audience easier? How important do you find the lyrics? I know you hate bland and clichéd lyrics, but do you ever worry that people won’t connect with your lyrics as you tend to be less obvious and more off the wall?
NW: The problem is, I couldn’t write a “party lyric” if I tried! As the other guys will tell you I am the least party guy in the band. All the songs are mini-movies to me. I need a beginning, middle and end for the lyrics and they need to make sense to me, plus I always forget them live. Haha. The amount of times I have turned to Dan during a song and say “what the fuck is the next line?” I remember that happening at Hard Rock Hell and Dan was looking up trying to think and he got it about 1 bar before the vocal came back in. Phew. To me the lyrical blaspheme is using “higher and desire” and anything about “2 hearts ”etc etc. I couldn’t sing that with a straight face. It was fine the first hundred times but come on, surely we can get something else to express our un-dying love. (runs and takes cover haha!).
For me ‘Stereo Messiah’ is an amazing album and I absolutely adore it, I’m totally convinced you guys can do no wrong. I know musicians hate been asked to pick favourites but could you each pick one track to talk about and explain why it’s an important track to you? Whether it be the lyrics, how it was written, how it represents the band or just how you feel about that specific track?
DC: Neon Heart was always a strong demo and we took it so many steps further in the studio, from the opening riff to the drum breakdown, it’s a strong favourite of mine. I love the heavier, darker tracks so this, Stereo Messiah and BOTBH tick boxes for me.
JM: All Or Nothing - I think this could end up being a signature song for us, I think its quite original in structure, melody and chords and a massive chorus , a big summer anthem.
NW: Yeah, I love All or Nothing but also Ballad of the broken hearted is massive one for me.
TM: All or Nothing and Ballad of the broken hearted.
From day one Vega have been a very active live band, playing festivals, high profile support slots and even headline shows. Is performing live important to you all or just something you have to do? And more importantly do you enjoy it?
NW: We do this so we can play live, meet our amazing fans and make new friends. We love gigging. The problem is the cost involved. As much as we love it we can’t always afford to do it. We have had to turn down a few gigs because it’s just too expensive to do which is sad. The high profile slots are amazing to do but a lot of hard work went in to getting them and even more work goes in to getting ready for the gigs and planning all the logistics. We manage ourselves at the moment so there is fair bit admin to be done but we get there!
DC: Gigging is where we cut our cloth, the on stage bonding and camaraderie is where it’s at. Touring and travelling together is what I call a stag-do with music!!
I’ve read reviews and interviews over the years that show you as been cocky, pompous and self assured having met you all over the years this is not how I see you. Sometimes the perception the media portrays you as is not the guys I know – Do You ever worry how you may be perceived as people and musicians within the media?
JM: Yeah,a lot of magazines like to tease us about it but its only because we’re confident in who we are and tell the truth, too many musicians are so nicey nicey and give politically correct answers in case they offend someone. We dream about getting on mainstream radio not Billy No listeners radio stations. What’s wrong with that?
NW: It’s more the fact that the bigger Rock radio stations play the old school bands over and over again. New bands like us maybe get a chance in a 1 hour show at 3am on a Monday!! I think this is why Gene Simmons has a point. Not that I agree with him 100%, but if new bands don’t get a look in then rock music will die at the same time as rock stars go 6ft under because nothing new was nurtured and introduced. We always try to give you guys a good quote though haha.
DC: We have opinions, there is a lot of music going around these days that doesn’t deserve the airtime or time of day, we feel , and have always said, if the general public had a chance to hear our music, we could have a bigger fanbase. Songs like ‘White Knuckle’, ‘Saviour’, ‘Bless my Soul’ or on the new record ‘Need Some Love’ could be heard on mainstream radio and even, if plugged, wouldn’t be amiss on American MTV reality shows!
I showed a friend the video for ‘White Knuckle Ride’ when it originally came out and knowing my taste in music was shocked in many ways, instantly by your image as none of you have poodle perms (you really need to get on that BTW!) but more importantly by your sound to which his initial response was that’s the sort of thing you could hear on radio 1 not like your other shit. So do you get frustrated by the mainstream media, obviously you have a lot of support in melodic rock friendly media, but does it irritate you that you are ignored by the mainstream, or are you happy just doing what you are doing and winning fans without major media support?
NW: It’s to be expected so you go into these things with your eyes wide open. We know that we have a battle on our hands if we want to get on main stream radio or Planet Rock and Team Rock. Having said that we have always loved the chase and we will keep on going doing what we do. If we fail then we have fail on our terms doing what we love with no regrets.
Tom, James - You guys have written a lot over the years for other bands and artists obviously with Vega as your priority I know this is less frequently now. But as a massive fan of your song writing not just with Vega I am curious about if you’re writing for anyone else at the moment that you could possibly mention? I have to admit I’m surprised you don’t write more with Issa as of course it would be easier for you guys to incorporate her vocal ideas into the song writing and I think with your guys music knowledge and versatility you could write the perfect pop rock album that would showcase her vocals amazingly! (I need to learn Italian and demand the guys at Frontiers make it so!)
JM: Cheers Woody! yeah were always up to something. We've recently written songs on albums by 'Glamour of the kill' , 'Find me' , 'Alistair Griffin' and 'David Reece' and have a few a bunch of our songs on albums next year. Yes we do write with Issa and its great having the best female vocalist in the family, She is bringing out a new album early next year, all will be revealed then!
Is there anything else you would like to add or say to Fireworks readers?
JM: Thanks to everyone for the support with the new record, we hope you love it as much as we do , come and see us on the road and say hello!
TM: Thanks to everyone for the support with the new record, we hope you love it as much as we do. Come and see us on the road and say hello!
NW: What he said.
DC: What they said!