Scotland has given birth to an incredible wave of original and often groundbreaking artists since the first wave of punk spawned the likes of Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Indeed, it’s probably fair to say they’ve been spoiled for choice north of the border. The latest band to catch our attention is The Vegan Leather, a four-piece originating from the town of Paisley.
The quartet – Gianluca Bernacchi (vocals/guitar/synths), Marie Collins (vocals/guitars), Matt McGoldrick (bass/synths) and Duncan Carswell (drums) – combine angular, electronic pop sensibilities with socially aware lyrics that address subjects such as sexual violence and the evils of capitalism. They’ve been compared to acts as disparate as Franz Ferdinand, ‘Eurodisco’ era Bis, Everything Everything and Wild Beasts, without actually sounding like any of them.
Although the band have existed for the best part of a decade, they’ve spent the past couple of years writing, honing and recording the songs that will make up long awaited debut Poor Girls/Broken Boys, which is scheduled for release on 25th October. Produced by Delgados drummer Paul Savage, whose impressive list of studio credits includes Mogwai‘s Young Team and The Twilight Sad’s Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters. Poor Girls/Broken Boys is an exquisitely crafted record that demands your full attention. Which is basically what The Vegan Leather set out to do.
So how did it all start? McGoldrick and Bernacchi talk us through the band’s humble beginnings.
“The origins of The Vegan Leather go back to when Gianluca and Duncan were in a band entitled Crown of Storms. Me and my old band met Duncan and Gianluca when we participated in the Hit the Road tour ran by the Scottish Music Centre. Duncan, Gianluca and I then subsequently decided to join forces. We bonded over our love of disco and metal and the idea of us being in a band together was too juicy to turn down. Gian was already DJ-ing under the moniker The Vegan Leather and wanted to turn it into a full live band project. So, we dubbed ourselves The Vegan Leather and started doing some small shows to test the water for our new project,” declares bass player McGoldrick.
“Shortly after these small shows, me and Marie were writing some songs together, one of which turned into an early version of our song ‘Days Go By’. Marie then joined our ranks. Having her aboard really built confidence in our sound within the band. Having another singer also made our songwriting process more exciting as we had two different narratives and point of views to craft our lyrics from. Originally, The Vegan Leather was just a name for me to get onstage and play a bunch of keyboards for half an hour at a time, but that got boring really quickly. It’s not fun being on your own, so I decided to ask Matthew and Duncan to join me. Then about a year after that Marie joined us and we started to really forge our own style of writing,” adds singer and multi-instrumentalist Bernacchi.
The band’s hometown also plays a significant part in their make-up, as fellow vocalist and guitar player Collins is quick to point out.
“Paisley’s really famous for its textiles industry – the last mill was closed in the ‘90s and Paisley has since attracted really negative press – unemployment, crime, deprivation etc. I think in recent years, Paisley’s city of culture bid really changed perception and boosted confidence – it was a real catalyst for change in attitude towards Paisley’s cultural scene. There are definitely ongoing conversations happening between Paisley folks and what they think of Glasgow. On one hand, some people say Paisley’s boring and Glasgow’s where everything’s happening, but on the other hand there’s people really fighting hard to keep the cultural scene of Paisley alive. There’re always really cool things happening like the SAY Awards, SAMA’s takeovers, The Spree etc.! For us, we’ve always been really encouraged by our town, and although a lot more could be done to make the music scene better, we’ll always be strong advocates of Paisley.”
It’s this refusal to directly attach themselves to a city that’s undoubtedly played a part in The Vegan Leather’s diverse array of musical sounds and styles. Elements of post punk and electro pop collide with forays into art rock and even melancholic folk tinged territories. Together creating a sound that’s truly unique and immediately identifiable as their own.
“We’ve messed around with various styles over the years, from ambient to prog (we once had a song in 11/8, total nerds) to dance pop. Now we’ve started to really explore guitar music – still dance music – but with more post punk thrown in, and a good dose of metal for good measure,” declares Bernacchi. “Scottish pop music has its own strong sense of identity, and I feel we definitely resonate with some of the bands and artists that have come before. I also feel like that ideology of Scottish bands to push boundaries and stand on its own feet is very inspiring, especially when so much ground has been covered by such a small country. It’s the best pop music in the world.”
Sharing a kinship with fellow Scots Chuchoter and D R I F T, Brighton’s Bright Orange Spectacle and Sheffield’s International Teachers Of Pop to name but four, The Vegan Leather represent a new age of musical anomalies that aren’t afraid to go beyond the boundaries set by their contemporaries. Just as likely to cite ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Nilsson’ as an influence as any current artist, they’re more into writing sharp melodies than obtaining sharp haircuts (not that we’re saying they don’t look sharp!), which can only be a good thing where musical credibility is concerned.
Going back to the forthcoming album, something that the four are only too willing to discuss. Although they started recording the album in Paul Savage’s Chem 19 studio last summer and only finished in the early part of 2019, it’s worth noting at least one of the songs dates back as seven years to when The Vegan Leather were just starting out, as bassist McGoldrick states:
“Some of the songs and ideas date back to when we first started making demos in 2014. I think ‘Days Go By’ features some vocal samples from as far back as 2012, so it’s been years in the making. A few of the songs we’ve been playing live for a while really helped us when we were sculpting the final versions in the studio. When playing them live, you can let the song breath and evolve every time you play a show.”
Even then, it took a while for the band to decide which songs would go onto the album and in what order.
“I think all four of us had our own idea of what the track listing should be. It took us a few weeks to finalise the order of our album, but we all shared the common idea that the track list should suit the same vibe of seeing The Vegan Leather live. It should have the ebb and flow of a live performance as if we’re playing a gig inside the listener’s head,” admits McGoldrick. “I feel when we play live that’s when we shine the most. There’s nothing like playing live and having instant feedback and reaction from the audience. Although I feel our live sound does evolve from us messing around in Gianluca’s studio. We find ideas in there and implement them in our live set up.”
“I remember the day we got the final mixes back,” adds Collins. “We took the tracks back to Duncan’s house. Paul – our amazing engineer – had bought us a bottle of Jaegermeister to mark the finishing of the album. We got home from the studio and gathered in Duncan’s living room, wincing at the taste of Jaeger but feeling so excited that we’d finished our album. We stayed up late making final decisions of the track listings. It was the definition of bittersweet!”
With critically acclaimed lead single ‘French Exit’ having already soundtracked the summer, the band has just put out another 45 off the album entitled ‘The Hit’. Which represents arguably their most thought-provoking release to date, and as its title suggests, might just provide the breakthrough “hit” their wares deserve.
Having sold out Glasgow’s King Tuts the last time they played there, The Vegan Leather launch their album at the very same venue on 2nd November. But fear not if you miss out on a ticket, as they’re already planning more shows in 2020, including an appearance at the acclaimed Rockaway Beach festival in January.
Poor Girls/Broken Boys is out on 25th October via Midnight Pink/Believe Digital.
Upcoming Live Dates
26 – Notting Hill Arts Club, London
12 – Twisterella Festival, Middlesborough
02 – King Tuts, Glasgow
10-12 – Rockaway Beach, Bognor Regis