Beneath the Veil
FINN ANDREWS IN LONDON, AUGUST 2016. PHOTOS: MATT HOLYOAK/KAYTE ELLIS AGENCY. STYLING: NIC JOTTKANDT. GROOMING: LIZ DAXAUER/CAREN USING DR JACKSON’S. PHOTO ASSISTANT: LUKE WELLER. RETOUCHING: THE SHOEMAKER’S ELVES.
London-based band the Veils crafts cinematic tales. While individual tracks will play on repeat in your head, they’re artists who understand the virtue of an album, and their music calls for sequential listening. Their fifth LP, Total Depravity (out today via Nettwerk Records) is a sweeping collection of songs that opens with the blistering “Axolotl.” It never repeats itself, and doesn’t let the listener fall into a comfort zone; in the shadowy corner of a record’s eighth track, the band surprises with the slow, steady ballad “Iodine & Iron,” and wraps with low and wobbly “Total Depravity.”
One consistency throughout the Veils’ music is the attention paid to storytelling. The band’s frontman and lyricist, 33-year-old Finn Andrews, made writing his nine-to-five job for a year to complete Total Depravity, and the production of the album took another two. The band, which consists of bassist Sophia Burn, drummer Henning Dietz, guitarist Dan Raishbrook, and keyboardist Uberto Rapisardi, played through songs with Andrews for those two years, but unlike their past LPs, synths were in the mix—which meant electronic manipulation sometimes came first. Andrews says that they had “genuinely no idea where [they] were going to end up,” and the process was one of “feeling your way through the dark.” The apt guides that led them through it were El-P (of Run the Jewels) and Adam “Atom” Greenspan, who both co-produced the album with Andrews. Contemporary auteur David Lynch was also a presense, which is fitting considering the band’s roots.
“Sophia, who plays bass in the band, when we were first hanging out at 12 or 13, one of the first things we did was go and rent all of Twin Peaks on VHS from this little video shop over in Auckland, [New Zealand] and binge watch it,” Andrews tells us. “It was particularly poignant. I suppose it felt like the beginnings of the band as well.”
Andrews has even been announced as a cast member in the series’ forthcoming reboot, and while he couldn’t say much about that role when we caught up over the phone, we did, of course, speak about the album, which was partially recorded at Casa Lynch in Los Angeles.
HALEY WEISS: You’ve talked about how different characters appear throughout this new album, like L. Ron Hubbard, the Pope, and Ingrid Bergman. Is that how you see songs? You form characters and write from a certain perspective?
FINN ANDREWS: I think it’s a lot of stories, really. When I was young I wanted to make films and then I got into folk music when I was about 12, and started going to this folk club in Auckland. My dad [Barry Andrews] was in punk and post-punk bands, so I guess it was a side of music I hadn’t really listened to before—the really narrative form of songwriting. I think that is still what I seem to enjoy doing the most, putting myself in and coming from strange perspectives and just extrapolating that—from the perspective of a young pregnant woman, to a flock of birds, to the endangered Mexican salamander on this new record. They all seem like interesting places to put your mind for a while.
WEISS: Is that the axolotl that you’re talking about?
ANDREWS: Yes. [laughs]
WEISS: When I saw the name of that track, I googled to see what it was, and I was very surprised by what I found—that little creature.
ANDREWS: Yeah, he’s a curious little fellow.
WEISS: How did you find the axolotl?
ANDREWS: Well, my mom had one or two as a pet when I was a kid. I don’t actually remember the axolotls from when I was a kid, but I remember hearing the word. It’s a beautiful word; it’s been in my head for a long time. We recorded that song so quickly, that was the first thing we did with El-P, and we did the bulk of it in a day after first meeting each other. That was sort of the first experiment and we didn’t have any microphones or anything at all. It was done on a laptop and the vocal was sung through the shitty microphone—well, actually not shitty, I really like the quality of it. Lyrics are sometimes labored over quite a lot and that certainly wasn’t. That was the first thing that popped into my head at the time. I sort of like the idea of these strange, half-finished creatures.
WEISS: You mentioned El-P, and you worked with Adam Greenspan on the album as well. How did they become involved and what was it like to work with them?
ANDREWS: Well, Adam we’d worked with on Nux Vomica, that was our second record, and he also had a hand in our last record, so he’s been involved in quite a few. He was very instrumental in helping bring all these disparate elements together. I was working on songs quite independently with El-P, and then working with the band—it was a lot of me carrying hard drives around going between people. With El-P, we just sort of struck up a friendship really quickly and it seemed logical to mess around and make something. I think he’d been a fan of the band for so long as well, with a very thorough knowledge of what we’ve done. It felt like a unique opportunity to work with someone from a very different area in music, but that still liked what we do, and wasn’t just trying to trample all over us. It felt very much like a collaboration.
WEISS: Have you listened back to your debut album recently, and if so, what do you think of it?
ANDREWS: The debut is very strange. I was 14 when wrote half of that record, they were the first songs I ever wrote, and I didn’t expect that we’d get signed quickly. I think it took me quite a few years to be able to listen to any of that, really. It felt very naked and strange. Perspective is something that isn’t easy to come by, so it seems to take a few years until I can really hear what we’ve done, and make sense of it. I’ve become fonder and fonder of the earlier records, but more song by song. There’s a few that are these nice reminders of being young—the way I looked at things back then, I guess. But it’s a chaotic process; it’s always felt like that. You’re always trying to find your way in these things and there’s certainly a love for a lot of the things we’ve made, but also an eagerness to immediately distance myself from them, because you become so obsessive about them and so immersed, and their world becomes yours. It’s a strange process but this one in particular is very mysterious. We didn’t know where we were heading basically until the week it was finished. I really didn’t know where we were going to end up.
WEISS: Have you started performing the songs off of this album yet?
ANDREWS: No, our tour starts mid-October in Europe, and then we’re over to North America in November, so we’re beginning to rehearse now.
WEISS: Is there a particular song on the album that you’re really excited to perform live?
ANDREWS: Yeah, really the bulk of it is going to be exciting to get our heads around. We’re bringing together all of these organic instruments with these processed sounds, and I’m very much looking forward to especially these menacing, low end [sounds] that El-P is so brilliant at. It’s such a great thing to be able to involve that in the sound, particularly with my hollering and howling over the top. I was really struck with it when I went to see Run the Jewels a few months ago, at what you can do to people with these low frequencies. It’ll be nice to start getting down to that.
WEISS: Has it been an interesting learning experience working with more synths and changing your sound in that way?
ANDREWS: It has. It’s just a whole new palette we’ve got to work with. I guess to be able to bend these things to our tastes as well was really interesting. I’d sort of written off a lot of these sounds because I’ve heard them misused so many times. It was an introduction to this music with El-P. It was very reinvigorating, actually.
WEISS: Your dad was involved in music. Did he encourage you to go into the same field? Did he warn you against it?
ANDREWS: I grew up surrounded by malnourished musicians, so I think when I was a kid it was very off-putting. It was always the thing that took my dad away as well, so I had a strange relationship with it. It was only when my mother moved us to New Zealand properly when I was 12, that’s almost immediately when I started playing music of my own. I don’t think I played anything for my dad the first three years. He said that was very strange, that I finally sent him some songs that we’d made, and he’d never heard me sing before or play an instrument. It must have been quite surreal for him.
WEISS: What was his reaction?
ANDREWS: I think it was always my voice that surprised him the most. I remember him sort of saying, “Where did that come from?” [laughs] We’re both singers, but we sing very differently. It was my mom’s music’s collection really that I first listened to. Gradually, as I got older, I started realizing that a lot of these people were around the house when I was a kid. “Oh, okay, that was Iggy Pop or Bowie.” It took a good six or seven years to figure out who those people were. It was cooler as I got older, where you go, “Oh, that was my dad’s band,” but it took a while. At the beginning I was very isolated from all of that. [My dad has] been very encouraging, and every time I finish I record we go for a drive in his car and I play him the record. It’s a nice little tradition.
WEISS: Is there one particular album from your childhood that stands out as formative in your tastes, or is something that you still go back to now?
ANDREWS: I think the strangest relationship I’ve had with any album is Rain Dogs. Dad and [Tom Waits] were on the same label I think when I was young, so I know that they were playing it a lot when I was a kid, but I didn’t really take it in. I had this strange experience in my teens where I listened to it, sort of for the first time, but then everything was just so familiar. The last song on it, “Anywhere I Lay My Head”—it’s just strange, that feeling of hearing songs that you feel like you heard in the womb, you know? It’s stayed with me, that record, every step of the way. I remember hearing someone play a version of a Tom [Waits] song in a folk club, and sort of losing my mind then, and exploring the album. As I’ve gotten older and older, I’m becoming more and more obsessed, craving his albums. It gives me something different every time I listen to it. It’s stayed with me the longest and continues to amaze me. And that idea of an album being a journey through something, not just a repetition of 12 songs in 12 different ways. I think there’s 19 songs on that record and it’s really like journeying through this city at night, and never being sure where you’re going to end up. I think that’s something I’ve always wanted to do with our records, to really move through something and for it to be unpredictable, and a little scary.
WEISS: I was going to say, I think this new record of yours feels very consciously sequenced. That doesn’t happen as frequently now as there’s so much emphasis on singles.
ANDREWS: It’s a gradual process certainly, but it’s something I very much appreciate. There are probably only about five people who are going to notice or particularly care about it. [laughs] But it’s something I still really enjoy, so I do it for my own sake as much as anyone else’s. It’s a nice process, and I like listening to things on vinyl and having that experience as well. I also listen to single songs, but I still find it a romantic idea, “the album.” I suppose it’s a hard thing to stop doing, and I imagine I’ll keep doing it that way and caring about it, until they make it illegal to make records anymore or something, and it’ll have to be single songs.
WEISS: I read that your mom cooked for Diana Ross, and there’s a tale about you receiving something from her drummer. Can you tell me about that?
ANDREWS: Oh, wow. Yeah, that was the first show I went to at Wembley Stadium I believe. I was 7 or 8, something like that. I only knew who she was because she was in The Muppets, which was a really good episode. [laughs] That was really cool. I’ve still got that drum skin [he gave me]. We sort of went backstage afterward and he gave me a drum skin and wrote something very encouraging on it. I had it on my wall all through my adolescence. It’s the same thing where I didn’t know who these people were particularly, and I thought she was really cool. My mum was always on tour with these [people], like Van Morrison and Diana Ross, and I think Michael Jackson for a while. I was so young at that time, it was a little wasted on me, to be honest. But I did appreciate meeting Ms. Ross at such a tender age.