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Interview: Vukovar

by François Zappa

Only by chance you can discover the universe of Vukovar and it will be a unique experience, like opening a door that you never thought it was a door, like arriving in a city in ruins that doesn’t appear on any map. Because nobody else is the NeuPopAct. Convincing people from 2014. Today, we bring you our particular interrogation to one of El Garaje’s favorite bands. An interview can also be a mystery. 

—How can a band like Vukovar be born? Any special alignment of the stars helped the creation of such a unique act?

—Firstly, a word from one of our numbers, Ani Loftus, speaking briefly and succinctly from her internment in a mental facility:

“Joining Vukovar felt like something that was always meant to happen, like an extension of thy soul.”

Thank you for the compliment. It helps no end to be open to happenstance and chance and to always, always, always be persistent and insistent.

—Vukovar is the name of a Croatian city destroyed during the Croatian War of Independence? What did the band try to imply when they started using that name?

—There is no implication and there is no political motivation and there is no movement to shock or provoke. For there to have been ethnic cleansing in modern-day Europe and it to be relatively unspoken of in the West made us think about the unreliability of our knowledge and understanding of the world around us. A collective fugue state. We saw the water tower in Vukovar as a literal grounding of a monument to this strange and abstract way of knowing the world – IE not really knowing it.

—Was Throbbing Gristle the best band ever? Or at least were they an influence for Vukovar? What about Psychic TV?

—Hah… TG an influence in certain ways but even their biggest fan would be hard pushed to think of them as “the best band ever”. The moments where TG are at the most interesting are those moments where they bring the subversive into something with a friendly face. The gorgeous production on 20 Jazz Funk Greats for example, or the perfect pop of “United.” Far more dangerous.

Pushing the boundaries of sound while keeping it to a “pop” structure is also an influence. If you just come out with a load of unstructured harshness then there is no way to understand it, there is nothing to hold your interest. This is where groups like Whitehouse worked so well. Pharmakon is keeping that going now in her own way.

The fastidious documentation, too. Vukovar write pop-reports for every single show that is played. We did use to record every single show as well, but having physical evidence of what actually happened directs our memories; we’d prefer to recall the abstract.

Essential as they are, Coil and Psychic TV probably more important to us musically, spiritually and aesthetically.

Psychic TV made some beautiful music which belied their extreme ways of living and their own unique & bizarre ways of interpreting this world. You don’t have to think hard as to why we take influence from them.

—We interviewed Phil Reynolds a couple of years ago and we asked him about the band. He has produced some of your albums. How important do you think that his contribution to the sound of Vukovar has been?

—We saw that. Any stretched relations have now been repaired.

He has been vital, a not so silent member of the group. Phil is like an alchemist when it comes to working with us; he understands all of our disparate objectives, imageries, diversions… & has the ability to put it all together exactly to our intentions.

—Phil and his wife collaborated in the first album of the band, Emperor. Did you see Vukovar as a band back then or more like a collaborative act?

—Marie Reynolds, along with Mikie Daugherty, Jonathan Peacock, Dan Ankers, Mark Sayle (the other half of Mark E Moon) & Kieran Ball all contributed to that album. It wasn’t intentionally collaborative. We were v v v young (20 or so) and needed some help fleshing out the songs in the studio with musicians who knew what they were doing. It was a steep learning curve and represented the only time we didn’t have much control over the overall sound of the thing.

—The second album Voyeurism is supposed to be a soundtrack for a movie never made, entitled The Duke Paolo And Little K. Have you ever thought of actually recording the movie? Would you like to do a real soundtrack?

—We will make the movie one day. It will be difficult and require a lot of money but it will be done. Naturally, we will do the soundtrack. It is our intention to move more towards soundtrack work anyway. When the credits roll, Everyone Is Ended.

—Even from the cover, Infinitum seems the band’s most spiritual album. Is it necessary a special state of mind to record a Vukovar album?

—We’ll assume you are implying that musically it is the most spiritual album as well. In that case, we’ll argue that maybe it is the most esoteric and metaphysical than spiritual. “Spirituality” is a v broad and general thing. “Infinitum” was maybe the product of the most unfocused cloud of esotericism, that could be it. It was written and created under 13 “commandments”. During the recording there was a catastrophic event which nearly ended in tragedy, and the physical recovery probably led to the un-focus.

To answer the question, it isn’t that a special state of mind is “necessary”. However, every single album is intense in the extreme during the construction. We will exercise our right to be silent on the details.

Fornification, the band’s following work, was a cover album. Why did you decide this at that moment of your career?

—It is only after the fact of making it that the kind of statement we were making revealed itself. It’s akin to the way you may realise what you meant when you said something to that person two weeks later. Just as time itself and all our perceptions are completely non-linear.

—During a time in 2017, there was a Rose in the world of Vukovar, although those days were not a bed of roses according to some declarations. How do you remember them?

—We’re not sure we want to answer this because we don’t want to suffer, yet again, for someone else’s deeds. 2017 was a lifetime ago and we have done many things since. It was a whirlwind.

—Is the Brutalist House your own label? Do you have any plan of reissuing your first albums? They are quite difficult to find.

—The Brutalist House is an organization focused on The Continued Existence – a movement which will become more visible at the right time. There is some, but not total, commonality between Vukovar and BH. There was some early delving into making pornography and erotica and occasional support with Vukovar releases, which may continue when needed. We can’t say much about The Brutalist House except we know they are gathering their disordered thoughts and organizing themselves towards The Continued Existence.

Early albums – we prefer to move on. When Other Voices first approached us, there was talk of a couple of reissues but we went ahead with Cremator instead. It would be nice, one day, for all of our work to be readily available.

—The band confessed that when Puritan was released they were living hard times again. What happened? Do you think it had a repercussion in the album?

—We are always living hard times, as most people are: for people as delusional and unconnected to the “real world” as us it can be all encompassing. Think of a point in history where you don’t read in an editorial the phrase “in these troubled times”. Of course it had an impact on the album: all art is shaped by the circumstances in which it is made, this is inevitable. But don’t think about our problems, they are just as boring as the next person’s. One of our number recently received a message from someone they have only ever spoken to online that said that The Great Immurement was playing when they made the decision to check themselves into a psychiatric hospital, and this saved their life. We don’t mind admitting that this revelation brought us to tears.

—In Monument the band worked with Michael Cashmore. How did Vukovar’s path found him?

—The usual. We and are were fans of his work with Current 93 and Nature and Organisation. So we approached him. He appreciated our letter and was keen to work with us.

—Vukovar ceased to exist in 2019 according to the notes of Cremator. What happened? What was the Shades incarnation/incarceration?

—We cease to exist everytime we go to sleep. It may have been dramatic but ultimately it is completely inconsequential. If you ever run into us after a show or just out and about, propping up a bar or sat on a park bench staring weirdly into the middle distance, we may go into it. But truthfully, the music is more interesting than any of us as individuals. We don’t talk about this thing of ours. Martyrs for omertàs.

—Cremator has covers of Psychic TV’s “The Orchids” and The Go-Betweens’ “Dive For Your Memory.” Two quite different choices, is the musical spectrum of the band always so wide?

—We don’t see a huge difference between the songs: they’re both pop songs with verses and choruses, both from the same time period and by acts who knew each other and that there is some form of musical crossover between. Maybe if we’d covered “XO Tour Life” by Lil Uzi Vert, “Shitfun” by Whitehouse and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” by Shania Twain, there’d be cause for alarm and we’d just be showing off how wide our net is drawn.

The Great Immurement. Part II of the Eternity Ends Here is the band’s last album so far. What can you please tell us about the composition and recording of your last work?

—We’d suggest listening to it and imagining for yourself would be more productive because we find discussing our own creative process to be entirely counter-productive. It isn’t about sound itself. It’s an almost impossible thing to explain and would be completely tedious to read. And we’re saving the stories about pointing guns at each other while naked for the 20th anniversary box set.

—A part of Vukovar died with Simon Morris, but what part?

—An interesting question.

—Simon Morris was the singer and mastermind behind Ceramic Hobs. Jane Appleby has also collaborated with the band. Do you find any special affinity/modus operandi with the avant-garde punk band?

—We were very close friends with Simon and his loss is monumental. There is Vukovar before and after his death. When you die you leave behind a part of yourself which you confer onto others. By joining the Vukovar, Simon gave us the gift of being a continuation of his own work in some respects – there are some paths he has led us down, inadvertently. Vukovar has always been an exercise in competitive mental illness and continues to be so. Jane’s work within Ceramic Hobs is phenomenal and Flower is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. If you haven’t heard it you owe it to yourself to do so. We’d also recommend listening to the last Smell & Quim album, Bull’s Penis Soup where on “We Will Fuck You In The Arse Milovan” pays a moving, profane tribute to Simon.

When you’re listening to Ceramic Hobs at their best most other music seems hopelessly cloying and both trying too hard and not hard enough. Two of our number are on record elsewhere on how we met Simon, most notably in this piece for Dennis Cooper’s blog (Dennis Cooper being another important touchstone for us): This piece will, one day, be expanded into a book.

—If Vukovar is the NeuPopAct, what is the NeuPopAct? Just the name of your new line-up or is there any concept behind it? And what’s the Theatre of Cruelty?

—This doesn’t make for great reading as an answer we’re aware but that’s really for you to decide and interpret for yourself. There are no spectators, just witnesses. The Theatre Of Cruelty was an experiment building on Artaud’s theory and lasted a few months. Anyone who witnessed Vukovar live in 2019 will testify and can tell you more. We’ve moved on.

—Has Vukovar committed any PopCrime?

—In every single sense or interpretation of the phrase, yes. But, it’s the people who talk the most have done the least, you’ll find.

—The artworks of the band’s albums have been done by Oleg Galay and Andrzej Klimowski. Do you think that they manage to capture the feeling of the band’s music?

—As far as we are concerned, while they do not contribute musically Oleg and Andrzej are members of Vukovar. Andrzej is a truly beautiful and generous soul, much as was is and ever will be the case with Simon: we told him we admired him and a long and fruitful creative relationship began. Andrzej is a remarkable artist and perfectly captures our music to the extent that his artwork is, to our mind, an essential part of it. Same with Oleg (who designs, perfectly, the physical release layouts based on Andrzej’s art) with the addition that as head of the label who releases our music he has never asked for any compromise and backs us totally and unconditionally. These are great men.

—Dan Shea & Buddy Preston are also part of Beauty Stab. What can you please tell us of this project?

—This project is no longer active. There are some finished songs from a while ago which may see the light of day. Whilst Dan has come back to Vukovar, Buddy has begun a new and v exciting project recently which we cannot wait to see out there in the world.

—How does the future look for Vukovar? A new album called Eternity ends here?

—’Eternity Ends Here’ is the name for the obsessive memorial triptych to Simon:

I. The Colossalist

II. The Great Immurement

III. The Body Abdicator

The Body Abdicator is going through it’s final motions and should be coming late this year to wrap everything up.

Will Vukovar continue? Until we’re all dead, yes. Possibly after then as well. We’re not thinking about being The Rolling Stones, we’re thinking about being Carthusian.

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Phil Reynolds 28 July 2021 - 17 h 26 min

Just a little extra background on “Emperor”, if that’s OK. We recorded it the weekend my mother died. The only time we’ve worked together in a “proper” studio. Safe to say that it was a somewhat odd experience for us all. Jon Peacock (who drummed on the album) recorded all his tracks in about three hours, despite never having heard any of the songs before.

We worked at a frightening rate. We recorded air conditioners and smashed scaffolding with huge spanners. We made it in a way that, I think, none of us had done before or since. It’s a big, glossy, wonky pop record which is why it seems to sit awkwardly in the Vukovar canon. I think there were bonds formed between all of us that, although sometimes twisted aren’t likely to ever be truly broken. We’ve been on a journey together; that’s for sure. Laughing, fighting, screaming and shouting and always pushing each other further towards somewhere new.

Nudity, firearms, torture, schism, were all grist to the mill of future albums but – for me, “Emperor” is always going to be something unique. It was a needed light in a dark time.

Where to next?

François Zappa 28 July 2021 - 17 h 53 min

Of course it’s OK! Thanks for your insight Phil 🙂


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