Acclaimed for nocturnal classics of modern electronica like Dirge and Scorpio Rising, Death In Vegas haven’t released an album since 2004′s Satan’s Circus and are now essentially stripped down to main man/producer Richard Fearless, who’s taking on vocal duties for new release Trans-Love Energies. Austra’s Katie Stelmanis is the sole singing guest.
Fearless returned to London in 2009 after a six-year spell in Brooklyn, where he studied film and photography and set up local guitar band Black Acid. He’s also recently produced albums for Dark Horses and Von Haze, and remixed the Horrors, the Kills and Hurts. Not content with a studio comeback for the Death In Vegas name, he’s going out on the road. “People always struggle to pigeonhole us,” he says, “but once they get their heads round it, it works out.”
How does it feel to resurrect Death In Vegas after seven years?
I must admit there was a lot of pressure — from myself, mainly, because at the time when I was starting again, I didn’t have a label or management. I was quite apprehensive, because of how much I knew I’d end up putting into it. When you’re about to embark on a gargantuan project — it’s like writing a book, y’know? One can obsess over stuff, and I definitely tend to. But the early reaction seems to be fantastic, which is great. If I’d come back and the record was being panned, that would have been quite tough to deal with. But let’s not go down that route.
You’re living in East London again now, after six years in New York. Has that affected the sound, or was it formulated in the States?
It did start in New York. The seeds of “Silver Time Machine” certainly started there. Then I came back, and for work I moved into a spare room at Andrew Weatherall’s studio, where I hit the record hard for about a year and a half. New York influenced me in that I formed and played with my band Black Acid there, rehearsed as a straight-up band after years as a studio-based project. That was a great experience, something I’d never done before, and it gave me the confidence to sing. And to write songs on guitar, as opposed to drum machines and synths. I started to write in a more traditional way — structures, verse, chorus, that kind of shit. That had a really big effect on the way this whole album sounds.
Previous albums have famously featured lots of celebrity vocalists (from Iggy Pop to Paul Weller, Bobby Gillespie to Hope Sandoval). Apart from Katie from Austra, you’re the only singer now. Does that make for a more cohesive work?
I went out on a limb on this one; I didn’t have much support from anyone. As it grew, I was pressured to work with other people, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Because then I’d have been in the position of going out live, where there’s no way that Liam Gallagher or whoever is going to come along and play every gig from Glasgow to Brighton. I held my ground, to the annoyance of some. It’s fun making a record with everyone on it, but then it becomes something else. Scorpio Rising was a great album but it was all about the vocalists, which, to me, is rubbish. What about the amazing violinist and all the other musicians? Unfortunately, all anyone asks is: “Oh, what was it like to work with Liam?” So I made a conscious effort with Satan’s Circus to go to the opposite extreme and make it completely instrumental. The record company went: “Oh no, what have you done?” So that was the end of that cozy little scenario!
Are you a confident singer now?
I wouldn’t say that. I’m uncomfortable, but it was either bring someone in as the new Death in Vegas vocalist, or do it myself. I mean, even though Katie is amazing — she’s operatically-trained — is that really the kind of voice I should be singing alongside? Nightmare! But it’s worked out well, despite my worries.
Trans-Love Energies takes its title from the ’60s Detroit anti-establishment group, right?
Yes, the commune and label set up by John Sinclair in Ann Arbor for members of the MC5. I recorded some of this not far from Ann Arbor, and that phrase came up early on, and stuck. I think much of the album’s about open space. I studied film and photography — I love Morricone and the great American Landscape photographers. Traveling; engaging. I recorded in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Donegal in Ireland and then London. If all that’s come through, great.
For me the best thing about living in New York was being able to get out of New York — going on crazy road trips. The Catskills. Going down to Joshua Tree and making my way up to San Francisco via Hot Springs. Seeing a lot of land and getting the feeling I had when I was growing up in Africa by the Kalahari Desert. I realized I need a lot of space around me, so while returning to London was the best move — New York was the toughest period of my life, for personal reasons — I think there will be another move soon. To where, I don’t know. But the wanderlust remains.
Ultimately, do the album’s various influences and directions, from dance to Kraut-rock, gel into a satisfying whole?
I have this fear with every record — is it all going to fit? You have an opening song with Pakistani bouzoukis and whatnot over the story of a rock ‘n’ roll hermit who is losing his mind. Then maybe you have a kind of heavy trance track. Does it all tie in? Or is it all over the shop? I guess if it does work, the feel comes from me as a producer, finding sounds and sense, spinning a fragile glue. But doing something completely different is always inviting to me. To come back seven years on and just revisit the “best of?” I’d rather shoot myself in the head. Really!