Though they’ve been saddled with labels like “jangle pop,” “C86″ and, of course, “twee,” singer/guitarist Roxanne Clifford of the London-based quartet Veronica Falls has a more fitting descriptor for her band: “horror rock.” The term is a nod to one of her musical idols, Roky Erickson – appropriate, considering that the B-side of the band’s first 7″ was a haunting, harmony-rich cover of his psych-pop nugget “Starry Eyes.” There’s a beguiling air of the macabre looming over every one of the sturdily crafted tracks on their self-titled debut, too; just listen to the eerie “Found Love in a Graveyard” or the taut, phantasmal-minded single “Bad Feeling,” which contains the unsettling chestnut, “No arm around my shoulder/Only getting colder/Trying to remember if you were even real.”
After the demise of their indie pop outfit Sexy Kids, Clifford and drummer Patrick Doyle formed Veronica Falls in 2009, recruiting guitarist fellow ’60s-pop enthusiast James Hoare and French bassist Marion Herbain. The interlocking elements in their music – Clifford and Hoare’s braided riffs, the full-band harmonies – make the chemistry between the quartet clear.
Fittingly, there was gloomy weather on both sides of the phone when Lindsay Zoladz called up Clifford to discuss muzak on the tour bus, celebrity airport sightings and just how a band goes about shaking off that pesky “twee” tag once and for all (spoiler alert: turn up the amps).
On getting signed 10 minutes after they uploaded their demos to MySpace:
That sounds too good to be true, but it did actually happen. We had been in contact with Mike [Sniper, of the label Captured Tracks, who put out the band's first 7"] previously, because Patrick and I had been living in New York for a bit and had met people in that scene, so they were aware that we had a new band. It wasn’t quite so out of the blue as it sounds, but it was still really amazing.
On their musical tastes:
We all have general things that we all really like – like the Velvet Underground and REM – but we each have specific interests too. James is into more obscure ’60s bands, and I’m really into bands from the U.S. in the ’90s. People ask if we have any dark, embarrassing favorite songs, but I don’t think we’re embarrassed of anything we like. If we like it, it must have something, you know? Although Patrick really likes that song “Love is in the Air.” He always plays it in the van and we all actually hate it. You know that one? [Sings] “Love is in the air…” In theory, you think it’s a good song, but when you actually listen to it, it’s quite cheesy. Patrick likes the muzak version of it as well, which is just strange. [Laughs]
On the boy/girl dynamic:
After James joined, we started thinking about the harmonies, and we needed another female voice. So the only reason I wanted [another female member] was because of the harmonies. But after [Marion joined], I realize it’s a good thing in that it keeps the dynamic balanced, having half and half. Two boys, two girls, I think it works quite well. We all get on really well. And anyway the boys are very in touch with their feminine side, and me and Marion are quite tomboyish, so it balances out.
On arranging their signature harmonies:
We spend quite a lot of time on that. I think it’s really important to our sound. Vocally, [we're inspired by] ’60s girl groups, but also REM did it really well too. They’ve got a lot going on, but it all sort of fits together really nicely. Usually I’ll write my vocal melody and then we’ll try and make the songs more interesting by adding call-and-response parts or harmony, just trying to add more texture. Because they’re quite simple pop songs – or a lot of the ones on the first album are anyway. So we did our best to try and make the vocals a bit more interesting.
On doom and gloom:
When we first got together, a lot of the “darkness” in our music was quite tongue-in-cheek. We were interested in being kind of theatrical, and painting a picture or telling a story that was all about the drama of the song. I was listening to a lot of Roky Erickson at the time and I really like his lyrics and his approach. He’s called it “horror rock.” He writes these lyrics that are all about very primal emotions, all about love and death. I was inspired by that approach; I think that makes for a very direct pop song. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves, though, because we get asked a lot about our dark side or sinister side, but they’re all kind of love songs at the end of the day.
On meeting their musical heroes:
Johnny Marr was nice, but [when we interviewed him for Loud and Quiet magazine] we just talked over email and didn’t actually get to meet him. We haven’t really [gotten to meet any of our idols] because we’re not very good at networking or anything like that. I did meet Jarvis Cocker about six months ago, and he was really nice. I think if it’s a very genuine meeting it’s great, but we don’t necessarily seek that sort of thing out. Oh! Although we did bump into Ronnie Wood at the airport once! We got our photograph taken with him. [Laughs]
On recording their new material:
We know now that we need to just do it in our own way and not make it too polished, and just have the amps up really loud so they kind of bleed into each other. I think for the new stuff, we’re just kind of experimenting with more complexity and interesting elements. We just want to push the songs a little bit more. Most of the songs on the first album are fast and have a similar tempo, so [on our next record] we want to push the songs a little bit more. We definitely want to shake off the “twee” tag, because we don’t think of ourselves as twee at all. So the next record will be bolder and a little bit louder.