When we interviewed Lovvers back in 2009, their C86 charm dazzled us such that we were devastated us. Sometimes it’s hard to keep us with every band and musician on the planet. But you can imagine our excitement when we discovered that Lovvers mastermind Shaun Hencher had a new project called Virals. Recorded by Hencher in the summer of 2012 with Virals’ live guitarist, the pair returned to their familiar studio set up, playing every instrument and overseeing all recording themselves. What resulted is a channelling of old fashioned Tom Petty/Badfinger-esque musclerock coupled with the power of 90s indie rock. The wide-eyed optimism of opener “Strange Fruit” is filled to the brim with soaring melodies, loud guitars and sugar sweet vocals. In the US, the EP was released on Zoo, which is run by TDOA faves, Brandon from Crocodiles and Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls. We loved this interview, because Shaun talked at length about his work with Lovvers, the process of recording and his love for Brandon and Dee Dee. Listen to the new EP, while you read along.
Todd: We interviewed you a few years ago when you were making music as Lovvers. How does it feel to see the DIY-aesthetic that you championed at the time become uber-hip lately?
Shaun: Where I live is pretty isolated, so I’m not really up to date on what’s uber hip or don’t really have much interest if something is such. It won’t do me any favours. When I was younger and getting into music, I was listening to bands like Aerosmith and Van Halen. When I discovered “punk rock”, the main attraction for me was, not only was it exciting to listen to, but it was something anyone could do. You didn’t have to be super talented or particularly good at your instrument to play a show or put out a record. You just needed to be passionate and if you were dedicated enough, you could play as much and wherever you wanted to because of similar minded “punk rock” individuals. It was a blast and at other time, it wasn’t. I’m pretty sure this phenomenon has existed before I was born and now with the internet being such a popular tool, it will continue to do so for a long, long time. For some, the DIY spirit is a way of life or a way of belonging to something. For other I think it’s a springboard for bigger things, especially since the 90′s, when that well-known “punk” band made it big. For Lovvers, doing things for yourself meant we only relied on ourselves and if you can’t rely on yourself, you aren’t gonna get much done. It wasn’t an aesthetic, but what we felt comfortable with and what worked best. But when that became uber hip? I wouldn’t know.
Todd: One of the first things we noticed about your work with Virals was a slightly different production approach. Did you make a conscious decision to bring your vocals up in the mix?
Shaun: Other than our EP & LP, every Lovvers recording session was done in one day and mixed on the second. It was in and out and not much time for lingering decisions. I decided that it was pretty nuts that having spent so long playing in bands and putting out records, I haven’t really spent much time in a studio trying to make songs work on a recording level. I think that’s probably quite important, as most people hear bands or songs mainly on records or now when streaming via the internet. I was always about playing “the” show.
When you play in a band and everyone contributes, you have to take on board people’s ideas. That’s why it’s a band. The only really serious amount of time we spent in a studio was recording our full-length. This is the record where everyone said, “Why didn’t you turn the vocals up?”. I think every review said it. The label said it. We didn’t make any conscious decision to not turn them up. It had never occurred to us that they were too low. There was never a conversation. I just remember, we were really stoked that we were in a proper studio with an awesome engineer. So it was pretty soul destroying when all people talked about was the vocal level. Especially when your the vocalist in that band. You kind of feel (like) you ruined it for everyone; your bandmates and the listener. We were just trying to capture what we were about as a band at that point in time. It was a shame that it went over most people’s heads. For better or worse, I still felt we did the best job we could have done as a band.
With Virals, the initial idea was to record a bunch of songs I’d been writing on my own. Not necessarily for me to perform or sing. I just wanted to try something different and was keen to learn how a studio works. After making some pretty low quality demos a friend of a friend offered to “make them sound good”, so I gave it a shot. We aren’t really on the same page musically, but we had enough in common for it to work out. He handles all the production and I write the songs. After about a year of recording lost of songs/music, we figured you can’t finish a song or play it to someone else without vocals. These songs needed a voice. So I put my embarrassment aside and gave it a go. It was hard going, but I convinced myself that nobody would really hear it anyway. After a lot of effort, I got it to a point where I was happy and was surprised that people I played it to, didn’t really five me much of a hard time. So I’m moving forward with a bit more confidence. I’m a default singer.
Todd: How has your approach to songwriting evolved over the years? For these recordings that you’ve done without a full band, what do you generally start with as an initial track: guitar, vocals, drums…?
Shaun: When using a computer or any recording device, if you record a song on guitar to a click track, you can pretty much build a whole song around it. Or, if you have a friend who can play drums, you can get him to lay down drums to your guitar and then keep adding layer after layer, til you think your Brian Wilson and you sound like the Beach Boys. It’s pretty addictive and neat.
The main change in my approach to songwriting, is sitting down and just trying to write a tune. Not something that sounds like a certain band I’m listening to. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point. If people think it sounds like other bands, that’s fine, but I’m not trying to ape a certain band and if I am, it’s probably not the band you think it might be.
Todd: How’d you decide to release music on Zoo? Did you know Brandon or Dee Dee?
Shaun: Well, they decided, which builds confidence. I played two shows with Crocodiles in the summer and they just asked after the show, if I wanted to do a record. I’d met Brandon a few years ago but I don’t think he remembered me and I don’t remember our conversation. I mainly remembered his mate Charlie’s football tattoo. But, both Dee Dee and Brandon have been really awesome. The process has been really cool. I’ve never actually put a record out on an American label before, so it’s great to finally do that. I also don’t think I could have met two nicer or more genuine people.
Todd: We’re pretty excited that we’ll get an opportunity to see you at SXSW. What did you learn from your last experience there, that might change your approach this time? (obviously, this interview was done prior to SXSW!)
Shaun: I really love Austin and have been back a few times outside of SXSW. I think I probably won’t try and play fourteen shows this time. I’ll definitely make some time to go swimming. I’ll definitely go to Whole Foods. I’ll probably hire a car and drive an hour to eat the best BBQ I’ve ever eaten. I probably won’t drink Five Sailor Jerry’s and Cream Soda’s before we play and then chuck it up doe to the shear amount of sugar in my belly.
Todd: Any plans for a full-length album in 2013?
Shaun: I have just finished another batch of songs, so probably another single or EP. I like putting out a few songs at a time. But, I’m not ruling out an LP, so keep an eye out, I guess.
Check out our interview with Shaun’s old band Lovvers while you watch this video from the band.
For more information on Virals, follow them on Facebook.