Interview + Photos: Van She

All Photography By Nate Cover

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to interview keyboardist Michael Di Francesco of Sydney synth-poppers Van She before their headlining show at the Oxford Art Factory for the launch of a new line of Logitech UE audio products, which included headphones, earbuds, mobile speakers, and a smart radio. Anyway, before going onstage, we were able to discuss the music industry, electronic music, and how their hit song “Jamaica” is not really about Jamaica.

First off, for anyone who doesn’t know your music, how would you describe Van She’s sound?

I suppose a fusion between electronic and kind of live dance… electronic pop, I suppose?

What is all of your musical backgrounds, and how did Van She begin as a band?

Well, we were all making music and playing in bands independently. We all met at a regular club night that they used to have on William Street. We all knew the same kind of people, and we all just got together and realized we all liked the same kind of music and decided that maybe we should get together and start playing music. It wasn’t really – I mean, I kind of came right at the end of all of that, though I knew all the guys and have known Nick for years prior to that – but yeah, we all do other stuff and have been playing with other people. We’re just really lucky: we got an opportunity to play at this club – the club that we met at – and it was pretty much our first gig. The guys from Modular came and saw us and were like ah I wanna do something with you guys. And then we made a record. It kind of happened really quickly.

So what kind of music did you guys play in your previous bands?

Just like early dance music and house. Nothing that was commercially successful. We just all had a common love and shared a common interest in the same kind of music.

And what’s your creative process like when it comes to writing music?

It depends: every song is different. Like, some songs start as an idea on someone’s iPhone. Some songs may start as an idea in a computer. Some songs may start in the computer and never leave the computer. Some songs may start as all of us together. Every song’s different. No two songs are made the same.

Are there any up-and-comers you think we should be looking out for?

Yeah, probably Flume, but he’s not really an up-and-comer anymore, as he’s actually number one today. He’s a friend of ours. I like RUFUS. Lots of other things.

Who are your main influences – both you personally, and collectively as a band?

Me personally, I’m not really into a specific – well, don’t get me wrong, I do love specific bands, but I’m more kind of into hearing something, and it doesn’t matter whose record it is or where it’s from. I might just like the way certain notes are put together or the feel. That’s kind of what inspires me. I don’t really look to one person or to one band or to one genre: I could hear a country song and hear chords and the way it’s put together and really like it. I’m more influenced by the combinations of those things, you know, notes and rhythms, as opposed to bands themselves.

Between you guys and the rest of Modular Records (Cut Copy, The Presets, etc.), Australia seems pretty conducive to synth-pop. Why do you think that is, and what do you love about the Sydney music scene in general?

I think that even from the late 70’s through the 80’s, Australia had a pretty strong scene as far as bands go, and that period in time was when synthesizers and that style of music were coming quite mainstream, and we had a really good scene at the time with a lot of the bands that were really famous and popular internationally. So I think that whole Australian synth thing has always been there – or at least has been there for the past thirty years. The only difference is that now what you make here at the local pub is different than what you’d hear fifteen or twenty years ago. I think that style of music’s kind of – or, pop music’s always looked to the underground for inspiration, and I think that’s finally where that sound has become really mainstream. Maybe it’s time for a backlash where dance music will be forced back underground and something revolutionary will happen again. If you listen to what’s on the radio – what’s a dance track now when the pop music is just really bad dance music. What does the dance track become? What’s being played in the clubs? Because what’s being reported as being played in the clubs is an inaccurate interpretation of what’s actually being played there anyways. I suppose the internet is probably the gauge of what people are really looking up, because sales can be anybody’s guess.

On a similar note, it seems like along with your live shows, you guys also dabble in DJing and remixing. How do the two compare?

I like the remixing because you can take someone’s melody or someone’s basic song structure and completely reharmonize it and put something new underneath it. But then after a while you can apply the certain things that you learn and develop whilst doing your own thing, and that’s the thing – after a while when you’re doing lots of remixes, you’re pretty much writing new tracks underneath someone else’s melody anyways, so it’s kind of you may as well have written a whole bunch of new tracks. I think remixing these days is very different to what it was twenty, twenty-five years ago, as twenty-five years ago it would be taking someone else’s song and putting a new beat, and maybe editing it. And now, like, people are doing edits – DJs have been doing edits for thirty years – but ten years ago when someone did an edit it was called a track: a classic example of that would be sampling someone else’s track. But now when you’re sampling someone else’s track it’s called an edit – not a track. So the whole remixing thing, I dunno, I’m not sure whether or not that stuff’s gonna change. Maybe when you remix someone else’s track and you do a completely new musical bit then you should be entitled to publish it.

And what kind of tracks do you play at your DJ sets?

It depends where we get to perform. If we’re playing in a club we usually play club music, but if we play at a party, and it’s not really banging, and the DJ before us is playing indie pop, then we won’t play techno. We just kind of judge what’s going on.

You guys obviously put out a new album recently. How do you guys feel like you’ve grown between your debut and your new album, Idea Of Happiness?

I think from doing the remixes and working with the people that we’ve worked with, we learned a lot about being in the studio and how to achieve the results we want. With the new record we thought we want to do this, let’s limit ourselves to these specific sounds and this specific vibe, as opposed to when we made the first record where everything was kind of all over the place. Maybe it was a little bit schizophrenic: maybe we were a band that didn’t quite know yet what we wanted to be, and because there were a lot of remixes going on at the same time, it was a little bit do we want to be this or do we want to be that. It was kind of, maybe to ourselves, proving that we can do these different things. Whereas I think the new record is a lot more cohesive and a lot more focused. And we’re older.

For the past couple of years especially it seems as though there’s been a lot of controversy as to where the music industry is going. What are your thoughts on the music industry this day and age?

It’s weird, whenever we DJ, and I have a USB stick with all of my songs on it I lose it all the time and don’t care, because it means nothing to me anymore, because they’re just mp3s. Like, whereas if it was a bag full of records and I lost a bag full of records, I’d be really upset. That’s not to say that people aren’t making things that are tangible: you can still make a record and get a CD or get an LP, but to most people – particularly to young people – music is something that you get for free, like you’re entitled to it. I think until the system kind of changes and gets figured out and picks up all the things that it used to have that it’s lost – it depends on how you look at it: if you’re an older person, it’s quite upsetting. But if you’re young or you’re kind of seeing the transition, maybe it’s exciting. I think we live in a pretty exciting time. Once it sorts itself out it’ll be cool.

Where exactly did the name Van She come from?

Matt’s last name is Van Schie, and Van means from, so we changed it to She, like from woman: everyone’s from her.

Do you guys have a favorite city or a favorite venue to play in?

I think when we were in London, Koko was pretty good.

Your song “Jamaica” seems to be a pretty big hit right now. Where did the inspiration for that song come from? What’s kind of the back story?

Nick’s mom was living on a boat in Panama or something like that, and he went to visit her… It depends: to everybody it’s about something different. It’s kind of about that, and it’s kind of also about escapism, because our studio’s underground without much natural light, so it’s about being somewhere sunny. But see, the song wasn’t about Jamaica in particular until we went to Jamaica and did a film clip about it, so it’s a bit confusing. It’s just about a place where you’d maybe want to go that’s sunny. It’s got really nothing to do with Jamaica.