“We’re so glad we didn’t release an album a few years ago because it would have been a disaster,” admits Vukovi vocalist Janine Shilstone, as one of Britain’s hottest new rock talents opens up to Already Heard about the imminent release of her band’s debut full length. “We didn’t want to rush because you can only ever release one debut album. It’s all feeling a bit surreal now”, she confesses as the nerves about public reception to the album reach their peak.
After years honing their sound on the musical hotbed of the West Scotland scene, Shilstone believes the wait was needed, both to surround themselves with the necessary people, and to realise their own expectations. She explains, “It took a long time to get the right team around us and it really feels like the right time. For myself, I put too much pressure on us and my expectations get too high. Not because I think it’s so good, but because I don’t want to be disappointed. I think it’s hard not to over expect what this year can do for us.
“We’d never done an album before and we weren’t sure how we would know it was sounding good. We wanted it to have a theme running through it and we wanted it to be of a high standard,” she continues, adding “I do feel it is a true representation of how we’ve progressed as a band and I really feel like – and this is going to sound really cliché – but we’ve all found ourselves musically and what we want ourselves to sound like.”
This confidence and conviction in their sound has resulted in an album that is as diverse and unique in scope and tone as the band could have hoped, as Vukovi focused purely on pleasing their own tastes and style – something which Shilstone again believes is down to recording a debut LP at just the right time. “I feel like the album is very unapologetic; in the past we might have felt we shouldn’t try something because it was too wacky or folk might not like it. Now we’re like fuck that, we’re doing what we want to do.”
Between a record label that gave the band an unexpected amount of creative freedom to achieve the record they wanted in LAB Recordings, and a producer they trusted implicitly the pieces were in place for the creation of something special. “LAB have been so good. The guy who recorded us Bruce (Rintoul, producer), couldn’t believe how much creative control they gave us. But we loved that. They just said do what you want. They weren’t like ‘right we want updates, we need you to send us stuff every week’ or anything,” Shilstone recalls. And she is glowing in acknowledging Rintoul’s contributions in the studio. “He was a massive part of this album. I feel like he brought it up to the next level. We were so relieved to work with him,” she states, highlighting his ability to be a calm and decisive guiding force.
“He was amazing. We did pre-production with him, which we’d never done before either. So we played him a shortlist of songs that we were going to have on the album, ones that we couldn’t decide on, and he went through them all like ‘yes, no, yes, no’. It was good to have someone to steer us in the right direction so confidently. If we’d had folk going ‘oh I don’t know, maybe this or maybe that’ we would have been there all day deciding. So it was nice to have someone with a bit of assertiveness.”
Shilstone feels that Rintoul was a major factor in her delivering the best performances she could with her vocals. Even if that meant being blunt and unflinchingly to the point in his feedback. “I honestly can’t talk him up enough. The first song we recorded was ‘And He Lost His Mind’, and he was like just go in and do a couple of takes. So I did a couple of takes and thought I was totally nailing it, that it was good. Bruce came through and was like ‘you’re nowhere near where I want you to be. This is crap.’ I said I totally thought I was nailing it and he went ‘No, turn it up a hundred times more.’”
Having someone to play the role of mentor and, when required, hard taskmaster was one that paid dividends throughout the recording. “He was giving me proper pep talks and pure psyched me up. After we’d done a song he’d play me the first three takes and then play me the last one and it was like night and day. I didn’t think I had that in me. I genuinely didn’t. And I don’t know if we had worked with someone else if they would have identified that. That’s the thing I love about Bruce, that he would say ‘no, you can do better than this. This is not you’. I’d tell him I couldn’t do any better. But I did. That was the amazing thing, that he would say to try and bring out my other characters and voices and just let loose. It made everything so much easier for me,” she remembers appreciatively.
As part of this process Shilstone found herself discovering new dimensions to herself and her vocal style, which only added further to the depth and impact of the lyrics she had written. “With ‘La Di Da’ and ‘Animal’, well with a lot of the songs on the album, they might sound very upbeat and fun, but lyrically they’re pretty dark. Bruce would say I’m almost like schizophrenic – I’ve not been medically diagnosed as that would be very serious, but singing wise,” she observes. “He said I have three different voices, like three different characters. The fun childlike one, the one that’s a strong ‘I don’t give a fuck’ kind of a character, and a very vulnerable side. I think that brought so many different angles and depths to it. I think as people listen to it more, the first listen they’ll maybe think ‘oh this is light-hearted and fun’, but then the more they listen to it they’ll see its actually really deep. There’s a lot of layers to it.”
’La Di Da’ is one of the most lyrically intense tracks on the record, and one Shilstone found to be a beneficial outlet to vent some personal frustrations. ”When my friends and people who are close to me listened to it they said they knew what it was about. They picked it to pieces and were like ‘aye you sang that about this person or about that time’. Definitely it was about me having a bit of a shit time, and it wasn’t relationship wise for me, it was other people around me that had affected me. Honestly, this anger was like fizzing up inside of me and I had to get it out. And it worked, it definitely worked,” she observes.
Proud though the band are of their roots in the West Coast and Glasgow scene, Shilstone isn’t afraid to address the distinct shortage of other bands featuring female musicians emerging from it. “It is all male bands, and I’m friends with a lot of them and think they’re amazing. And there is a massive amount of mutual respect”, she begins to explain. Adding “to be fair there aren’t a lot of girl-fronted bands in our area, there are some, but it is definitely harder to go to that next level, to be taken seriously. Which is sad.”
Through force of will and personality, Shilstone and her band have pulled themselves above the adversity, persevering where others may have been put off by lazy comparisons and a lack of opportunities. ”It might be that some girls in bands just find it too hard not to take the Paramore comments to heart, or see things happening as fast as they would like. I’d love to know why it is very male orientated. Especially in Glasgow. Don’t get me wrong it’s probably the same everywhere,” she muses.
Natural though it may seem for some writers to instantly compare any form of heavy rock with a strong female to one of the biggest bands on the planet, the frustration that causes bands on the receiving end is evident. ”That’s what’s wrong with female-fronted bands. That other people can only think that one female-fronted band has ever existed in the whole world. It just shows how small minded and shallow the people who say that are. There was a point when it was constant and you begin to think ‘fuck, are we just trying to be like Paramore?’ You start to question yourself. There’s been times we’ve been in conversations with people or journalists and said that we don’t sound like them, and they go ‘but you do really though, you’re being naïve if you don’t think that.’ I’d think ‘are we missing something here? Are we in denial?’ recalls an understandably irked Shilstone.
Not that she’s taken said comments or any other criticisms based on her gender to heart, remaining focused on her band’s long term goals and success. “I don’t give a fuck if anyone’s like ‘I don’t like her, they’re shit because she’s female’. I couldn’t give a shit about that. It’s honestly been a case of putting the blinkers on and being like fuck everyone else we need to keep focused on not letting anything around us distract us with negativity,” she states.
Vukovi have been fully aware of what it would take to achieve their goals for plenty of time, even making the decision early on to move away from their North Ayrshire homes as a group and move to where the band could start to realise their aspirations. “The scene is in Glasgow, and when we hadn’t even become a band and had no idea what the fuck we were doing, we knew that we needed to base ourselves there,” explains Shilstone.
“As much as there is a scene in Ayrshire, we wanted to set our sights higher. We knew we needed to be realistic and base ourselves in Glasgow. That’s where the proper venues are, there are rehearsal spaces and anyone that you want to hear you and listen to your band is mostly in Glasgow. We did make that conscious effort to base ourselves there because there was a better scene. Especially the rock scene,” she continues.
However, many doors the move opened for the band, moving to a city with such a well-defined and established music scene wasn’t without its potential pitfalls. “Up here it’s easy to fall into almost a clique and a scene. And if you do that, you struggle to be successful without that clique or group. It was a conscious decision we made a few years ago to be like we can’t fall into that trap or clique. Where you all just play with each other all the time, and just play in Glasgow to please one small section of a fan base.”
Consequently, the band weren’t afraid of setting their sights further afield of their Scottish roots. “We’ll always be proud to be from Scotland” says Shilstone. “Thankfully, we had the right team who said we needed to broaden our horizons and start getting introduced into England and London and places like that.”
Part of this pride in the scene that produced them is how successful so many of their peers have become. “There are a lot of really, really good bands from the area of Scotland we’re from. Especially when you think about the size of the population of Scotland. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it,” she enthuses.
While Shilstone and her bandmates may have been nervous to find out how their debut would be received, the critical acclaim from press and fans alike has exceeded their expectations and laid to rest some of their fears. “You put your heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears into an album. A lot of time. And then you get bands where a good album gets totally slated. I would be destroyed, devastated, because you put so much of your life into it for people to turn around and go no this is crap. That has been a massive relief having the reception be so good so far. I’m so glad that people who have listened to it see what we see. I don’t mean like they think it’s amazing, I mean that they get our angle and our style”, she observes, the pride and satisfaction clear in her voice.
The release of their self-titled debut was just the beginning of what shaping up to be a whirlwind year for Shilstone and Vukovi, if you missed them on their recent UK tour they’re hitting the road again in May and June as well as preparing to be one of festival season’s most in demand acts.
‘Vukovi’ by Vukovi is out now on LAB Records.
Words by Dane Wright (@MrDaneWright)