Alt-rock outfit Vukovi are riding high on a wave of inspiration at the moment. Having just taken a risk in releasing arguably their most widely accessible single to date – ‘Animal’ – Vukovi could be one of rock’s bigger success stories of 2016.
We caught up with vocalist Janine Shilstone to discuss their recent release, the band’s approach to writing, their place in music and – most importantly – body paint.
VH: So we’ll start at the beginning, which is usually a pretty good idea. How did Vukovi come about?
JS: “Well, the boys formed the band with a male singer originally, but it wasn’t really working out for them. So they got in touch with me after a few debates of whether they wanted to go with a girl vocalist instead. The boys deciding that actually fell at the perfect time, because two weeks beforehand I’d joined another band who soon after chucked me out because I was a girl.
“In a lot of ways, that band removing me was one of the best things that could have happened. From the moment I stepped into Vukovi, everything just felt right and made a lot more sense. I don’t want to say it was instant chemistry or something cheesy like that, but it totally was.”
You mentioned something interesting there about the other band kicking you out for being a girl. Have you ever encountered any other issues with being a female in a rock band?
“I’ve not really ran into any issues, but one thing that does annoy me is the use of it as a category. People will be describing us as being “one of the best female-fronted rock bands in Scotland”, or something along those lines. It annoys me. No! We’re a rock band. You can’t just compare us to female-fronted bands, we should be compared to every band!
“I get why people do that, because it’s something a bit different so they make a point of it. But it’s pointless pigeonholing. Surely we can be compared to every band, not just the female ones. It’s a weird way of categorising girls in bands as being a bit outsiderish, when I don’t consider it to be.
“But I’ve been lucky being a girl in a band. I’ve always been treated with the same respect as the other band members, but I know that I am one of the lucky ones.”
What is the songwriting process like for you as a band?
“We usually come up with something, often guitar riffs first, and the boys will jam it out together and get something solid. Then they lay that down on GarageBand, send it to me and I’ll write some melodies and lyrics to it.
“I also try to tweak the structure to make sure that the song doesn’t come out a bit like a guitar wank-a-thon. I think a lot of new rock bands put tracks together but seem to forget that it also has to be enjoyable and listenable to fans. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think it’s easy for instrumentalists to get really into their parts. Sometimes you just need a singer to structure it and bring the song out of the music.
“Weirdly, our recent single ‘Animal’ was done completely backwards. I wrote it in GarageBand and sent that across to the boys, so it was a bit different. Actually, the original version I put together was quite electro-poppy and didn’t have anywhere near as much attitude or power behind it. It took the boys working on it to really make it Vukovi.”
That’s a surprisingly unusual approach to songwriting. What made you choose the long-distance digital way of doing things instead of just jamming in a studio to get everything sorted?
“Turning up to the studio to write doesn’t work for us. We’re quite an efficient band and each of us like to have an idea of what we’re doing there. Otherwise we turn up and just spend a rehearsal session just talking about cats or something!”
So you’ve just dropped the video for your latest single ‘Animals’. It’s pretty interesting – where did all the ideas come from?
“I think the general video idea was from Hamish (guitar). He edits most of our videos, and he had this idea for a “spinny” camera. Because we’re still on quite a small budget, the guy who filmed the video got his dad to make a makeshift one with a fishbowl.
“The body paint was mostly to transform ourselves. We’re big fans of Limp Bizkit, so Wes Borland was a big inspiration in our decision. Really a lot of it was just to make this video as interesting for our fans to watch as possible, so we got my friend – a makeup artist – to help us become a little bit demonic.”
How long did it take?
“We booked a six-hour slot in a good studio space in Glasgow and we could not run over, so we had to get right into it and make everything perfect. It was stressful, but we managed it all in six-hours. It doesn’t seem like it, but we’re quite happy with that!”
How much body paint was actually used?
“A lot – though maybe not as much as you’d imagine. My friend got us some professional body paint, like the stuff they use on movies, and it actually went a long way. The only issue was she had to keep topping us up because of sweating in recording and that kind of stuff.
“I felt quite bad to the guy who owns the studios though. He has to paint after every filming session, and because of our body paint leaving black speckles everywhere he had to put a lot more coats on than usual!”
The video itself certainly makes you stand out as an interesting act to watch, but what would you say musically makes Vukovi different?
“That we’re fun. Heavy, but fun. To me it’s us having this Rage Against The Machine heaviness and intensity, but with a Florence and The Machine pop kind of vocal on top.”
So what’s next for Vukovi?
An album. We’ve done demos and written a load of songs which we’ve now got the nightmare task of choosing from. We’ll probably put a few more new songs on it and then work on recording it. We wanted to record it ASAP and put it out, but we all keep getting opportunities crop up that mean we’ve had to push it back a little bit. But that’s the next step for us – getting the album recorded. Then it’s just a matter of releasing it and taking things from there.”
‘Animal’ is out now on LAB Records. You can download the track here and check out the video below.