The avant-garde artist follows their new album Queen of Golden Dogs with a mix of chamber music, choral recordings, and experimental electronics
Vessel first emerged as part of Young Echo, a Bristol collective exploring sounds from the outer edges of dubstep, post-punk, and experimental music, in the early 2010s. But it was in 2012 that Vessel really stepped out and introduced themselves as a producer and artist in their own right with debut album Order of Noise. Released via Tri Angle Records, the avant-garde record label who’ve previously worked with artists like Forest Swords, Evian Christ, and Björk, Order of Noise showcased Vessel’s dark, dubby, grainy take on club music. Two years later, they took something of a left turn with their follow-up album, Punish, Honey, an incredible if unusual album that took an oddly Neolithic approach towards electronic music, with Vessel constructing rudimentary instruments to help create its distinctive sound.
Vessel produced their latest album, Queen of Golden Dogs, over an 18-month period following a move from Bristol to rural Wales, and it’s another unexpected step in their uncategorisable career. Chamber music is the album’s most audible influence – there are strings and choral voices all across the record – but none of it’s really put together in a straightforward way, at all. Instruments careen around one another, rhythms clatter, and just when you think you’ve got something sussed out, the whole thing turns into a trance record. It’s an intense trip, and one that’s genuinely unlike anything else released this year. Vessel cites a range of influences for the album, few of them musical: there are composers like Leos Janacek and Don Carlo Gesualdo, sure, but also the painter Remedios Varo, and writers like Maggie Nelson, John Ruskin, and John Milton.
Following the album’s release, and ahead of a show at London’s Kings Place with Manchester Collective, Vessel put together our latest Dazed Mix, described as “a pile-up of pieces that mean a lot to me, for various reasons”. The mix vacillates between genres, mixing up music from the likes of electronic artists like Arca and Powell with classical compositions. “I think it does a pretty good job of presenting music that inspired Queen of Golden Dogs, as well as music that I feel reaches for something similar,” Vessel adds. “Various shades of love, I guess.”
Listen to the mix below, and read more about the album in our short Q&A with the artist.
The album was developed while you spent some 18 months living in rural Wales. What was life like for you in the countryside?
Vessel: I was living by myself for a year-and-a-half in south west Wales. It was pretty isolated. It was certainly an isolating experience. I didn’t have a car, so was reliant on the local trains to travel. These often wouldn’t appear because a driver had overslept. On the plus side, at Christmas, there would be bands of sweating men singing beautiful hymns to to the whole carriage – two carriages if you were lucky.
Tell us about Queen of Golden Dogs, as a title.
Vessel: A mystical friend told me that products that have the words, ‘queen’, ‘gold’ and ‘dogs’ in the name sell more than any that don’t. At some point, I strung the words together. The image suggested an entire universe to me, a kind of blank canvas that I could throw up on to. I think that they – the queen – became my anima/animus.
“I snuck up on the part of myself that cares about commercial success and bludgeoned it with a violin” – Vessel
The album is quite a sonic departure from your previous work. How did you make the leap from Punish, Honey to this?
Vessel: I snuck up on the part of myself that cares about commercial success and bludgeoned it with a violin. Aside from working day in and out for a long time, I read a lot, I studied/listened to certain pieces over and over again, I copied, and basically made an awful lot of bad music. It wasn’t that I knew where I was leaping to, though, more that I knew where I didn’t want to be, musically speaking. I was trying to make something come alive, I wasn’t really trying to write music. More like a golem.
You’ve talked before about the artistic and literary reference points for the album – but what sort of music was going through your head while you were making it?
Vessel: “Sway” by Dean Martin. But really, I’ve been listening to very little for much of the last five years. It was a head-clearing exercise. At some point, I realised I had faded away from much of the music I used to identify with. When I started getting deeply into classical and chamber music, I let out a big sigh of relief, like, finally. This is the language I’ve been looking for.
Now that you’re a few albums in, have you found it easier to be productive?
Vessel: In dribs and drabs. Being comfortable with the tools does help make things easier, but I spend a lot of energy on dismantling habits and looking at new ways to approach music-making, which make things harder. My masochistic mantra is that it should never be easy, so I start to worry when it’s easy. I know that’s only true up to a point though, and that incredible work can be made without working yourself to the bone. But that’s never worked out for me.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Vessel: I read a lot, often for inspiration, but also to sift wisdom relating to the creative process. My studio is covered in post-it notes scribbled with the artistic equivalent of ‘think of the beach’ when you’re bench pressing in the gym. Here’s a good one from Antonin Artaud: “No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.” I’m not sure if I totally agree, but it sounds pretty hot.
“The joy of instrumental music is that you can put aside words and literal meaning and potentially go way beyond” – Vessel
What’s been the most difficult lesson you’ve learned since you first started releasing music?
Vessel: That it’s hard now to just make music without being asked to explain it, to give a ‘why’. Or maybe that’s always been the case, and I’m being romantic, or unrealistic? I find the idea of talking about what you’ve made redundant, though. It’s the obsession with order and understanding that I want to leave at the door when I make something. The joy of instrumental music is that you can put aside words and literal meaning and potentially go way beyond. Why would you then want to go and construct a sexed up press release, which is inevitably going to fall way short of the feelings that you were trying to get at, and more often than not will be misunderstood or misinterpreted anyway?
For example – does it really matter if I lived in Wales by myself? What if I was actually working in a W.H. Smith in Luton Airport? It feeds into an industry-friendly story to make people feel like the thing has value because it’s made authentic by experience, in some way.
What are you working on next?
Vessel: I’ve just finished a new piece for Somerset House, which I hope to release in the near future. I’m also working with violinist Rakhi Singh on preparing to tour our first collaboration together, as well as starting work on our second. And I’m going to be working with filmmaker and artist Anouk de Clercq on her new exhibition at Bozar in Brussels, which will open in February.
01. Vessel – “Torno-me Eles E Nau-eu (For Remedios)” / Gyorgy Kurtag – “12 Microludes For String Quartet”
02. J.S. Bach – “Fugue No.8 In D Sharp Minor”
03. Benjamin Britten – “Evening” (from This Way To The Tomb, performed by Ruby Hughes and Joseph Middleton)
04. Kink Gong – “Baozoo Khen” / Morton Feldman – “Legato” / Batbayar – “View Over The Kherelen River” / Graham Lambkin – “Divers” / György Kurtág – “12 Microludes For String Quartet” / Antonio Mairena – “Martinete Y Tona De Triana (La Cama No Me Consiente)” / Lili Boulanger – “Psaume 24, La Terre Appartient À L’éternel, For Tenor”
05. Vessel – “Zahir (For Eleanor)”
06. Asda – “Bones”
07. Jocy De Oliveira – “Estória II” / Roomful Of Teeth – “Partita For 8 Voices: No. 4. Passacaglia”
08. The Men’s Choir From The Dar Jnah In Muharraq – “Bahri (Extract)” / Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber – “Harmonia Artificiosa”
09. Lorenzo Senni – “Elegant And Never Tiring” / Rhos Male Voice Choir – “Ave Verum”
10. Micachu & Eliza McCarthy – “Riding Through Drinking Harpo Dine” / Powell – “Kis”
11. Ursula K. Le Guin – “Heron Dance”
12. Hohn Bence – “Alone/Suicide” / William Lawes – “Fantasia For 6 Viols”
13. Julias Eastman – “Feminine” / serpentwithfeet – “bless ur heart” / O$vmv$sm – “Ty” / Chaines – “Population”
14. Roomful Of Teeth – “4 Pieces: No. 2. Sarabande”
15. Scott Walker – “The War Is Over”
16. Glad Hands – “Been One Thing”
17. Arca – “Desafio”
Vessel plays London’s Kings Place with Manchester Collective and Daniel Elms on December 8