- Words Liam Cattermole
- Photography Naomi Ngoo
- Graphic Design Anna Gibson
VC Pines on musical manifestations, pre-recording rituals, and why a malted milk is the king of biscuits.
For many a music fan, gigs are a pastime to be enjoyed. Friends are made on the floors of sticky venues and bands fill the humid air with future memories. However, live music has become an increasingly precarious industry since the pandemic. On the one hand, the biggest names are filling stadiums and selling hundreds of thousands of tickets; on the other, independent artists constantly reschedule or postpone shows.
Before London-based VC Pines went solo, he was more used to life on the road than making music, fronting a five-piece that relished the possibilities that came from playing to the fractious crowds of England’s indie venues. “It’ll be nice to get back on the road and stay on the road” explains the purple-haired artist poignantly, alluding to forthcoming tour dates and festival slots.
Performance has always been a visceral part of VC Pines’ existence. Starting drama classes from a young age, real name Jack Mercer made headway locally on the pubbing circuit, before joining a band and eventually becoming the solo artist he is today. It may not be an extensive tour, but his forthcoming Lafayette show and countless festival slots will scratch an itch he’s unable to rid.
Released last week, “Dangling” is the singer-songwriter’s latest single. Free-falling through outbursts of loneliness and social anxiety, the track’s punctuated by Pines’ charmingly truthful lyricism. Tied together by his vocal idiosyncrasies, it touches many cornerstones of the 28-year-old’s influences, from sonorous electronica to poetically delivered punk. A whirlpool of emotion, the tune is more calculated than previous tracks, allowing him to tell his story more expansively than ever before.
Sitting down in our studio, VC Pines navigates the conversation with a restless passion for his music. Fondly relaying vignettes of his journey, the artist seems ready for what the world is about to give him. Despite more music coming out this year, sets at Boardmasters and Secret Garden Party, and a following growing in fanaticism, he’s simply enjoying the journey. We caught up with the blossoming musician to discuss everything from robotic shades to rite of passages, and Mortlake to malted milks.
How are you feeling about releasing your new single, “Dangling”, to the world?
It’s the song that I made most recently, I felt like taking time out of the studio to soak some more things up, but then I had a session with HOOST before Christmas, and I knew it was a keeper. Because it’s my latest work, it feels like the song that’s most ‘me’, so I’m very comfortable with it.
Do you think that it sounds slightly different to previous releases?
I think there’s a bit more confidence in it, because I felt that I could be more creative. This was a studio session where we went in to see what would happen; it wasn’t a session with a clear intention.
As we’re talking about the studio, do you have any pre-recording rituals to help you perform at your very best during a session?
I like to always turn up prepared and with a solid idea of what I want to work on. Whatever I wear that day will determine what I make, so there’s definitely a build-up to the session. I basically live on public transport, so I’m always writing and what I write when travelling to the studio tends to be what I want to say that day.
I’d read previously about your dressing habits and how these transfer into what you make in the studio. So, with the first look you’re pulling on today, what would come out in the session?
So, say it’s the blue fluffy jacket and those robotic-looking shades, I like working with contrasts. I reckon I’d make something electronic, with more programmed drums and a drum machine, but juxtaposed to something soft and fluffy sounding.
And how about the mohair jumper?
I’d see the mohair as more classic, so I’d probably do something on a piano. When I write a song, I like to start with just a guitar or piano, to get the structure and then begin the lyrics and melodies.
For the shoot today, you’ve dyed your hair purple, and you’ve coloured your hair in many ways previously. As a seasoned dyer, what’s your favourite colour to go for?
VC Pines stands for Violet Colour Pines. Synaesthesia is a symptom of my epilepsy, so when I’m working on a track, different sections might be different colours. The sounds that are generally my favourite or that I’m most confident in often have a purple-y hue. So, I’m going to go with violet today.
Growing up, a big influence of yours was northern soul and punk music, which came from your dad’s tastes. When you were old enough to home in on your own inspirations, what music were you listening to?
The first album that I found myself was Outkast’s ‘The Love Below’. I was listening to these tunes, not knowing what they were about but I listened to it from front to back. I think that if it came out yesterday, it would still feel as current today.
You’re playing a host of festivals this summer, including Boardmasters and Secret Garden Party. As a punter or a player, what’s your greatest festival memory?
Probably playing Reading and Leeds, just before lockdown. That was a proper moment because going to those festivals is a real rite of passage; everyone goes when they’re 15/16. So, to play them was wicked.
It sounds like performance is important to you, which leads to your forthcoming headline show at Lafayette. What can fans expect from this?
There’s going to be loads of new music. It’s our biggest headline to date, so we’ve got a fuck load of tickets to shift.
What does performing give you that being on record simply cannot?
I got into music because I wanted to perform it. As a kid, I always used to do a drama club, and when I got into music, I would learn because I wanted to play for people. That itch grew when I was younger and started to play in local pubs and then eventually in a band. We were constantly touring and gigging; we were gigging more than making music. It’s completely flipped now. It’ll be nice to get back on the road and stay on the road.
And so, you’re from south west London?
Yes, from a place called Mortlake, which no one has ever heard of.
If you were a tour guide of Mortlake for the day, where would you take people?
Well, Mortlake stands for ‘Deadlake’, so there’s nothing bar two massive cemeteries. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out in Mortlake other than to the Jolly Gardner, which is a mental pub: a proper boozer with some characters.
What are you generally manifesting for 2023, beyond the music? What else would you like to achieve?
I’d like to move out of Mortlake. I should be moving to Crystal Palace soon! I’m so focused on the music really; I can tick this year off if the shows sell out and people dig the music.
Has there ever been a moment in your life when you’ve been star-struck?
I bumped into Terry Gilliam once, who’s a writer for Monty Python. I was like “I love your work” and he replied “Thanks man” before strutting off into the shadows. I love Monty Python.
To wrap up, what’s VC Pines’ favourite biscuit?
That’s a tricky one. I think I’ll go with a malted milk. It’s a classic! You can really take your time with this biscuit, it’s a good dipper and it reminds me of my childhood a lot. It’s a nostalgic biscuit.