The swirling noise and confident swagger of THE VRYLL SOCIETY feels like part of the furniture, with the band having been an integral part of Liverpool’s live circuit for some four years. Rarely does a gig from the five-piece go by without a barrage of positive reviews, and the group’s fanbase is growing beyond the boundaries of the city. It’s been a steady build and, with their first full-length LP due this summer, it’s difficult to recall a more highly-anticipated debut album.
Course Of The Satellite is the most summery album you’ll hear this year and its achingly retro cover alone is enough to cause tremors in the most hardened of musos’ hearts. The trippy world of dream-like geometric patterns may conjure up an essence of prog – and comparisons to Floyd, the Stones and early Verve are rife – but the band are very much in the here and now. The music has been described as many things, but shining out from its soul at all times is a ray of pure psychedelia, made all the more palatable by tight arrangements and sweet vocals from Ian Brown-alike frontman Mike Ellis.
The album follows on the heels of a string of wildly satisfying singles, which have been unspooling into ever more proggy territory since 2015’s Pangea EP; the recent Self Realization/La Jetee double A-side in 2016, followed by last year’s taster singles Shadow Of A Wave and Sacred Flight. Course Of The Satellite is a seamless progression from this, and finds the band pushing forward into uncharted territories, while retaining the sound that has built their following so far.
Guitarist Ryan Ellis is very much the ideas man at the heart of the band. Together with drummer Ben Robinson, he joins us to discuss the four-year gestation period of Course Of The Satellite, which Ben admits “came out much better than we thought… When we go to the studio it’s all under the microscope. In the practice room you can’t hear certain things, but in the studio you can hear everything and it’s all ironed out perfectly.”
The band are clearly pleased with the album and are eager to talk about it. Like many Liverpool musicians, they are young and hugely grateful with the way fate has led them to this point. Throughout the course of the morning it’s refreshing to share in the laughter and pick up on their enjoyment of simply being in a great band. Still, I ask them if the four-year wait for an album was part of any kind of master plan or them dragging their heels.
“Halfy-half,” admits Ryan. “We stayed in the practice room for a while making sure everything was perfect before we went out touring. Then we had to just wait for some money to come in so we could actually go and do the album.”
“We toured too much,” adds Ben, with a certain frankness. “Too many gigs, too close together. After a couple of years of doing loads of festivals we kind of stopped for a bit to focus on planning the album. Three or four of the songs on the album were only written two months or so before we went into the studio. We knew what we needed for the album and if we didn’t have it then we needed to write it.”
The Vryll live experience is much more visceral than the album sounds, with a certain amount of control exercised on the recorded material. I ask if this is a conscious decision – or even something they notice?
“When we play live we don’t want to just sound like any other band playing, y’know?” explains Ben. “We want to sound amazing and as good as we possibly can, so we’ve tightened it up a lot and introduced some new sounds.”
It has been well documented that the band were founded and nurtured by the much-missed Alan Wills for his now iconic Deltasonic label, but this is a vital part of the Vrylls’story. The label’s stable of great bands (including The Coral, The Zutons, Hidden Charms and now Psycho Comedy) are all vital to Liverpool’s musical geography, and The Vryll Society are an integral part of that picture. The band were a major component in Alan’s future plans, and their success feeds from his legacy.
“It’s a very big deal for us to be on that label,” Ben tells me. “Alan was there for us from the start, he came to our praccy room when we were rubbish, he came down and said, ‘You need to do this and that’. His take was, ‘If you want to do this – do as I say and if you don’t then don’t’. We were just like, ‘Fucking hell!’ cos he was so harsh, but it was so worth it.”
“In the end you just think it’s hilarious, how harsh some of the stuff he’d say was,” agrees Ryan, to which Ben adds: “He didn’t give a fuck – he said what he thought and that was it. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t like it. But the thing was, he’d proved himself, he was able to have that cockiness. Now as Ann [Heston, Alan’s partner] has taken over, she’s helping so much, doing so much work for us; they’re both so important to us.”
Intrigued by how far they’ve come since first being taken on as Wills’ last protégés, I ask if they think Alan would be satisfied with the album all these years on.
“Yeh, I reckon he would,” says Ryan.
“He’d probably still be finding things to improve,” Ben adds, a smile starting to creep across his face. “He’d be prowling round the studio going, ‘Get rid of it’ and we’d be going, ‘We don’t know what it is!’ [laughs].”
Joining in the joke, Ryan mimics a Wills saying: “‘What’s that frequency there?!’”
“The thing is, we’ve done everything he told us to do, so I’m sure he’d be happy,”Ben says, and the catch in his voice speaks volumes about the reverence they still have for their old mentor.
Since their early outings, originally as Dirty Rivers, The Vryll Society have seen a lot come and go in the city’s music scene – and they’re also keenly aware of what’s gone before them. Now that they’re part of the high watermark for guitar music in the city, I wonder if they’re at all daunted by the weight of history.
“It’s not a competition is it?” Ben replies. “We’re doing our own thing and those bands were doing their own thing, so it’s all good. We don’t try to maintain a Liverpool sound; all our main influences are American and German, like Kraftwerk and Can, so we don’t take too much inspiration from other Liverpool bands, not purposefully. But, coming from here you’re always going to have a certain swagger.”
The artwork for Course Of The Satellite, by Jack Hardwick, points to another of the band’s many strings, that of a strong visual aesthetic. It’s a clear reflection of the music inside and I ask the band how the imagery came about. Ryan whips out his phone to show me images by Victor Vasarely, the Hungarian-French op artist who has been their main influence. “It’s incredible how these Technicolor psychedelic images are from the 1930s,”he says.
The album cover is a continuation of themes introduced on the sleeve of their Andrei Rublev single which appears to be a mix of Dali and the Red Room in Twin Peaks. Film influences also loom large in The Vryll Society’s world. I ask if they’re happy to be connected to the world of prog that the sleeves reflect, and find them quite defensive of the genre.
“No, no, we’re into all that stuff,” asserts Ryan. “Some of it’s really good anyway, so it doesn’t matter that much, as long as it looks good.”
In the past the group have released songs titled Metropolis and La Jetee, which points to the fact that classic European cinema is also an influence on them. Course Of The Satellite continues that thread with lead-off single Andrei Rublev, a reference to a 1966 Soviet drama that was loosely based on the life of a 15th-century Russian painter of Orthodox icons. It conjures the image of their practice room as some arthouse cinema, lit by the flickering light of film noir projections. Is that the case?
“That’s Mike. We dabble in it, but he loves his old films,” clarifies Ben, which Ryan expands upon: “If I’m watching a film and I hear some good sounds, then I’ll take a bit of it; but Mike writes about the films in his own way, he knows what’s going on. He puts the stories into his own words.”
In a previous interview with this publication, frontman Mike elaborated on these influences in his own way, giving more of a background on where his lyrical dexterity takes the band: “It’s easier for me to write abstract, instinctual stuff inspired by movies and other things – bits of jazz that I hear. I like soundtracks, really patient pieces of music with a feeling that the story is beneath them.”
“It’s more than just listening to the music,” Ben says, when asked about how all of these elements contribute to a direction the band is heading in. “We want to make our shows more than just going to a gig, more of an experience. We’ll be going on tour in October, too, putting on a show for the album. We’ll be getting this thing built for the back of the stage, it will be completely unique to us, no-one else will have one, it’s never been done before. It’s going to be quite 3D.”
Throughout our conversation, the band naturally dip back into their influences, namechecking Air and Pink Floyd alongside wig-out stuff from the Disco Halal label, and even “electronic dance and weird Norwegian shit.” Theirs is an outlook that is constantly evolving and open to new ideas, and it bodes well that this album hasn’t been rushed from the first thing they settled on. It’s indicative of another trait they’ve learnt from Alan Wills: that you don’t rush things until all the pieces are in place.
“Each time we go into the studio we find out what works and what doesn’t work, and we keep what works,” says Ben. “You can’t just stick with the same sound forever.”
Course Of The Satellite is released on 10th August via Deltasonic Records, with a listening party at Jacaranda Records Phase One on 3rd August.