Once described as the lovechild of Robert Smith and Boy George, the beard-afflicted, kohl-eyed songwriter James AJ Scott put The Vaulted Skies together in 2013 to satisfy his urge to bring peace to the galaxy through a fusion of edgy alternative rock and danceable electronica. Shot through with the dynamics of grunge and bouts of epic melancholia, the four-piece puts on a show designed to take audiences on an emotional corkscrew.
Featuring woollen-bespectacled lab-coat-attired Doktor Ben Singleton on a second guitar alongside Scott’s) the official line-up is completed by enigmatic bassist Karly Snarly, and a roster of superhuman drummers, such as Mat Hector (Iggy Pop, Grace Jones, Thomas Dolby), conjured forth from distant realms using incantations of questionable moral (and health & safety) standards.
The promoter of their first London performance at Brick Lane’s legendary 93 Feet East, reflected: “The crowd went wild for their set”… “A rocking, huge set – they sure know how to put on a show!”
Career highlights include supporting David Bowie and Cure guitarist Reeves Gabrels on his 2015 UK tour.
For fans of The Cure, Nirvana, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, PJ Harvey, Muse, New Order…
K: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard you?
J: I’d probably list influences because hopefully, they might have heard of one of those other bands. It’s not the most original way but…
K: It’s difficult to describe a genre.
J: It is yeah, cause if you say alternative rock then everyone could have a different idea of what that means. It’s quite a broad church. If you just say rock that’s even broader. So I’ll tend to say “Do you know The Cure? Do you know Nirvana? Well, it’s kind of like those two bands mashed together.” And in our biog we definitely reference PJ Harvey, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and New Order as well. The trouble is, sometimes people think that means you’re playing covers of those bands, when we take a lot of pride in the fact that the material is original. Though there is an ongoing joke that I spend half my time trying to sound like The Cure and the other half trying to sound less like The Cure.
K: You’re making a new album at the moment. Are you trying out any new styles or sounds?
J: Well, it’s not an album that we were planning. We were making another EP of four songs. But even that plan is kind of out of the window now, and we’ll release the four songs individually, I think. We had some advice that suggested two really good reasons to do it that way. Firstly, because radio [stations] might play one song from an EP and then forget about it; whereas if they’re receiving individual songs, then even if the first song doesn’t get picked up, you might get another shot with the next one. Secondly, because the gaps between our releases tend to be quite long otherwise. If we’re waiting for four songs to be perfect before we let anyone hear them, then as a band that still has to do other work to pay the bills, that can take a while. So, polishing one at a time and aiming to get something out every couple of months will help us remind people that we exist, and with more material out there, there’s more of a chance that we’ll connect with more people.
But to answer your question about styles and sounds, yes – the reason we chose these particular for songs for the new EP was because there’s a theme that runs through them, which in turn lends itself to being more diverse and extreme (stylistically) than previous releases. So, Versus Heart, which we put out a preview of on Christmas Eve, is probably the softest thing we’ve done in many respects. I don’t want to say “ballad”, but it’s close. The next three songs: one is almost pop, one is veering on metal and one is a big epic melancholy piece. Like The Falling Man, but ten times bigger.
K: What else is on the cards for 2019?
J: Well we’ve just got a new manager, who’s going to help us work that out. But so far, we’ve got a gig supporting The Faces of Sarah at the B52 Club in Belgium on 22nd February, then we’re doing a gig in London at Nambucca on 1st of March with The Secret Cameras. Hanwell Hootie on the 11th of May. A little independent festival on 13th July, and then the next night (14th) we’re supporting a Red Hot Chilli Peppers tribute act at MK11 at Milton Keynes.
K: Where does the band name come from?
J: It’s derivative of the last line from a poem called ‘I Am’, which was written by John Clare in the 1840s. He did a lot of stuff about the English countryside but he also suffered massively depression. ‘I Am’ is about a sense of alienation from the people around him and his inability to talk to god. He feels ignored by heaven and Earth, and in the last line, when he talks about the vaulted sky, I interpret that as feeling bound to the earth, when he wants to die. But if he kills himself he won’t get to heaven, because that’s considered a sin, so he’s trapped under the vaulted sky. I studied a lot of existentialism and nihilism when I was at college, which talks about the three interconnecting doors of religion, insanity and suicide, and how each prevents of encourages you to walk through the other. I was raised Catholic until about the age of 10, but I would consider myself of no religion now. I think Star Wars probably provided me with a better understanding of right and wrong than the Bible. The positive side of it, is about trying to see things as they really are so you can get to a better place with it. I think we live in a time when people look for distraction in the glitz of talent shows that to me, feel like they belong in a pre-punk 70’s. To me, that’s an expression of how without hope some people have become. And I think what we do as a band, despite some improving production values and subtler lyrics, is rooted in punk, and embraces post-punk, goth, new wave and grunge etc.. It’s about seeing the problem and tackling the ugly truth of it head on, so you can work through it and be happier than you would have been had you just remained in denial and stayed in watching The X Factor. So it’s about seeking and seeing beauty in darkness. Y’know if you really look at something ugly for long enough it becomes quite beautiful, just like your eyes adjust to the dark at night. It’s unpleasant at first, but then you see or appreciate things in a different way. There are times in life when things happen to you that you think are terrible, but then you eventually realise there’s a reason that thing happened, or you at lease learn something from it.
K: That’s a much better answer that I was expecting!
K: Where would your ultimate venue be to play and why?
J: It’s changing. For a long time I’d have said Glastonbury, but it seems to have lost something in recent years. Maybe the Royal Albert Hall, but it’s so uncomfortable that I’d probably feel bad for the audience and not enjoy it! Shepherds Bush Empire would be another one on the list; I’ve seen some amazing gigs there – Elliott Smith, PJ Harvey. Oh! I know! BRIXTON ACADEMY! I saw Warpaint there and I love the feeling of that venue. The best gig we’ve had in London so far was at 93 Feet East on Brick Lane. Everything was perfect in terms of the sound and the way the audience connected with the performance.
K: Who are your influences and who do you admire?
J: It’s mainly Barry Manilow and Elton John. Just kidding!
Well, as I mentioned earlier, The Cure, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Interpol. New Order, Joy Division, Savages, Warpaint. A lot of people think we sound like Placebo and some say Gary Numan. I think Ben would say Frank Zappa, David Bowie and Prince. Karly would probably mention people I’ve never heard of. She’s into hard rock stuff, and I’m not so familiar with that world.
K: What is your favourite song ever produced and why?
J: What by any band ever? Errr… Actually, if I pick a song based on its impact on me rather than the songcraft or production alone, then it’s am easier question to answer… So, I’m gonna pick ‘Burn’ by The Cure, because it was the song that led me to discover The Cure in the first place, and that’s the band that led me to decide to pursue music as something I wanted to do. I was watching The Crow when it came out at the cinema, with my friend Paul, and I just really liked that piece of music. I hadn’t really heard anything like it before. Paul was a bit older than me (I was 16/17 and he was more like 22) and he recognised it as The Cure and lent me the Mixed Up compilation. I absolutely loved it, and then bought Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and loved that that as well. Then Disintegration and so on… It was the first time I appreciated how words and music could be married with each other to create something greater than the sum of its parts. To enhance a message or to add constrasing perspectives. Lullaby – the words are ambiguous. It could just be about a big spider. It could be about addiction. It could be about obsession – a possessive relationship. It could be about any of those things. But the way that the bass line moves, it really makes you think about a big hairy spider and completely supports that allegory. If you look at the way your fingers move when you play that bassline it sorts of flits and fleets like a spider’s legs. And the plucked strings could be the threads of the web springing back into position as the spider moves across them. It’s really clever. It’s really been thought about as a whle package – either consciously or sub-consciously. Other songs have a more childlike approach to the same sort of idea, like The Caterpillar with the flickering of the butterfly wings and Jumping Someone Else’s Train with that chugga-chugga steam engine vibe… The Yeah Yeah Yeahs do something similar with the sound of the train tracks clanking away in a song called Subway.
I also learnt more and more about the way words and music could complement or contradict each other to change the implied meaning of the song. You can make music quite sarcastic if you want to, or entirely sincere. The same friend who gave me the Mixed Up album also gave me the Velvet Underground album, Andy Warhol, which has the song Heroin on it. It speeds up, and speeds up, and it’s supposed to be like that progression of someone taking a hit. I don’t know that any of these ideas have found their way into much of our music (I’ve got a collection of songs that use water and the ocean as metaphors for obsession and isolation) but they’re the ideas that inspired me anyway!
K: What’s your favourite song that you’ve made?
J: Does it have to be one that’s available as a recording?
K: Not necessarily. Which one did you love writing/recording/singing on stage the most?
J: Again, I’ll rely on the wider context of the song, rather than the song itself and say ‘Try Hard’. That’s the first song I wrote that people really responded to, both recorded and live. So it gave me the confidence to get a band together and take things further. And I owe a lot to a man called Pete Bilk for encouraging me to develop the song, because when I started going to the studio where he worked, I just wanted to get a load of material down with just an acoustic guitar and vocals. Especially because at the time I was really into Elliott Smith. So I’d got the parts down for this song Try Hard, and was wanting to move on to the next one, but Pete was like “that’s a really good song, you should go to town on it and add some drums, and bass and keyboard parts”, and he really pushed me to see where it could go. Don’t get me wrong, as the first song I ever recorded, it’s rough around the edges, and in the end, I convinced Pete that we should do the next song. But he continued to encourage me to think differently about how you could construct a song.
K: Who is on your shitlist if anyone?
J: I have an irrationally intense hatred of Razorlight, but you don’t hear much of them anymore so my blood pressure is OK. I can’t stand Robbie Williams! And there’s a couple of songs by Bruno Mars that make me cringe so much that I think I’m going to throw up. The guy who sometimes drives me to meetings insists on having Heart FM on, and they play the same shit all year every year, every day of every week, and that always includes Robbie Williams and Bruno Mars.
K: I can’t stand M People, chalk board music.
J: [Does impression of Heather Small / an aggressive goose]: I used to like them! Oh man, Celine Dion! Adele! I HATE that stuff. That song from Dirty Dancing! YUCK! Oh, I’m just gonna come up with a massive list of people that I hate now! What have you done to me? What have I become? You’re like Charles Manson!
K: What did you listen to as a kid that still gives you the chills?
J: The Police. My dad had two Police albums, and not much else, so we used to listen them all the way to Cornwall and back if we were going on holiday.
K: How old were you?
J: I dunno. I was probably 5 or 6 when I first became familiar with what I was hearing, ad they stayed on heavy rotation for about 10 years after that! I think that Andy Summers chorus guitar sound is probably what made The Cure seem really familiar at the same time as being something new for me. There’s other stuff that has stood the test of time too… My sister’s 12 years older than me and my brother is 14 years older, so when I was about 4, they were listening to things like Adam & the Ants and Blondie. That said, I’ve over-listened to Blondie now. I tend to skip it if it pops up on a shuffle, because I’ve just heard it so much.
K: What album or song do you wish you’d made?
J: Dude, these questions are hard! I mean, not like nursing or brain surgery hard, but still. I’m gonna say… Tear for Fears – Songs from the Big Chair. On that album, there’s only one song that I skip, called I Believe’. It just feels like it doesn’t belong, and it’s so sparse compared to everything else on there. In a way that’s good, it’s like a pallet cleanser so it makes you appreciate everything that’s gone before it and after it, but it’s not for me. Otherwise, the production, the songs, the performances – it’s all amazing. I listened to that album so much when I was a kid the tape broke. And I’m going to see them live for the first time next month, at the O2!
K: Do the band have any backstage habits or what would be your rider?
J: I just want my own toilet.
J: Other musicians can be inherently dirty, especially Johnny Borrell from Razorlight!
Nah. Backstage rituals unfortunately look a lot like what Simon [the band’s manager] is doing right now. Just sit there with our phones, waiting. Depending on how I’ve traveled to a gig, I will sometimes go and sit in my car and listen to things like Rollercoaster by The Grid to get myself psyched! I’ve realised though sometimes it’s more about calming down.
K: Do you get nervous?
J: Not anymore. I get excited, and that can still make you shake and your mouth go dry, and your brain stop working properly so that you forget to plug your guitar in when you’re about to play and panic for 5 minutes before you realise that’s why you’re not getting any sound. But even that doesn’t happen so much these days. I think it’s moved from the early days of getting on stage and praying you’ll “get it right”, hit the right notes at the right time etc. to now being about delivering the very best performance possible, emotionally.
You can find The Vaulted Skies online at:
Official Website: http://www.thevaultedskies.com
James Scott: Vocals, Guitar
Ben Singleton: Guitar
Karly Poulton: Bass
Roster of drummers.
Simon Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org