Not pop, not rock, not clas­si­cal, not comic, not baroque. As Vyvi­enne Long pre­pares to release her de­but al­bum, Tony Clay­ton-Lea meets Damien Rice’s for­mer band­mate and tries to pin down her sin­gu­lar sound

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

Vyvi­enne Long and Light­speed Cham­pion on their very dif­fer­ent new al­bums,

CATER­PIL­LAR SARA­BANDE? What’s all that about? And what about cello pop? Or even cello rock? Th­ese are tax­ing, nec­es­sar­ily blunt ques­tions for sure, and you can blame Vyvi­enne Long for in­spir­ing them.

Long has been a pe­riph­eral fix­ture on the Ir­ish mu­sic scene for more than sev­eral years now. Her pro­file was first es­tab­lished when she was an in­te­gral mem­ber of Damien Rice’s band, but she was around for some years be­fore that, per­form­ing in or­ches­tras and cham­ber mu­sic en­sem­bles. She says in­ter­est­ing things about her love of mu­sic, and her de­vel­op­ment as a mu­si­cian – such as learn­ing mu­sic be­fore she was truly in­ter­ested in it, and start­ing lessons be­fore she be­came emo­tion­ally in­volved with it.

“I started play­ing the pi­ano when I was eight,” she re­calls, “and a cou­ple of years later, it was the cello. It’s only af­ter you reach a cer­tain level of pro­fi­ciency that you can start play­ing with other mu­si­cians. You can get re­ally in­volved in it when you’re a bet­ter mu­si­cian, and that’s when so many other mu­si­cal op­tions open up.”

Fol­low­ing a de­gree course at Dublin’s Col­lege of Mu­sic, Long stud­ied in Barcelona, mov­ing on to Madrid for the fi­nal year of her Mas­ter’s. She was, she ad­mits, a nat­u­rally in­clined mu­si­cian – “good, but not ge­nius, yet good enough for my par­ents to push me to con­tinue.” We can thank Mr and Mrs Long that they pushed their daugh­ter of­ten and firmly enough, for Vyvi­enne Long has sur­rep­ti­tiously al­tered her role from band mem­ber to front­woman.

When we last spoke to her, it was in the fi­nal weeks of 2007, and even at that point, there were co­her­ent plans for a de­but al­bum in the first quar­ter of 2008. Be­ing the pa­tient lot we are, we waited. And then af­ter that, we waited a lit­tle bit longer. And then we waited some more.

“I took a lot of time with it,” is the sim­ple rea­son Long gives when asked about the lengthy de­lay in bring­ing out her de­but al­bum, Cater­pil­lar Sara­bande. “I prob­a­bly could have com­pleted it in a shorter time, but I worked with a few dif­fer­ent peo­ple on it, and the writ­ing process was rel­a­tively quick in com­par­i­son to the record­ing side. I wanted to try dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments, dif­fer­ent things. Some songs were done quite quickly, and oth­ers took time.”

The al­bum is a se­ri­ous piece of work, util­is­ing strings (cello, vi­o­lin, vi­ola), trum­pet and French horn) along­side pi­ano, or­gan, dou­ble bass and per­cus­sion. It isn’t rock mu­sic, then, and nei­ther is it, de­spite the choice of in­stru­men­ta­tion, any­where close to clas­si­cal. It isn’t any­thing as stupid as cello pop, ei­ther. And if you think it sounds as whim­si­cal as Happy Thoughts, made fa­mous in a TV ad for cheese, then you would also be mis­taken.

“I’m sure there are lots of peo­ple who would never have heard any song of mine other than from that tele­vi­sion advert,” she rea­sons. “Some might call them com­edy songs, I sup­pose. But I just put on to the al­bum what I thought would suit it; as it is, it’s quite con­trast­ing, with a few dif­fer­ent styles, all of which are linked by the in­stru­men­ta­tion and me play­ing and writ­ing them.”

From the funk of Freakscene to the rhyth­mic jaun­ti­ness of new sin­gle Tact­less Ques­tions, Long suc­cess­fully steps out of the per­ceived no­tion of her as a string­driven pop song­writer/per­former. In re­la­tion to the afore­men­tioned two songs, she says that the

“Now I’m learn­ing in par­tic­u­lar how ex­pen­sive suc­cess is, es­pe­cially if you’re an in­de­pen­dent artist”

nov­elty was in writ­ing some­thing for an in­stru­ment she doesn’t play. “That was a chal­lenge, but I still wrote the melodies I heard and hoped they worked for the in­stru­ment I had them in mind for.”

De­scrip­tions aside, what of her change of cir­cum­stances over the years? From be­ing a foot sol­dier in Damien Rice’s charm of­fen­sive to be­ing in charge of her own mu­sic is not just a life­style change but also a man­age­rial one.

“If you’re just in­volved with some­thing fronted by some­one else, it’s easy just con­cen­trat­ing on play­ing the cello and en­joy­ing it. Whereas with my own thing, I have to do and be ev­ery­thing.”

Each has pos­i­tive and neg­a­tives, says Long. She loves per­form­ing with other peo­ple and their mu­sic. “It’s less stress­ful, and al­though you ob­vi­ously don’t get all the re­wards at the end, it’s eas­ier in many ways. You don’t have all the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of car­ry­ing a band.

“Now, how­ever, I’m learn­ing in par­tic­u­lar how ex­pen­sive suc­cess is, es­pe­cially if you’re an in­de­pen­dent artist. There is a stage of in­tense in­vest­ment now, as well as the re­spon­si­bil­ity of every­one get­ting paid – the re­tailer, the dis­trib­u­tor, the mu­si­cians, the PR agent, the pro­moter, the venue, the mixer, the mas­ter, the pro­ducer. Every­one gets paid ex­cept the artist, so that’s dif­fi­cult.

“I’ve got to re­mind my­self that Cater­pil­lar Sara­bande was cre­ated, and it gives me joy to lis­ten to it, to per­form it. It may bring joy to oth­ers, so I have to re­mem­ber that. I’m get­ting close to a re­ward, I hope, if not cre­atively and fi­nan­cially, then crit­i­cally.”

Long de­scribes her­self as a quiet per­son who is very busy. She might come across as ever so slightly quirky and prone to fan­ci­ful state­ments, but as she her­self notes, it takes more than brav­ery to go out on stage and in­vite crit­i­cism as well as com­pli­ments.

“That’s part of be­ing a mu­si­cian,” she says. “I think I en­joy most things the same as other peo­ple. I love be­ing out­side, and I love meet­ing new peo­ple, which in­ten­si­fies liv­ing. It’s much eas­ier to be quiet and hide away, and not re­ally get in­volved with things.”

De­spite the prob­a­bil­ity that some peo­ple won’t like your mu­sic? “I’m very much aware that it won’t be ev­ery­body’s thing, so I’m ready for that. I didn’t set out to write some­thing that was go­ing to be very com­mer­cial. I don’t know if I could have, be­cause I don’t play those kinds of in­stru­ments, I don’t have that kind of equip­ment, and I’m not good at soft­ware and sam­ples.” Fi­nally, to end where we be­gan: Cater­pil­lar Sara­bande. What’s all that about, then? “It’s a slow sea­sonal dance for cater­pil­lars,” an­swers Long. “A beau­ti­ful dance; and the al­bum is so ti­tled be­cause cater­pil­lars de­serve some sort of trib­ute. They’re pleased with the al­bum and they like to get a bit of pos­i­tive me­dia ev­ery now and then.”


Vyvi­enne Long is cur­rently on a na­tion­wide tour: The Thatch, Rahan, Tul­lam­ore, to­mor­row; Er­rigle Inn, Belfast, Feb 25; Su­gar Club, Dublin Feb 26. Cater­pil­lar Sara­bande is out on March 12

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