As it turns out, Dave Vanian, the guy who is perennially dressed like he's about to go to a funeral, the guy who is often credited with inventing (or at least advancing) goth culture, the guy who co-wrote "I just can't be happy today," is a really upbeat guy. As vocalist for first wave punkers The Damned, Vanian and crew embraced the true ethos of punk more than almost any other band and, instead of running headfirst into three chords, leather jackets, and studs, have spent the last 42 years twisting, turning, and flipping their sound- sometimes it's a garage rock blowout, sometimes it's a gothic nocturne, and sometimes it's an 18-minute avant garde mind warper produced by Hans Zimmerman.
Their brand new album, Evil Spirits finds the band wrapping goth and garage rock melody around a classic punk charge, and the result is an album like only the Damned can do and it is goooood. But despite, the perhaps, heavy nature of some of the tunes, Vanian himself seems downright jovial. In order to understand Vanian's convival nature, Punknews' John Gentile spoke to the singer about the new LP, his fashion sense, and romance.
Dave, I saw you on Sunday and you sound fantastic! How do you do it? Do you do some sort of vocal workout or are you just a natural anomaly? I think I’m just very lucky, basically. I’ll hang on as long as I can. As you get older, you learn to sing properly, which I didn’t do when I was 19. As long as it keeps on that level, I’ll keep on performing.
The new album is really good. To me, the opening track “Standing on the edge of Tomorrow” has a sort of Motown cadence… am I insane in hearing that? You do get that kind of rhythm. It wasn’t ever intended to be like that, though. Inspiration wise, it sort of came from Joe Meek- the production of Telstar. I used to use the music of Telstar as a reference point.
”Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” has some fairly ominous lyrics: “In this dystopian generation, Damnable situation, we’ve got to make it right.” Is doom and gloom a certainty? I don’t think it’s doom and gloom. I think were a tenacious species, the human race. If we can believe, we can overcome the problems. It is a tough time right now. You can’t bury your head in the sand because it’s everywhere. I don’t usually write that may political type songs, but it’s not preaching, it’s a little more far reaching than that. If we get off the planet, don’t take that all the crap with us. It’s like, well I suppose, it is a bit Motown-y, with bits like “Ball of Confusion.” Hmmmm… those were not direct references at fist…
Some people think humans are inherently good. Some people think humans are inherently evil. Some people think humans are an amoral animal just like any other creature. Dave- the human race- are they good, bad, or neither? I think we have a choice and its up to us. I think the problem with people generally we get lazy, and everything slips away- nothing ever comes good out of letting things slip and you’ve got to believe in something. I think there’s too much emphasis one excuses and religions and the basic thing is we should be thinking about the human race as a species, what kind of world will we have for our grandkids and into the future. It’s not just about pollution and the other problems, it’s we’re very greedy, myself included- there is a certain amount of kindness in the human race that we need to bring out.
I was watching a documentary about the ‘60s and it was basically about the rise of black power, and it was inspiring to hear people talk- they really believed in what they needed to do, but they didn’t have the ego- It wasn’t that “they could look good,“ it was because it was “what needed to be done.” I don’t want to go into into much- this is not my forte- but, who’s to say anything? You’re just asking my view. I’m not setting myself up as an expert on anything at all, really… But, now and again, you can help point the way. So, it’s not a doom and gloom. It really is, “Lets wake up and fix it! We can do it!”
You mentioned religion earlier. A lot of Damned lyrics have a sort of morbid theme. But, I’m not sure you’ve ever talked about your own beliefs. Do you believe in an afterlife? I don’t know. It changes as you go through life. Your perception changes with experience. It’s a difficult one. I just tend to rule everything in- basically we should be decent. I’m not going to screw somebody over because I can, because I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me. Some religions offer a certain degree of great things because they bring communities together and make people act responsible, and give parameters and few rules. On the other angle, it creates hatred and separates each people from other. I don’t know. It’s a difficult thing, It’s a very thorny subject. You could write ten books and never get any answer at al.
A common bit of advice is that “it doesn’t matter what someone looks like on the outside, it’s the inside that counts.” But Dave, you have always been a snappy and debonair dresser. It what a person wears important? It’s important to me. What it is to someone else, I don’t really know. I’ve always been the same kind of a person. When I came into this 1976, ‘75 for me really, it was important to do certain things. It’s a part of what I do. I’m not expecting anyone else to do it. Weirdly, as opposed to punks that said, “we don’t want people in suits!” I actually love the idea that if you look different in uniform you really do look different! A uniform is like armor. In the ‘40s and ‘50s and the Edwardian period, men looked really cool- it’s romanticism if you will- and had good manners. I do like that.
You’ve not only been married for over twenty years, but you’re married to Patricia Morrison of the Bags, Sisters of Mercy, and the Gun Club! You’re doing really well! What is the Dave Vanian guide to romance? I don’t know… We understand each other. We have got a lot in common. We’ve both in a lot of bands, so we each understand each other… we like each other. We’ve been together along time and we still talk a lot. We don’t go into the restaurant and go straight on the phone like other couples. We have a good relationship and we relate t each other on a lot of things.
But interestingly, I interviewed Captain Sensible a little while ago, and he said, basically, that the reason you and he get along so well is because you have basically no shared interests. I think that’s absolutely right. I think we both give space for our eccentricities. We don’t very often find that we have the same interests. Music, there’s a lot of things that we both do like, thankfully, including ‘60s garage music. Captain hates country music… but he does like Johnny Cash… but if I put on Patsy Cline, he’d be saying, “Wot is this! Turn it off!” We give each other space. He’s a great guitarist. I like what he does, he likes what I do.
It is a strange relationship. Nobody in the Damned were really friends- you think of a band like a gang that hangs around. But the Damned- the lineup has changed over the years- we’ve always been a bunch of very different people and we appreciate each others skills and tastes.
As I’m talking to you, something seems very striking to me. To me, a lot of Damned lyrics are sort of morbid or gloomy. But Dave, you seem to me like a really optimistic, outgoing person! I think that’s perception as well. I think it’s a case that this band always wanted to be a fun band. We’re almost like a darker version of the Monkees! We love melody. We love music. But, sometimes we want to talk about things that are a little different. They are just as important to us. Sometimes, they’re not written in kind of a doom laden way, so you can dance to it. But, when you read the lyrics they just might stimulate you intellectually…