I’m always keen to learn what a musician’s favourite authors happen to be and it’s not because I consider myself to be particularly well read. Nor do I think this knowledge necessarily lends me a hand in understanding a body of work on a deeper level, but my fascination remains two-fold.
by Ommie Jane
Sure, as a listener and lover of music, I have on occasion discovered a piece to be inspired by a work of literature and rejoiced in the opportunity to appreciate it anew ( it was years before I figured out In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel was largely inspired by Anne Frank), but what I truly aim to discover is what songwriters are doing in order to create the level of work I want to create.
I came across Ottawa/Belleville five-piece Vile Bodies late in August 2017 and thought their debut album Permanent Dive was wildly successful, in that its 14 tracks snaked their way through a variety of genres while maintaining a cohesive theme and tone. Undoubtedly rock’n’roll, songs like “Run Until the Porch-Light’s Gone” and Easy Shaker have distinct country elements while songs like Instant Mystic veer into power pop territory. The layered garage rock vocals and harmonies are flattered by lots of sexy, bendy guitar riffs that accompany their addictive melodies. Overall, big fan.
Upon recent investigation (as in, I Googled it), I discovered their band name comes from the title of Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel satirizing the 1920’s rich elite, historically referred to as the “bright young things”. The BYT were known for their lavish and reckless party lifestyle, and Waugh’s story illuminates the relationship between nihilism and privilege through dark, humorous tragedy. The book is set on the brink of cataclysmic war, its’ characters weighed heavy with despair and desperate for escape.
“Vile bodies” appears to be a reference to the latin phrase “Fiat experimentum in corpore vili” or “let the experiment be done upon a worthless body” a translation cited in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by De Quincey, as well as in works by Boswell and Thackeray.
This particularly resonated with the existentialist in me who wants to believe that in the presence of absolute futility, I would choose exaltation over despair. While this probably verges on too morbid for some, I find the beauty in decay strangely poetic.
With this in mind, I gave the album another listen and really dug the translation of the dystopian tone they achieved while still managing to be uplifting. The intro track, “Heaven”, does a particularly good job at encapsulating this joyous spirit when facing “the deep black cauldron of the night”. I reached out to the band to discuss this further and after speaking to guitarist Rory Kyte, I realized my interpretation was perhaps too literal, though appreciated.
The novel is obviously their name sake, but lead songwriters Rory, Elliot, Dylan, and Mike also list Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald as an equally important influence in the development of the album. Kyte explains that the two novels were mined for their mood and symbolism, as they share a common decadent ambiance with both main characters leading glamorous but depressing existences with similar plot devices.
A refrain of “no output without input” was co-opted by all members of the band during the writing and recording process in that it was paramount that books, films, poetry, and albums be curated and consumed so as to create a consistent theme of decadence and decline.
Though individually their musical tastes are vast and varied, they describe modelling themselves after quintessential rock and roll bands like The Stones and The Faces in a way that borders on parody without tipping the scales. In writing, they worked to conjure imagery of sparkling nightclubs, copious indulgences, depravity, death, doom.
The members of the band (Chandler Betteridge, Dylan Hendrick, Rory Kyte, Elliott Gould, and Mike Faires) admit to having an enigmatic energy that is both antagonistic and jubilant, which certainly lends itself to the style they are chasing. They carry this attitude into the studio with them, doing much of their tracking off the cuff and deliberately including imperfect takes to achieve a certain disheveled elegance.
They recorded themselves at home studios in Belleville and Ottawa though earlier tracks were done at a cottage in Nova Scotia aptly named Malignant Cove. Live, they are reminiscent of The Replacements or The Heartbreakers—loud, spontaneous, violent. Their unadulterated energy is contagious and will have you singing along to the refrain of “The end is nigh. Let’s party”.
Their album is also available for download:
https://thevilebodies.bandcamp.com/album/permanent-dive and it’s a dang gone steal at only $5.
* Don’t forget to catch Vile Bodies playing live along side Deux Trois on March 18th at Pressed: