Meet the London based trio concocting charming tunes made up of punchy pop and nostalgia.
Motown. Northern Soul. Pop. It seems that blogs, nor singer Liam O’Donnell, can’t pin down the distinctive sound of three piece guitar band, Various Cruelties.
What makes the threesome so hard to pigeonhole is the way they have dragged the vintage sound into 21st century, and done so without sounding like a dodgy pub cover band.
We caught up with Liam before he headed out to Los Angeles to find out what was coming next for Various Cruelties and what he makes of indie-pop chart topper, Ed Sheeran.
You’re from Leeds but Various Cruelties are based in London, what brought you all together to create the band?
L: I am from Leeds and very proud of that fact. I was at University in Leeds then moved down to London. I had written a few songs and was playing acoustic gigs and getting a bit bored of being a solo artist. I managed to get some money together to go into the studio with a chap called Amir, (who is now in Rudimental) and recorded a few demos. I chatted with him about getting some people to play some guitar and drums – they turned out to be Adam and Beanie. We hit it off straight away and around six months later we formed Various Cruelties.
You released your first EP’s independently. What was the inspiration behind self-releasing?
L: We’d had some pretty good coverage on blogs and Hype Machine. Blogs such as Breaking New Waves, My Band’s Better Than Your Band, Crack In The Road had picked up on us, so it felt cool to release a limited edition vinyl single of 300 (If It Wasn’t For You), just as an experiment more than anything. Then it got picked up by Huw Stephens and played a few times on daytime Radio One.
There are several different influences apparent in your music. You’ve cited yourselves as Motown, northern soul pop on your website (www.variouscruelties.com) but who you say has shaped your sound most?
L: It’s funny that people always come back to this. I’ve always found it the most difficult thing to describe our sound. I had written a lot of the songs in Leeds and they were recorded in London. Truth is I don’t exactly know. On the record I nicked the idea for a beat from a Shuggie Otis song (Capsize). I said all my lyrics in a Bob Dylan voice as I was writing them down and I listened to old Northern soul instrumentals; one of which the track Cold As You is loosely based on.
What inspires your writing and what is the weirdest thing that’s inspired a lyric?
L: Well I recently wrote a lyric in a new song (I Don’t Want You) “I’m an alligator”. Now I’m obviously not an alligator. That’s a pretty strange thing to say. It came about as I was free styling over some chords and the way it fell sounded pretty good to my ears. It’s recorded on the demo and so far I haven’t wanted to change it. It has the right energy. I put it up there with Michael Jackson’s “I’m a vegetable” in Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. If was good enough for him, then its good enough for me. Generally speaking, lots of things tend to inspire my writing but I tend to not think about them too much. Whatever is on your mind tends to appear in a song more naturally that way in my opinion.
On Twitter you’ve mentioned writing new tracks and potential new singles, will there be a new album coming anytime soon?
L: Yes, there a quite a few new tracks knocking around now. So I hope there will be a new EP and an album! Fingers crossed.
What can people expect from the album?
L: I think it will be a little more cinematic than the first one. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop artists at the moment such as Kendrick Lamar and people like that. I would love to do a guitar/pop album crossed with some cool beats and a little bit of cinema. [I would love to] bring some people from Leeds market to life on there; maybe some skits or something but I might get shut down with this idea. We’ll see.
Who would Various Cruelties most like to have feature on a track?
L: Maybe Kendrick Lamar or Jake Bugg.
You once said in an interview that “Ed Sheeran has taken over the music industry”. Do you see him as a danger to the indie scene, making it too pop and mainstream or do you think he could potentially open doors for other independent artists?
L: You know what, fair play to Ed Sheeran. When I first moved to London he used to play open mic nights at the Old Queens Head on Tuesday nights. I used to play [there too]. I never really got Ed Sheeran, but it was clear that he was brilliant. People loved him. He used to just loop his beats and then play songs over the top. He could probably play 3 gigs a night bearing in mind it was just him and an acoustic guitar. What a great way to build a fan base! Bands have to sound check for half and hour, move a load of gear. Get drunk and then move gear again.
Indie, I’m not really sure what the term means anymore. Bands would love to have his success, I know I would.
So Various Cruelties are in their 3rd year, you’ve released your debut album, recorded in LA, worked with the legendary Tony Hoffer and had If It Wasn’t For You used on a US advert. What would you say the highlight been?
L: There have been lots of highlights. Obviously working in a bar and telling your manager that you’re leaving to go and record an album in Los Angeles was pretty sweet. Those few weeks in LA felt like utter freedom and bliss. I’d left everything behind for a few weeks and was working on something I’d worked my entire life toward. Browsing Urban Outfitters in Hollywood was a bit different to the ones I’d seen in Leeds or Manchester. [It’s] amazing that If It Wasn’t for You got chosen for the advert as the song means a lot to me.
What’s coming next Various Cruelties?
L: Hopefully a new release and some UK shows around the summer/autumn.
TOP 3 NEW ACTS
By Liam O’Donnell, Various Cruelties
Childhood. They’re a band from Brighton. They sound like the Stone Roses on acid.
She is a 19 year old Swedish singer who has recently been on tour with Willy Mason. She has a single out now called Heartless. The track has a great melancholic lyric: “If I had a heart left to love you, I would do” Morissey himself could have written that.
Our Bass player is launching his own solo project. It’s kind of dream pop mixed with some industrial style chorus hooks. His first single is called “cotton wool” and is on his sound cloud now.
Words: Charlotte Faulkner