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Interview by David Atkinson
Vulnerable Things front man, GP Bennett, gives us the low down on their self-titled debut album - out now on Bluesinlondon Records - discusses life in a wasteland and the benefits of not fitting in…
DA: So, GP, Tell us a bit about the album. How did it come about?
Bennett: Like most youngish bands about today, we’d been doing self produced 4 track EP’s as our only outlet for the last 3 years. But after 3 EP’s it was just a natural progression to move onto an album. We actually recorded it on the premise that it would be released with another label but then BluesinLondon Records approached us at the right time and things progressed from there. It feels better like this.
DA: But you obviously don’t see Vulnerable Things in a typically blues context, do you? The album opener 15 Voices seems a bit of a broadside? Or perhaps that should be ‘statement of intent’?
Bennett: I think "statement of intent" might be a bit strong, but I see where you're coming from. 15 Voices is basically just an honest account of where my song writing comes from and the influences that have shaped the VT sound. The opening 2 lines are quite honest and pretty much sum it up for me. Although you'll have to buy the album to find out they are.
As for seeing us as a Blues band, well that’s the million-dollar question, isn't it? It comes down to what people deem to be Blues. Some people think it’s the baby of people like Eric Clapton, Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan. And if that’s the case, then no - we are definitely not a blues band. I think nowadays Blues is an attitude more than an exact genre or sound. John Lee Hooker had that attitude; Captain Beefheart had it; Tom Waits still has it, and I like to think that Vulnerable Things have it.
Making his point...
DA: All those people you've mentioned are quite idiosyncratic; they kind of just do their thing. Is that what you mean?
Bennett: Yeah, that ballsy attitude that says: ‘I don't care what’s mainstream, traditional or what ever you want to pigeonhole me as’. I write songs that are drenched in blues influences but I would never be so bold as to say I have anything other than that in common with the "greats". And why should that matter?
DA: Tell us about the Band then. You've gone form a three-piece with no bass to your current line up....
Bennett: Yeah, after we cut the album it felt like it was maybe time to develop a bit. I'm very conscious of developing and maturing, I hate these bands that churn out the same stuff album after album and sticking to the trio format would probably have forced us to do that. It’s not really a drastic change, and my songs will always sound like me/us, I just think that adding different musicians helps you be more creative. Ed (Green - drums) has a really nice loose playing style and when he joined it felt like bass would fit in the mix perfectly, and we were lucky enough to stumble across Keith (Lovell) on bass who is complimenting the band perfectly already.
It also helps us with gigging, we've been able to be more flexible in terms of where and what we play, there are some gigs out there that call for some traditional stuff within your set, so the new additions have really helped with that. It also gives my thumb a rest – I don’t have to belt out bass lines like I used to.
Also Vulnerable - Lewis Hodgkinson
DA: So you do do some of the old stuff when you play? What about your own songs – do audiences respond well to your song writing approach?
Bennett: Yeah, we’ve been playing on both the blues and the mainstream scenes for a couple of years now and never really felt that we fit completely with one or the other. We always get a good response from both sides though.
You've hit the nail on the head regarding the song writing. That's what I base everything on. I went through a stage of being really paranoid that my stuff wasn't ‘bluesy’ enough or, alternatively, too clichéd. But you have to step aside from that and just write what you write. I find that whatever I'm listening to usually comes out in my stuff, not intentionally, but there are little bits that creep in. The album has been really well received so far and you get those people who say things like "I didn't think I liked blues until I heard this" and blues purists who do the usual comparisons to try and justify to themselves why they like it. So hopefully it has something for everyone.
DA: What do you draw on when writing songs and what do you try to convey through them. And why should we listen?
Bennett: What do I draw on? Ha, pretentious answers on a postcard please! Well, experience, honesty and a little bit of storytelling for good measure. I don't have a set way of writing and quite often I don't really have a topic/premise for a song when I start it, they just evolve. A common theme on the album seems to be my disgust and despondency with small town life in Norwich. Songs like Brooklyn Bound, Already Gone and Flatfooted are all about ‘getting out’ and not being dragged down.
Why should you listen? Because it's been a long time since there has been anything different coming through on the blues scene and I think this album will grow on you. But then I can't really be the judge of that; I'm slightly biased [laughs].
The new album - available from www.bluesinlondonrecords.com
DA: Do you think that as fans of a genre we value - and are perhaps encouraged to value - the wrong things about acts and performances? Solos over songs?
Bennett: Possibly people don’t consider songs as much as they should with this genre. It's probably due to it being mainly a live draw, which makes the songs harder to come through - if that makes sense? It would be nice if blues fans started to realize where else the genre can go. There’s nothing wrong with demanding a bit more from the material.
DA: What got you playing and writing music in the first place? What in particular do you enjoy listening to?
Bennett: Well, my first instrument was the piano. I had lessons when I was young and then gave up but it was a great grounding for teaching myself guitar. I was hooked by the Nirvana/Grunge craze when I was about 13, which led me to pick up the guitar. I remember spending about 5 hours trying to teach myself the riff to Come As You Are on my cousin’s crappy old classical guitar. I just went from there I suppose; lot's of quite heavy stuff while I was young and impressionable! Kurt Cobain was a huge Leadbelly fan, so I started to see the blues as something other than old man’s music when I heard Nirvana cover In The Pines.
I think I've been through every genre at some point; my record collection is probably as varied as whispering Bob Harris'. I’ve got stuff as different as Debussy and Portishead, Madness and Dr John…
I think my first encounter with proper Blues would have been through my Dad - He's been listening to the Paul Jones radio show for years. He would tape it and make mix tapes of his favourites, which would always be on in the car. I remember being quite young (11 or 12) and having a Robert Cray album on loop as well. There was a lot of soul music stuff in our house too, and Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett are still big favourites of mine.
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