Vindicatrix’s 2010 version of Michael Jackson’s “Human nature” is one of my favourite ever covers. The cover slowed down the jauntiness of the original with a sound of deep dubstep bass, synthetic strings, radio music in the taxi at night as if Throbbing Gristle was driving, a lonely, ghostly crooner voice from the other side in a hit at the end of the world…
Vindicatrix has been active since about 2008 and really is one of the most secretive and interesting artists during this period. This is an email interview I did with David Aird, aka Vindicatrix, last Summer. Vindicatrix interviews are few and far between, at that time this was only the third ever Vindicatrix interview (read the other two here: one 2012 in the Polish webzine Glissando and the other one in 20120 in The Glass Magazine)., and I don’t think any other has appeared since then.
I actually heard Vindicatrix’ “Hume” before I was aware of Michael Jackson’s ”Human nature”. What was your original attraction to “Human nature” and reasons for reworking it? Did you like it as a kid? Did you hate it?
– To be honest I guess I must have heard it when I was growing up but it was only around the time of his death that I really started noticing it. There’s something really haunting and ambiguous about the chorus which could be “whyyyyy?” or “tha’wayyyyy?” or just “awaaaaa”, I don’t know. I do think it’s an almost overwhelmingly beautiful piece of music, probably largely down to Quincy Jones’s sublime arrangement but also because of Michael’s vocal improvisations… Lots of barely perceptible whispered “whys” and gasps and things in the back of the mix which sometimes you can’t be sure if you’re actually hearing. The song itself is actually written by a guy out of Toto.
I think the lyrics of “Human nature” are great (“sweet seducing sighs”) but creepy (“She knows I’m watching / she likes the way I stare”)? What is the protagonist of the song really up to?
– I have no idea what the lyrics are meant to be about, I didn’t realise how fucked up they were until I looked them up online after thinking I might have a go covering it for a gig. To be honest i think they’re probably like most pop lyrics, just stream of consciousness stuff that came into the coke-addled brain of the guy writing it, that seemed to scan with the tune at the time. I wonder as well whether some of it was adlibbed by Jackson in the booth as it makes very little sense written out. I’d like to think my version accentuates the weirdness/awfulness of the words which the loveliness of the voice and the arrangement distract you from in the original. See also: SWV – “Right Here”.
I like the way your music at the same time feels really modern and really old. The oldness is the drama of the vocals, I think. It’s impossible to listen to Vindicatrix as background music, if you try the music almost gets annoying. The music and the performance demands attention. How did you find your voice, you think? Was it just there the first day you opened your mouth in front of a mic, or did you have some kind of training?
– Well I always sang in the choir at school and I play tuba and clarinet so I’m quite up on breathing and diaphragm and all that but I’ve never had actual singing lessons. The voice on “Hume” is kind of an amalgam of lots of things I like – David Sylvian, Billy Mackenzie, (yes) Scott Walker. Finding your voice is a really difficult thing and I’m not a naturally gifted singer. On recent stuff I’ve been recording it’s been shifting away from singing.
– I agree with what you say about annoying/impossible to ignore. I’ve become quite conscious that putting a voice on the music makes it unpalatable in some situations. If I was releasing singles from the albums I would definitely do instrumental or club dubs…. Mainly because I love the idea of my music being danced to, although I doubt that happens too often. However, I’ve always felt that I had to put a voice on the music, mainly because very few other people making electronic/experimental music do – especially not men for some reason. When there is a voice, it’s usually smothered in effects, or pitched down, or way back in the mix so you can’t hear it properly.
– When people actually sing, a dry vocal, it really sticks out like a sore thumb, and does become, as you say, “almost annoying”. So maybe it’s a kind of provocation, and one that is always bound to be running the risk of sounding ridiculous or repelling people. It seems to make more immediate sense in a live context than on record. It’s strange because back in the 80s when electronic music was new, it was de rigeur to have someone caterwhauling over the top, and usually in some totally outré fashion, so I wonder what it is that has changed.
One of the reasons I’m attracted to Vindicatrix is that I think you’re kind of a secret. Almost no one knows about about Vindicatrix in Sweden. And I also really like enigma around music, that’s something that makes it more interesting, and it’s something rare nowadays. Almost every artist is over exposured, I think. Is this something you have any thoughts about?
– I’m not convinced almost every artist suffers from overexposure. Receiving exposure at all requires luck, contacts and a load of work. You have to keep putting stuff out and gigging just to remind people you exist. I’ve never aimed to be enigmatic or secretive, I’m just fairly lazy at self-promotion. Maybe you mean in terms of an artist’s public self though? Identities are always constructed in some sense and in theory the internet gives us the possibility of controlling or creating a particular image that need not be tied our existence “IRL”.
– In practice though, online channels have made it harder for all citizens, artists or not, to separate their professional and personal lives. Artists who are well known face a challenge to control or limit how much is known about them as actual people, particularly if their work is tied up with a particular, perhaps obscured persona. I suppose I would have to worry about this kind of thing if my stuff wasn’t already an extremely niche interest.
I originally discovered your music through Mark Fisher’s great review in the Wire of your first album. At the moment I’m reading Fisher’s book Ghosts of my life, where it’s a chapter about Mordant Music, the label who has released much of your music. Vindicatrix isn’t mentioned in the book, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if you had been. What are your feelings and thoughts about things like “hauntology” and that kind of current music theory? Inspiring, pretentious, relevant?
– That was a really nice review and I think a lot of the gigs and stuff that I’ve done since may not have happened without it. It was also nice in the sense that I had already read and enjoyed Mark’s blog more on political stuff, and that a lot of what he said about the music made sense to me in a way I wouldn’t have been able to articulate myself. I read a really great collection of essays on Michael Jackson he edited, The Resistible Demise of… around when “Hume” came out.
– To be quite honest I don’t know too much about hauntology, except that it’s a Derridean bilingual pun on “ontology”. Having read neither any Derrida nor Mark’s new book I feel ill-qualified to comment. I met Mark once in Berlin and he assured me that Vindicatrix wasn’t hauntological but in some other category entirely. The Goldie/Rufige Kru tune that samples Japan’s “Ghosts” which I assume is being referenced is extremely strong.
Scott Walker is mentioned in almost every Vindicatrix review. How annoying is that?
– I can’t really complain as I croon in a baritone, because I have a really limited vocal range, and I use atonal textures and stuff so I can see where people are coming from. In the 60s he got lots of comparisons with Sinatra even though with hindsight they are totally different. I shook his hand once in Queen Elizabeth Hall, firm but cold.
How much is Vindicatrix a career, for you? What do you do except for Vindicatrix? What is your background?
– I’m unemployed at the moment but for the last few years I’ve been doing part-time admin jobs in the construction industry. Apart from that I play in various bands for weddings, sports events, parties, festivals etc etc. I did a music degree at Goldsmiths College so I’m “classically trained” but I don’t really play much classical stuff now. I try to treat Vindicatrix as much as a career as I can but I have to pay the rent.
Since the interview Vindicatrix has released two cassettes, the soundtrack Ruin value and a split with Antidröm. Visit the Vindicatrix web and Soundcloud page to keep yourself up to date with what’s going on!