It’s curious how we’re often drawn to sensory experiences that unsettle or unnerve, yet simultaneously offer a certain intoxicating hedonism. Something which Vessel’s music has perpetually offered through the wealth of warped and disquieting arrangements they’ve crafted within their records, eliciting a kind of eloquently distorted reverence.
“The only thing I ever really look for is to feel strange when I’m making anything,” Vessel, aka Seb Gainsborough, expresses, musing on the fusion of orchestral and electronic sounds on Queen of Golden Dogs. “It’s funny, I haven’t really listened to electronic music in years now and all I’ve listened to is classical music because that’s what I find really thrilling or exciting or strange, because I’m an outsider to it. I know experimental music and I know electronic music but, actually, I came to a point where none of that music was telling me anything new. So to listen to classical music was like a whole new world of language and expression and feeling and, to me, that actually seems really punk.” Gainsborough continues “That seems really, really, really experimental – even the more conventional stuff – so I guess the desire to work with it wasn’t even a desire. It was just something that felt like the language I could use to express what I needed to express.” Further contemplating this organic way of composing Gainsborough adds “The sounds you’re drawn to, I think you can’t really chose them. We have an actual physical response to sounds and, as a musician, that’s your language.”
At the core of Vessel’s music is an undeniable fascination with juxtaposition; experimenting with extremes to reach new sonic terrains. “I’m interested in this idea of the third thing. You can call it non-binary or you can call it the third thing”, Gainsborough details, “it’s this moment where you have two principal ideas and there’s actually this whole world of expression in between those two things, and it might feel kind of strange, or unnatural, or awkward, or painful, or joyous or whatever… but it comes about precisely because of this contrast. It makes this third point. Which, I guess, is why I feel like it’s the only thing I ever want to pursue”.
Inspired by the works of surrealist artist, Remedios Varo, as well as a range of writers including John Ruskin, Dante, Tove Jansson and Maggie Nelson, Gainsborough elucidates, “I feel like there was a real thread connecting them. They were all talking about basically ways to not understand, to be okay with not understanding. Which I just found incredibly generous and liberating”. Whilst hesitant to say there are narratives as such within the record, Gainsborough notes “The story behind the name is quite good: My lover and I were at a dinner party with some really nutty friends, about four years ago, and the conversation came up with this friend of ours, this mad Chilean poet, who said the three most used words in the English language are ‘queen’, ‘gold’ and ‘dogs’ because any product that has those words in sells more than any other, so that was actually the germ of the idea that kind of settled in my head. And obviously it was nothing to do with the idea of wanting to sell more”, they add quickly, “but the combination of the words created a kind of image and a universe for me I suppose”.
“…listening to classical music was like a whole new world of language and expression and feeling and, to me, that actually seems really punk.”
Having crafted the record in an extended period of solitude in rural Wales, Gainsborough contemplates “I wasn’t ready to do it emotionally and spiritually. I think it was really, really difficult. Of course those are often the times to do that kind of thing, but it was incredible. I love the countryside and actually just having the space to go kind of insane was really amazing because you think differently. If you don’t see people, and you don’t talk to people then it feels to me like it’s a kind of shortcut to a certain kind of creative energy.” And the result born out of this is ultimately a quite staggering work of breath-taking genius, and a record of pulsating, visceral grandeur.
Photos by Christalla Fannon.