I N T E R V I E W
VGB: The Giver and the Gift
with Trevor Faville
VGB recently released ‘The Giver and The Gift’, and it’s a fitting return for ex-Lucid 3 front-woman Victoria Girling-Butcher, in collaboration with Tom Healy (Tiny Ruins/Terrible Sons/Finn Andrews/Julia Jacklin and more). Trevor talked to Victoria about the release, songwriting, what she has been doing between Lucid 3 and now, and more!
HUP: You describe your new song ‘The Giver and The Gift’ as a song about 'polarity'. Could you expand on that?
VGB: Well, I co-wrote it with Tom Healy, and what we did was we had a Google document. I’d had some of the lyrics - I think the chorus lyrics were written for another song. Then we expanded some themes, and while we both wrote into this document, we could see what the other person was writing. That “word association” process started happening, and we ended up writing these couplets that were kind of contradictions. The song was being made up of couplets of opposites - 'polarity' - swinging from one to the other.
It was a new way of songwriting for me. I haven't in the past done a lot of co-writing - certainly not in that way. I don't usually trust people lyrically. I feel pretty fond of words and am quite critical of lyricists. Tom was a good one to write with because he's got a good eye for that sort of thing. So that's how ‘Polarity’ came into the press release - because of the opposites in there.
HUP: One line jumps out is “there are two songs to be sung/ each undoes the other one”, which seems to be a summary of what you have just said.
VGB: Exactly! It's almost self explanatory, in a way. That is my favourite line from the song.
HUP: Can we talk a bit about the people involved with recording this song?
VGB: We had Tom and Adam Tobeck on drums; he was extraordinary - really, really good. Its the first time I have worked with session musicians, too. Most of the track is Tom and I. Tom spent a lot of time with it.
HUP: You can always tell when there is a real drummer!
VGB: Live drums are so important in music I feel. I love playing with them. I love the infectious nature of the feel that comes from them.
HUP: Working with Tom, and with the ‘back and forth’ process of the words, was that easy for you to do?’
VGB: Yeah, I had done a few songwriting sessions a couple of year ago with various different people. Some people I knew really well and had worked with before, and others were like ‘dipping my toe in’; Tom was one of those. What I like is that his background is classical music, and I think there's a point of difference in his musicality - his general music personality. There's just something very appealing about that. So I enjoyed working with him on those songwriting sessions.
HUP: Reviews are all about ‘the adjectives’ these days. When listening, the adjectives I was getting were ‘Crafted, Detailed, Melodic, Considered and Intelligent...so was it an easy write?
VGB: Good words! There were moments of difficulty because I think I was out of my comfort zone... which is a good place to be, but... it's a really personal thing, songwriting, which is why I've always done it alone. In my former band, Lucid 3, I would write everything on my own. Literally where no one would hear; it was like someone finding out a dirty secret or something. So that was a bit hard for me to relax into the space to open enough for creativity to happen. But, I think that served a good purpose in a way, too, because I was really happy with the outcome.
HUP: Almost a sense of letting go... to a certain extent.
VGB: Yes! Musically I have always loved collaborating, and the back-and-forth working with people on musical ideas, but when it comes to the core songwriting part, that isn't always as easy.
HUP: Veering off into ‘history’, if that's okay? So ,starting from the end of Lucid 3 to now, could you give us a couple of key 'plot points’ along that way?
VGB: On the timeline?
HUP: Yeah-from ‘there to here’- plot twists- if you will!
VGB: So, I did an album, ‘Victoria Girling-Butcher', which I love. I love that album. I ended up releasing that one and moving to France, where I lived for a little while... and I taught at a music school, and collaborated on some music with a New Yorker, who came to Paris and started this Rock School for the rich and famous types. With him I did a few early VGB things. I got pregnant and came home to New Zealand. [It] took a few years to get through the early days of parenting and then back to music when I started working in Dave Dobbyn's band regularly again. I had done it on-and-off for 10 years. Getting back on stage and getting my music chops going, that's helped lead into me being able to consider being a composer again. [continued below]
HUP: Hearing you talk about parenthood, and then getting back into it - there are people who will look at that as a barrier, or a time to give up. That doesn't make any sense to me so it's interesting to hear someone who has said “it's time get back into it now”.
VGB: Well I just don't feel complete without it. I was very lucky to be asked to go and join Dave’s band after my daughter was born. That just reminded me that I could. It's a thoroughly enjoyable thing. People love him and love his songs. So it was a positive experience.
HUP: And that's a particularly tight band isn't it. I think of Ross Burge... that's a good drummer. it would be pleasure playing with that for sure.
VGB: Such a joy! There is something about it. So often I hear people reflect back to me how joyous his playing is. Just something really unique and special.
HUP: Here's something of a deeper question, and I am curious for your insight on this as you are an experienced musician. What do you think the relationship is between experience and wisdom when it comes to music?
VGB: My perspective would be: there is a liberation that I feel about the music that I am making now that I didn't when I was in my twenties. I don't really care what people think. I’m not out to please people. When you are younger there's a real sense of needing to get approval. And a lot of that has just disappeared from my motivation. Sometimes that's to my disadvantage because I'm not pushing as hard - not as ambitious, in a way... that vanity doesn't appeal to me. Maybe I didn't realise it at the time, in my twenties, but it probably did. Ego is different. And that's good! It's also liberating because what comes with that sense of needing approval, there's often a huge amount of disappointment because not everyone is gonna love your music. And I'm okay with that now. I just want to make it and enjoy it!
HUP: I work in music education, and I believe that's a really valuable perspective for younger musicians to be aware of. Maybe by not worrying about approval, the quality of your music goes up.
VGB: I agree. I observed that with Reb Fountain. I think what's made a huge difference. She is very unapologetically ‘her’. I interviewed her for Audioculture and she was touching on this at the time - about a year ago, and I was thinking... ’Yes!’ I am very pleased for her that it has gone so well.
HUP: How are people adapting to ‘VGB?’
VGB: Had a few messages last week... and they tended to find it... those who already knew me as Victoria Girling Butcher were really struggling to go with ‘VGB’. Those who don't know who I am are finding it much easier to swallow. I hope to reinforce the VGB thing!
HUP: Is there a ‘new music industry’ now - or is it very much the same?
VGB: It's different. Many of the same faces are still around, but I released my last album a good ten years ago. It wasn't streamed. It didn't get uploaded to Spotify. I sold hard copies! The last ten years has sort of been like fifty in terms of the progression of how the music industry works. It's a different process. I am learning, for example, the need to be extremely active on social media. I took a vow that I would do my best, but that was last week and I am already flailing! I don't identify with it as much as you need to. You need to have a good presence online with social media. So I am coming to terms with that.
HUP: Do you have a favourite piece of gear?
VGB: I would have to say it's my ‘76 slimline Tele’. Such a faithful and beautiful instrument. I love my Rhodes piano - my Fender Rhodes suitcase - and I quite like my Steinway upright... all of it very analogue! Those are my three ‘go to’s’ for songwriting.
HUP: final question then... what's next?
VGB: More songs. I am producing, in my crappy home studio, song after song after song. I will do some work with Tom when he is not so busy, but I love collaborating so I am in the process of working out who else I want to work with on the next songs. Of which there are so many! Hopefully a new release really soon.
HUP: Any live work planned?
VGB: Not for VGB. I did do the last 6 months on the road with Th’Dudes and with Dave. There's only so much you can sustain and I am loving being at home with my family. There's two sides to the ‘touring musician’ coin!