Christie Ots sat down with Jonny and James, two of the members of The Vernons to discuss what’s ahead for the band, what lays behind and who exactly it is that wants to perform with Nikki Webster.
Last year was huge for The Vernons, and it seems like things are only going to get bigger in 2014. Having spent 2013 playing at Big Day Out, supporting Seasick Steve, The Rubens, and Wolfmother and touring the country, The Vernons are definitely on the way to great things.
Consisting of four Aussie lads: Jonny Nyst (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), James Nikiforides (lead guitar), Hugh Tait (bass) and Elliot Gooch (drums) the band has a blues and rock sound that goes down like good liquor…smooth, with a little bit of bite.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Jonny and James in a quiet studio, as the Miami Marketta raged around us, and OJ the resident puppy raced between us. With their first EP Volume I having been released last year I was curious as to how their latest tour to America had gone. Jonny, sitting on a lounge, shrugs modestly, “Yeah it was great touring internationally,” he says. James adds, “Jonny played shows in New York as well as the tour!”
One of the things that is most striking about these guys is how unaffected they seem by the attention they’ve received. Having spent last year touring both nationally and internationally they are still quite humble. Though they do appreciate their privacy, and may not go into too much detail on some things, they’re still excited to share their upcoming plans.
James explains, “It’s going to be a big year, we have the second EP we’re releasing and the tour is booked for July.” Jonny chimes in, “We have quite a few shows planned in Byron, Sydney, Melbourne, Sunny Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast and more. The last time we went down to Sydney the shows were sold out!” James laughs as he adds, “And some get pretty wild!”
Having seen these guys play live before, I’m well aware of how energetic the crowd can get when dancing to songs like Standing In Line, so my imagination is running wild picturing what may have occurred. James hints, “There was a weird one, some stuff happened at Commune,” but Jonny laughingly cuts in, “Yeah, but I don’t know if we want that recorded!” Nodding James says, “Jonny went crowd surfing once, not intentionally either. At Elsewhere, the crowd grabbed him and dragged him through.” Jonny laughs, remembering the hometown show, “Yeah, it was great. In a happy mob way it was great, pretty crazy. We usually try to keep things from getting too crazy.”
Something to get crazy about is the band’s next EP, Volume II, which comes out this year. James explains that they are probably going to continue to release volumes for the EPs, but future albums will be different.
“To be honest it was just the easiest way for us to cut the list of names down,” laughs Jonny, “It’s so hard to choose, like band names, that easily took us eight months.” James interjects, “We had one, the Pescadores, but everyone thought we were some Mariachi band. That was upsetting because that’s my favourite music, it’s all I want to play.” Both guys are laughing as Jonny adds, “We originally had another name, which we sometimes play under, but that’s a secret.”
With four great tracks on the current EP, and more to be released on Volume II this year, I questioned the guys about their song writing. White Wine is a track that stands out on Volume I because of its quiet simplicity. Jonny’s voice resonates throughout the song, with his trademark velvety growl, and the guys keep the instruments effortlessly controlled.
Jonny explains, “I came up with the riff when we were playing at Black Bear Lodge, and the next day we were jamming at Elliot’s house, and we decided to do something with it. We started jamming and it came about. No epic story unfortunately.“ James adds as he laughs, “No, then we fought a dragon and…” Playing along, Jonny nods, “Yeah during my massive drug addiction, when I killed a guy,” he shakes his head and smiles, “No it was a pretty simple moment.”
Something not so simple is choosing which of their idols they would play with, if given the chance, “Nikki Webster,” Jonny says quickly and then laughs. James shakes his head and says, “For me it would be Keith (Richards), I just want to play like him, so I would love to meet the guy. He’s crazy; how he’s still alive I don’t know. He’s got that thing where he doesn’t care what people think, he was writing music for years and then people jumped on board.” “And all I could think of was Nikki Webster!” Jonny says while laughing at himself.
The lads go on to discuss Nikki Webster at length. “ She does have banging vocals though, where is she these days?” “You know her brother is Tom Webster, the guys who plays all the acoustics.”
“Okay, maybe I should say the Webster family then. I’m not sure actually, sorry,” Jonny says.
James shakes his head in disbelief, “Really, you don’t know which of your idols you would want to play with?”
After a second of thought Jonny has it, “Probably Ray Charles actually. I think if you jammed with Ray Charles, you would probably never want to play another song again.” James laughs and warns, “I think you would walk out knowing how rubbish you are!” Nodding in agreement at the incredible skills of Ray Charles, Jonny sighs, “That’s true. Maybe I should stick to the Webster family band.”
It’s clear from the joking, nods of understanding and looks the guys give each other that they are great friends. As OJ the puppy springs onto Jonny’s chair, the talk turns to my unusual guest. James is a firm supporter of having dogs at interviews, “ I think it needs to become a constant,” he says. Jonny chimes in while scratching OJ, “I would love to have a puppy on our Rider. That is a really good idea!” Getting excited, James explains to me, “We call our bass guitarist ‘pup’, he would love a dog on the rider!” Jonny interjects, “You might be in deep trouble with PETA or something, paint being thrown at you.” James seems dejected at the idea as he concludes, “Yeah, but I literally just want to pat it for a while.” Speaking of potentially troubling rider requests Jonny says, “I hear Mariah Carey asks for a rare plant that has to have a specific number of leaves on it. You only get to that level once you’ve been writing a Christmas album every year.”
One thing that is exactly the same in person as on stage is the enthusiasm they have. At the idea of a Christmas album James seems keen as he says, “I would love to do a Christmas album! A covers album of Christmas carols…stay tuned.”
While they may not have a Christmas album on the way, The Vernons are looking forward to their upcoming gig at Elsewhere on 21 of February. James says, “It’s going to be great, home shows are always awesome. The hometown shows, you come back to the Loft or Elsewhere and see everyone.” Jonny agrees, “They’re great fun, I do love a good Loft or Elsewhere gig!”
The band released music videos for Standing In Line and White Wine last year, which can be found on their YouTube page. With uncomplicated, but intriguing concepts the videos are another format that fans can fall in love with The Vernons through. Jonny says, “There will definitely be more coming up. People love their videos these days, so we make sure we put out visuals,” which is something fans can be thankful for. The boys are savvy as to how the business works these days. James states, “Media has changed and so you have to keep up with that.” Whether it’s video, EPs or live shows these guys know how to satisfy an audience. “I’m a mean dancer,” James adds, “Actually Hugh knows how to dance!” Jonny explains, “Hugh’s a pop and locker, he likes his Hip Hop. He even has a blog.” The Vernons are a busy band and it’s easy to understand why they’re in high demand.
Heading into the studio in February to start recording their next EP Volume II, they’re still writing songs. “We’ve written a lot,” Jonny explains, “We’re always writing.” James nods, adding “Usually you want to go into recording knowing the songs you’re going to record, but we’re still writing, so it’s interesting. The hardest part is deciding what actually makes the EP. We’ve found that even amongst ourselves we have favourites. Plus everyone has a favourite; you’re parents have something to say, your friends something to say…even your dog has something to say.” The guys laugh as Jonny adds, “Also some songs go better with others, it has to be a whole piece of art.”
When asked what one thought they would like to leave their fans and readers with James smiles cheekily and says, “You can get cheaper tickets presale and like us on Facebook!” Jonny laughs, “What’s the Bieber saying…never say never? No that’s a joke. Just to be yourself, because you are awesome.” You can catch the guys at Elsewhere on 21 February 2014 and presale tickets are available through Oztix right now.