A group that describes its members as locking themselves “away in their subterranean rehearsal space for more than a year” could just as easily be about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as it could The Vryll Society. But that’s about where the similarities to cartoon crime-fighters end.
Liverpool psychedelic rockers The Vryll Society have spent the past few years perfecting their sound, steadily releasing several singles and an EP. They’ve managed to tour throughout the United Kingdom and Europe with such names as Blossoms and Viola Beach, and have played several major festivals (including Glastonbury). All the while, they’ve been crafting their sound, zeroing in on the smallest details to make sure every song sounds exactly the way they’d like it to. And all that time spent fine-tuning has paid off — they’ll soon be off to Austin, Texas, to play BBC Introducing’s annual showcase at SXSW. If that doesn’t prove that hard work and a focus on craft will get a band anywhere, we’re not sure what does.
Ahead of their first major show in the U.S., Atwood got the chance to catch up with band members Mike Ellis and Ryan Ellis about songwriting, books, aliens, and what’s next for The Vryll Society.
MEET THE VRYLL SOCIETY
Atwood Magazine: To start things off, can you tell us a bit about how you decided on your name? I’ve read that you took it from a pretty obscure piece of literature, and I’d love to hear more about that.
Mike Ellis: Yeah, there’s a book called The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer Lytton, written in the late 19th century. There’s a subterranean group of people called Vril and they have telepathic abilities, they can heal people with this energy force called Vril and can also harm people if they so wish. Then, as you enter the early part of the 20th century, there’s a real group called The Vril Society and they were a group of mediums contacting aliens using meditation.
Ryan Ellis: Well, to be honest, we actually first [saw] it in a documentary, “Ancient Aliens”—the episode was really interesting, though—and then that then led us into reading a bit more about it and getting in to it.
You’ve been steadily releasing music for a few years now and have gathered a large fan base throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Do you feel that steadily releasing good music that you’ve worked on crafting for awhile—as opposed to having a huge breakout single—has worked out better for you in the long run?
Ryan: Yeah I do, because for me it means that people know that we have been crafting our tunes and will always be doing that, as opposed to just turning up out of nowhere with one hit and then it could potentially be like “So what are you gonna do next?”.
Mike: I think we’re the type of band were when all the pieces are together that’s when you can really see where we’re trying to go with it. Don’t get me wrong, though, a big breakout single would be great, I think in time that single will come.
So you’re all from Liverpool--which is an awesome city. But given Liverpool’s musical history, when you first came together to start making music, did you find there was any sort of pressure to create a certain sound or do things a certain way in order to succeed?
Ryan: Not really, we don’t really think about the history as if it’s one of our priorities because it’s not, it’s always going to be there and all we can do is add to it by doing our own thing.
Mike: We just make music that we like or would listen to. We make music for us and if other people like it, that’s great. I couldn’t really say if Liverpool has moulded us or whatever because it’s never been any other way.
That being said, your sound is pretty unique—psychedelic, with splashes of more of an ambient prog rock, and a bit of that “Northern sound” in there all at the same time. It’s different from a lot of stuff out there, and it’s evident you’ve spent a long time crafting it. What’s your typical songwriting process like?
Ryan: It could be jamming, chords and melodies, chorus then adding verses to those chorus, etc. One of the main things is, we seem to get a basic structure sorted and then go on from there until it’s solid.
Mike: [Yeah], you’re right on the psychedelic northern thing, but yet again that’s just the gear we like. The songwriting process is very strict and measured, you’d never see us write a song and then play it the next week at a gig, every song takes about a month and a half to finish, sometimes longer. It’s all about everything being the best, because if it’s not then it’s not good enough
The description for your latest single 'Sacred Flight' reads ''Sacred Flight is a motoric journey into cosmic space jolting atoms of sound from one galaxy to another before finally exploding into a jewel box of guitar frenzied litany''—which is pretty accurate. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind the song?
Ryan: [It’s about] the disappearance of a Vril medium.
Mike: It started off as a jam that was really exciting, but it needed cutting up to really turn it into a song we could use. I love the main riff and the way it’s so direct, it’s a real grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck type of tune. There’s actually a bit of a narrative to it as well, it’s about one of the Vril mediums I was talking [about] before called Maria Orsic, who vanished into thin air straight after World War II.
Listen: “Sacred Flight” – The Vryll Society
You played Glastonbury last year, toured with Blossoms, and are headlining shows around the UK. What’s that been like—watching your fan base grow firsthand?
Ryan: It’s been lovely, the support’s been great and we love it. We can’t wait to see what our next tour is like and how it’s going to progress from the last.
Mike: Yeah playing Glastonbury was great, I’d like to play it again when there wasn’t a total downpour taking place! Couldn’t really take it all in. It was an eye opener touring with Blossoms because they were really starting to happen when we were there, there’s certain signs that definitely signify when your band is connecting, people singing the songs is a massive indicator. When they’d play everyone would be singing in unison, it was a really powerful thing.
You also toured with Viola Beach. What was that like?
Ryan: It was great. They were a lovely bunch of lads and so was Craig [Tarry, Viola Beach’s manager], they’ll be missed by many.
Mike: The short time we knew them, they just seemed like four lads who just wanted to have fun, I’ve never seen a band sell so much merch! They were machines, to be honest! When we found out what happened I felt sick. It was unbelievable—we had a few of their amps and we were like “[yeah] man, we’ll keep hold of them till [you] get back.” We had a bad crash ourselves a few weeks before. We realised how lucky we’d been.
The video for your song “A Perfect Rhythm” looks amazing. It’s clear that you drew inspiration from several different films and filmmakers while creating it. The finished product is really cool. Can you tell us a bit more about the concept for it?
Mike: [Yeah], as you said we just wanted to make it look really cinematic and have a Stanley Kubrick/French New Wave [feel] to it. Peter Fearon, who shot it, is a bit of a genius to be honest, we love working with him, he just “gets it.” Especially with the band having such a cinematic sound, it’s important that it’s portrayed in the visuals as well. I’m glad you dig it because we do too!
Watch: “A Perfect Rhythm” – The Vryll Society
Kind of going off of that, you clearly know your films and literature, too, given the band’s name. Are film and literature the main other mediums that you turn to for inspiration? And are there any recommendations you’d like to offer us?
Ryan: My favourite book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
Mike: Really like this Indian mystic called Sadhguru, he’s got the answers to absolutely everything! Sometimes I’ll write about realism, but it’s normally a [spur] of the moment type of thing, normally like to keep things interesting and abstract.
Somewhat related, what’s been on your personal playlist lately?
Ryan: I’ve been blasting some Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schifrin, I watched Bullitt the other night [and] got right back in to my soundtracks.
Mike: We’ve actually started doing a Spotify playlist, my contributions for the first one were “Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow, “Strange Or Be Forgotten” by Temples, “Honey Sweet” by Blossoms, “Orange Peel” by Sopwith Camel, “Pilote” by Turtle (the Bonobo Mix), and “Wide Open” by The Chemical Brothers.
You’re gearing up to play SXSW for BBC Introducing—congrats! What will that mean to you, playing for an American audience for the first time—and at such a major festival?
Ryan: I’m buzzing, I can’t wait for the whole experience, I’m looking forward to seeing how we go down over there, plus I’ve never been to the States before, either. Plus we found out there’s a public swimming pool not far from where we are either so that’s also a screamer.
Mike: I can’t wait to get over there and blow everyone away. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. America’s a great country, with great people. The festival is a special one as well, it’s going to be an honour to go and fly the flag for the UK over there.
We make music for us and if other people like it, that’s great.
What’s one thing you’d like your American audience to know about you? Or take away from your set at SXSW?
Ryan: I’d love people to go away and then have the idea of us coming back to play again.
Mike: That they need to ignore plastic western culture, reality TV, etc. This is the real deal, straight outta the Enlightenment or the Renaissance. Western Culture, when it comes to the arts, is as good as it gets, so let’s celebrate and applaud it.
What other artists are you excited to see and/or interact with at SXSW?
Ryan: I can’t wait to see Temples, and Nile Rodgers doing a talk, it’s gonna be boss.
What’s next for you? There’s rumors of an album on the horizon…
Ryan: You bet your ass it is. Thanks guys.
Mike: When we get back from the States, we’re hitting a few venues in Sheffield, Bristol, London and Birmingham, then we’re going in to record our debut album. It seems to be a favourite of mine at the minute, but it’s going to be a beautiful thing. Peace and love smell yer later man!
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cover photo © Sophia Duff
:: The Vryll Society – Live Dates::
3/17 SXSW Festival, Austin, TX, United States
3/22 Sheffield @ The Harley Hotel & Bar
3/23 Bristol @ The Louisiana
3/24 Camden @ The Assembly
3/25 Birmingham @ Sunflower Lounge
5/25-5/28 Liverpool Sound City Festival, Liverpool, United Kingdom