Melbourne act RVG gave us a most satisfying sort of whiplash with their debut A Quality Of Mercy in 2017, which hinged the base of our necks on their ability to smoosh an empiric understanding of outsider-ness with hilarious observational pith and beautifully propulsive, post-punk stylings. The tracks on new album Feral present as purges of toxicity through bursts of energy, but it seems frontwoman Romy Vager tends to recharge at both ends of the spectrum.
“I spend a lot of time just sitting around like a potato, absorbing moisture; I need a lot of downtime, I think,” she says wryly, then chortles: “But two days ago I legit looked up ‘primal scream therapy Melbourne’ to see if there was any chance I could go into a room and scream as much as possible.” Live shows seem to find the balance: “When we actually play a gig I’m like, ‘This is what I’ve been missing, this is what I needed!”
One of the new album’s most inimitably RVG tracks is Christian Neurosurgeon, the protagonist of which blithely discusses the doublethink-tensions between traditional spirituality and the bare corporeality of science and guts. It includes typically ace lyrics (“All my friends, they laugh at me and mutter/ ‘Have you found the cross in the medulla oblongata?’”) along with astute spotlighting of how an individual elevates themselves over the collective.
It also contains – like AQOM stand-out IBM – a strange power-tool sound. When we discussed the latter song back in ‘17, Vager said that dentist’s drill was an attempt to make people a little uncomfortable. This time around it’s more frank: “I like the idea of using drills and stuff on a very silly level,” she smiles. “I like things to be like – in the ‘50s, like a Shangri-Las song or something, that has motorcycle effects. We were in the studio and I just really wanted the drill. I put a whole bunch of noises of me hissing and I was thinking, this is where a drill should be for whatever stupid reason. The rest of the band was like ‘Really? Another drill?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, why not?! We should have as many drills as possible!’”
Vager found a kindrilled spirit in Victor Van Vugt, the highly-respected engineer and producer (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Beth Orton, Depeche Mode) who stepped in to helm Feral’s production. “He recorded with [German experimental group] Einstürzende Neubauten back in the day, and he had stories of them throwing a sound mixer out of a window, and recording that sound,” says Vager. “So he was on my side! He was really lovely… it was very fortunate timing, I think.”
One of Vager’s favourites on the new record is The Baby & The Bottle, a stellar mix of all RVG’s fortes which expresses weariness with a petulant person who belongs in a high-chair, repeating the line: “Let the baby have his bottle.” Vager reveals the song came easily; then after it was recorded she found she was “over [her] gripe”, but, thanks to a self-admitted tendency towards gripes, she’s “managed to splice it with [her] dislike of another person”. She reminds us that she’s a Cancerian: “I can hold a grudge like nobody else!” she laughs.
But then, elsewhere on the record we find an aching reach to connect on songs like Help Somebody or Alexandra, which probes Vager’s tumultuous relationship with her family back in Adelaide (“I’d die if you want me to”) and the gorgeous Perfect Day, in which Vager deliberately massages reality into a scene deserving of her lover (“I’d like anything you want me to like”).
So, dedicating her emotions to people is also something that comes naturally. “Yeah, definitely,” she agrees. “I invest in people – I love people. I have a lot of hope and I have a lot of love, and I do invest in people – probably more than I should. I am definitely passionate about the relationships I have with people.”
And that’s what makes RVG records so compelling: they are so literate about the sh-t things, but are overflowing with a bounty of love. As the afore-mentioned Perfect Day narrates: “Here comes this pigeon/ I’m gonna tell you it’s a dove/ It’s got its head in a garbage can/ I say it’s looking for love.”
Feral by RVG is out April 24 via Our Golden Friend.
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Bonus: Getting Wooed
Of the track Little Sharky – in which Vager takes on the voice of a friend she had when she was 17, who believed he could communicate with dead celebrities – Romy says: “Some people have very interesting personalities, and I feel like they kind of get forgotten… I guess it’s just me taking a snapshot of things.” But weirdly, it’s the “Woo!” Vager emits towards the song’s end which is its most arresting moment. “I’m really good at woo’ing… I think [I’m] that kind of person who likes to make loud, sharp sounds,” she says. “I had to fight for that woo. The rest of them were like, ‘Take that woo out’ and I said, ‘No, we’re keeping that f-cking woo.’