The Veils Biography
At 19 years of age Finn Andrews of The Veils has created one of the most beautiful, emotionally graphic, and clear-sighted debut albums ever. At first his voice hits you, sounding frayed and strange, unlike anyone you've heard before. While the words are coming into focus, a vast landscape begins to open out. Evidently this is not another piece of rock by numbers. Evidently this is risky, ambitious and special.
As the songs glide and pitch there is a consistency in the level of passion. The moods and waveforms vary, from stormy and dark through melancholy and graceful to hushed and foetal. There are string sections, shattered amps and lightly coaxed acoustic guitars. There's sunlight and cloudscapes. Nothing fits into a convenient scene. It sounds like a record made by an ageless, romantic, wilful temperament. It's a shock to find that it comes from the heart and mind of a porcelain figurine, of a calm and superficially unfractured teenager.
If the community of young musicians vying for space can broadly be divided into those adopting a role, for the purposes of grabbing attention, and those compulsively seeking a direct channel for emotional release, Finn appears to be helplessly in the latter category. "It seems weird that it could be anything but completely cathartic, where you just pour everything out into this ball of energy that you stick on this little disc," he says. "Its weird that not everyone does that. Because it really is everything for me. It's not an accessory to the stuff that I'm doing in life. It's 'it', really."
Sometimes things that are too good to be true, actually are true. The Veils are one of those instances. Finn learned confidence and vocal harmonies in a folk club positioned half way up a dead volcano in New Zealand. He was born in London in 1983 and grew up there until his early teens. Initially he was supposed to be setting out on a life as a painter. His parents had both been involved in music - his father, Barry Andrews was a member of XTC and Shriekback - but in the first half of his teens Finn had no interest either in the electronica that surrounded him, or in the wider concept of a life making music. "It seemed like an unpleasant way to function," he recalls.
The concrete block comprehensive which he attended in North London didn't do much for the painter in him and so midway through his school days he moved to the other side of the world. His grandmother lived in New Zealand and he'd visited frequently, but now he moved permanently with his mother to the warm seclusion of Devenport in Auckland. Relocated to his pleasant but dull new home, Finn started to develop an unexpected interest in the local folk scene. Monday nights at the folk club on the volcano would draw in Australian and Kiwi strummers and in his mid-teens Finn began to drift down there, eventually graduating to opening act, playing acoustic guitar and singing covers. The desire to paint ebbed away. "I'd been brought up on 80s electronica really," he says. "And when I went out to New Zealand, suddenly there was this whole other thing that I'd never really heard, like one guy up there with a guitar. Or even three guys with a drum kit doing noisy energetic stuff, and it got to me a lot more than the drum machines and synthesisers that I'd been brought up with. So it was mainly Dylan and Patti Smith and Tom Waits, for the first few years."
Finn's apprenticeship under the volcano evolved from singing and playing with a 12 piece band of kids, featuring cellos, 12 strings and vocal harmonies, to writing his own songs at 16 and eventually discovering electric guitars with a garage band of school mates. At 18 he decided the local scene was too restrictive and a move back to London might be best for what was increasingly becoming a deadly serious activity.
Many of the songs which form The Veils debut album 'The Runaway Found' had been written in New Zealand, away from any obvious fashion pressure. Ironically for Finn, his arrival back in London coincided with an upsurge of interest in the kind of Friday night garage boogie bands that had been the staple diet back in NZ. Finn had not, however, swapped hemispheres in order to adapt to a scene. The band that he slowly put together from friendships and connections in 2001 - Ben Woollacott, Adam Kinsella and Oliver Drake - were chosen for their abilities to enhance the savage, openhearted idiosyncrasies of Finn's songs. What a few lucky people witnessed in the nursery venues of North London, was a scarily powerful muse, hitched to a brilliantly empathic band. Very quickly, they came to the attention of Geoff Travis at Rough Trade, who signed them without hesitation in October 2001.
The Veils worked with a number of producers including Matthew Ollivier, working up both pre-written songs and improvised material. What the new songs and the NZ written compositions have in common is a vehemence seldom encountered across the decades, and an authentic poetic voice coming straight from the soul. All of it stops your heart dead. "Its a fucked up time I guess, that whole 14 to 19 thing, and especially making a record," says Finn. "Someone said it was like having a baby, and its true - you feel every emotion you could possibly feel in a really intense way, and there's huge mood swings from complete elation to complete agony, which just takes it up and down and up and down."
Bernard Butler (Suede) also produced two songs, the band's second single "Guiding Light" and 'The Tide That Left And Never Came Back'.
Veils songs sound like they had to be written. Their debut single 'More Heat Than Light' is raging, with a mantra of "my evil eye, my evil eye". 'Nowhere Man' is tender and aching with a gorgeous string arrangement around acoustic guitar. " 'The Leavers Dance' is a heady, lovely, haunting electric arc of melody, succinctly described by Finn as "just a nice pop song about death". The raw burst of energy for the live set, 'Lips Vulture', fulfils his wish to write " a kind of sexy song". 'Citadel' floats, light as reverie, with a great swash of strings and dizzy talk of "watching citadels burning to the ground". The lament for lost love, 'Talk Down The Girl', re-shapes the keening mood with shadowy guitars whilst new single 'Lavinia' brings together symphonic cradling with Finn's weathered vocal, to magical effect. 'Salinger's Cottage' is warm and swinging reflecting its rural beginnings.
'Caspian's mesmerising acoustic picking and stoned-tranquil vocal might also be thought to echo the circumstances in which it was composed. "That was written on New Years eve of the millennium, in a little beach house just outside Auckland ... I liked the guitar part more than anything else."
Hang out with The Veils songs for more than a first impression and its obvious that Finn and the band can roam over a wide area. Now that they're playing more live shows, there's a desire to throw some noise out, as well as hold people in the spell of the heady, sweet, sorrowful songs. Finn regards playing live as an opportunity to shape and shift the sound. That doesn't however mean that the band is about to try and accommodate assumptions that, since the singer's kind of from New Zealand, they're part of the current antipodean wave.
"I think of myself as a Londoner," says Finn. "I think of New Zealand in a warm way, because that's where I started doing music, and I had a great time there, but its not really where it feels like I'm coming from. It's just trying to create something emotional really. As long as its emotional its alright. And we're getting faster as well and the Marshalls are coming out again. It's just hard with the whole environment now of energetic rock. It's not that I dislike all that at all. Patti Smith and stuff is fantastic, its just people like her had such a different vibe from a lot of the new bands. It just seemed to have a lot more heart to it."
There are a lot of teenage guys with guitars, entranced by the poetic names of the last forty years. In that respect, Finn, with his love of Patti, Tom Waits, Bowie, Dylan, is in a populous class. Virtually none of them, however, have a voice as singular as his, and up to none of them have his facility for shutting out the noise of the world, reaching inside and pulling out songs of such purity. It would be a crying shame if they only got racked in the tortured artist section. Indeed, what could be so hard to understand about a music of midnight shades and red wine passions, and the channelled evocation of loves lost, rooms left empty, dawn epiphanies, distance, closeness, rage and stillness? You don't have to have grown up under a volcano to recognise that The Veils are special.