Even after more than 20 years in the music business, Ronan Harris of VNV Nation still rambles on like a kid half his age. Enthusiastic and confident in the extreme, Harris believes (correctly) that the music he and partner Mark Jackson create is as important now as when it first came back in 1990.
In anticipation of tonight's gig at Trees, Harris spoke about having a personal relationship with every audience and feeling a particular love for fans in Dallas.
After 20 years, do you ever get tired of touring? Oh no, never. Right now, we are in Tampa and the weather is amazing. There is this huge parade going on. People are either trashed or dressed as pirates.
Including you? No, I'm afraid I have to work. At the afterparty, I will catch up on the drinking.
You were born in Ireland, but you live in Germany. Why there? I lived in London and lived in a lot of places before I made it to Germany. The band became successful in Germany. I think I made the right choice. I needed a new challenge. I came to a country where I didn't know how anything worked. I really like Germany because I came here so often with the band. We had been going to Germany since the early '90s. We just always felt at home here. I love Berlin. It's a beautiful city.
Electronic music has always done well in Germany. Why do you think that is? I think it started in the '60s. I think they weren't worried about creating a popular music scene. People were intellectual and they were open to being experimental and free form and open-minded.That evolved into embracing electronic music.Technology is inherent in the German psyche.The synthesizing is seen as something scientific, I guess.There was this huge explosion of electronic bands in the '70s and '80s because there was not a significant rock scene. Electronic music became part of the German musical identity. It was Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream paving the way.
But in America, fans of electronic music seemed to embrace it strictly as dance fodder. That depends on who you ask.You have to remember that Kraftwerk were very successful in America as far back as 1974. Even the Beach Boys were using bits of electronic music. But yes, electronic music has always been bigger in Europe. In America, they seem to always want a guitar and a drum. Electronica and electronic music has always had an underground following in America. And the only form of electronic music that has broken through is that associated with hip-hop. But we hope true electronic music can be embraced for what it is. That hasn't happened yet. And you can't count David Guetta, who I think makes another form of bad, cheap dance music.
Does electronic music have a following in Dallas? We've always had a good crowd there. I love the people I've gotten to know there. You see, we have a very personal relationship with our audience. It's a very interactive show. It's not about coming to a venue and staring at a band for two hours. The audience has to be a part of the show as much as we are. We want to get that blood pumping in their veins. We want it to be a very energetic experience. It is something that we are very, very proud of. In Dallas and in Texas, we seem to be welcomed with open arms. This tour, it looks like we are carpet bombing Texas in terms of gigs.
Is the touring band a four-piece? Yes, it is. For the longest time, it was just [drummer] Mark [Jackson] and me, but people wanted more than that, so we added two keyboard players. It works very well. Adding the keyboards worked out nicely.
What changes have you seen in the music industry and electronic music specifically as you head into your third decade as a performer? I've seen so many trends come and go. But as long as music cross-pollinates like it has, that is always a good thing. We've never really stayed the same. We've always kept moving and been open to trying new things. There has always been a spirit to our music that's key to me. It's great when a scene can evolve and something good keeps coming out of it. I've seen all these new forms of electronic music come out. That has been phenomenal.
Your 1999 album, Empires, was the release that really broke you commercially. What was it about that album that connected with so many people? That's funny because supposedly those were our underground days.That album got us the attention of a lot of major labels. It was a very melodic record.That was a very emotional time in my life, which I don't wish to repeat. I made that a project of self- affirmation. It was a brutally honest record. That came across to a lot of people and it connected with them in a personal way. People were saying we were the biggest band they never heard of.
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In 2002, you put out Future Perfect and there were some old fans who claimed you had sold out. Was the harder sound of 2005's Matter + Form a reaction to that criticism? No, there were just people who were emotionally attached to Empires. They did not want to hear anything else. They felt that nothing could surpass the feeling that they had with that record. Future Perfect was an even more successful record, especially in Europe. It was music that had a hard edge, but was still very melodic. We were never going to make the same music over and over again. No one wants you to make the same album again.
Later this year, you have some shows will a full symphony orchestra. Is that as challenging as it is would seem? I am really interested to see how that is going to work out. We sent the orchestra some songs we want them to learn. I jumped at the opportunity because it has always been a dream of mine to play with a symphony. Because of touring, it was difficult to arrange and coordinate. It is a tremendous opportunity and if this works out, I would like to take the idea further. After we get these songs scored, you can take them to any orchestra and even tour. Of course, the cost would be ridiculous. I would love to work with different orchestras. I've already worked with people who are connected with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
VNV Nation performs tonight at Trees.