Interview: Victor & The Rain Dog – Nomadic Rock.
Formed in 2014, Victor & The Rain Dog have a unique style described as ‘Carnival Rock and Urban Storytelling’ with each song telling it’s own fascinating tale and conjuring up beautiful imagery. It’s been quite a year for the band so far; comprised of Victor Marichal, a 26-year old Parisian, and his band of in-demand session musicians, they’ve played numerous gigs and proudly held their own with appearances at Secret Garden Party and the prestigious Festival No 6. Their impressive debut EP Victor & The Rain Dog attracted a loyal following and 2015’s exquisite five-track Den Of The Dog was created and released with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Victor is a gifted autodidact who taught himself flamenco guitar and percussion, and cites Tom Waits, David Bowie and Jack White as influences. The essence of the band is an otherworldly fable – Victor, the son of a French escapologist with a passion for Spanish guitars, develops an early passion for music and story-telling. Suffering from monochromacy, a rare type of colour-blindness where one sees the world in black-and-white, he decides to countervail for a lack of colour by creating wonderful stories and singing beautiful songs. He follows his heart to London and there, one stormy night, Victor meets and befriends a wild dog with a passion for hurricanes. He calls him the Rain Dog…
Nicola Greenbrook chatted to the engaging and gifted songwriter, singer and musician, Victor Marichal, over a drink in the bar at South Place Hotel in Shoreditch – ahead of the band’s upcoming gig at The Magic Garden on 24 September 2015. Victor shared his love of storytelling, the ups and downs of busking on the streets of London, and exactly what a Rain Dog is…
Victor, you have a fascinating history. I read you are the son of a French escapologist and started your career as a street performer in Paris. Can you tell me a bit more about your background, the story behind Victor & The Rain Dog, and how this is reflected in the music you produce and the lyrics you write?
All of this is not really true actually! It was part of the mythology I wanted to create around the Rain Dog. I’m a storyteller. I like telling stories.
In the introductions to my songs I always tell a story in the first person; saying ‘I did this, I did that…’ and a lot of people tend to believe it although it’s really far-fetched stuff. They come and say, ’So did you actually go on a boat to Indonesia with a giant candle?’ and I say ‘No, not really!’. If they’re not entirely convinced it’s true then that’s good!
You still busk in and around London, why is it so important to you as a musician to do this and what are the best and worst things about busking?
I love it because it’s the best school. You know straight away if a tune works because people stop, or not. It’s a really good way to try songs out and see if they are effective or not, and if they are attracting people’s attention. It’s also a great income for me in the Summer and I go busking on Saturdays and Sundays, market days, and make good money that pays for the rent and bills.
The way I started busking in London was, I‘d just started a blog (http://victor-the-rain-dog.tumblr.com/) and wanted to see how much I could raise my public profile through busking. I always go out with a mailing list I write on a cardboard piece of paper. I have 600 people on my mailing list through busking in two years, which is great. With the money I’ve made I managed to buy myself some equipment so that’s really positive. I love that.
Busking can also be extremely tiring because you carry a lot of gear around – your amplifier, guitar, pedals, cables, mic stand, food and water. Playing for an hour is tiring, but playing for say three or five hours is really knackering and it’s on your own. It’s the most tiring thing you can do!
I never really considered that, carrying the equipment around by yourself! Are the crowd generally receptive?
It depends on the day. The weather generally influences people’s mood so on a sunny day you get a lot of people around you listening to you for a few songs, and you get to chat to really nice people. It’s a really great way to meet people; through busking I met Jamie Jones who shot a great video for us as he saw me busking and also my previous manager, James Ash. I’ve also met some really good contacts and photographers as well. It’s been really positive.
Your band, made up of session musicians, have been described as ‘polymorphous’, playing a part in making every gig unique. How did you meet your current band and did you know exactly what you were looking for when you recruited them?
When I first got to London I wanted to have a really simple, basic trio formation with bass, drums and guitar. I started looking for a bass player and drummer and posted an advert on Gumtree. Dave (David Kyle Payne) replied to me and that’s how I met him, he’s absolutely amazing and the core member of Victor & The Rain Dog. Dave is a really very talented bass player; he is a full-time professional and plays with some very big artists and a very busy guy. I met him two and a half years ago and we started gigging with two different drummers but then we made a change, and Dave recommended Adam (Adam Hayes), our current drummer. It’s great, because not only is Dave good, but Adam is also amazing. Adam is also a professional drummer and tours all over the world. They often play together in other different projects so they are very tight together. They know each other very well and communicate well and it’s really reassuring to have them on stage, because you know they are going to kick some ass!
Later on I wanted to start a slightly more acoustic project and I always wanted to have a cellist. I found Sophie (Sophie McKechnie) through a friend of mine and so we met and started rehearsing. We found Craig (Craig Apps), an orchestral percussionist, through a friend of Sophie’s. He’s such a gem as well! Craig is a professional orchestral percussionist and he plays in loads of West End shows. He is very busy as well but plays literally every single percussion you can think of including vibraphone, xylophone, cajon and drums, and has an incredible collection of instruments. Craig is the colour provider!
What a great mix! How often do you get together to rehearse?
Yes, I got very lucky! We don’t get to rehearse that often; they’re all very busy professional musicians and I can’t pay them for their rehearsal time, so I try to arrange rehearsal in their free time which is very difficult when you have five people!
So we don’t really rehearse enough. I used to be very worried about that but we never had a single problem at a gig because they are so good. You get into rehearsal with them, you play them a song, they listen to it and the next time around they play it perfectly! I don’t really tell them what to do, they have their own creativity in there.
For the live gigs, it’s actually great not to play the songs too often beforehand. If you know a song well you’ve rehearsed in the past and then don’t play it that often, by the time you are on stage and playing to a live audience, you get that sense of excitement. You’ll play it in a really fresh new way and bring a new vision to it.
I discovered Victor & The Rain Dog last year when I saw you play at The Sebright Arms – I felt compelled to spread the word! I was struck by two things; the theatrical performance with pre-song narrative, different instruments (including a loud hailer!) the beautiful imagery conjured up with each song and so many different influences blended into your music – blues, indie rock and latin etc. Is this the essence of Victor & The Rain Dog? Do you intentionally try to make each performance unique for the audience?
Yes, it’s definitely intentional. I like to think that if someone comes to all my gigs they will see something very different each time. We have a big set list now, with more than twenty songs, and usually when we play a gig we can only play a third of it. So I play around with the songs and try to modify the stories I tell. As all my songs are character-driven, I like to modify the narratives and tell a different side of my character’s story in the pre-song narratives.
Are any of your songs based on true events or real people in your life?
Not really, a lot of my songs are based on fictional characters I come up with that are influenced a lot by movies, because I’m a big cinema addict. A lot of characters are inspired by movies. We have a culture in France of ‘political singing’ and songwriters that are really good at talking about what’s happening right now on the planet, the big events. But that’s something I don’t really feel comfortable talking about in my songs. I just like telling stories really; I like tales, I like playing with the absurd. I like making it a bit weird, a bit bizarre!
The video for Anchor and Hope was directed by Jamie Jones in Jaywick, Essex. How did you find this experience and do you have plans for making any more music videos in the future?
We met with Jamie Jones and were discussing which song to do a video for. Anchor and Hope was his favourite, and I thought it was a good song to film a video for as well. We were a bit worried, it’s about a pirate who has a drunk side and is fantasising about finding his lover who he lost ages ago. It’s a really funny/sad song and we wondered, exactly how are we going to speak about that?!
Jamie came up with filming in East Jaywick. Sadly, it’s known to be one of the most deprived areas in the UK. It was intended to be a holiday resort for Londoners but all the seaside houses are torn down. We got to speak with a lot of residents, and their portraits are in the video. We spoke to them for quite a while and they were lovely people but it was heartbreaking.
You’ve cited your musical influences as including Tom Waits, David Bowie and Jack White. What current artists influence you / do you listen to / do you go to see live?
This is something I don’t usually say very often, because I’m a bit ashamed of it, but I don’t actually listen to much music! I used to listen to loads when I was a teenager, including my uncle’s whole vinyl collection. Nowadays, it’s very weird, I don’t have an iPod, I never listen to music when I’m working or cooking for example, I just find it distracting for some reason. The only time I listen to music is when I’m in a very quiet environment and I can just sit on my bed and listen to something from top to bottom so I can get a sense of it. I really don’t listen to enough music!
Also, every time I want to listen to music I play some instead. So, every time I have this music need, I just take an instrument and start writing a song. It’s actually quite common; I know a few other songwriters who are kind of the same. Every time they should be listening to music, they just pick up an instrument and play something!
I have a lot of love and respect for a few songwriters I adore, like Tom Waits, David Bowie, Jeff Buckley and David Byrne. I really love Stromae (maestro in reverse) – he’s not really well known in the UK or in the States but is very big in France and Europe in general; his videos have millions of views. He’s a young, Belgian singer, rapper and songwriter. His music is slightly electro-pop. I’m a big fan of him as a performer and he’s a great dancer and has great charisma. He always has really good ideas for music videos. You should check him out! He’s just got something.
Congratulations on the release of your second EP Den Of The Dog last month! This was supported by a successful Kickstarter campaign and you clearly have a loyal fanbase. What did this achievement mean to you and the band?
That was really heartwarming, it was great. I was worried we wouldn’t reach our target – but we did which was really surprising. We finished the campaign and raised enough money, and got in the studio just two weeks later and recorded the EP in just five days. It was a really great experience. I wouldn’t do it again because it was very stressful but we were so happy about it!
The five track Den Of The Dog features cello, vibraphone, drums, bass and guitar. It’s been described as having a ‘slightly dark orchestral tone, without losing the powerful Motown-esque groove inherent to the band’s music’ which I think is lovely. Was there a particular influence behind these songs and how do you think the tracks differ from 2014’s EP Victor & The Rain Dog?
I actually wrote that! I think they sound very, very different. I think the main difference in the tracks I chose for this EP is that they were all old; I made a mistake on the first album to record brand new songs. When I got into the studio last time, the songs were freshly written and they were good songs and I liked them, but they weren’t mature enough. I’ve learnt since then a song needs about a year to be ripe and ready for recording; you always think ‘that’s a good song’ and then a month or two later in rehearsal someone will come up with a great idea for it and you think ‘oh, that’s so much better’. You need to leave songs some time to get better, really. So all the songs on the new EP are actually quite old songs; some are two to three years old.
It’s a quite dark EP but I think the songs are really coherent with one another; they work well as a unit and well with that instrumentation – it’s quite special having cello and bass and vibraphone and drums. It wouldn’t work on all the songs I write, so I had to find songs that would work well as unit and I think those tracks on Den Of The Dog do.
I’m sure the next EP will be very different again. I’m trying not to restrain myself and avoid fitting into one particular genre. I think artistically it’s very frustrating if you have to do the same stuff. I generally like to come up with new ideas and collaborate with new people and have a bit of blues, and a bit of electronic music and a bit of rock and find out what it is that I like more. From a creative point of view I think it’s always better to try going into new territories.
The artwork for the new EP is beautiful and the first EP featured some really intricate hand stencilling. Who created the artwork for Den Of The Dog?
My mum, who is an artist, painted the front cover. I had this idea of the dog and a picture in my head for literally weeks. I am a very bad drawer, so I couldn’t put it on paper but I knew it should be a painting. I wondered who I should I ask and it took me weeks to think it through and then I realised, my Mum, obviously! So I pitched it to her and she was really glad to do it. She painted it in Africa and I realised it was exactly what I wanted.
This year you’ve played numerous live gigs, Festival No 6 and a solo at Secret Garden Party to name a few. What has been your highlight of 2015 so far?
Festival No 6 was a highlight, but our EP launch on the 18 June 2015 was really amazing. It was at The Fox and Phoenix in Finsbury Park, which is a venue you need to check out. It’s a bit of a secret but not that much anymore! They are friends of mine, and it’s the most beautifully decorated venue. It used to be an old karate dojo so it’s full of props and burlesque items. It is just a gorgeous venue. The atmosphere for that gig was brilliant; we had a good turn out and everybody was dancing by the end of it. That was probably the highlight of 2015.
What’s next for you and the band, what direction do you want to head in?
At the moment I’m in a bit of a transition in my life where I am reconsidering exactly what it is I want to do in music. I’ve been writing a lot, and have a lot of writing to do, because my goal for 2015 is to write a show. I don’t think I’m interested in just performing songs anymore; I want to keep on performing those songs but I want them to fit into a bigger picture which involves a lot of acting, proper stage designs and lights – something a bit more theatrical and aimed at small theatres. I am trying to work that out and understand how I can do it.
With Victor & The Rain Dog though, I would really like to keep on gigging and I’m very excited about our next gig. It’s going to be a bit more what I want to do in the future, a few more dancy songs but still with a lot of story telling and characters. After that we’re probably going to take a one or two month break as I need a few months to write a lot!
Your next gig is at the Magic Garden in Battersea, South London on Thursday 24 September 2015, playing with Rebel Kites. What should we expect?
I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be playing with the whole band, just without the cello, so it should be very groovy with just percussion, drums and bass. Rebel Kites are led by Alexander Diego Story, who is a very dear friend of mine. We met about a year and a half ago and we’ve organised a few shows together now. The band are really great, a kind of cinematic folk style. We share a common fan base as we both live in East London and it’s just great to organise stuff with Alex. We are both great friends and he’s a real professional. He’s the definition of a perfectionist – he’s incredible. I’m really excited to be playing alongside the Rebel Kites. It should be a very good night!
Finally, for those unacquainted with Victor & The Rain Dog, how would you describe your sound to them?
It’s very hard to define the type of music we do as there is a lot of influences. ‘Rain Dog’ is inspired by Rain Dogs by Tom Waits, which is my favourite album of all time. A Rain Dog is kind of a lost dog; a dog caught in the rain whose trail has been washed away by the water and who can’t find his way back home. A Rain Dog is also someone sleeping on a doorway, an outcast, so it has this ‘urban tragedy’ dimension to it that I quite like; that reflects a lot in my songs and in the type of characters that I bring out.
Music-wise, I describe it as ‘nomadic rock’. Music with no permanent home, always wandering in search of new inspirations. So it can be a bit bluesy, a bit rock, it can be a bit Latin, a bit folk, but without putting any barriers anywhere. We just try to fit the story we are telling through the song. So, in a few words – nomadic rock!
Sincere thanks to Victor for taking time out of rehearsals to talk to RockShot and we wish him and the band all the best with their next gig. See you there!
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook and Portraits by Kalpesh Patel.
Nicola has her own great writing and blog here: http://www.materialwhirlblog.com/
Sept 15th 2015. Shoreditch, London.