“Everything is so unfathomable. I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on. I don’t understand the details of any situation,” admits Mattie Vant – but to be fair, who does? “The politicians don’t even understand now. The Oxford Word Of The Year last year was ‘Post-Truth’, and that says it all. We live in a time where everyone is scared, and everyone is unsure, to the point where unfortunately we just ignore it, and we just get on with our lives. That’s the problem. It increasingly gets worse and worse and gets more confusing because we choose to put our blinkers on instead of addressing anything.” Despite everything, Mattie has hope.
“That’s what ‘Dumb Blood’ is about; waking up and being a part of the conversation before it’s too late.”
Seeing themselves as more philosophical than political, VANT’s debut album is a considered reaction to the world that surrounds them. Inequality, misogyny, sexism, climate change, racism, global relations, religion and the general state of the human race: the band tackle it all. More than a checklist of grievances, though, they’re outspoken but considered. Searching for answers and hoping to get more people talking, ‘Dumb Blood’ is an album with purpose. If it feels vital, that’s ‘cause it is. This isn’t sideline commentary or echo-chamber self-gratification, ‘Dumb Blood’ is about immediate action. It’s now or never. The call to arms is undeniable, but it never detracts from ‘Dumb Blood’’s immediate and whole-hearted entertainment.
“Music is the perfect platform for what we talk about. There’s no other way I can say this without sounding cheesy,” he warns, “but music is the universal language. There’s something very tribal about music. I could go anywhere in the world and play with a drummer from Iraq, a bass player from China and a guitar player from Mexico. We could get in the same room and communicate through song, that’s why it has such a universal nature. It’s something that gets a hold of us and grabs our attention. It’s the same as a caveman dancing round a fire, banging rocks together.” That primal want to be part of something bigger lights a fire in the centre of ‘Dumb Blood’. Above everything, each song is an anthem for coming together. From the rattling cry of ‘The Answer’ to ‘Fly-By Aliens’’ promise of “You are important/you are extinct. You have a meaning/you have a purpose. This life is short, make sure it’s worth it,” VANT take unfathomable ideas and turn them into fantastic pop songs.
“I grew up listening to records that I didn’t know were political and it gradually seeped into my consciousness. It made me the person I am today,” explains Mattie. “That’s the main hope I have for our record. There are a lot of artists out there saying great things, but stylistically, their music is terrible. It’s not good enough. Just because something has meaning, it doesn’t mean it’s good.”
“We love writing music. We love making melodies that are catchy, addictive and resonate on that language of music. If you can get that part right first, then say something meaningful with it, it’ll hit people even harder.” The song always comes first, but “if you also get the meaning and it impacts your understanding in some way, then that’s amazing. It’s all we can hope for.” Offering a shifting stream of conscious and never dumbing it down, VANT’s debut is clever without arrogance. “You can’t underestimate your audience; people understand things. People got it when PJ Harvey did ‘Let England Shake’. People got it when Arctic Monkeys did ‘Whatever People Say I Am…’, and the fact it was intelligent lyricism that questioned society as a 17-year-old in Sheffield in the same way that The Clash did it with ‘London Calling’, the same way that Rage Against The Machine did it in the 90s. It resonated with people, but the one thing all of those bands have in common is the fact they write great music. The fact they talk about important issues is almost secondary. I guess that’s what I’m hoping we do, that ours is an album that is accessible for people who don’t want to think about those sort of things but for those that do, it’s like the golden snitch.”
“We’re not like anyone else that’s out at the moment,” reflects Mattie. “That wasn’t intentional; it’s just the way it is.” VANT want to stand in the spotlight, entertaining and connecting with the world on a primal level but they’re never going to pander. The songs have meaning, and they’re going to use their platform to start conversations. Don’t like it? “I don’t give a fuck.”
That take it or leave it attitude is the pinnacle of a massive learning curve. “When we first started out, no one gave a fuck who we were. It’s been a circle,” he continues, ignoring geometry. “I had all that freedom not to give a fuck, because no one gave a fuck about me.” As more people became aware of the band, more people started criticising them for having an opinion. To begin with, Mattie would engage. “I’d reply because it’s all about debate. It’s fine if you don’t share my opinion, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have one.” But as time has gone on, it’s become pretty obvious what VANT are about. “We want to start a conversation. You can choose to ignore the lyrics, but I’m not going to resist having a message or denying that ‘cause it’s fucking important. Now, I just ignore those people who complain about us having something to say. If someone says something that makes me think about my opinion or makes me realise a different narrative I’ll maybe engage, but in general, I don’t give a fuck.”
Having an album to cement their voice solidifies their stance because “there’s no arguing with it,” Mattie continues. “Whenever you’ve created a piece of art, whether it’s a documentary, a painting or an album, you can’t change that opinion. It’ll always exist in the state that it does. You can interpret it in different ways, and you can take whatever meaning you want from it, but from the artist’s perspective it’s a matter of ‘this is what I fucking think so deal with it’. I guess that’s the approach you’ve got to have with everything these days, and you’ve got to be prepared for backlash because it’s inevitable. You can’t worry about those people who turn off because we have opinions. The majority of people who love our band care about the message. They care that we’re actually saying something. Hopefully, we are giving a lot of people a voice. The bigger we get, the more power we have to represent people who don’t have someone backing them up.
“I’m appreciative of every moment we’ve had so far, but we’re going to continue to do what we set out to do in the first place, which is to stir opinion and make a fuss. I like to think, especially over the last six months, that politics isn’t a dirty word with music anymore and there are a lot more artists who feel like they can speak up or write about certain things. I said a long time ago that if there was one thing that I hoped we could do, it was to open the door for more political music. Obviously, world events have been the main cause of that, but I think we’ve made it less of a taboo.”
After a decade of bouncing around the industry, the community and the country, Mattie has finally found a platform for his voice. In a relatively short time – VANT’s debut single was first aired in the opening months of 2015 – the band has found a connection. Not that Mattie knows why. “I still don’t understand what’s going on. I’d rather I didn’t. It’s been this gradual, natural climb for us, which has been nice. If the band sky-rockets, you’re just holding on, and it’s out of your control, but I feel like we’ve approached it in a sensible, mannered way that reflects the type of band that we are and the type of band that we wanted to be in the first place.”
And the type of band VANT are is a genuine one. They soundtrack an authenticity that Mattie has craved since he was a child.
“I used to act when I was younger, just stage and theatre, and having that response from a live audience, clapping and stuff, that was cool. I felt like a fraud though because I wasn’t myself, I was playing other people.” He soon realised music was a way of playing yourself that earned the same response from others. “That was the turning point. I realised if I wrote my own stuff, I could start performing it.” Mattie was told he didn’t have the musical ability to learn violin or acoustic guitar at school when he was seven. “I wanted to prove those people wrong. The only opportunity I had to play music from that point on was to play the recorder in a recorder choir. I was the only boy, and that resulted in a lot of bullying, and I packed it in.” A handful of uninspiring private Spanish guitar lessons came a few years later – “I fucking hated it” – but from the moment he finally got his hands on a guitar of his own after being inspired by The Strokes and The Vines in the early 2000s, he started writing.
Visits to a few local battle of the bands later and Mattie assembled a group around him. That first band, like VANT, was also “completely real.” Formed when he was fifteen, they did everything but sign a record deal. “I think that was purely based on geographical location. We were a great band.” Eventually, it all fell apart when Mattie moved to Brighton and the others didn’t. Everything about that first band “felt so easy because there was no resistance. That led me to this deluded place where I thought, ‘If everything’s that easy, then whatever I do next will be easy’, but it wasn’t.” What followed was a series of projects that saw Mattie trying to conform to what he thought was popular. “I experimented with folk music and then later on electronica, dubstep and just whatever was the current trend. I realised quite quickly that it was vacuous and I wasn’t getting any satisfaction from it.” The various bands just weren’t him. “I kept hitting brick walls because I wasn’t doing things that were honest and natural. Authenticity is the number one thing you have to have as an artist. You have to be authentic, and you have to be undeniable.”
Moving to London and soaking in the atmosphere, the community and the spirit of acceptance while working in a bar, VANT started off as a solo project. “I had the realisation that it’s so important to make music from the heart and from a place that is honest. That resulted in me returning to the punk rock music I made when I was younger. It was the music that I listened to most and really cared about. I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to talk about self-indulgence anymore, or love, or any of those things. I was frustrated seeing what was going on in the world and I understood the struggle a lot of people have living in London. Sometimes I was working 80 hours a week, and I’d take home just enough money to pay my rent and get the bare minimum food requirements to survive. I was living in a shithole with drug addicts and arseholes, and I went through a lot of weird, weird times. That general frustration filtered into the lyrics I was writing at the time, and it made me want to express my views and philosophies and also try and raise a few key, basic human principles that were no longer talked about in music. I write from a very aware but philosophical place that tries to incorporate dark humour and the awareness that we are hopeless in a lot of ways, but it’s okay to feel hopeless. Maybe if enough people feel hopeless together, we can address the reasons why we feel that way, look to change that feeling and flip it on its head.
“When I started doing this, I felt the same as when I was 15. I wasn’t thinking about anything, I was just writing from a place that felt easy, and there was no struggle to it. Everything just happened easily and that momentum just built and continues too. People gravitate towards something that isn’t trying too hard or isn’t being something that it’s not. I think everything that’s led up to this point has been trying to prove people wrong, and prove that as long as I’m myself, people will eventually listen.”
Despite the success, the attention, their determination, self-belief and their opinions on the world, life and the human race, VANT don’t think they are better than you. They’re on the level. Mattie is quick to admit he doesn’t have all the answers but wants to start a conversation to get the ball rolling. ‘Dumb Blood’ is relatable and provoking without being judgmental. VANT are with you. They’re the same as you.
“I’ve always tried to maintain that. I generally don’t think I’m any different now to how I was two years ago when we signed a record deal. If anything I’ve got less and less arrogant and precious about things because when I was younger, it was a defence mechanism. Playing music and doing unusual things when I was 16 was my way of being more powerful than the kids around me whose ambitions were to go to college, university, get a normal job and die with a wife and kids. It’s not that I don’t want normality, but the older I got, the more I realised it’s not about you, it’s about everyone.
“If someone I know has a problem or an issue, I’ll try and talk it through with them or offer help and do whatever I can to just be there. That philosophy resonates in our music because I want to do whatever I can to help. I’m just a kid from an ex-coal mining town in the north east of England, and no one achieves anything from that place because of the prejudices that are put on them and the lack of opportunities that exist in that part of the world. Unfortunately, I had to move somewhere else to be given an opportunity, but I got it. I took it, and now I’m releasing an album to the world that says not only can you do anything, but you can also talk about anything to anyone, and I think that’s the most important thing; not to be afraid anymore, to say what matters to you and do what is important. I believe that we’re only here once and we can’t just be indulged in our own lives. I just want people to wake up.
And the alarm bell is ‘Dumb Blood’.
“This is probably the most arrogant I’m going to sound here,” warns Mattie, shuffling on the sofa, “but I genuinely think it’s a really great album. It’s got well-written songs with thought. The only reason I can justify going out on stage every night is that every single line of every single song means something. Every single line relates to a different thing, and I could sit and talk to you for about five days, taking you through the entire thing.” But, the studio is calling. “As much as it is spontaneous, it’s all thought out, and it’s all delivered with purpose. And it’s undeniable.”
“‘Dumb Blood’ is a comment on a silent generation,” he adds. “It’s meant to be metaphorical and mysterious because you can take so many meanings from the phrase, but the crux of it is the idea of a sleeping giant. The idea that we have so much power and we’re always so much more intelligent than the generations that went before us. The more we talk to kids after shows and young people in general, it’s just so obvious that 99% of them feel the same way we do. They want change, and they want things to get better.”
If 2016 was a wake-up call for the world – “it was everything we’d been talking about for maybe three or four years condensed into the unfathomable truths of the EU referendum and Donald Trump’s election” – 2017 is time to take that power back. “People have realised we have to start talking about these issues. ‘Dumb Blood’ is kind of a summary of where we are as a species and it suggests where I feel we should go rather than where we’re headed, so it’s all hypothetical.” Mattie knows the complexity of the situation and the fact people have enough struggles in their day-to-day lives means that the big-picture topics he wants to talk about aren’t the easiest to engage in. “The reality is that a lot of those day to day struggles stem from the bigger picture. If we can change the bigger picture, it will push us towards a much more equal society and help with the spread of wealth and opportunity. It’s really important to try and break people out of that mind frame of isolation.
“At the minute I struggle to see how we’re going to survive as a species for longer than a few hundred years. I really do. Everything is escalating so quickly that it’s unsustainable, and we’re not making enough changes now to have any real impact on the future. The people in power don’t give a fuck ‘cause they know they’re going to die anyway.” It’s now or never. “That’s the problem, we only think about our lifespan and not everyone else’s. I read something the other day that said maybe it’s a good thing that humanity destroys itself,” starts Mattie wearing a bleak smile, “because then we’d leave the planet for animals and life that probably deserves it more than we do.”
Despite the apocalyptic hopelessness, there’s a light to ‘Dumb Blood’. It’s snotty, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic and funny. “A lot of my major influences are comedians, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Stewart Lee; they use comedy as a tool to make people realise what’s going on while also expressing their own opinions.” As always with VANT though, it’s never one-dimensional. “If you hit people too hard with something, they’ll ignore it. It’s like the albums I listened to when I grew up, that infiltration of the mind is more powerful than an infiltration of your bowels,” he laughs, making it up as he goes along. “I don’t know,” he continues, running with it. “You can shove it up someone’s arse, or you can feed it to them nicely. It’s still going to come out the same end.” He pauses, thinking, before continuing. “I enjoy that snotty, sarcastic element and it very much plays on the idea of feeling lost and unsure of things myself. I find a lot of things difficult and unfathomable, but I think I’m worrying about the right things. I worry about a nuclear war or kids dying in the street. I think as a species, we need to think outside our own bubble. As a band, we’re trying to burst it.
“I had this vague idea when I started gathering songs together and refining the lyrics that for every three songs that were hard-hitting, I wanted to have a light-hearted song to go with it and eventually that mind-frame seeped into every song rather than it being specifically this song is full of hope. Instead, it’s very old school, end of a sitcom, moral. ‘Well, everything’s gone to shit, but at least we’ve learnt a lesson.’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s important not to only preach doom, because the reality is that there’s hope.”
Across ‘Dumb Blood’, VANT show empathy and understanding. ‘Parking Lot’ tackles sexual assault while elsewhere the band shine lights on inequality, sexism and racism. “I’m well aware we’re a band of four white dudes, how many of those have existed before, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t express my support for people in societal positions that are difficult and that’ll I’ll never understand,” starts Mattie. “I try and be respectful of those things, I’ll never understand what it’s like to be a black lesbian in Texas but I can definitely be appreciative of how difficult that might be and say I fucking agree with your stance and your right to be who you want to be. I’m so fucking lucky to be white, and straight and a man because I’ve never had to deal with what others have. Why is that? Why don’t I get as much abuse as other people? No one deserves it.” He’s the first to admit he’ll never understand the struggles of others as fully as he likes but that doesn’t mean he’s going to avoid conversation on the matter. “I think you need everyone in support,” he reasons. “There’s no point saying ‘that’s bad’ from a distance.” If you can, “You need to take charge of the situation and have the conversations with your friends and family. It’s how you change opinions.” Not through violence or aggression but conversation, thought and realising our similarities are greater than our differences. “We exist in a time where we are more selfish now than we ever have been. People generally in western culture only think about themselves, what their life means and this whole idea of individualism when the reality is that we’re all exactly the same.”
Despite the humanity, Mattie doesn’t do this to make himself feel better. “I want to do this because I feel like it’s important and I feel like I can hopefully make a difference and spur conversation.” Shunning the idea that he’s somehow better than others because of the discussions he inspires, he knows evoking emotion matters. “We need songs that make us laugh or dance or cry or just feel something. We need songs about emotion and life in general.” As long as it’s expressive, honest and means something to the person creating it, it’s important. “At this moment in my life I can’t write about those subjects, but it doesn’t mean I won’t ever write about them.”
“You’ve got to be selfish, you’ve got to make music that excites you, and that’s what we’ve tried to do with our first record. Moving forward, the second record – already written and with nine songs recorded – is so different. It’s so exciting, but that’s what keeps you going as a writer. People get bored, and they want it to sound new. Any successful artist is a chameleon. I’d rather people hated us or loved us than just didn’t say anything at all. I think that’s the problem with our generation as a whole is, we don’t express our opinions enough, whether it be music or politics or whatever. People just feel like they can’t deal with the criticism they might receive.”
In amongst everything, that belief in being yourself is the one thing VANT want to inspire. “I just want people not to be afraid. We’ve been as honest as we possibly can, as authentic as we possibly can. There’s a conscience thought to try and talk about as many things that we think are as important as possible, within the restraints of an album. Doing it with no fear and just not taking no for an answer and not watering down anything that we do. I feel like we’ve delivered something that is really important and really relevant in 2017.”
Everything is so unfathomable, but making a positive impact on the world is easier than you might think. “As we get older and with life in general, we find it really hard to be ourselves. If you find something that really inspires you and you concentrate on that, naturally it’ll have a positive impact,” starts Mattie. “Regardless of how big or small it is, as long as you’re doing something that is positive, that is the most important thing. Sometimes that means a lot of sacrifices and a lot of hard times but you’ll find some beauty and some meaning from it. You’ve got to be honest with yourself, you’ve got to ask, ‘Is this what I want to do?’ otherwise your life will get more and more stressful until you’re so engrossed in your own world that the outside world doesn’t matter anymore. Just do what you fucking love no matter how hard that is to achieve, otherwise you’ll wake up in twenty years time and regret everything. You can’t live your life like that.”
VANT’s debut album ‘Dumb Blood’ is out now.