Frontman of VANT, Mattie Vant, is back from his ‘indefinite hiatus’, bringing with him a change up in the band’s music, a shift in focus and a seemingly more open, emotional mindset.
Sitting down with Mattie only hours after his opening gig for ‘Live at Leeds 2019’ we discussed the experience of playing for a still sober festival crowd. “It felt more choral, like church. The whole sober audience but in a rammed dirty little venue. It was quite a strange experience” Mattie explains. VANT played in Leeds’ The Wardrobe, with an apparent 450 capacity, which the underground venue hit mere minutes after Mattie took to the stage. “The atmosphere was just really nice. I felt like everyone was happy to be there. It wasn’t about the experience of going on a night out and getting smashed – I mean they will be smashed probably by now”. For reference, this was two in the afternoon. “But being first on, it was quite nice, just seeing them while they’re still pure! But the actual show was amazing, to be that busy so early on was overwhelming for me”.
Towards the very end of VANT’s set, Mattie hyped up the crowd, creating a mosh pit and it has to be said that they delivered, and then some. “I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t say something earlier on, because they only needed a little bit of encouragement and they went for it!”. Fans gave VANT a more than warm welcome back response, being equally as excited to hear some of their old favourites as they were responsive and open to the newer material.
There has been a dramatic shift in the style of VANT’s new material as demonstrated on the ‘Exoskeleton’ EP released only last month. The band appear to be veering away from punk rock, into a more hip-hop/pop vibe. Asking what the response has been like to the new material, Mattie replies: “I think it’s been amazing. I think people really understand it. Obviously, I intended for the music to be quite polarising and challenging to my audience and to potential new people listening to my stuff, because I wanted it to be very different from the first record”. Taking music in a different direction always comes with the fear of turning off current fans, however the new material is clearly connecting with both present and new listeners. “The way that I’m writing at the moment lends itself to being quite different. Although it’s had an overall very positive response online, I think as soon as people come to the shows, if they were 50/50 about it, seeing it in the context of the set with the rest of the songs, it makes sense and doesn’t feel as far removed as it might do on a record.”
Mattie explains how the writing process has changed in many respects. “Everything was written on a guitar before, with two guitars, bass and drums in mind. Whereas, now I’m writing with the freedom of knowing that I can pick up any instrument, use programming, samples or different software and just play around with it. In a sense it’s still got a very punk mentality because I’m very new to all this stuff. When I’m plugging in keyboards, or playing around with software for hours on end, it’s still got the youthful approach to it that making the first record had. You’re learning your instrument as you go.” Mattie appears to be having fun with the direction that VANT’s music is taking, having the freedom of experimentation despite the limits of being relatively new to this specific genre. “And I think that’s why it feeds into the cohesiveness of it in a live setting or even on record. Ultimately, it’s still me writing the songs, it’s still my voice, and the lyrics are still in a similar place to the first record. It’s more the tools that have changed, rather than the mentality”.
Debating the importance of studio work and live shows, Mattie explained that despite them being of equal importance, “You can just be a live band, build an audience and over many, many years not sell many records but play big rooms and concentrate on that. Equally though, you could be really avant-garde, play hardly any shows and just stay in the studio 24/7. Certainly, for myself, the live shows are the reward. You work really hard in the studio, and then when you finally play it live to an audience and it connects with them directly. That is the pay-off”.
Mattie is in the process of finishing the second album, which (fingers crossed) will be dropping around July. Although he has to keep his cards extremely close to his chest, he teased that “The first, what I’m going to call ‘part’ is nearly done”, promising that “there will be a lot of new music over the next few years, but the first instalment of it is nearly finished”. There are clearly huge plans for VANT’s future in the works, with Mattie explaining that he’s got this “absolutely ridiculous idea which is going to give me a lot of stress, but I think it’s going to be really interesting”.
I asked Mattie about the core differences between VANT’s debut album and the newer material in the works: “I think it’s more introspective. I’m not quite totally there yet with wearing my own emotions in the pubic sphere. I’ve always been a writer that has concentrated on everybody else’s problems, being quite socially and politically aware. That’s always been part of my message. There are still elements of that in what I’m doing now, but it’s moving more away from worrying about the big picture, and questioning ‘what’s my actual place in this?’. That feeling of hopelessness and dread when you have the realisation that, regardless of what you do and what you say, ultimately it has no impact”.
Discussing the idea of these fears and feelings applying universally to people Mattie explains that “I think a lot of people suffer from anxiety, depression and questioning their place within humanity. I think that certain people find that way more difficult to deal with”. Mattie opened up about the idea of music being a therapy of sorts for many. With regards to the first record, in focusing on social commentary and political issues he has realised that “I’m not dealing with a lot of the stuff which is personal”, which was made clear over his hiatus. “Although I haven’t written anything that it really intrusive to myself yet, I feel like I’m getting to a point where I can let people into that side”.
I bring up the idea of music being a form of therapy, with VANT’s music impacting and helping people perhaps going through a rough time themselves. “That’s been really nice actually. Part of the encouragement that I’ve received from the tour is speaking to people who have said, ‘this has helped me through a really difficult time’. To know that you can have that impact on other people does drive you to continue. That’s what’s been particularly difficult over the past 18 months of not having any interaction with the outside world – not having that day-to-day feedback from people and fans. They are the things that keep you going. There’s no way in hell that I’m ever going on hiatus again!”.