FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week, Al Horner hears how Vincent Vocoder Voice spent five years becoming – then letting go of – the ghostly, Greek myth-inspired slenderman that haunts his new album I, Too, Was Wrought With Love.
Name: Vincent Vocoder Voice
From: Aviemore, Scotland
Must-Hear: I Too Was Wrought With Love (Tipp City)
For Fans Of: The Paper Chase, Swans, Slint
“Have you ever heard of the demiurge?” asks Vincent Vocoder Voice, or rather the philosophy-obsessed, Aviemore-based bedroom musician who’s spent five years inhabiting that character on charcoal-black noise-rock releases. He’s cheery for a guy whose alter-ego, he explains, was inspired by that ancient Greek theory, which posited that “the real god of the universe is either dead, mad or just evil, an inversion or absence of god… that’s sort of what Vincent was. This malevolent anti-god on a psychotic album full of raging id.”
The 2012 self-titled, self-produced debut he speaks of was just as bleak as the 35-year-old, real name Alexander Ross Petersen, makes out. A downtuned slog through sludgy riffs, piano dissonance and labyrinthine lyrics about haunted hinterlands, cracked teeth and “Jamie Oliver paellas in front of Dancing On Ice,” the record was heavily inspired by St. Vincent producer John Congleton’s former project The pAper chAse.
Your tour guide through the horror-scape painted was Vincent, a masked apparition that Petersen describes as “this weeping clown… face twisted half in sorrow, half in anger.” At live shows, he barked through the same mask as on the album’s sleeve, sweat beading down its paralyzed scowl.
“The whole mask thing was a bit of a strange one. Those songs were kinda not very much to do with me,” he says. “They’re not autobiographical. They were philosophical fragments I wanted to explore. So I needed to it not be about me, to take myself out of it. Then the mask just popped up one day when I was digging online.”
Five years, an EP, a charity Mogwai cover and one move to a remote part of Scotland later, Vincent Vocoder Voice – still in mask – returned last week with I, Too, Was Wrought With Love, his second album, and one that lets a little light into the abyss.
“I wanted to write something a little slower, more considered, that didn’t have the aesthetics of a rock record,” he explains of the added melody on tracks like gnarled piano closer ‘La Gloriosa Donna Della Mia Mente’, not to mention the Silver Mount Zion-ish ‘A Monk and a Butcher’ and acoustic lament ‘The Freest Man’. “There were certain themes I wanted to address that lent themselves to that extra space,” he says. A lot of it is to do with “hubris… people trying to transcend human facts. That we’re an animal.”
The album is rich with the kind of detail – prayer bells and warped chimes clanging in the background; eerie backwards samples of laughter used as texture – that can only come from self-producing (the album was largely recorded at home).”It’s nice to have the crazy creative control of making impossible sounds,” he says. The flip side of that attention to detail is the ease with which you can tumble down a rabbit hole of obsession. “Some songs I must have mixed from the ground up 30 times. I’m still not happy with it. But there you go.”
For all its sonic nuance though, the lyrics are what stay with you after delving into Vincent Vocoder Voice’s bleak world: dark, sometimes comic bon mots from the brink of an existential and moral blackhole (“I hath become death, re-re-reblogger of worlds,” he snarls on ‘Shackled With Candy to a Bladeless Plough’). No wonder, then, that …Wrought With Love comes with an accompanying book, a “loose collection parables” that “contextualizes a lot of the lyrics.”
Though Vincent was an imposing force on the first album, “he’s sort of absent” on the second, says Petersen, who explains a narrator called Hollowchest (named after a medical condition, pectus excavatum, he was born with) drives both the album and book forward: “I got to a place where I realized Vincent is now more simply just the name of the project.”
That doesn’t mean Vincent Vocoder Voice is near an end, though – a third album is demoed, and “there’ll be a fourth album too,” says Petersen. “I’m on sort of a creative burst so there’s more to come, definitely.” Just as well. As a voice crackles at the end of ‘La Gloriosa…’, right at the album’s close, with a note of ominous doom: “I’m not done with you yet.”
Al Horner is on Twitter.