Culture | Pushing the limits of pop

McGill band VLVBVMV mixes it up

When it comes to VLVBVMV (pronounced ‘Alabama’), the band’s name is considerably more complicated than the music they create. Their minimalist sound has a skeleton of pop, fleshed out with jazz. They only have a handful of songs released thus far, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in passion for the future of their project.

VLVBVMV consists of McGill students Stokely Diamantis on bass and electronics, Kate Markle on vocals, and Max Williams on the guitar. Their bare-bones beats paired with lofty vocals create an interesting balance — one with a purposeful outcome. “One thing that I think people need is music you can dance to, but also listen to and have great conversations with, and I think that that’s something we strive for,” said Markle. “We want people to have fun but also to be able to talk and enjoy it more peacefully.” Their music combines relaxing guitar riffs with more upbeat drums. Their instrumental “Mortal Wombat” takes this combination and uses bubbling samples to merge the two opposing sides together. In their non-instrumental pieces, Markle’s voice complements the guitar riffs, and creates more contrast with the drums – as in songs like “Just Passing Through.” As for specific influences, the group mentions Radiohead as having a huge impact on their music. As Williams explained, “Radiohead is, like, the trunk of the tree.”

“One thing that I think people need is music you can dance to, but also listen to and have great conversations with, and I think that that’s something we strive for.” -Kate Markle, singer for VLVBVMV

The group formed in November 2012 and have brought their different musical backgrounds to the table. Williams is trained in jazz, and was originally enrolled in the Performance Jazz program at McGill. Markle has classical, jazz, and opera vocal training, while Diamantis is doing a Musical Science and Technology minor. The group identifies itself as pop, but is constantly trying to push the limits of the genre. “It’s really cool to try and be as eclectic as possible with stuff like that,” said Markle. “I think it adds a lot to our appeal, even if it’s just around our friends.”

Diamantis came up with the name VLVBVMV during the first stages of their project. “I had named the rough demo tapes we had of this project, or the beats that I made I just sort of… oh sure I’ll type that in. I didn’t really anticipate that it would become our actual project name […] it seemed cool at the time,” joked Diamantis. Despite their somewhat impromptu origins, the music Diamantis, Markle, and Williams create is substantially more calculated. As the lyricist for the group, Markle draws inspiration from her Philosophy major to evoke themes of nature, imagery, natural philosophy, and the inner psyche. These ideas come through both in the lyrics themselves as well as in the band’s sound. “A lot of the lyrics are exploring emotions,” Markle explained. “Some of them [are in response to] heartbreak, some of them more psychedelic experiences, and some of them dealing with mental health issues as well.” She also admitted that, among the indirect inspirations, she’s also taken all of the lyrics from one song from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Even though they all seem to have separate roles in the band, Diamantis, Markle, and Williams identify themselves as a collaborative project. While Diamantis usually works on the underlying beat, and Markle tackles the lyrics, the melody is a group effort, and one can see a visible group dynamic. “I’ll ask them, what did you have in mind for this song? And like, what inspired it? And I’ll try and work off that,” said Markle.

“It’s really cool to try and be as eclectic as possible with [pushing the limits of the genre]. I think it adds a lot to our appeal, even if it’s just around our friends.” -Markle

On January 23, VLVBVMV played a show at La Sala Rossa with other bands from McGill. The group had mixed opinions on how successful the evening was. Diamantis seemed to be the only one pleased with how the show went, while Markle and Williams seemed unsure about the quality of their performance. “We had a ton of energy, people were dancing,” Williams clarified. “I’ll take that over playing really cleanly to a room that’s asleep any day.” The show was definitely a surprise in light of the band’s songs, which are for now only available online. VLVBVMV seemed to deliver their own pieces live with more energy and fullness than their recorded versions, something that can prove to be difficult for many bands. Markle’s voice sounded more confident live, although the group did not look particularly at home on the stage. On top of playing their older songs, they performed three new ones, and covered both The xx and Rhye. “We don’t play totally new stuff very often, but when we do it always puts [our music] into context,” reflected Williams. “It’s like we’re covering our old songs – and that’s a good place to be.” Their covers were impressive, and were appropriate picks for the group’s instrumentation.

VLVBVMV has recently found themselves breaking out of the ‘English university’ music scene and into the wider Montreal scene. Until now, they had been performing with bands from McGill and Concordia. The Montreal music scene is notoriously international, so despite Markle being the only band member from Canada, they fit in easily. They recently played a show with the Montreal band Noyro, and were fortunate to play at last fall’s POP Montreal festival, which they described as being a fun experience (despite not being able to remember most of the week).

As far as their future is concerned, the group has big plans. They are currently working on two EPs, one of which should be released before the spring.