Interview: Neil Fraser, Villainy

By Levi Harris

Kiwi-rockers, Villainy, have re-entered the scene after a four-year hiatus with a crash and yell!

Their recent album, Raised in the Dark is a 10-track testament to their musical prowess… and with the ten being the best 10 out of 107 songs, you know that each song is deliberate and speaks to a vulnerability underneath all the heavy smashing, crashing, and noise. Being the collective imagination of the band and long-time collaborators, Tom Larkin (Shihad) and Samuel K, the album is loaded with creative riff-work, slamming rhythms, heavy guitar solos, and poetic lyrical work.

Neil Fraser, vocalist, took time out of their busy tour schedule to chat with one of our interviewers about Raised in the Dark, the creation process, what makes a gig awesome, and what exactly happened to the remaining 93 songs…

Will we ever get to hear the remaining songs?
Well, we recorded I think 15-16 maybe 17… I can't remember the exact number. There’s like 6 or 7 songs that are mixed and everything that we’re just trying to figure out what to do with. We could have made the record longer but we kind of wanted... I don’t know, we felt like we wanted to be tight, which is why we went down to 10. The rest of the 90 odd songs are like, they all exist on demos and stuff 

Maybe put them on an ep at some other date.
Yeah, I mean the demos and stuff, maybe some of them are releasable, maybe they’ll show up in other songs or whatever. I mean someone asked me that the other day and I was like, for the next record, for me I kind of just want to start again 

Fresh start.
That’s like 2 years of writing which is a different point in time now you know? 

Would you say this Raised in the Dark is your proudest album so far? Are you most excited about this album?
Yeah for sure. It’s been such a massive journey to get here and we’ve got so much material for it. And I think with every record, hopefully for every artist, you kind of grow and figure out more about your own sound and what makes you special. I think that’s why I wanted to keep it tight and to 10 tracks only because we really wanted to represent the best of what we are. 

How long have you been singing and playing the guitar for? Which one did you first start doing?
I started learning the piano when I was like 7. My family inherited a piano when my grandmother died and I decided that I should learn to play it. So that’s kind of where my musical stuff kicked off, and I still really like playing the piano. We just haven't found a way to make it work in the band.

I picked up the guitar kind of late, at like 12 or something and that was all because I started to discover 90’s music like the Smashing Pumpkins, and all the standards: Nirvana, Soundgarden—I was real into Manson for a bit—just sweet riff stuff so… do you play the guitar? 

Nah, I play the drums. I'm useless at guitar.
Do you know about guitar tab and stuff? 

Yeah, I can read guitar tab.
Yeah so, I think the first song I ever learnt was Sweet Dreams the Marilyn Manson version just by like reading the tabs. But yeah singing wise, I've kind of always like singing but never really figured out if I was any good at it--

clearly you are--
Yeah, thanks… I just always wanted to sing my own songs and that meant having to sing, you know what I mean? 

Yeah,  I have that problem.
So that’s kind of what I pushed for.… you know, I started off doing Deftones covers and Foo Fighters and stuff like that. But the Deftones stuff I how I figured out how to scream and all that kind of stuff I like... it’s not like you can really sit at home in your bedroom when you’re a teenager and scream, because your neighbours will think someone's getting murdered.

Were you a natural when you first picked up a guitar?
I don’t know man, I pretty much play the guitar as like… it’s a way to get an idea across. Tom, in our band who plays all our lead parts, he’s definitely got like a connection to the instrument. He can pick it up and come up with all these weird sounds. He’s a very gifted guitar player which I think adds a lot to our sound.

Like that solo in Dreams and even going back to Alligator Skin, the guitar work in that—like that’s just him being a weirdo on the guitar you know? 

Yeah, he’s got some pretty crazy sounds aye?
Yeah, which is awesome. I guess like it's helpful for me cause it means I'm the one that has to play the boring stuff. Which is sweet ‘cause it means I get to focus on singing.

I've been listening to Dreams which is pretty cool, I like that. What inspired you to write that song?
That’s was actually the last song that was written into the record, and we recorded it separately from the rest of it. We did the whole album in Melbourne but we did that one back here in New Zealand. It’s kind of like... I guess it sort of encapsulated a lot of the themes on the record; finding out where you fit in the world and mid-life realizations that life isn’t as potentially easy as it appears to be, but really while “no one gives a fuck about your dreams,” sounds depressing and sad, it's kind of more like, “no one else cares as much as you do so you better push your own shit uphill yourself,” you know? 

You know, I guess being in a band, in the industry, having to fight to keep doing what you're doing, and honestly, life in general. It can be hard, you’ve got to lift yourself. 

Are you excited about your upcoming tour?
Yeah man, the Palmy show sold out literally last night.

Oh really, cool.
Yeah, we’ve sold 4 of the 7 now, which is legit as. It’s pretty awesome to go into a tour knowing you're going to be playing to cramped rooms every night. And it’s really humbling. We haven't done a headline tour in I think 3 years. So to go out and have this kind of energy around us is awesome. Especially as a headliner. It’s a different world, we couldn’t be happier. 

I saw you guys when you opened for ACDC, that was cool.
Oh wicked.

What would you say the best gig you’ve done?
The show that I always go back to—and I'm sure this tour will bring a lot of these nights—we did a show on the Dead Sight tour… this is going back to like 2015… in Dunedin at a venue called Refuel, which is this underground bunker kind of room… It wasn’t sold out or anything but there was probably like 200 people in there.

It was just one of those really hectic nights where you felt like everyone was on the same buzz. And because it was a cave-like room the energy was crazy; it was fucking ridiculously hot and yeah it just felt... I don’t know the word is. 

Yeah but like... I can’t really think of the word, but like, just really special, at the particular moment in time. You play a lot of shows and every show is great but sometimes they’re like different versions of themselves.

But that shows always stuck with me and, it felt like bit of a turning point for us. And obviously things like ACDC, those shows are really special on different levels cause of how ridiculously big they are. 

I heard you opened for The Offspring as well.
Yeah that was way back, I think 2013/2014. It was really cool man, Billy Talent was there as well.

Oh yeah, that’s right.
It was a really sweet line up. He was standing by the stage watching us for a bit, which is cool. We met them afterwards and they were all super nice guys. 

The thing that buzzed me out about that is like, I'm standing there watching them play a 24 song set and it’s just like… I grew up with The Offspring but I wasn’t a massive fan or anything… but I was standing there like holy shit you guys have so many hits 

Sweet, well thanks for your time Neil. And I wish you the best of luck with your touring and your new album release.

Listen to Raised in the Dark here