Victor & The Bully have smashed onto the British steampunk scene in the last few years with a raucous live show and an album so tight it hangs teabags on the washing line. Beloved by all, the London boys sat down with me at Whitby Steampunk Weekend to discuss their past, present and future. Please be aware that this interview contains some swearing. Usually by me as I try to frustratingly keep them on track.
M: Ok, so what’s going to happen, you ask questions?
SJ: No, I’ll start recording and you just talk. Go!
SJ: Say something funny!
Matt: errr, errr…
SJ: Ok, so..
M: Slap the Mash!
SJ: Yes, you could do that
Harry: Slapping the Mash
M: Slap the Mash…. Slap the Mash.
H: Yeah, man!
SJ: Ten minutes of that sound going on; that’d be nice.
M: That’s my new sex move, Slap the Mash.
H: He loves slapping the mash…. It is pretty good.
M: Come back to mine. Slap the Mash.
SJ: Victor and the Bully have been filming Devil’s Got My Soul?
M: Yep, we’ve been filming that today. We were up at 7 this morning to get ready. We then came into the theatre at around 8 o’clock… no, half 8…
H: Full make-up
M: Yeah, full make-up. The idea is that the Devil’s controlling us as puppets. So we had to film putting as much energy in as we could in full make-up at 9 in the morning, jumping about..
H: To an empty theatre.
M: To an empty theatre..
H: Just listening to a backing track off of a phone. So it’s not really loud at all. And we need that loudness.
M: And we need to pretend that we’re really into it.
H: At 9 in the morning, because we can’t react to nothing, so there’s no speakers, there’s just this tiny little speaker chucking out a song. And we’re on the stage REALLY going for it and it actually went really well.
M: Yeah, we did it in three takes.
H: Yeah, it was pleasant.
M: Then we went into actual Whitby to film some standard music video shots and then we came back into the convention and we got a few… Well, one of the lines of Devil’s Got my Soul, there’s one line that says Now I’ve got all these women, I’m feeling rock and roll and during that line we had loads of women all around us, sorting of touching us…
H: They touched us a lot.
M: So that was a good bit, we didn’t want to move after that bit.
H: They touched us a lot! They proper groped me.
SJ: And that one took 20 takes? You’re like “Ah that was wrong”, the Director is like “No it was alright!”, “No, no, we need another take”
H: Ah, I dunno, I proper got a groping, then I was like “oh, ok”, then I was like “yeah, alright then.. Go on then, keep going” (laughs)
M: So that was good! Now we’re just chilling out and then our set is going to be filmed and then it’s going to be cut and edited to create this music video.
H: They’ve done so well. They’re only young. They’re students doing it straight out of college. This is their first time. They’ve been really professional, they’ve sorted it all out, they know exactly what they’re doing. It’s been lovely working with them.
M: They’re lovely guys… We’ve had to sign a document that if we die, it’s not their fault.
H: Oh yeah (laughs), a release form. If it goes wrong and we die it’s not their fault.
M: To which I counter offered and gave THEM one (laughs)
SJ: “If I kill you it’s not my fault”
M: Yeah.. “You signed it! You signed it, you’re dead now. Soz”
SJ Is that the most popular song?
M: It seems to be. On Spotify it shows the most popular songs and that’s the one that’s at the top. So we’re trying to write a new album at the moment and we want to include another electro-swing song. But we don’t want to just keep going down the electro-swing avenue. Although it’s popular, we’ve got to mix it up.
H: Matt’s really into electro-swing and he was like “I really want to write an electro-swing song” so compared to the rest of the album, it stands on it’s own and people seem to be really drawn towards that. It’s really dancey and punchy and really gets you involved. So we want to do more of that.
M: The new album we may do two electro-swing songs instead of just the one because people seem to enjoy it. It’s all about having a think and depending on what ideas we get and see where we go from there.
We’ve started writing one at the moment… Well, at the moment, the theme of it is going to be about a freak show. Yeah, so we’re still working out ideas and throwing the occasional track out there. We’re going to be performing a new song tonight called Beelzebub Boogie. We’re going to be playing that.
SJ The one that you posted on Facebook?
M: Yeah, we’re going to be playing that one tonight.
H: It’s like an unofficial single
M: First ever time we’ve played it tonight. I still don’t even know the lyrics to it. (laughs)
H: But the audience don’t need to know that.
M: I’ll just repeat the first verse twice!
H: It’s just another typical Victor and The Bully song; it’s really upbeat, really fun.
M: We’ve got a bit in it, where..
H: The participation?
M: Yeah, there’s participation.. It’s a bit like Minnie the Moocher where I say something and the crowd repeats it back. Which is great.
H: You’ve got a bit of freedom
M: Yeah, I’ve got a bit of freedom to play around with it.
H: To say what he wants.
M: I can get the whole crowd to just insult Harry.
H: Pretty much; he can say anything, so I’ve literally given him that and it could go really bad, it could go really well, it could be really funny or I could get really offended. Either way, everyone’s happy (laughs)
SJ: As long as the crowd are happy, that’s the main thing
H: He loves it anyway, he loves it.
SJ: Speaking of fun, that’s what I liked about the album. It’s about death and the afterlife but yet it’s so happy and a complete contradiction. It should be something slow and bleak but it’s not, it’s (does jazz hands)
M: Jazz Hands! (laughs)
H: That’s the dark comedy aspect to it, it’s like you can talk about death and you can talk about the afterlife, but it doesn’t have to be sad and terrible.
M: Looking at pictures of us, people could think we’re quite a sad and depressing band. I don’t know how you can think that, the moment you see a Ukelele. That’s instantly happy.
H: From playing silly songs, jamming in the park and now it being on the album. We love playing it every single time. It’s hilarious. I’ve personally been itching to play since November so it’s really going to be a good show. I can’t WAIT!
SJ: Tell us how you got together and where it all started.
H: WELL… Matt knows this actually (laughs)
M: I took a day off work pulling a sickie. It was a glorious sunny day. I posted on Facebook “I’ve taken a day off sick, but I’m not sick. Does anyone want to hang out?” and Harry was like,“Yeah”.
I’d never met him. He used to come to a few shows, but I’d never really met him. When he first messaged me, I thought he was hitting onto me and I was like; “Do you play a guitar, or instrument?” And he was like, “Yeah, I play the guitar.” So we arranged to get a few beers, go to the park and jam. So we met up and I was like “Right, I’ve written some songs if you want to play along to these?” So I gave him some chords and he didn’t know any chords at all. And he was like “Oh I’ve always wanted to play a live show. I’ve never played in front of an audience before.”
H: I was a bit of a fanboy at the time and I used to watch his old band Billy Rebel all the time. And it was just so fascinating to watch, I was like “One day, I’m going to do that” and as soon as he put the status up, I was like “That’s my chance!” So I got in there but previously I’d learned all music by ear. Then all of a sudden, it’s saying this song goes E, A, G… I didn’t know what he meant. So I was literally doing it by ear and it was frustrating for him. So I went away, learned all my chords..
M: Yeah, so I said to him “If you want to do one gig, cool, but you need to learn chords. Go away for a month, learn your chords then we’ll revisit and try and try and go through some of these songs.” He went away for a month and he nailed it. He knew all his chords and so we started recording and he said he wanted to play one show, so I said “Cool, let’s just do one show for a bit of fun.” We ended up loving it and getting more into it.
H: And here we are at Whitby Steampunk Weekend!
H: It was a little dream of mine. Being able to play live music and get that reaction from the crowd. Obviously when we started it was local pubs. Then we kicked it up to the West End, then we went from the West End to getting into the steampunk community and that’s where it all went bang! It was amazing.
M: It was A Splendid Day Out, having the opportunity at A Splendid Day Out gave us… We liked steampunk anyway, but we didn’t realise there was such a community. I’ve always loved steampunk. I have a full tattoo back piece but I never realised what this stuff was about. So Rose, Rob and Ian asked if we wanted to play so we went and we played at the steampunk festival and we just fell in love. As most people do when they discover steampunk, you know?
H: Head over heels
M: From there, we then played at the Surrey Steampunk Convivial and it just sort of snowballed from there. And we’re so lucky to have been given this opportunity to play the first Whitby Steampunk Festival, it’s incredible and we’re so thankful to be such a great part of it. We’ve made so many great friends, it’s like a little family.
H: Absolutely, it’s been the best time ever.
SJ: Yeah and that’s the nice thing about you guys. You seem very thankful for everything
H: Oh we’re thankful alright!
SJ: It’s easy to get into this routine where artists think they’re above their fans. They’ll play their stuff and then they’ll go. Whereas one thing I noticed about you guys at ASDO in particular was that, well for a start New Jacobin Club came on and helped you with Monotony
H: Oh yeah!
SJ: Then after you played, you were on the dancefloor and you were chatting to people
M: Oh yeah, the way we look at it is that you’ve got all these fantastic people on these stalls making all their stuff. The only difference is, they’re making stuff that’s physical, we’re making stuff that’s music. Everyone is here making stuff and it’s all about supporting each other. Our talent playing an instrument is equally as good as the talent of these people that make all these things. Everyone’s making all this stuff, but everyone is as talented as each other, just in different ways.
H: I think in this community, we do like to stick around. We don’t just come to the gig, we turn up early, we go and see all the people that we know
M: We love it
H: We’ve made so many friends in this community it’s lovely to see everyone all the time.
M: It’s like a big family.
H: Exactly, and we play the show…
(Gurdybird enters the room)
M: Gurdybird.. she’s so fit
H: Some bands out of pure arrogance, they play and then they go. But as soon as we play, we stick around, we…
M: Get naked..
H: Get naked
M: Touch ourselves
H: We watch everyone else and just enjoy the night because it’s never over until they say “It’s over”. So we love to stick around.
M: We have to be told to leave.
H: Yeah, we have to be dragged away and we’re always the last ones to leave. Especially him, because he’s an alcoholic.
H: You’re not an alcoholic
M: I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk.
H: You only say that when you’re drunk though.
SJ: Alcoholics go to meetings
M: I’ve got no alcohol problems. I can clearly put it in my mouth. I’m not pouring it on myself.
H: That’s not the worst thing you’ve put in your mouth.
SJ: It’s not like the Airplane scene where you have a drinking problem and it goes in your eye?
M: (laughs) No.. You see, that’s a drinking problem.
SJ: You’re writing a new album, do you have any plans to tour?
M: Yeah, we’d really like to go overseas at the moment. We’ve got a few “bites on the hook” but we don’t want to talk about them until things are confirmed. We don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch. Ideally though, we really want to go overseas just to see what steampunk events are about. Well, not just steampunk, but anything. We’re quite open to any idea.
H: I think we still class ourselves as alternative, not strictly steampunk.
M: I think if we say we’re just steampunk then we pigeon hole ourselves. Steampunk is our bread and butter but at the same time… Well, the weekend just gone we played at a Cabaret & Burlesque Festival. There was no steampunk about it. But steampunk is where we like to reside.
H: We love it.
SJ: Where do you see yourselves going in the future?
H: It’s tough to say, really..
SJ: You know, like an ideal situation..?
M: All situations as musicians, you just want as many people as possible to listen to your music. But you’ve got to be realistic about it. We’ve both got 9-5 day jobs. At the moment we’re going with the flow. If we get asked to a festival, we’re like “Yeah, let’s do the festival, great!” If we set ourselves a goal and then we don’t achieve it, it’s quite heart breaking.
H: We’re literally just going with the tide.
M: Yeah, but things like promoting the album.. We’ve got goals, but they’re achievable goals. We’re not saying we want to be touring with Beyonce.
H: (laughs) although that would be pretty good
M: We’re still fairly early and new to this and we don’t want to compare ourselves to the people who have been doing it for years, you know? We’ve been lucky with the opportunities that we’ve been given.
H: We still do this because we enjoy it so much. We don’t do it because there’s a pound factor on it, we turn up because we enjoy being here.
SJ: I think it shows
H: Out of all the bands that we’ve met along the way, they’re really good friends of ours, having a good laugh, meeting all the people that come out to our shows and seeing them every single time, it’s just nice.
M: We’re going to these events and because there’s only two of us, for us it’s like we’re going away as best mates…
H: Don’t push it..
M: We go to all these places..
H: We’re going to cuddle tonight.
SJ: Big spoon?
H: (laughs) spooning! Didn’t do it last night, I was really cold. I was really disappointed.
M: I had to wake him up and say “Stop snoring!”
H: Yeah, he did at half three this morning and I was really angry ‘cos I couldn’t get back to sleep.
M: I couldn’t get to sleep ‘cos of your snoring… So yeah, we get on fine apart from your snoring.
H: Should have brought some ear plugs then, shouldn’t you?
M: Yeah.. butt plugs. Wat.
SJ: If you can fit those in your ears..
H: Well, his bag is very heavy…
M: Technically, your ear hole is always gaping.
SJ: So you’ve met everybody that you’re playing with tonight?
M: Yeah, well we haven’t played with Alice’s Night Circus but we’ve seen her at A Splendid Day Out.
SJ: Ah, you see I missed her. She was on the Friday I think and I didn’t get there until midnight on the Friday.
H: Because that’s when you turn up for an event.
M: Yeah, so we’ve seen her and met her, but never played alongside her. We’ve played a few shows with Professor Elemental, so they’ve been good. And Gurdybird…
H: We’ve seen her loads of times
SJ: I’ve never seen her play live
H: She’s really really good, she’s such a talented musician
M: And it’s good to see such an interesting instrument.
H: Yeah that instrument is like “Oh my God!”
M: She’s got a real cool, dark vibe about it, that’s what I like
H: She’s really talented.
M: There’s some fantastic artists on the steampunk circuit.
SJ: There’s some interesting instruments being used on as well. Obviously Gurdybird and her Gurdy, then there’s the Theremin that Candice plays in New Jacobin Club. There’s also a band that plays around Leeds called Devil’s Jukebox and Scarlet Bonansea uses Suitcase Percussion, which looks like a harpsichord built into a vintage suitcase, it’s amazing.
*At this point Professor Elemental entered the room and had a chat with us. In those few minutes, he covered his range of teas, new music he’s working on and his Patreon page. Just when I began to suspect he was using the time to promote himself, he moved onto the correct way to fold up a Pac-a-Mac. He’s also still going on about those bloody Squirrels. Thankfully, an organiser came to take him away somewhere and we tried to get back on track.
SJ: Where were we?
M: I can’t remember.
SJ: Ok, well let’s look at a comparison of playing a steampunk gig and a – dare I say it – “normal” gig.
M: Yeah, well I used to play in quite a heavy band. And what I found was that the guitarists wouldn’t chat to each other and the drummers wouldn’t chat to each other… It’s almost like there was a rivalry. But with the steampunk community, it’s like a big family, you know? You look on the bill of who’s playing and you’re excited because you’re going to be seeing your mates..
H: Yeah, I was just about to say that
M: The Wattingers, Filthy Spectacula, Kiss Like Ether, you know you’re playing with your mates. It’s cool, you’re on a bill and you get to enjoy it. That’s what’s so good about it, everyone’s supporting one another and you’re tagging each other in things. And just sort of advertising each other.
H: As we say, it’s quite a niche market, steampunk. But it’s a good job it’s niche because these bands who we play with all the time have become really good friends of ours, like Gordon Vader of Dark Design and like all those guys. I mean, Professor Elemental just walked in. I’ve seen him a couple of times, he’s really good. Really nice guy and you just look forward to it every single time. You can be invited to any of these steampunk gigs and you don’t have to second think it. It’s just like “Yes!”
M: You know you’re playing among friends.
H: Exactly, it’s just a really good time, every single time. We absolutely love it.
M: Yeah, that’s what it’s about, Things like the Phoenix Festival, you see who’s on and you’re basically going for what, an hour’s set? So you’re basically doing an hour’s set for then a whole weekend of just hanging out with your mates. I mean, we’re so fortunate to be…
H: It’s not like “Oh we’ve finished playing and we have nothing to do”, it’s like we have a really good time with our mates, play a good show and then keep hanging around with your mates.
M: Yeah, they can say “You’re playing Saturday at 6 o’clock” and we’re like “Cool. Let’s get there Thursday!”
SJ: There’s turning up early and there’s turning up early…
M: Pretty much..
SJ: Is there anyone that you want to play with that you’ve not had the opportunity to yet?
M: We haven’t played with Mr. B yet.
SJ: You could have a moustache competition.
M: And a Ukelele competition. Although he plays a Banjolele. I do have a Banjolele..
H: Same concept.
M: Same concept. So we’re playing a few shows with him this year. We’re playing with him at Airship Northstar.
SJ: That’s up in Northumberland, isn’t it?
M: Yeah, that’s right. So we’re looking forward to playing with Mr. B… We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to play with so many people. There’s some overseas bands like the Cog is Dead. We’d love to play with them, I think we have a similar style. So playing with these overseas bands is what we’d really like to achieve. But one stepping stone at a time.
H: We’re enjoying the ride so far. There’s no rush to make it to these overseas gigs to play at the top. We want to be there and we will eventually once our chance comes along. No complaints.
M: For me, Voltaire would be a great band to play with. The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk you know all these overseas artists…
H: Steam Powered Giraffe
M: Oh God, yeah
SJ: I was just thinking that you guys on stage with them would be amazing.
H: They played at Asylum and I was so jealous that we couldn’t be there. But yeah, I love Honeybee.
SJ: It’s like, my favourite song from them.
M: There’s loads of bands. We feel as though we’ve only explored 10% of what steampunk has to offer. Just a little smidgen. We got asked to play at the Tokyo steampunk convention, but there view on steampunk is so different to ours.
SJ: What comes first, is it the song writing or the music development?
H: You’ve done a lot of lyrics, haven’t you?
M: Yeah, so I could be just jamming along on my Ukelele and I could think “Ah that chord, that works” and away we go. Sometimes I’ll get a tune in my head and I’ll sing it in my voice recorder on my phone. Then I’ll take it home and I’ll try to write a song off of that sound recording that I recorded.
H: He’s a bassist, so from the bands he’s been in before, he’ll come up with a really technical bassline, set that down, add the Ukelele, add some guitar and then that’s the foundation.
M: You need a skeleton
H: Then you add the trumpets, the violins and that’s what turns into one of the songs. Each one of those is literally trial and error. You just keep messing around and keep messing around. All the songs are unique in their own way but they all come from the same source. So they all come from that song that you can’t get out of your head. Then you just record it and it builds and gets bigger and bigger.
M: The great thing that works with us is that we’re so flexible in the sense that we can literally…
H: Do the splits
M: (laughs) pick up an instrument, got the tablet for the backing tracks and off we go. We sort of keep it very minimal.
H: That was our edge when we started. It didn’t matter where we went, who we were playing for. Me and Matt, we can just turn up, practice, no trouble whatsoever, we can jump on a train, go to a gig, plug in and start playing.
M: We take no amps with us anywhere
H: No amps. The whole 4 piece band is that you need to get a guitarist, a bassist, a singer, a drummer and any backing to turn up in one place, perform, rehearse and…
M: Yeah, we live down the road from each other, so it’s..
H: Well we don’t any more, you’ve moved fucking miles away from me. And I’ve got to get a train to your house, every time… Then I’ve got to get a train all the way back to my house and it’s horrible…
No, I’m only joking, it’s fine.
M: Well, every time we practice, we’re drunk.
H: He gets me drunk.
M: I’m like “come over to have a practice” next thing we’ve got through two bottles of red wine and we’ve done our practice and we’re playing Tekken on the xBox.
H: You know when you’re drinking and you’re playing an instrument and you get the instruments out after you’ve had a drink and you’re like “listen to this” and it’s like “Ooh, that’s good, yeah..”
M: Most of our songs are written drunk.
H: That’s the bit I was getting to. So we’re like “Oh that sounds good, I’ve got some lyrics that’ll go to that” and then it turns into a song. So pretty much Deathbed Confessions is the idea of two drunk guys jamming together.
M: You’re really selling it mate!
H: We take our jobs so seriously..
SJ: You should have put that on the front cover.
H: Aw, why didn’t we do that? “We woz drunk”
But at the same time, we’re really proud of that album. We made sure that it was perfect when it came out.
M: We’ve also got the producer of it – a guy called Ash Tarrant, wonderful guy – and when we write, I do the concept of the backing and he’s got all the proper equipment to make it sound incredible. He’s got the right packages for the right violins and stuff, so he’s like a third secret Victor & The Bully member.
H: Basically, he pays for it and we download it off the internet. (laughs)
M: What do you mean?
M: Oh, Cubase, yeah. Yeah, the violins and all that sort of stuff to try and get… don’t get me wrong, we don’t use any loops, we write it all ourselves, but he’s got the really good package to make it sound amazing, you know? All our violins are recorded using a keyboard and stuff but he makes it sound sort of beefier.
H: So where something would sound good, he would tinker with it and it would sound better.
M: So he’s like a third hidden member.
H: He’s a third member, yeah. Without him, we couldn’t have done it. He’s been amazing.
M: Yeah, absolutely fantastic.
M: The new album’s got more saxophone in it.
SJ: Sexy sax?
H: We’re loving the Sax
M: Yeah, we’re loving the Sax. And a Harpsichord.
H: A Harpsi..what?
M: A Harpsichord… You know, like the Stranglers – Golden Brown?
H: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah… No I don’t.
M: Yeah you do!
SJ: With Deathbed Confessions, every song has got a link to death. Was that something that you consciously did. Did you want to write an album about death?
M: No (laughs)
SJ: You found that you just had all things songs about death coincidentally?
M: Yeah, pretty much it was like “Oh.. oh another one about death? Oh, bollocks.” “I feel like we need a different theme here.”
H: The songs came first. We wrote all the songs and we had all these songs on a list. And we came up with a concept when we were practicing in our old rehearsal space. Which was Matt’s garage. We had the concept that the Grim Reaper had been taken down by Victor & The Bully and it was their moral obligation to take the mantle. So we thought then if it’s Deathbed Confessions, it’ll be the Grim Reaper coming for one of our relatives and then he turns up, we take him down and we take up his job as the Grim Reaper.
SJ: And that’s where the song Worked to Death comes from?
M: Yeah, you’re working 9-5, you wake up and you’re like “oh, I’ve gotta go out reaping”
H: So then we take on the job of the Reaper and we completely don’t do our job properly. So then it turns into this drunken, suit up, stone cold, Devil’s Got my Soul mash up.
M: We’d really like to call the next album “The Eighth Deadly Sin”.
H: (whispers) Dramatic!
SJ: Which would be.. Saxophone..
M: Butt stuff
H: We want some butt stuff
M: Butt stuff and saxophone.
H: Butt stuff and sax, yep. Butt and Sax.
M: Sax butt?
SJ: Butt sax?
H: Butt sax.
M: “Hey, you wanna come over here and hear some butt sax?”
SJ: That sounds like some kind of disease “Doctor I’ve got a problem,” “Yes, it’s your Butt sacks. They need to be drained.”
M: Only one song ever played with a saxophone, ever. That’s Careless Whisper. No other song has had a saxophone in them. The moment you say to someone “Saxophone”, everyone just sings the Careless Whisper melody.
SJ: (Trying to wrestle control of the interview) I like how in the third verse of Worked to Death, you just start abusing your power and going after people you don’t like.
H: We actually had a video concept for Worked to Death. It was basically going to London Bridge, or Tower Bridge
M: During Rush Hour
H: During Rush Hour, dressed as the Grim Reaper just being filmed walking down there, cloaked. Looking at all these people, because they’re all our souls that are coming down to the “Waiting Room” if you like.
SJ: That sounds great, you should do that
M: Yeah, we could still do that.
SJ: It reminds me of the story a few years ago when two ladies walked onto Tower Bridge in the middle of Rush Hour with a table, chairs and tea set. They set up, sat down and started having a cup of tea. Nobody has heard from them since or seen anything like it since, that I know of.
H: I think I saw that, were they dressed as Alice in Wonderland?
SJ: No, they had long Victorian dresses on
H: Ohh, I’ve seen something similar in Camden.
SJ: Yeah, they just had afternoon tea and buggered off.
H: Maybe they were ghosts?
SJ: Haha, maybe? The thing is, people just walked past them. Some took pictures, but most ignored them. You can do anything in London.
H: It is quite bad. But they’re boring and we’re fun.
SJ: I’m sure you could dress up and walk down there with a scythe. Just don’t threaten people or you’ll get arrested.
M: We could have a sign that says “Have a nice day!”
H: “See you very soon! Down Below!” Whether you like it or not.
You can visit Victor & The Bully’s Facebook page here: Facebook page link
Listen to their music before inevitably buying it: Soundcloud link
Then buy it here: Big Cartel page
Or if you have a sense of dark fun, become a Sinner on their fan page: Facebook fan page