“We’re only giving yes or no answers,” remarks vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Cathy Lucas, upon sitting down to start the conversation with the majestical group Vanishing Twin.
A second voice, drummer Valentina Magaletti, pipes up in agreement; “Yes, we are very black and white people – no grey areas”. Had it not been for the detection of a hint of sarcasm and playfulness, it might have been the decision of many an interviewer to begin worrying how the next thirty minutes might pan out.
While this playful aspect of their demeanour is certainly a feature they manage to incorporate into their music, Vanishing Twin couldn’t be further from black and white. The band’s approach to making music is exploratory and open-minded, drawing from an extensive mutual love for crate-digging and constantly teaching each other new things about their respective wide-ranging influences. With such an eclectic mix of inspirations, it’s sometimes a miracle that all of them can coexist harmoniously, but the inquisitive way in which the group delve through catalogues of sound allows them to always find a way.
It isn’t just through the music that this curiosity shines through, but the subjects that Lucas explores within the lyrics – suggesting a thirst to discover more about the world around us, from songs about language and science to others that take on a more existential theme. The band’s most recent record, 2019’s stunning The Age of Immunology, displays a fascination with this idea of ‘otherness’ and finding meaning within the most confusing parts of our lives. The end result is an album that cements itself far from anything else released last year, and is able to live content in its own surrealist, cinematic universe. As said, Vanishing Twin are anything but black and white; they are keen explorers of everything that exists in between.
Cathy and Valentina were more than happy to open up about the peculiar world of Vanishing Twin, discussing everything from making the most of musical freedom to immersing themselves in the works of obscure library composers. It’s fair to say that yes or no answers were very much off the cards, as the pair enthused at great length about their mutual passions and what makes them tick as individuals.
First things first, I wanted to talk about the origins of the band. You were all involved in lots of projects beforehand, but I wanted to know how that all came together – did you all know each other and have a desire to work together knowing you all had similar tastes?
Cathy: Val and I were already working together, and actually I didn’t know any of the others before the band formed. I sort of got to know them as they joined, because it was really about the way that each person played. I think that’s what brought us together, rather than being friends.
Is it right that some of the early material was work you’d initially been preparing for a solo project, and how did that fit in with the way you now write as Vanishing Twin?
C: Yeah, I guess quite a few were written for a solo project called Orlando – but as people joined and we really started to play together it didn’t make sense for it to be a solo project anymore. I had put out some music on my own but it sounded so different to what we were doing as a band, it just didn’t make sense. So we got a new name, and it just became something different.
Would you say it’s more of a democratic process now – is everyone involved equally?
Valentina: I don’t know if democracy is the right word for it, in a sense you know there’s always a recipe for disaster waiting in every band. Everyone has a veto, and if someone in the band isn’t happy with it then we’ll try and not go with it. I guess this is a silent democracy in terms of taste because it’s something we all tend to agree on – the starting point was that we cherry picked members who had the same sort of vision and understanding. We don’t encounter any major disagreement in what we like and what we don’t like.
C: I think in terms of writing, the difference is that instead of me starting from scratch on my own, we tend to start together and then I’ll take it away and work on it. To me, much more interesting things happen when you put four people together in that way and find a sort of telepathy between each other.
The Age of Immunology got a lot of praise towards the end of last year, having slipped under a lot of people’s radars at the time of release – was this reaction unexpected or had you seen a gradual increase in attention over the last six months?
V: It’s still very underrated, I would say… (laughs) but we’re very proud of it!
C: I mean, yes and no. We felt very sure about it and really like it. We’re definitely not one of those bands who’ll say “oh, we hate that record we put out”, where as soon as it’s out they never want to listen to it again. I actually do listen to what we do now and again and we’re all really proud of it.
V: It was exactly the record we wanted to put out.
C: For sure, so in that sense you’re not surprised when other people like it but at the same time, because the first album kind of went under the radar we didn’t necessarily have any expectations in terms of critical or commercial feedback.
V: I suppose that’s quite healthy anyway because no expectation leads to all the joy that comes from the praise.
You’ve spoken a lot about a mutual love of library music and soundtracks – what was it that initially drew you to those sounds and what were your first experiences of experimenting with similar sounds within your own music?
V: It’s partially because we’re both avid record collectors and we’ve always been curious as to what’s out there that is not particularly mainstream, so there’s nothing better than library music that feeds that thirst for what is “other” or interesting, without having to obey any of the mainstream rules. All of these records had only been pressed 150-200 times and they were never meant to be for a big audience, they were just experiments that were made for little documentaries. It’s really where you find the freshness and originality of someone who doesn’t have to obey any rules. It’s even better than soundtracks because with that you have a theme you have to follow. People like Ennio Morricone, Piero Umiliani or Egisto Macchi, they were paying their bills doing the soundtracks, but would be working until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning in their spare time just experimenting with stuff. That’s what we really like and it has really informed what we do.
C: For me, it’s been quite a learning experience with this group of people. Phil (keys and synths) has been a really big influence on me in terms of the way that he uses library music to make other music. He uses a lot of samples from library records, and that to me has been very inspiring.
V: I had a few lucky encounters while living in Rome where I got access to Cometa Records, which was one of the leading music libraries in the 70s. They showed me their archives and I got to acquire some of their collection, so that was a big start for me because I’d been given access to stuff that will likely never be re-pressed. It was also such a big thing for me because it’s such an Italian thing, and to learn about where it was all recorded between [Rome and Florence], that kind of triggered my interest for what it was.
C: This was a while ago, but my partner made a library compilation for a label called Lo Recordings. They work a lot with Chappell Music who kind of feed the library with new stuff but also do curated reissues of their back catalogue, so he was doing one of those and I didn’t really know what it was. You’d go into this little room and it’d be just full of records and I’d just listen to absolutely everything and I’d pick out the best tracks. I loved that idea, that that is literally just the entire library. He’d then tell me about how quite a few are missing because someone’s thought “I like the look of that”.
V: But there’s Chappell, there’s KPM, Bruton, lots of huge British libraries…
C: It’s inspired our output in terms of format as well, our next release is sort of a little spin on a library release. It’ll hopefully be completely different from [Magic & Machines, the band’s 2018 cassette-only release], that was a sort of a long and drawn-out, inner space improv-release. This is more like a series of two-minute mood pieces, very much in that format and in a playful package.
Moving away from the musical influences and onto lyrical themes – it seems that these don’t get touched upon enough despite being very much of interest. What do they mean to you?
C: Usually I’ll start with a few things without much of a direction and then I’ll try and find something that gives the whole thing purpose, something that narrows it a little bit and puts it into its own world. It started off where I had a song about language and a song about swimming, another one about being footloose in the world and not having a home. In the end, The Age of Immunology helped to bring all of that into a rounder theme of trying to have meaningful encounters with ‘otherness’, whether that’s like another version of yourself or communicating with other people. I think for me, that’s what this band is really about, we’re all sort of from different worlds in a way, and music is the way that we speak to each other. There’s also a wider political meaning as well, in terms of how it’s crucial to our survival that we reach out to what is different to ourselves.
In terms of exploring “what is different to ourselves”, would you say this is an extension of the first album, Choose Your Own Adventure?
C: I think the writing style is similar, but that was way more about creating a mythology around the ‘vanishing twin’ and creating an origin story for the band, playing with big ideas and making them seem small. I took motifs from science, folklore, religion, art, etc. and just weaved them into a sort of personal mythology.
V: It was also sort of about this imaginary ‘vanishing twin’ that goes through life and every album that we do kind of feels like another chapter in that, from choosing their own adventure to facing what’s different, so maybe the third album will be just horizontal and not wanting to do anything else. Each album is a new chapter, or like a little character from a game or something, where he goes through his existential crisis or not.
C: The next album might be called Horizontality. It’s kind of what we’re working on at the moment. The twin has always been a potent thing to work with, just in terms of being able to explore multiple personalities and amphibiousness – existing in two worlds at once, and having this other that you’re connected with that is part of you but different. It’s all fun and games, isn’t it?
The final piece of the jigsaw in Vanishing Twin is the strong visual aesthetic – you’ve spoken about venturing into film in the past, although you have recently lost the filmmaker [Elliott Arndt] in the band, but is there still an ambition to take this side of things forward in the future?
V: We were just discussing this at dinner, we’re still quite surprised at how we’ve not been asked yet to do a film.
C: It’s on the cards though, I think. It’s just a question of time.
V: We are decaying in the meantime though, so…
C: But yeah, Elliott obviously had a big role in making music videos for the band, and that was always important to us to make those in-house. In terms of the overall look, I think we’ve always all been very involved in making the artwork and the costumes so that side of it is not going to suffer. I’m hoping it will make us more open to collaborating. In fact, we did work with someone new recently, a woman called Noriko Okaku produced the video for ‘You Are Not An Island’.
V: It’s very Moebius and anime influenced, she made an absolutely stunning video for us.
C: Because we’ve put something out there and the band has a visual identity in that way, I think people that we ask to work with really respond to that and they kind of fit themselves into that world. A guy called Chris [Innerstrings], does visuals for bands and has worked with us a couple of times, he has his own thing going on but he makes it look like us when he has worked with us. It’s a nice way to go into a relationship with another artist, when they understand you and know how to build on what you’ve got already.
Was there an initial bond over cinema and art when the band first formed as well?
C: Definitely, there’s a really shared love of art and film, collage especially. A lot of our artwork is collage-based. In fact, we’re all going to see the Dora Maar exhibition at some point, partly because [Tate Modern] used a song of ours for the teaser trailer, but it will be nice little band day out when it happens. Surrealism for us is a huge influence.
V: It’s so important, especially nowadays.
Words: Reuben Cross Photos: Callum O’Keefe