Veps: Wise Beyond Their Years

It’s interesting to think about how music is perceived outside of its country of origin: the way that listeners tap into the experiences of someone from a different part of the world, and if they like it, take influence and add it to their own tastes or lifestyles. From a creative point of view, an artist might localise that overseas influence and add it to their own means of output. In saying that; an artist’s palette of influence can be quite a tough thing for them to navigate here in the UK, because it can be perceived in many ways. Anything that’s too Americanised could be left for dead, or by leaning on a certain style a bit too much, the artist might not be seen as truly representing themselves. As an artist in Oslo, Norway, however; it seems that you can do this a bit more at your leisure, and crucially, with less criticism. Or so the freely alt-garage-pop, 90’s aestheticised quartet, Veps appear to show.

School friends Laura, June, Maja and Helena decided on the name Veps (which is the Norwegian word for Wasp) when a queen wasp flew into their rehearsal room while they were discussing the matter of a band name. It’s a fitting reflection of the nature of Veps and their music, which is easy going, spontaneous and never too serious. They released their debut six track EP Open The Door in June of this year, featuring standout track ‘Do I Hear A Maybe?’. The track in question has one of the most impressive dynamic shifts in a song discovered this year, going from delicate, collected melodies that break into a towering grunge-tinged chorus (“you drive me fuckin’ cray-zy”) before reeling it back in again for verse two in absolute pop prowess.

‘Ecstasy’ picks apart a self-gratification chasing protagonist, who swaps commitment for a more selfish means. The accompanying video shows Veps covering their faces and general selves with cake. It might make any viewing hairdressers feel quite nervous, but it gives a good representation of the mess caused by greed on a small budget. ‘Girl On TV’ is probably their most sun soaked offering yet despite the song’s message, which intelligently criticises societal pressures and expectations. Their collective sound is perfect for channelling the melancholy, and ‘Girl On TV’ is a shoegazey, coming of age display of that. ‘Oliver’ is one of the two tracks that were unreleased ahead of the EP, but it is possible that they were sitting on it as one of their standout singles, especially from a live point of view. Like most of Veps’ songs, its strengths lie not only in the quality of the hooks, but in the heartfelt expression of them too.

An article was published in Indie-Mag in 2017 (one year before Veps formed in high school) which discusses at length the growing creative scene in Oslo. It also expresses frustration at how the Norwegian capital is often overlooked by the rest of the world as the exciting cultural hub that it is. However, this point could be double sided – as some artists might be quite envious of a place like that. To develop as an artist in a more isolated and likely less saturated indie landscape when compared to say, Britain or America, it may allow them to freely absorb all the better parts of alternative music without the messy bits that are left over. Plus, the frustrations expressed in that article from 2017 may be a little less so these days, as one of its very own exports, Veps, are making waves in the UK as an exciting alternative indie pop group of the moment. Just a few weeks ago, Veps were showcased on the online Great Escape Festival 2021, which is a rite of passage slot for any up and coming artists in the UK’s ranks.

On the release front, New York label Kanine Records have teamed up with Rough Trade for their Open The Door EP with an exclusive vinyl offering due this year. It’s fair to say that they’re getting all the right backing, and of course it’s all just sheer speculation on where they may go from here. But to focus on the present – the most interesting thing about Veps is just how these four school pals from Scandinavia have come about crafting a bunch of contemporary garage pop gems with an intuition that far surpasses their years. Looking to find out more, I caught up with guitarist/vocalist Laura Dodson and drummer Maja Berge from the band.

I wanted to start by talking about life in Oslo. How do you spend your time when not making music?

Laura Dodson: I think, especially now that there’s good weather, we spend a lot of time sitting in parks with friends, grabbing a beer and just hanging out.

Are there many artists around you doing similar things to what you do?

LD: The scene is not very big, but Oslo is a very artist friendly city, there’s a lot of different opportunities and venues, and everyone kind of knows everyone. But yeah, there are some cool bands that are emerging.

Maja Berge: It’s really just small bands. Like, Veps are entering the big world. There’s not many big, big bands, but there are many small bands like us, getting a bit more recognition. I read an article from 2017 about Oslo’s creative scene, and the writer was really angry that Oslo wasn’t getting the recognition that it deserves.

But it seems like since then it has become more recognised, through artists such as yourselves.

LD: Yeah, I feel that way too.

MB: I feel like the new generation, like us, are getting more into bands and stuff. We’re just four out of many people that are interested in it. But there are a lot of Norwegian writers out there, who don’t write or sing in English like us.

Is it ever in your plans to write in Norwegian?

MB: I feel like English was always the first plan. Since day one we wrote in English. We had one song that we were thinking of publishing, but English was always the main language to write in.

LD: We feel like it can reach more people and is a much more diverse language because all Norwegian music kind of sounds the same. So we just had a bigger outreach with English and we feel that we could say more.

I suppose that I’d have probably never heard your music if it was in Norwegian.

LD: Yeah, exactly! There are some good Norwegian bands in Oslo, but they can only reach those certain people.

Onto your creative process: There are a lot of really personable lyrics that dissect relatable situations very well. Do you all work together to craft the music around the story, or is there one main key songwriter amongst you?

LD: It’s pretty 50/50.

MB: June [Urholt], the bassist and Laura are the main songwriters, they come with something and the four of us will make it into one piece. We’ll make all the words sound nice together.

LD: Either me or June comes with an almost finished song or the start of an idea. Or then other times we’ll sit down and say “let’s write a song”, and come up with something together.

MB: Maybe we’ll want to write about childhood, or my broken heart. It’s not me as the main songwriter when we talk about my broken heart, but we’ll talk about it together and then it’ll become something, I guess.

The EP was produced by Matias Tellez who is a well-respected artist and producer in Norway. He has a vast catalogue of his own work with Young Dreams, and has produced the likes of girl in red and Chain Wallet. What was the reasoning behind working with him – or was it a no brainer?

LD: He didn’t really produce the EP, but more just mixed it for us. Because at first when we recorded the EP, it was more of a home-made thing. Like with our two first singles that we released in 2018, we were going to self-release it, but then we contacted a manager. He was a friend of Matias, and he told us that this dude is really good at what he does. And I actually met girl in red a couple weeks earlier and talked to her about us. She mentioned us to him, and he was excited to work with us.

So was the production like a DIY thing on GarageBand or Logic by yourselves?

MB: No, June the bassist had been working in a small studio in Oslo, so she knew a couple of producers who recorded for us. Then Matias mixed it.

LD: We just told Matias exactly what we wanted and he just did that.

MB: And he did a very good job.

It’s good to have that outside perspective that you can trust.

MB: Yeah definitely. We’ve always been into that garage sound. I feel like a lot of bands are being popped up so that it sounds like pop music. Whereas we wanted it to sound more live, and Matias did a really good job there.

I think that Veps’ music has a lot of pop elements to it, but it’s got that garage edge too, and it’s not too clean. It’s a really good mix of the two.

LD: Yeah, we like keeping it a little bit rough around the edges.

It’s been quite a long time coming as well, with ‘Do I Hear a Maybe?’ being released in 2019. The world is only just really beginning to hear your music, but are you bored of hearing them yet and wanting to move onto something new?

LD: We do have some songs that we’re a bit bored of, not mentioning any names! But ‘Do I Hear a Maybe?’…

MB: ‘Do I Hear a Maybe?’ – banger from day one, and we enjoy playing it every time. ‘Oliver’ is also really fun to play, but there are some songs that are getting kinda boring. But we all enjoy the songs, and we all have different relationships with each of them, so we’ll never get really tired of playing them. But ‘Oliver’, ‘Do I Hear a Maybe?’, and ‘Ecstasy’ are all upbeat and fun to play.

Albeit online, how did you find getting back into performing again at The Great Escape Festival?

LD: The Great Escape was kinda weird, because we were expecting to go to Brighton, but then we had to make a pre-recorded video instead. So we really missed having a crowd, because that’s one of the most fun things about performing; being a part of something bigger, with people there. But we played a concert last week where we finally got to have a crowd again which was really fun.

MB: It was so fun!

Where was that?

MB: Blå in Oslo. It wasn’t full capacity, everyone was sitting down. But it’s better than nothing!

LD: It was great, we had a good crowd that was standing up even still. It was really nice. It’s about time isn’t it.

MB: I am dreaming of a big concert with a big crowd. Like a big, big crowd. We’re all vaccinated now, so we’re hoping at the end of summer we have a big ass crowd.

Did you play much before Covid?

LD: We played a little bit, but we took every gig that we could get ‘cos we were pretty small. In Covid we had a down period, and we were very unmotivated because we couldn’t play, and we didn’t really know when we were gonna continue playing. But then we recorded the EP, and people started picking us up and stuff. I guess we’ve got bigger and more important gigs set up for this year than we have ever gotten.

MB: I’m really happy that we could record those two songs that we released before the EP, ‘Funny Things’ and ‘Do I Hear a Maybe?’, because I feel like that’s the reason we really did reach out to everyone, and our manager took us up from that. Because if we hadn’t, I don’t know if we’d have been where we are now.

LD: Yeah. We kinda grew through word of mouth in Oslo. Like people our age at least knew who we were, and that’s how other people picked us up, and eventually ‘professional’ people picked us up.

So does that mean there’s more on the way? I know you only released Open The Door a couple of weeks ago, so I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves…

MB: Calm down!

LD: Definitely, we’ve been writing a lot lately, and we have some dates booked for studio time, so there’s definitely stuff coming in a while.

Words: Matty Dagger // Photos: Jenny F Lunde

Veps’ debut EP ‘Open The Door’ is out now via Kanine Records. You can stream or purchase the record via Bandcamp.

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