BY ORO D.M.
It’s not raining anymore, but something is still pressing down on the city with that leaden type of grey. Technically, it’s a monolithic cloud-something and it’s moving almost imperceptibly, like freshly poured cement. It’s midday already, but the under the circumstances the light still remains muted. And this makes for the perfect moment to zone out to Keep On Running, the debut long-player from Swiss avant-pop-rock trio Vsitor.
Vsitor are Lea Maria Fries on vocals, David Koch on guitar (plus gadgetry) and Valentin Liechti on drums. Technically, they’re based in Berlin. Where they are at the moment, that I don’t know, because they’re on the road promoting this here release. But what I can tell you is that they have a thing for writing deeply nourishing, mildly melancholic and utterly gorgeous songs. And they do so in a way that comes off like they’re not out to please anybody with them. Call it a graceful type of nonchalance. Whatever this thing actually is, or the right term for it, it definitely makes this record even more addictive than the melodies that you might catch yourself whistling while you go about your day!
I reached out to the band to get their take on a few things. Here’s what David and Lea had to say. Keep On Running is out on Red Brick Chapel, a cozy home for some of Switzerland’s finest independent music.
Photography by Dario Kneubühler
Day one of the project, can you take us back?
David: I remember! Lea and I were still a couple and we had a very strong need to escape from the sheltering clutches of Switzerland and get out of our comfort zone. We moved to Berlin and Vsitor was born around then. We both dove into this project with everything that we had, and after a few months our debut EP was released.
The songs on your record sound like you’ve been playing together for ages – the way the instruments lock together seamlessly – what did it take to get to this point?
Lea: Thank you for saying that, it’s a wonderful thing to hear. It’s actually the result of several different things. We started the project with David, as a duo. This was back in 2014/15. And then I met Valentin at a friend’s place where we cooked fondue together. While taking turns at stirring cheese we talked about music. In a way, it was kind of like love at first sight. I invited him to join us for an upcoming gig, which he did. Playing together felt so natural. So in a sense we had this strong personal connection from the very beginning, which I think is something rather rare. Another thing that was an important factor was that the three of us toured throughout Europe a lot. Small cars, a lot of gear, small clubs. We often played under very bad conditions and lived through a lot of crazy things together. Because of this we go to know each other very well, in all types of contexts. And the last thing is how we work as a trio. We share sketches, sounds, text ideas very early on in the process. Because there is a lot of trust between us, we just send things back and forth. Somebody starts the sequence and the rest of us continue with it, and then we finish it together.
“We don’t let our egos interfere with our songs. We develop everything step by step and over time it becomes what it should be.”
It seems to me that, as a band, you revel in tricky song structures and that you love creating surprising emotional shifts – does this come naturally? Because it definitely doesn’t sound contrived which, of course, is a huge plus.
Lea: It comes naturally. We don’t think in terms of concepts or structures. We just take a sound or a riff or a sketch and develop it until it feels right to us. The only thing that matters is that it feels right. And we always work for the music or the song. We try to figure out what it needs, ie. what the mood or the story needs to come across best. We don’t let our egos interfere with our songs. We develop everything step by step and over time it becomes what it should be. It’s like a blurry picture of a landscape which comes into focus more and more, and becomes more detailed, gets sharper and eventually you start to see the things which are there clearly.
Keep On Running is such an eclectic record. On the one hand it’s very much cut from the art rock cloth, but then it ventures out into electronica and there are these soul overtones. So my question is: is this the product of mixing the sonic preferences of three very different individuals or is everyone in the band into all types of music?
Lea: It’s a bit of both. The three of us have very different musical backgrounds. We have a lot in common as well, but some of the things we have in our personal “musical backpacks” are very different from each other. But, because we all listen to a lot of different kinds of music, we are very open to all sorts of things. When I was as a teenager I was into grunge and punk, after that I discovered African American music and fell in love with jazz. And then there were all types of indie bands and, recently, I also got into classical music. And I still love it all. I know that it’s the same for David and Valentin. But our personal imprinting is very different from each other, so in the end each one of us has their very own mix of influences and brings that into the band. We just try to fuse it all together and create a unique Vsitor sound and translate it all with our peculiar sonic aesthetic.
In closing, how does it feel to hear your record as a finished piece? Do you hear it differently now?
David: Yes, I definitely hear it differently. We worked so hard on this record, over a long period of time. There were ups and downs, and sometimes we really didn’t know if this music is ever gonna be released. But we trusted each other and our feelings and worked on it with persistence. At some point, we had to let go of it, even if there were things that we could have changed, but we felt that this record needs to be finished. Now, after having some distance to it I can just relax and listen to the music and I have to say that I really Iike it! I’m looking forward to the next Vsitor release. Where will that one take us?