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The Pursuit Of Happiness

28 June 2012 | 8:15 am | Simon Rundin

Almost half a decade since their last full-length, Sydney synth-poppers Van She are back with a new album, Idea Of Happiness, and a tour. Simon Rundin talks to frontman Nicholas Routledge about what they’ve been up to, their new album, and upcoming live shows.

It's been a long time between drinks for Van She – the band released their successful debut full-length V in 2008 and have not released any new material since. So what have they been up to? “I don't know actually,” Routledge beings, “we finished [Idea Of Happiness] a year ago and we got it mixed like a year ago, and before that we were making it constantly for a year and a half, and before that I don't know what we were doing – I can't even remember!

“I'm pretty excited about it finally coming out, that's for sure. [Since we finished the album] we've been helping a lot of friends out with their records and just helping people write records, helping people produce them, finish albums… Tomek [Archer, drummer] has been designing a lot of things, we've all been travelling around the world doing some projects in other kind of industries, which has been fun but a little bit distracting.”

Idea Of Happiness follows on from 2009's remix album Ze Vemixes – a strange move for a band who had at the time only released an EP and an album. Routledge has mixed feelings about the release. “[Ze Vemixes] was pretty weird for us. The label wanted us to do it, but we only got given two weeks to actually do it and mix it so it was a bit hectic,” he stresses. “It was pretty full-on, especially trying to remix your own tracks. It's pretty damn hard anyway. How do you reinvent something you invented?”

Idea Of Happiness's sound is worlds away from Ze Vemixes. To record the new record, the band set up their own studio underneath a music school. “Our tour manager had a music school and underneath it we set up our own studio, and we built a control room with a mixing desk and then a drum room, and a bunch of compressors, and we've been working out of there for the last three years,” Routledge explains.

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The end result was Van She's first completely self-produced album, which contributed to the cohesive vibe. “I think the last record (V) we didn't really know what we wanted to do,” Routledge ponders. “[So] we worked with a producer. I think this time we did it by ourselves and we just decided how we felt about what we wanted from this record. A lot of the influences are quite tropical I guess and really upbeat too. It's kind of what we wanted from this record and we managed to pull it off ourselves; which is really rewarding, rather than spending lots of money in a studio working with big shot producers.”

The only outside help the band received on the album was mixing from Tony Hoffer, who has previously worked with Beck, M83, Silversun Pickups, and on Phoenix's 2004 album Alphabetical. “One of our favourite records was the Phoenix record Alphabetical, we just kind of really liked that sound,” Routledge enthuses. “So we went to [Hoffer]. He's such a nice guy – he's so professional and so quick, but he also listens to what you have to say which is a big pulling point for us, considering we produced it all ourselves and wanted it to turn out a certain way. So he was really open to any suggestion we had, which I guess was the main point in why we chose him.”

The band is happy with the results. “We were just aiming to make a record that we were all really happy with and we ended up doing that – I guess our job is half-done!” Routledge exclaims. “It's probably turned out better than if we had [produced the album] with someone else. Now we've just gotta work out how to play it live!”

Idea Of Happiness is not only the name of the album, but also the first single, which has been gaining a decent amount of play on triple j and online. Routledge is happy with its reception. “It's good that people like our music. I guess it's like anything – if you do something and people like it, you're like, 'Well, that's really nice'; I guess if we play [the songs] live and people enjoy them, that's why we do it.”

Performing live is something Van She have no problem doing – the band have toured most of the world. “There's not many places that we haven't been,” Routledge states. “We've pretty much played everywhere before… New York, LA, Europe, Japan, South America…” Following a few Australian dates earlier this year, the band played Jakarta for the first time. Routledge recalls that alone was an experience in itself. “Jakarta was good – it was random. We played to like 5000 people. It was cool, we got to meet some of the guys from the Gorillaz…it was pretty fun. Jakarta kind of a strange place, it's all buildings. We've got a bit of fan base there which is strange because we've never been there before.”

Van She will tour Australia again during the next few weeks, something Routledge is enthusiastic about. “I'm looking forward to it. I'm pretty excited to start playing live again to be honest, it's just one those things I really enjoy doing. I think our new live show is a bit more involved – we have samplers and MIDI machines and our drummer Tomek also plays xylophone, MIDI pads and has foot pedals for switching between MIDI events. The show is gonna be quite a bit more live than [our previous shows]… Quite a bit more like us interacting and playing all the parts live – it's going to be great.

“We've [also] got a really good lighting guy so we've got a bit of a lighting show happening this time, and our stage set up looks different, we don't have the drummer at the back nowadays – we have everyone at the front. Our live stage set up is now how we rehearse, so it's a bit more fun more us.”

So what have Van She got planned for the next few weeks? “We've been rehearsing a little bit, and we're going to kick into gear with rehearsals this week. We're going to Jamaica on Saturday to shoot a video clip for the track Jamaica. We haven't been there before! It's a bit scary, but I'm looking forward to it. It's got the second-highest murder rate in the world – it's a bit freaky.”

Although being in Jamaica may not be Routledge's “idea of happiness”, hanging out in a similar location is. “I guess my idea of happiness would have to be being on a yacht somewhere in the Caribbean drinking coconuts and listening to reggae, maybe a bit of jazz, with really hot girls! That is definitely an idea of happiness.”

After this tour, Routledge says Van She haven't decided what they're going to do, and he doesn't seem too worried. “We want to do some more touring, and make some more records, and I guess that's it. We should actually have more of a plan but we don't – we're just going to go with the flow, life's more enjoyable that way.”