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I sat down with Blythe Pepino, the lead singer of Vaults, at The Deaf Institute in Manchester before their sold out show, to talk about her work with Help Refugees, the release of their debut album and more…
To start off, I wanted to ask you about your name – where it comes from and it’s meaning – because I think it’s a very unique name!
B: I was sort of named after Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother), because my mum spent some time in California with a friend of hers, so I think that put the name in my mum’s head because she always thought fondly of her. But it’s also an old-fashioned English name and it means ‘happy’, which is nice!
I’ve been listening to the record a lot and there’s a recurring theme of strings, especially violins, on the album. Is that from the influence of listening to classical music?
B: I do like listening to classical music, as do Ben and Barney, although they were pushing the strings more than I was, right from the beginning. It was really their idea to have these swelling string parts.
I saw on your Instagram that you were in the studio recently with a big orchestra, what was that for?
B: That was when we were recording ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ at Abbey Road Studios for the John Lewis Christmas advert that we did! That whole track was supposed to be sound massive and theatrical and it was absolutely mind-blowing to record with people who had so much skill.
How has the advert changed your career so far? In previous interviews, you’ve said that you were worried that it may be perceived as ‘selling out’?
B: I don’t think it has really changed people’s perception of us massively but it has opened us up to a wider audience who didn’t know about us before. We’ve definitely seen a growth in our fanbase since the release of our debut album which coincided with the John Lewis advert.
You recently volunteered in Calais with the organisation ‘Help Refugees’, how was that experience?
B: I volunteered with people from all over the world and you can even turn up and just do a day of work which is still really helpful, although the longer you can stay the better. I didn’t get to go into any of the camps personally and the ‘jungle’ has been completely cleared now, but there are a couple of other camps that Help Refugees support. From talking to other volunteers who have been there for a while, the refugees come from a variety of different countries, mainly war-torn countries. There weren’t as many Syrians there as you would think, but the numbers change month by month. The biggest point I want to get across is that it is most definitely a problem which isn’t going away anytime soon. I imagine that a lot of the refugees have travelled a very long way to get there and endured a lot of trauma, so the idea of having to stop at a border and be vilified by the French & UK governments and the media must be so frustrating.
I first discovered your band through your Vevo DSCVR performance of ‘Cry No More’ back in 2015, so was the gap between then and the release of your debut album ‘Caught In Still Life’ due to being perfectionists? Or was it due to some kind of label bureaucracy?
B: It was a combination of a lot of things really. We didn’t hit the ground running when we first came out, I think the label thought that we were going to get really big, really quickly and that didn’t really happen. ‘Premonitions’ and ‘Lifespan’ came out and they just didn’t do ‘the thing’ that they were supposed to do. And in the industry at the moment, if you don’t get on the radio, then you’re not going to make enough money. So it is quite mercenary in that sense, but there were also some health problems along the way that Ben went through and some babies that happened! But I am actually pleased that it took that long for us to get to this point because we were able to use that time to go through ups and downs and get used to being a signed band, which if you breakthrough straightaway can be quite a weird thing. It’s helped us to stay humble.
Your tour outfits have been designed by RUH Collective and they’re amazing! Are they custom designed or are they just a brand that you were drawn to and decided to buy their whole collection?
B: They’re amazing! They make what’s called ‘modest fashion’, so they make clothes for women who want to cover up. Some of those people might be Muslim women who want to cover up for religious reasons, but other people may choose to wear it because they prefer to where straight-lined clothing. I matched with them originally because their lines and their style worked with the kind of thing that I’m into, so I had a few chats with them and really wanted to support them. And with all the political discussions about banning certain types of clothing, particularly for the community of Muslim women, I wanted to engage with what RUH Collective stand for, as a white English frontwoman of a pop band. Because it’s easy for the fashion world to make covering up seem ‘alternative’, whereas actually it can be seen as quite a beautiful restriction. The point is, I can wear what I like and I can cover up if I want to, because that’s my choice and it should be the choice for all women to make. It’s close to my heart and something I think about quite a lot.
Finally, what are your plans for 2017?
B: We’re going to do a bunch of festivals and hopefully some more touring. And we’re about to film the Hurricane music video, which will be great! And as for new music, we’ve got some in the pipeline, but we need to take some time to regain motivation to write, after the John Lewis advert has been quite hectic!