Romy Vager is an Adelaide-born Melbourne-based singer/songwriter with a remarkable backstory: Vager was a teenaged goth kid runaway, who left Adelaide and headed east to Melbourne. Upon her arrival in Melbourne, she joined her first band Sooky La La, an act that specialized in material rooted in anger and discordance.
Unsurprisingly, Sooky La La was largely misunderstood, routinely cleared out rooms, and never found much of a following. Eventually, they split up. But it resulted in Vager committing herself to write songs that people would actually want to listen to, by attempting to do what countless aspiring singer/songwriters desperately hope — and then try — to do well: pair the universal feelings of alienation, loneliness, heartbreak, despair, feeling misunderstood, trying to find one’s place and even being in love with melody, introspection and rousingly anthemic hooks and refrains.
Vager wound up living at The Bank, a recording, rehearsal and performance space in an old bank building in Preston, Australia, a suburb about six miles from Melbourne. The Bank was a scene unto itself, as it housed a handful of bands that would later receive national attention, including Jalala, Gregor and Hearing, who at the time, all played, practiced and lived there. Living in such a space, surrounded by musicians, who were constantly working and honing their work was profoundly inspiring to Vager.
In 2015, the Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based singer/songwriter launched a tape of solo material that hadn’t actually been pressed yet. But that tape helped her land her first solo show at The Banks downstairs performance space. Vager recruited Drug Sweat’s and The Galaxy Folk’s Angus Bell (bass), her Bank neighbor, Gregor’s and Hearing’s Reuben Bloxham (guitar) and Rayon Moon‘s Marc Nolte (drums) to be a one-off backing band for that solo show. But as the story goes, once they all began playing together, they realized — without ever having to say it aloud — that they needed to continue as a band.
Shortly after that show, they settled on Romy Vager Group for their name. But they eventually shortened the name to RVG. Since then, the band has gone through a lineup change with Isabelle Wallace (bass) replacing Angus Bell.
Their full-length debut, 2017’s A Quality of Mercy was recorded live off the floor at Melbourne’s iconic rock ‘n’ roll pub, The Tote Hotel. Initially released to little fanfare, the album, much to their surprise received critical acclaim both nationally and internationally, landing on a number of end-of-year Best of Lists. The Aussie outfit also played alongside some of the world’s biggest bands.
Their sophomore album, 2020’s Victor Van Vugt-produced Feral was released by Fire Records globally, excluding Australia and New Zealand, where it was released by Our Golden Friend. If you were following this site during that rather tumultuous year, you might recall that I wrote about three of the album’s singles:
- “I Used to Love You,”a devastatingly heartbreaking ballad, rooted in a deeply universal tale of suffering in the aftermath of an embittering breakup — with the song’s proud and defiant narrator reclaiming herself and her life
- “Christian Neurosurgeon,” a rousingly anthemic song about cognitive dissonance that sonically seemed to nod at Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen,
- “Perfect Day,” a cathartic guitar pop single that expresses the frustration, despair, uncertainty and turmoil of the time that does what great songs should always do: speak to the listener in a manner that feels as though the band was in the listener’s head, putting words to the thoughts and feelings they’ve always known but couldn’t express or put words to — with the song being “about trying to give someone the facade of it been a nice day, even though things around them aren’t good,” as the band’s Romy Vager explained in press notes.
The album received some breathless praise both nationally and internationally with Rolling Stone Australia calling the album “the record of a lifetime.”
RVG’s third album, Brain Worms is slated for a June 2, 2023 release through Fire Records and Our Golden Friend. Between the band’s four members, Brain Worms is the most confident they’ve ever felt in RVG. The album reportedly sees them moving past their influences, trying new things and pushing themselves towards what they believe is their best album to date.
“Hype is scary. After two years of COVID it felt like the hype had gone down so we were able to just do stuff,” RVG’s Romy Vager says. “This time around we were like, this is what we’re doing, we’re taking control, we’re taking risks, and we’re going to make an album that sounds big so that when we hear it on the radio we want to hear it again. If we could only make one more album, it would be this one.”
Deriving its title from the hyper-recognizable experience of each day bearing witness to a world of private obsession being aired out in the infinite, Brain Worms may not be wholly new territory for the acclaimed Melbourne post-punk outfit and its frontperson, but there is reportedly a newfound radical acceptance.
Recorded in London’s Snap Studios with James Trevacus, the ten-song album surges with lush sounds and clear intentions — and the magic of an acoustic guitar, once owned by Kate Bush, given to her by Tears for Fears, who legend has it, wrote “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” on it.
“Nothing Really Changes,” Brain Worms‘ first single is am angular, 80s New Wave-inspired track rooted in big, arena rock-like riff, the band’s penchant for anthemic hooks paired with Vager’s earnest, lived-in lyricism: In this case, the song features a narrator desperately missing someone and confronting the lingering ghosts of their relationship — with frustration, anger, despair and a bit of begrudging acceptance. As the bands Vager explains, the song “started off as a songwriting experiment to write something catchy with an obnoxious riff, a cross between Divinyls and ‘Smoke on the Water.‘ It’s a song about missing someone but protecting yourself from being hurt.”
Directed by Hayden Somerville and show at the Rippon Lea Estate, the accompanying video stars the band’s Vager with a lifeless body acting as a listener to her frustration and despair — and in a playful scene that mirrors “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” an unwilling dance partner.
“The words and music painted this haunted manor world in my head,” says Somerville. “A lifeless body represents a past relationship so nicely, while also acting as a fantastic listener for Romy. I think it’s all very therapeutic.” Vager adds, “This new record has been about taking risks so I really put myself outside of my comfort zone to make it work. I’m really proud of what we’ve made, the video compliments the melodrama and playfulness of the track perfectly.”