In 2004, the Adelaide, Australia-born singer/songwriter Romy Vager left her hometown, a teenaged goth kid runaway drawn to Melbourne, Australia. Upon arriving in Melbourne, Vager’s first band Sooky La La wrote material centered around anger and discordance. They were misunderstood, never found a following and they routinely cleared rooms. Eventually, the band broke up and Vager committed herself to write songs that people would actually like and want to listen to — doing what countless other aspiring songwriters hope to do: match alienation and loneliness to melody and introspection to enormous hooks and refrains.
For a while, she was living at The Bank an erstwhile recording, rehearsal and performance space that took over an old bank building in Preston, Australia, a suburb about six miles from Melbourne. The Bank was a scene unto itself: bands like Jalala, Gregor and Hearing all played there, practiced there and lived there. Living in an enormous house surrounded by musicians, who were constantly working and refining their work was profoundly inspiring to Vager.
In September 2015, Vager launched a tape of solo material that hadn’t actually been pressed and landed her first solo show at The Bank’s downstairs performance space. She recruited Drug Sweat’s and The Galaxy Folk’s Angus Bell, her Bank neighbor, Gregor’s and Hearing’s Reuben Bloxham and Rayon Moon’s Marc Nolte to be a one-off backing band. But as the story goes, once they played together, they all realized — without having to actually say it — that they were a band. Initially forming as Romy Vager Group, the band shortened it to RVG.
The members of RVG recorded their full-length debut A Quality of Mercy live off the floor at Melbourne’s beloved and iconic rock ‘n’ roll pub, The Tote Hotel. Initially released to little fanfare — no press releases, no music videos, no press photos of the band or any other industry standard press push, their full-length debut, featured material heavily inspired by the likes of The Go-Betweens, The Soft Boys and The Smiths and centered by Vager’s passionate and achingly vulnerable vocals. Much to the band’s surprise, A Quality of Mercy won them attention and praise across their native Australia and elsewhere. The band signed to Fat Possum Records, who re-issued A Quality of Mercy, which helped them achieve a growing international profile. And building upon it, the band has toured across the world with the likes of Shame and Kurt Vile.
While much has changed in the professional and personal lives of Vager and her bandmates, the world has become an increasingly dire and fucked up place with hate, pessimism, greater inequality and economic insecurity as part of an old, new normal. Artists across the world are responding in a variety of ways. Interestingly, RVG’s latest single, the Victor Van Vugt-produced “Alexandria,” was part of handful of songs that Vager wrote as a response in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and Trump. And as a result, the song is ardent and urgent. Centered around subtle layers of jangling guitars, pummeling drums, a rousing and anthemic hook and Vager’s plaintive and earnest howl, the new song gives the band a subtle studio sheen without scrubbing the material’s grit and emotional center — Vager’s earnest, gravelly howl. “Alexandra is a song which came together quickly, but which felt like it uncompromisingly needed to be recorded,” Vager told The Fader. “The lyrics, [which] describe a story of personal oppression at the hands of one’s community, [are] an allegory for the broader oppression marginalized people are subjected to.”
Directed by Triana Hernandez, the recently released, brooding and cinematic visual follows the shellshocked members of RVG drive to a local hotel, drinking copious amounts of tea, brooding in various hotel rooms and urgently performing the song in the hotel. It’s a feverish and surreal dream.