Over the past few months, I’ve written a bit about Adelaide, Australia-born Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter Romy Vager and her rapidly rising band RVG. Now, as you may recall Vager was a teenaged goth kid runaway who left her hometown of Adelaide and headed to Melbourne. Upon her arrival in her new city, Vager joined her first band Sooky La La, a project that crafter material centered around anger and discordance — and as a result, the band was largely misunderstood, routinely cleared rooms and never found much of a following. Eventually, the band split up. But it resulted in Vager committing herself to write songs that people would actually listen and listen to by attempting to do what countless other aspiring songwriters try (and hope to) do: match feelings of alienation, loneliness, heartbreak and feeling misunderstood with introspection, melody and rousing and soul-stirring hooks and refrains.
For a while, Vager wound up 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, featuring a handful of bands that would soon become acclaimed, 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 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. For her live solo debut, Vager 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 once they began playing together, they all realized — without ever having to say it aloud — that they needed to continue as a band. Shortly after that show, they initially formed as Romy Vager Group before shortening it to RVG.
RVG’s 2017 full-length debut A Quality of Mercy was recorded 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 significant press push, the album’s material was heavily inspired by The Go-Betweens, The Soft Boys and The Smiths and prominently featured Vager’s passionate and achingly vulnerable vocals. Much to the band’s surprise, their full-length debut received attention and praise across their native Australia and elsewhere. The album caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and re-issued A Quality of Mercy, which led to a much larger profile internationally.
Building upon a growing profile, the band then went on world tours with Shame and Kurt Vile. Late last year, the band released the Victor Van Vugt-produced single “Alexandria.” Written as a response to the immediate aftermath of Brexit and Trump, the song is appropriately urgent and ardent. Featuring jangling guitars, pummeling drums, a rousingly anthemic hook and Vager’s earnestly plaintive and gravely howl, the song finds the band gaining a subtle studio sheen but without scrubbing the grit and honesty that has won them attention.
COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire known world on an uneasy and indefinite hiatus but the band still hopes that this year will be a momentous year for them: earlier this year, they signed to Fire Records, who will be releasing their highly-anticipated sophomore album Feral on April 24, 2020 throughout the world — excluding Australia and New Zealand, where the album will be released through their longtime label home Our Golden Friend. Immediately after signing to Fire Records, the band released Feral’s second single, the devastatingly earnest and heartbreaking ballad “I Used to Love You.” Centered around a universal tale of suffering in the aftermath of an embittering breakup, the song’s proud and defiant narrator reclaims herself and her life — but while acknowledging that something important to her and her life story had to come to an end.
Feral’s second and latest single “Christian Neurosurgeon” is a decidedly New Wave-like song centered around shimmering and jangling guitars, enormous and rousingly anthem hooks and Vager’s guttural growl — and while sonically recalling Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen, the song as Vager explains in press notes is “a very simple song about cognitive dissonance. It’s not just a song about bagging Christianity, it’s more about how we have to hold onto certain ideas to be able to survive, even if they’re not true.”
Directed by Lazy Susan Productions’ Caity Moloney and Tom Mannion, the recently released video for “Christian Neurosurgeon” is a twisted Troma Films-like nightmare that features each of the band’s members: Romy Vager playing a brain that refuses to die, Marc Nolte as a demented and mad scientist and Reubean Bloxham and Isabele Wallace as his faithful and unquestioning assistants.
“The video was very fun to make for us and hopefully the band too — even though we put them in some pretty weird situations,” Lazy Productions’ Caity Moloney and Tom Mannion recall in press notes. “We just embraced the song and went full surgical horror, using hand developed black and white 16mm film so the video feels almost as lo fi as the medical operation RVG are running in it. It was shot by our DOP Jesse Gohier-Fleet, who did an amazing job making every frame as spooky as possible. We’ve watched the video a lot and still laugh every time so thanks to RVG for bringing the comedy gold!”