Graham Reid | | 9 min read
In a country where pop music is often slightly bent and off on a tangent, and "alternative" act are frequently in the mainstream of public attention, New Zealand's Vorn still manages to exist on the margins.
Not for want of trying to get a wider audience however. No one keeps releasing albums -- up to seven now -- without hoping that something will stick somewhere.
Let's hope then that the new album by Vorn -- the nom de disque of Vorn Colgan -- gets the serious attention it deserves from that alt-into-mainstream audience which has otherwise been ignorant of, or indifferent to, his considerable charms and smarts.
The album Down For It (reviewed here) embraces all kinds of popular music -- from dance to rap, guitars to a distinctive take on what might loosely be called "jazz" -- and also betrays consierable lyrical smarts.
So it is hardly surprising that when Colgan answers the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire he comes up with some of the sharpest, wittiest and considered replies we have had the good fortune to read.
Over to you Vorn Colgan who is Vorn.
The first piece of music which really
affected you was . . .
Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Apparently as a three-year-old I used to put it on and curl up at the base of the speaker. I don't remember that, but I vividly remember loving the oboe part, which wikipedia informs me represents the duck. This proves that I was unspeakably hip from a very early age.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
Spike Milligan and George Michael. I must say this is a very unfair line of questioning; the purpose of communicating with music journalists is to make yourself appear cool and interesting, whereas one's listening habits as a child are almost invariably tragic. Obviously I stand by Spike though: side 2 of Bad Jelly is up there with side 2 of Abbey Road...
Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana, Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?
Right, let's get this fight started.
- Jagger is much more of a positive force in the Stones than Lennon is in the Beatles. The Stones without Jagger would be Keef chain-smoking in front of a rhythm section (which, to be fair, I would pay good money to see. But, still, not exactly a Great Band); the Beatles without Lennon would be Paul, George, and Ringo, a group I propose to call The Good Beatles [and George]. If you're talking about Jagger's solo output vs Lennon's solo output, I think I'd opt for a lie-down in a quiet room with a damp flannel on my eyes.
-The Ramones do nothing for me, unless Annoying and Boring are things you can do for someone. So Nirvana is a no-brainer there.
- Can't say much about the musical merits of either Madge or Gaga. There does seem to be something odd about listing acts like Madonna and Gaga and the Pussy Cat Dolls alongside rock bands and songwriters as if they should all be judged by the same criteria; these people are talented fashion models/dancers/choreographers/entertainers and frankly I don't know enough about any of those things to adequately distinguish between them. I mean, I'm sure Steve Vai is a better guitarist than Madonna; but I'd bet you anything he looks like shit in a pointy bra. How about this - I prefer Gaga over Madonna because I like Meat Skirt much more than Pointy Bra as a fashion concept.
- Jacko vs Jay-Z? Over-rated apples vs quite good oranges.
Michael Jackson must be the single most famous songwriter never to write a good song. He made some good grooves; and some choice melodies. But his lyrics were always, absolutely, unforgiveably shit. You can get away with shit lyrics if you've got 'soul', whatever that is; for me soul is an idea that what you're singing has a real feeling behind it, even if it doesn't have real meaning in front of it. But Jackson is always soul-free - slick production, Hallmark sentiments, no sense of a human behind the music at all. People try to excuse the turgid crapness of Jacko's songwriting by referring to his 'talent' - multi-instrumentalist, singer, dancer, fashion stylist. Sure, fine, I guess. Except Prince was all those things, and wrote good songs, too, and was also one of the best rock guitarists ever, something no one ever notices because he's so awesome at everything it kind of slips by you. And Stevie Wonder was nearly all those things, and wrote good songs too, and was one of the best rock drummers ever, something no one ever notices because he's so awesome at everything it kind of slips by you. Both those artists encompass the full range of Jacko's 'talent'; and, what's more important, they used their talent to make good songs.
Jay-Z? One of a generation of rappers who really expanded the potential of Hip Hop through a deeper understanding of scansion and stress; the way the weight of words and the natural rhythm of language can be used to make language an instrument in its own right, and worthy of great respect as a craftsman. At the same time, the Jay-Zs of this world frustrate me, because they develop these insane lyrical skills, and use them to say: "I am a great rapper. Women are stink. Because I am a great rapper, many women [who are stink] sleep with me [which is somehow good]. You are a stink rapper. I have slept with your partner/mother [which is somehow good, though as women who associate with a stink rapper they are clearly doubly stink]. By being a great rapper, I have amassed great wealth, which I display through my many expensive appurtenances. I come from [insert area], which is a superior area, and in which I am a dominant figure, given my tendency to extreme violence and general Alpha-male tendencies". Is any of this worth saying? Even if you're saying it in a spectacularly clever way? Also, I believe Jay-Z couldn't moonwalk for shit.
My main reason for picking big Z over the Wack one is that I get the feeling that Jay-Z is kind of a jerk, but if he held you in his arms you'd feel safe; which I don't think anyone could say of Jacko.
If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .
I'm an unsigned indie musician in New Zealand; music has automatically been denied me as a career, if by career you mean 'thing you make most of your money from'.
That's not something I'm complaining about; people who want to make most of their money from music in New Zealand are bound by playing covers, or jazz, or in the case of originals artists by the pressures of labels or management or various commercial considerations. As I don't rely on music to pay my rent, I get to make exactly the music I want, when and how I want, and that's a privilege I wouldn't give up for any amount of money. I click tickets on the trains, by the way. So I guess that's my other career choice. Though putting it that way rather frightens me.
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .
A Thing Well Made by the Muttonbirds
I can literally rant until I cry about how perfect this song is in every conceivable way. Right down to how it's (in part) about a man cornering you and blathering on at creepy length about the perfection of a piece of craft, and it in itself is a perfect piece of craft which makes me want to corner people and blather at them about its perfection...
Careful Not To Smother by the Sproutts
This to me is just a perfect example of what a New Zealand pop song can be; and in a wider sense what New Zealand songwriting can be, if we try. I played in the Sproutts for a while, I always used to freak out a little playing this number, it felt a bit like Paul asking you to jam along to Yesterday at a Beatles gig...
The Keen Teen Skip by cLOUDDEAD
Whenever anyone tells me they don't like Hip Hop I try to subject them to Ten. The result is usually that they tell me they don't like Hip Hop, and they don't like whatever it is that cLOUDDEAD do either. I love this song because at some point someone has sat down and said, "Hey, you know what would be an awesome sample? A small child repeatedly going 'wuh' at a medium tempo!" And they were dead right.
Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?
Instruments. Piles of instruments. Gathering dust balefully, and seeming to mutter, 'I used to be your favourite. Before Mr New Toy came along...'
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
D'you know, I haven't read that many. I prefer listening to musicians play than talk, I think. I'm not really that interested in some musician's life, unless it's interesting in its own right. Yes, I'm aware that answering this questionnaire is a highly dubious activity in that light. But what am I going to do? It's seldom enough a music journalist asks me questions. It would seem highly churlish to simply respond to all of them with "Enough already! Listen to my album!" Though I'd certainly like everyone to listen to my album, whether or not they read this.
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)
Pavement. I'd play cowbell. And jump up and down and sing every single lyric, even the ones I don't know, and between lyrics I'd scream, with tears streaming down my fanboy face, like a teen girl at an early Beatles gig. It'd be pretty much like when I went to see Pavement, except I'd be onstage. And I'd have a cowbell.
The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
Mainstream and Indie cinema have both been remarkably silent on the subject of Understanding Me Better, an omission I put down to a global conspiracy. There is a website called understandingvorn.com, which frankly doesn't help much either. My favourite music movie is Purple Rain, and I often try to make people watch it. I think the only thing you'd understand better about me after watching it is that I have questionable taste in music movies.
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
I can't afford to buy CDs, I'm a musician. The last album I received was Pie Warmer's simply awesome The Fearsome Feeling. I was given it free at the Pie Warmer/Bressa Creeting gig, because Ed said "We're going to give a free CD to a dick. Who's a dick?" And I put up my hand. And my friend pointed at me to corroborate my assertion.
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
It would have to be the Family Planning Song. I find that song intensely embarrassing to sing; so if it became horrendously overexposed I wouldn't have to worry about it eventually becoming an embarrassment. There is, however, the risk that the girl from Family Planning would hear of it and take out a restraining order, resulting in me no longer being able to access free contraceptives. Which would be sub-optimal. But then, with my unlimited royalties, I could buy as many contraceptives as I need. Which wouldn't be many, given that wherever I went, people would point at me and murmur 'That's the Family Planning guy..."
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
Hendrix, kneeling before burning guitar. Virtuoso, sex-god, trickster-hero-archetype, implausibly tall. We're practically the same person.
You are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .
The sentence "I will never regret this" written in 72-point Comic Sans on a crudely drawn penis.
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?
Bowie hasn't specified my income. Assuming it remains at current levels, I'd spend them in Wellington, making music. Given unlimited resources, I'd spend them in New York, being David Bowie. Stardust-era Bowie though. None of that white-suit thin-white-duck stuff.
And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”
The few people who have heard more than one of my albums tend to prefer the one they listened to first. For the vast majority of humans living today, this will be the first of my albums they hear. So they will prefer it.
Christ, what an impossible question to answer.
The production has certainly gone up a notch. Like anyone else who's interested in songwriting, I always try to get better as I go along. So the newest one should always be the best one.
But then the few people who have heard more than one of my albums tend to prefer the one they listened to first.
Christ, what an impossible question to answer. This is why proper bands hire publicists.