When Scottish outfit VUKOVI became a duo, it had unintended benefits.
For one, frontwoman Janine Shilstone and guitarist Hamish Reilly make for an incredible pair of personalities. On top of that, Janine argues, “doing photo shoots with four people is a fucking nightmare. Not that I knew that was going to happen, but it looks aesthetically better as well when you do photo shoots.”
“It’s just as well one of us isn’t super tall and one of us is fucking tiny”, Hamish laughs. They both live in Ayrshire, on the west coast of Scotland, though they base their work out of Glasgow. They seem to be one of the most underrated bands that have emerged from the scene, turning heads the world over more so than in their own hometown. According to Hamish’s view of the stats, VUKOVI’s smallest fan base is in Scotland, with the majority of their followers sitting across Europe, the United States and South America.
“I was streaming on Twitch the other day and a girl from Argentina was like, ‘we fucking love you in Argentina, please come to Argentina!’ And I was like, ‘I would love to.’ How the fuck are we going to get to Argentina?” Janine recalls a similar story from that week alone: “I posted a picture on my Instagram of me in a kayak the other day and some guy went, ‘please come to Brazil.’ It was almost like he just saw me in a boat and was like, ‘please come to Brazil.’”
Aside from rowing their way to South America, Janine and Hamish do commit a great deal of time to engaging with their fans. From their self-released ‘Boy George’ single in 2015, which was the heaviest song that they had written to that point, more and more people started to pay attention. It ended up on BBC Radio 1, reassuring the pair that being confident in their vision was the most effective path to take.
“We sort of struggled with a balance of what the right thing was for a while”, Janine adds. “We were being told: ‘Your music’s too heavy, you need to write more poppy.’ So we did the opposite, we did what we thought we wanted to do.” But from their debut self-titled album, the duo realised that they had enough of a fan base behind them to follow them on their own journey.
“We will fucking write space jazz if we want space jazz.”
For Hamish, the following of a band is what moulds what they become. “You have all these ideas of what your band is and what you make it, but honestly it’s like after time it’s what the fan base turn it into, it’s not you”, he notes. “You actually lose control quite quickly, to be honest with you, of what anything means. Honestly, it’s crazy. All of sudden you have this weird sense of responsibility and you’re like ‘oh fuck, where did this come from?’ It’s weird, but that’s why you realise you need to build up self confidence and do what you think is best to do, because if you go off that path then it’s unhealthy.”
For an outfit that has experienced success internationally, it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t outside influences that want to change the way that VUKOVI look, feel and think with a view towards advancing their own agenda. That’s not to say that they’ve sought approval – according to Hamish, “that will bring you down quicker than anything” – but they have been dealing with unwanted criticism since the beginning.
“Especially when you make not-so-good choices on team and management”, Janine points out. “I mean, we have been under management like that and it is like, ‘you need to write songs like this, you should be more like this.’ That’s actually not healthy to be told that all the time. It took us a while to be like: ‘no, fuck them. I’m doing what I want.’ We will fucking write space jazz if we want space jazz.
She continues: “I hate this hierarchy, and people just pretending. The people that make out that they know what they’re doing and they’re better than everybody or they’re experts… Nobody knows what they’re doing. Like you may be good at something. You can be very good at something but you still don’t really know what you’re doing.” As someone who was once thrown out of her previous band for being a girl, Janine is well placed to make that point. “I was pure gutted at first”, she comments, “but they did me a favour.”
As for now, Hamish will do his Twitch streaming, Janine will kayak to Brazil and we’ll hopefully see a new single from VUKOVI on this side of Christmas, which the duo have been working on from home. There should be more on the way from there.
“One of the songs I need to send to you Hamish”, Janine mentions. “Like, there is one bit, there’s one lyric. I’m just making up lyrics but I’ve got like a solid idea but I don’t know what I’m singing about. So I’m like ‘I killed a man and I don’t care’ just to make it up. Like, I’m going to send this to Hamish and he is going to be like ‘did you kill someone in your mind?'”
Apart from that, the new single is what Janine describes as “one of the best things we’ve ever done.” If the homicidal improv process works, it works.