Interview: Mike Vennart

Former Oceansize frontman talks exclusively to UnderSong about the breakdown of the band and what the future holds for his new project, British Theatre.

Mike Vennart is an incredibly talented and ambitious musician with an awesome back catalogue, but the future is also very, very exciting. He is the vocalist/guitarist for the now sadly defunct Oceansize, the live guitarist for Biffy Clyro, one of the most effortless cool men in rock and generally a bit of a legend. In a post-Oceansize world, he’s again working with Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram on a new group, British Theatre. The first we properly heard from British Theatre came with the sudden release of an incredible three track EP in February this year, and since then it’s been a bit quiet. Here’s what happened when I caught up with Mike to talk about what the future holds for British Theatre

For the people that haven’t heard British Theatre, how would you describe the music you make?

I suppose it's a kind of dark psychedelica, so far. We're working in a primarily synthetic, synthesized medium. I'm still very much a guitar player, but I think texture, detail and atmosphere have always been my strong points so British Theatre is very much about that. We achieve that with, I suppose, a digitally altered version of often organic, natural sounds. Gambler is far more embroiled in abstract sound experimentation, and the recording and manipulation of acoustic, natural sound. At the end of all that, it's usually my job to make it into semblance of a song.

You seem really excited and positive to be in the studio with Richard and working on British Theatre. How’s it all going?

It's great. We work on initial ideas then swap drafts between ourselves via email. We don't spend a whole lot of time together until there's some serious work to be done. That said we do have a 'jam' from time to time. Just setting up a groove and playing over it so it's still got that organic, spontaneous mentality to it.

Is there a release plan mapped out for British Theatre and if so when do you think we’ll be able to hear some more from you guys?

Not a map as such, but there'll be a new EP out in the coming months with the album to follow a few months afterwards. As yet we're totally DIY. We've been talking to a couple of labels but nothing makes any sense in that respect just yet.

When you first released the EP you seemed unsure about the idea of British Theatre performing live, but recently it seems you’re coming round to the idea. I would love to see British Theatre live, so are there any plans in the pipeline?

It'll happen eventually. We've certainly got our eye on a couple of our mates to act as a rhythm section. It's exciting, and personally I find it quite daunting working out how to pull it off, but Gambler assures me he knows it's possible so it must be! I tend to think about things too literally in terms of the sonic reproduction of the record. I have to remind myself it's not strictly necessary to do a gig that sounds exactly like the record. There's likely to be some degree of adaptation. Should be fun!

Lots of young bands that I’ve spoken to name you as a major influence in their work, how does that feel?

They do? Well that's just lovely. Now that I know that I'll try and not write anything rubbishy.

Simon Neil mentioned last year that you’re involved in a project with him called Empire State Bastard. How’s that coming along?

It's a tricky one because obviously Mr Neil is terribly busy with the juggernaut of relentless activity that is Biffy Clyro. Empire State Bastard will get its day in the sun and it will be a fucking shitkicker.

While we’re near the subject of Biffy Clyro, will you be rejoining them for their live shows this summer?

I shall. Of particular note is the Donington show, which I’m super excited about. Donington was the second ever gig I went to. My ma took me for my 12th birthday to see Iron Maiden. To this day, it remains one the most amazing days I've ever had. So to stand on that stage in front of 70,000 people and see that fucking big Dunlop bridge behind them - Fuck. It's gonna rule.

Oceansize @ Metropolis Fremantle (4/6/2009)

With Biffy you’ve played arenas but with Oceansize you were (unjustly) playing smaller venues. How were the dynamics different; both within the band and towards the audience?

That's a bit of a minefield. Firstly, it's not likely that Oceansize would ever have worked as arena-botherers. The songs didn't really lend themselves to that kind of vast ADD crowd who, let's face it, if they're not singing/moshing, are probably texting or buying hotdogs. That said, whilst Oceansize had no delusions of grandeur, there were those in the band that just weren't up to the job.

Put it like this, when you watch Biffy Clyro live you can rest assured that they are pretty much stone-cold sober. They're certainly not drunk, stoned, on downers or tripping their tits off on some new circuit-bent Chris Morris-esque tablet. They're easy to play for cos they know how to play the songs and they play them correctly every single night. There's an inherent trust there. There's also a respect for their audience - they understand that their fans may have travelled miles, saved up money for tickets, planned their life around a show. It's this respect for each other and their audience that has stood Biffy in good stead and it has helped take them to the top. That mindset has to be in place before you even consider a setlist. This respect and these qualities were, I'm sad to say, not consistent in the ranks of Oceansize.

Even if the opportunity had ever presented itself, Oceansize simply was not allowed to move forward. Whenever we had to step up to the challenge, the same fucking turd was on the doorstep.

Is there a worry that you’ll forever be know as ‘Mike from Oceansize’ or ‘that guy who plays with Biffy’?

I give not a toss. It's nice to be known at all.

You were tweeting #LiesAboutVennart a while ago. What is the best lie you’ve heard or told about yourself?

I don't think I've ever told any fibs about myself to be honest. Not because I'm some kind of saint, I just don't really have the imagination or the inclination. I used to lie a lot at school. I used to have identical handwriting as my mother so I'd frequently write notes from her excusing me from P.E. or some unfinished homework.

You’re very passionate about music and in my opinion, live is where music comes alive. What was the last gig you went to and the best gig you’ve ever been to?

The last gig I saw was Graham Coxon as my friend Stuffy was drumming for him. I like Graham's playing and his early solo records are lovely too. Always late to the party, I've just got into '13' by Blur too. It's a damn shame that smack is so evil and damaging cos it sure as hell makes for great music!

Best gig I've seen? They usually come under the 'lucky to have been there' banner. So, Faith No More in 1992, Mr Bungle in 1996, Nine Inch Nails in 1994, Cardiacs at the Roadhouse in 1996... and of course Iron Maiden in 1988! There's so many of them that I'll never forget.

There are some incredible albums coming out this year. What albums are you looking forward to hearing?

I'm looking forward to the Liars record. I've heard a lot of the next Future Of The Left and it's a belter. It's maybe not cool to talk up someone I consider a good friend, but fucking hell, Andy Falkous is one of the greatest lyricists I've ever heard/read. The song 'Failed Olympic Bid' on their new record treads that fine line between the profound and the ridiculous, like most of his output. I think the body of work he's produced between Mclusky and FOTL is vastly underrated. Future Of The Left should be at least twice as big as they are.

And now, the greatest interview question in the world. If you were a type of wood, what wood would you be?

Pine. Just cos it sounds needy and sweet.

 

With an EP, and album and the possibility of live dates on the way, things are looking good for British Theatre, and if their stunningly brilliant first EP is an indication of the direction they’re heading, then boy, are we in for a treat.

You can listen to/download the first fantastic EP from their Bandcamp page here.