Fearless gets himself some band aid

Death in Vegas, whose album "The Contino Sessions" was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize Album of the Year, Tuesday September 12, 2000 at the Grosvenor Hotel, London. PA photo: Andrew Stuart
Death in Vegas, whose album "The Contino Sessions" was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize Album of the Year, Tuesday September 12, 2000 at the Grosvenor Hotel, London. PA photo: Andrew Stuart
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THE last time Richard Fearless played a big gig in Sheffield he ended up with some bruises for his trouble.

Then with a surname like that you would kind of think the brains behind the often under-rated Death In Vegas might be well used to being caught up in the odd brawl.

Death In Vegas Trans-Love Energies

Death In Vegas Trans-Love Energies

“There was fight between some girls and it all got a bit messy,” he recalls of the Sheffield University post-gig violence. “And I received a kick in the face.”

Thankfully the experience didn’t put the celebrated musician, producer and DJ off the steel city and he brings his new album and band to The Leadmill on Tuesday.

That said the sprawling Trans-Love Energies has been seven years in the making as Fearless moved to New York and took a break from music, kind of.

Then this was always an outfit that took its time devising cunning, often menacing, instrumental-led music to baffle the indie kingdom. This time the delay was about more than fermentation, however.

Death In Vegas

Death In Vegas

“To be honest I needed a break,” says Richard, in Toulouse following a tour bus breakdown.

“I’ve done Death In Vegas for 20 years now. I started writing the first record when I was in art college and because I was doing most of it – artwork and videos, producing – it’s great but it seemed to be my whole life.

“I felt a bit burnt out with music and moved to America and weirdly stopped listening to music.

“Since I was a really small child I’ve been obsessed with listening to music and playing records, but I felt I needed a break from all day working in a studio and coming back in the evening working out records to DJ. It was quite nice to focus on other things for a bit.”

Death In Vegas - Richard Fearless

Death In Vegas - Richard Fearless

But we’re talking an artist who is restless as well as fearless and it wasn’t long before the itch returned.

“As it happens I didn’t have a break because I had an acoustic guitar and started playing and writing songs differently. When you have an acoustic guitar you go back to classic song structure way of writing.

“The difference between having a studio with thousands of records and having a house with thousands of records and then going to America and not having anything was quite nice really. But I started writing loads and getting more into producing other bands while in America and loving that.

“There’s something about being in the studio listening to stuff all day, it does start to influence what you’re writing.

Death In Vegas leader Richard Fearless

Death In Vegas leader Richard Fearless

“When you don’t listen to music and you’re writing you’re gonna draw on the bank in your head and for me that bank for this record had a psychedelic tinge going back to my love of Detroit and old Chicago records – which is what I got into in the first place as a DJ.”

And it shows. Where seminal debut Dead Elvis stirred and haunted, Contino Sessions led to a Mercury nomination and Scorpio Rising called on collaborations with Paul Weller and Liam Gallagher, Trans-Love Energies has an arguably more organic, less complex feel amid its moody, spooky demeanour.

Fusing electro, dub, rock, psychedelia, soul and experimentation along the way, each DIV album hosted a potent identity with little veering, suggesting Fearless as an obsessive.

“Definitely,” he concurs. “I’m extremely obsessive and that’s part of the reason I was reluctant to do Death In Vegas for quite a while because I know what it takes out of me. I put so much into it mentally.

“It’s a good thing but the writing is a really intense period, six/seven days a week, extreme hours, obsessing with the weirdest and smallest sounds. But work-wise it’s probably the happiest I am.”

In spite of the process, however, Fearless – who has produced bands such as The Horrors and ran a band called Black Acid while in the States – possesses a knack for making his results sound quite natural, even easy, as in the case of 1997’s Dead Elvis.

“Five albums in I think it’s kind of getting a bit easier. I’m a more competent producer and I know what I’m searching for,” says Richard, who recorded his own vocals as well as guests for the new record.

“It’s quite hard to make records that are stripped down. It’s very easy to layer and layer, but this album has more minimal components, has that feeling I was searching for of giving a lot of space in the music.”

One extra space was that of former cohort Tim Holmes, the engineer who went on to become part of the line-up and feature on Vegas prime moments past.

“When I was in America I started doing more engineering myself and was in a confident enough position. That’s one less middle man so I guess it’s a lot truer to my thoughts this record.

“Tim came round to studio just before I was mixing. We’re friends and I played it to him and he was ‘wow’.”

As for working together again, Richard remains unsure although there is some unfinished business out there stemming from a Barbican film project they were asked to score.

“We’ve still got an unmixed record we did a long time ago so that may be something I’ll do with Tim.

“That’s been a bit of a ‘lost record’ and then there’s new material taking shape, so hopefully there won’t be another seven year break.”

For now, though, Richard is surely contemplating the phrase ‘making a rod for your own back’ with the new songs requiring more manpower and a different way of working on the road.

“This record is the hardest one to do live. It was really hard in rehearsals – we did five solid weeks.

“The hardest to do were all the electronic tracks, with a full band, but I think we’ve nailed it and the versions of the old songs we’re doing are the best.

“It is actually a new live band. That was purely due to a seven-year break and just kind of happened by default, but there’s a really good energy. It’s just a lot more of a live experience compared to what it was before.

“Death In Vegas has always been a studio kind of band and when a record is very much studio-created it is quite hard to do out there.

“But this one is really live as opposed to lots of backing tracks going on and just feels... when we’re getting right as we did last night, sold out with 1900 people in Paris, it feels really magical and really exciting again.”