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RVG return with a timely soundtrack to feeling helpless and isolated

Anna Cunningham

With their second album Feral, Melbourne-based post punk outfit RVG deliver a call for empathy and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances. Songwriter and Adelaide expat Romy Vager explains.

Romy Vager had just set off on a national tour with The Pixies when COVID-19 brought the curtains down on live music venues around the country. 

“It got cut short,” Vager tells The Adelaide Review. “We played the first two Melbourne shows and then we were at the airport when it got cancelled. We didn’t get on the plane – we had managed to check our luggage in, but then had to wait to get all the bags off.”

Having such a big tour scuttled would be a devastating setback for many bands on the ascent, but Vager remains fairly circumspect – at least the group had a new album already in the can to tide them, and their fans, over during the downtime. “It sucks, but it’s not too bad honestly,” she says. “The album’s still coming out which is good, and I guess people have time to listen to it!

“We originally recorded the first one by ourselves, but decided to go into the studio with Victor Van Vugt who’s done some incredible records,” she says of recording Feral. Unlike the group’s debut A Quality of Mercy, which was self-recorded in the band room of Melbourne music pub The Tote, the group enlisted Van Vugt, whose eclectic career spans from Dave Graney and the Moodists in the 80s to modern classics by Beth Orton, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. But despite the more professional setting, Feral is less a departure, and more of an assured continuation of the band’s sound.

“When we started recording [A Quality of Mercy] we’d been playing for three months,” she says. “We’re more used to each other now; I used to get quite stressed out when I’d play, about hitting notes, about playing the guitar. Now it comes a bit more naturally. So I was pretty happy if it just sounded bigger, a natural progression.”

The result is an all too appropriate soundtrack for these these chaotic, isolated times. “I’ve been talking a lot about what I mean by ‘Feral’,” she says. “I haven’t worked it out yet, but a lot of the songs are about situations or people that are very much outside society, and I felt personally very much outside what’s going in the world, very helpless out about what’s going on in the world. 

“It makes me feel like a feral animal, but I don’t want that. I want to be a part of things, but perhaps don’t know how to get there, and I think that’s the same for a lot of people.”

Having left Adelaide for Melbourne as a teenager, themes of alienation and references to hometowns and moving interstate come to bear on the album’s contemplative closer Photograph. “I wrote that when it felt like things were changing in my life, and they were just about to get more full on,” she says. “It was mainly a snapshot of where I was at in my life, but there’s always more shit to go through – with a song like that, you can always pull them out.”

Earlier in the album on Help Somebody, Vager balances a call to empathy with an attempt to unspool the ethical vagaries of the modern world. “I think that song was written in frustration to everything that’s been happing in the last few years,” she says. “You just feel useless most of the time. I feel like that was me trying to write a song for myself, just trying to figure out what I could possibly do to make things better for myself and the people around me. I feel like a lot of the good in the world, the change in the world, starts with community, and grassroots local stuff, so there’s also an element of that in the song.”

Fittingly, Vager was part of a wave of Australian musicians attempting to rebuild the live music community in an online space with Instagram-based fundraiser Isol-Aid. “Obviously it’s going to be a bit weird, as a lot of people around the world are learning,” she says of the livestreaming experience. “It’s playing to your own brain in a way, but it was really sweet. A lot of people I’d normally see at gigs were commenting, and saying very nice things, it ended up being a really fun experience.”

With Feral now released into the wild, Vager will use the downtime to work on songs for a third album, while awaiting the opportunity to bring the band back to her hometown. Following the band’s first Adelaide show at The Gov last year, newly rescheduled tour dates with Faith No More will take Vager to one of the city’s biggest stages, and the site of a formative early lesson in the power of music’s outsiders.

“I saw David Bowie at the Entertainment Centre, it was my first proper gig,” she says. “So I’m really quite excited about that one – my parents are so excited about it.”

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country. His work has appeared in Rip It Up, The Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, Royal Auto, Swampland Magazine, Broadsheet and The Thousands.

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