If you have no idea who VNV Nation is, do yourself a favor and dive into the band’s back catalog. They are nothing short of awesome. For the last 20 years, the European group comprised of Ireland native Ronan Harris and England native Mark Jackson has been an underground electro-pop sensation in Europe and the Americas.
VNV Nation has always been about throwback futurism intermingled with gothic, new wave and techno influences on their albums, but the latest album “Automatic” seems to find the duo embracing that aesthetic even more.
Harris, VNV’s vocalist and lyricist, said he has always been fascinated by industrialization and technology of 1930s America.
“The 1930s as a whole is a pet subject of mine,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been reading about for decades. It was a period of great innovation, although it was a period of terrible economic hardship. It’s obvious what we could learn from it.
“The thing that struck me was the design. I love graphic design. I love styling and the architecture and the clothing of the time. The writers of the time and the ideas they were expressing were about a great future. There could be a better place for everybody. There’s a tremendous amount of naiveté in it but they were basing it on nothing. They were inventing everything from scratch and how to visualize the future. I might not have agreed with all the ideas. There is good and bad in every decade, but it was very much an era of individual effort. I found all that very inspiring. I borrowed the futurism of the 1930s graphically. Even our promo photographs, we did in a very 1930s way. And we married that to 1970s electronic futurism.”
Past experiences have taught us that anyone who pines about 1930s America usually has more than passing fascination with author Ayn Rand, which either marks the beginnings of a deep intellectual conversation or a precipitous descent onto an exhausting exchange of socio-political rants.
We were pleased to find Harris fell into the former of the two.
“I’ve been asked this since the beginning of VNV Nation,” he said about any possible connections between Rand’s writings and VNV Nation’s music. “It’s funny. Two years ago I ended up in some very heavy discussions with someone who was playing devil’s advocate with me but a great arguer. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind watching the film ‘The Fountainhead.’ The gentleman in question is very Republican. I mean, poster-child Republican, which always lends itself to great conversation. I watched it. It’s a naïve film — but I love the idea. The concept behind it makes great sense to me. I read the book and, being the free thinker that I am, I agreed with some parts. There are some other parts I just could not agree with. There are elements of the view of how capitalism should be that are very naïve because some greedy idiot is going to figure out a way to screw people over in that system. I find that a lot of the thinking behind it, about individual effort and the ownership of creative expression, I can identify with. It was all about the little guy and individual effort.”
VNV Nation’s music and lyrics frequently champions the individual. So it is no surprise that Harris is vocal in his support of people who fall outside of what society views as mainstream.
“The main message than has been paramount for VNV Nation’s music is always one of self-betterment,” he said. “I despise the term ‘different,’ because I don’t believe there is such a thing.
“I grew up in a very conservative country and I was told I was ‘different’ — there was something wrong with me from the word go. I knew there was nothing wrong with me: I just knew that I was different. That has influenced my life and shaped me. I think it’s the greatest gift those people gave me. From a gay perspective, I had a lot of friends in Ireland that we just came together because we were disjointed from the societies we came from and our backgrounds. We just knew we had to carve a niche for ourselves in this world, whether it was their sexual orientation or their perspective on the world or what they wanted to do. It didn’t matter. We were all somehow seen by the general society around us that we were ‘broken.’ It took me a long time to figure out that people who shout things at people and pull other people down have a problem with themselves.”
VNV Nation performs at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Trocadero Theatre, 1003 Arch St. For more information or tickets, visit www.vnvnation.com or call 215-922-6888.