The Vaselines move beyond 'Kurt Cobain’s favorite band'

Back together again.

Hailing from Scotland in the late 1980s, The Vaselines released just a couple of EPs and one full album before originally calling it quits after two short years together. However, thanks to fans like Kurt Cobain, who covered three of their tunes with Nirvana, and exposed the band to larger audiences around the world, new generations have fallen in love with them in the ensuing years.
Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee — the duo behind the Vaselines — reformed the group for a series of outstanding shows in 2008, including their first ever concerts in the United States.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, we didn’t know if anybody would be at the shows, or if they’d be interested, because it had been 20 years, and we had never been to America,” says Eugene Kelly over the phone from his home in Glasgow, Scotland.

In addition to performing at Sub Pop Records’ 20th anniversary festival — the Seattle label re-issued their collected works back in 1992 — the Vaselines played several other shows in the US, including New York and San Francisco, where they were inspired by the devoted fan base that came out to see them.
“It’s a great thing to be able to play songs that were written 20 years ago, and there’s an audience for them, and people want to see us play,” says Kelly.

It was this enthusiastic response that prompted the band to come back together to later write and record a new album, Sex With An X (Sub Pop), which came out in 2010, and perfectly captured the unique and infectious spirit of their earlier work.

“When we started doing a few shows, and then started getting more offers, we thought, ‘we can play the same 19 songs that we’ve got forever, or we write some new songs to make it interesting for us, and try to say something new,’ so we just got down to work doing that.”

Although it had been more than two decades since they recorded together, and the group had a far bigger audience than ever before — one that had been listening to the same small output for a long time — Kelly says that there wasn’t any conscious effort to try to sound the same.

“I think it was a natural thing once we got together and started writing — we decided to not try to be beholden to what the sound was like in the past — they’re different recordings 20 years later, so obviously something is going to be different. We just thought, ‘let’s try to just make a record and hopefully it will turn out to be a good one,’ and not work slavishly to try to copy what we had done [before].”

The resulting album was warmly received by fans, as it contained the same signature ingredients as their earlier work, and the band found that they were also able to move beyond simply being labeled ‘Kurt Cobain’s favorite band’— but that doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what Nirvana covering “Son of A Gun,” “Molly’s Lips,” and “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam” did for their career.

“We’re quite happy with the association; we wouldn’t really be able to do any of this now if wasn’t for them putting our name into the world, we’re totally grateful. But with the new record, it gave us something else to talk about, and we don’t have to talk about the past — we’re happy with our history, but we’re also looking forward,” says Kelly.

Although the Vaselines won’t be playing any new material at the four shows they’ve currently got booked here in the US, they are always working on new ideas when not on the road.

“I’m writing songs all the time, sometimes it will work for the Vaselines, sometimes it will work for something else at some point— I’d like to do other stuff as well, I’ve always wanted to do a musical, but that’s probably further down the line — I think maybe I’ll do that once I get the punk rock out of my system.”

For now, however, Kelly is happy to continue building on the legacy of the Vaselines, and is encouraged when he meets fans at shows or runs across younger musicians from bands at festivals who tell him what his band has meant to them over the years.

“We only released a couple of records, and the fact that they actually got to the other side of the world, and anybody had the chance to listen to them is amazing. It does make you feel old though when you see these very young people come up to you and say they’ve been listening to you since they were in high school — but if we made anyone pick up a guitar, or bass, or drums, that’s just a great feeling to know that you might have inspired somebody.”

The Vaselines
With Mister Loveless
Fri/31, 9pm, $22
628 Divisadero, SF.
(415) 771-1421