Vant - Interview

An interview with Mattie Vant

An interview with Mattie Vant

London-based four-piece, Vant, release their debut album, "Dumb Blood" on February 17th. Annie Mac has bestowed five of their songs with the accolade 'Hottest Record in the World' on Radio 1 and they have just headlined a BBC Introducing bill at the Roundhouse in Camden. The esteemed Ms Mac has a point; their talent is undoubtedly scorchio, as is the smouldering umbrage and acerbic social comment that comes with any Vant tune.
There aren't many front men around who wear their heart on their sleeve quite like Mattie Vant. He may look moodily like something from "The Lost Boys" in band photos, and he sounds like he's well up for punching your lights out when you hear the songs, but in reality, a fierce love of life and a compassionate humanity creates the heat that sears through Vant's distinctly vibrant blood. So interested and concerned was Mattie by the current American status quo, that he went to Washington DC to sample the mood of the presidential inauguration and join the Women's March, all of which will feature in a forthcoming documentary. A gentle Mackem charm struck me when I spoke to him recently.

Contactmusic [CM): Mattie, "Dumb Blood" is out this month, I have a sense that it's been down for a while. Are you bursting for it to be out there?
Mattie Vant [MV]: Yeah, we can't wait. As you say for us, it feels like a lot longer than it does for most people. Some of these songs are a few years old now. Although they're fresh to new ears, we've been living with them for a while, but for some bizarre reason, they seem more relevant than they did when I wrote them and with everything that's happened in the last six months, it feels like the album's coming out at the perfect time in terms of the messages and the fact that people need to hear it.

CM: So, "Dumb Blood" - I've assumed it's what is coursing through humanity's veins right now. Am I anywhere in the right ball park?
MV: I guess the great thing about the title is that it's open to interpretation and it is, of course, a metaphor. For me, it's a comment on the silent generation that we are. We need to wake up, and that's hopefully what the record will do - it'll wake up a few people to some new ideas and to the possibility of using their voices in the real world and trying to make change.

CM: So, would that be your ideal response for a listener, apart from enjoying the music, especially for a new listener to Vant?
MV: I hope that we can inspire people to have these kinds of conversations at home and with their friends and family, and work colleagues. I think there's a need right now to be aware of what's going on and at least acknowledge it, and move it back into everyday conversation. Particularly because of the Internet, we live in a time where you only see one side of the argument and you only see what you want to see. That art of conversation is dying and if we see a friend, for example, post about something that we disagree with, instead of having a rational conversation with them and trying to understand their side of the argument, we'll just ignore it and move on with our day-to-day life, and I think that's something that needs to change.

CM: Social media criticism recurs. You've got "The Wonderful World of Berners Lee" on the Karma Seeker EP. I know it doesn't come up on the album, but are we just not living 'real' lives? Is that one of the big things for you?
MV: Partly, yeah. It's an interesting time to be alive, where we all have a digital self, or most of us do, and we spend more time online now than we ever have done. I'm guilty of it; everyone's guilty of it - these endorphins that we get when someone likes one of our photos, or retweets something that we say on Twitter are now embedded within us and we crave that affection and attention, and it's weird. Why do we do that, you know? It's added a whole new dimension of complexity to our lives.

CM: You've got tracks like 'The Answer' on the album, with the idea that the media is handing statements of so-called fact, or post-truths, and we're just taking them, or 'Lampoon Everything', which (if I've got it right) has that idea that we don't address issues seriously online, we just try to be emptily funny about them?
MV: We either try to be funny about them, or we attack people in a way that we never would in reality. You know, we'd never use such provocative or violent language towards someone if we met them in real life. The reality is that we'd probably have a reasonable conversation and both sides of the argument would leave with a better understanding of the other person. And that's where we need to be, back to a time before the Internet.

CM: You talk about that excessive anger; I'm not going to tar you with the same brush, but you can only listen to the album and hear that you're f**ing furious some of the time. Has life always riled you?
MV: I find it frustrating and confusing, the same way that anyone does, and that's why the themes on the record are taken in a philosophical sense, in a way where it's trying to understand the human condition first and foremost, or it diagnoses the intricacies of the world that we've built for ourselves.

I think a lot of the time, we forget that we're just another species on this planet. We are just animals. We live and breathe the same air as any other life form on this Earth and we need to be appreciative of them as species. We also need to understand ourselves that the only reason that we built our borders is that at some point in time, a dictator or a king or a tyrant has wreaked havoc on a particular part of the world and named it after themselves. These barriers that we've built over thousands of years are still tearing us apart. The idea of a global community and a more equal society is something that is imperative and something that we are incredibly passionate about. I guess that's the main crux of the record - trying to understand the difficulties of life and trying to present an answer to them as well.

CM: With the album being very much 'now' and big issues being foremost, was there a big debate about a song like "Birth Certificate" in terms of whether you put it on, or left it off?
MV: It was on the "Karma Seeker" EP; it's on the Deluxe version of the record.

CM: Available from all good independent shops...
MV: Exactly, nice plug. I think it's a song that's massively important to us. It's a song that people respond well to live and, over the summer, we've had people holding up EU flags. We've in no way left it off because of the controversial nature of the subject matter, it's just that people of our fan base are aware of it already. For me the thirteen tracks of the album, first and foremost, feel like an album and we've designed it in a way that ebbs and flows. I see us as an album band, a band that can make a whole piece of work - something really great. I hope that's what we've done.

CM: In terms of the big issues, you've got mindless acceptance of the media on "The Answer", gun ownership on "Put Down Your Gun", the extinction of the human race in "Headed for the Sun" and "Fly-by Alien" scrutinising human life. You don't shirk the big stuff, by any means. Has anyone ever asked you to tone it down?
MV: Thankfully not, and if they did, I'd tell them to go f**k themselves. Honesty is number one for me, not only in our music, but in any music. As soon as I see something, I just see straight through the cracks of it when it's not believable and the reason we talk about the things we do is not because they are necessarily massive issues that need to be talked about, it's because they're things I care about. The reason I include them is so that when we have discussions like we're having now, it forces you as a journalist to ask me questions about these things. It's the way it's always worked, that if you put it in your art form, it gives you a platform to discuss it further.

CM: As a child of the 90s, there are heart-warming Proustian moments on the album where I hear so many superb influences from then. I love thinking again about Sonic Youth, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, and then further back into the Ramones, but I also get a radio friendliness that those bands don't immediately have. How do you keep it so accessible, yet issues-driven and often heavy?
MV: I think it's just because the music comes from a very natural place. It's not forced in any way; I've spent years before this project making music that I hated because it was what I essentially deemed to be 'popular' or what was going to bring success, you know? But when I thought about it and realised that when I started making music, I started in a punk band and I loved rock music. It was always the thing that really appealed to me, so that's what I needed to do. When I started writing these songs, there was no intention of them ever being played on the radio and this whole thing happened without thinking about it.

We recorded twelve tracks with our producer, Sam Miller, and some of those tracks are on the album. We ended up producing the whole album with Sam. I always find in life that the things that are successful are when you're not fighting against them and you're not pushing things and you're not trying too hard. Things naturally gravitate towards something that's good. Whether that's down to our band members, or our producer, or our manager, or whatever, that's happened at all different stages of this project and it's felt so seamless.

The music itself just comes from some place in me, I don't know how to explain it better than that, but I was never trying to make it poppy, or trying to make it hooky or anything like that, I'm just making the music that I love - that I want to hear. This particular sound was missing from the musical world for me, so when I set out to make this recording, there was that. I love The Pixies, I love The Kinks, I love the Vines more recently. I love artists from all different backgrounds and genres, and I guess it's an amalgamation of everything that's seeped in over the last ten years of playing music and it just sort of expels itself in this way that is quite commercial, in a weird way, as much as it is challenging.

CM: A few quick questions to finish, if I may?
MV: Of course.

CM: You've very recently declared your love for Katy Perry. Was that a speculative pre-Valentine's move?
MV: Aaahh, unfortunately I'm not single, so Katy's just going to have to wait. To be honest, the reason I said that was that I'm quite excited by the prospect of new music from her with her recent activism. I think if a pop star of her size can start saying meaningful things and commenting on things that might divide her audience, then that's an amazing way to be. That's what pop artists should be doing, they should be using that voice to make a change and make a difference. I admire that; I think it's great, even if it's not the sort of music that I'd normally listen to.

CM: And the "Teenage Dream" cover is awesome.
MV: That's true.

CM: Best up and coming band that isn't Vant?
MV: Tiger Cub, who are good friends of ours. The Lemon Twigs, which I've been banging on about for ages. I guess they're more than emerging now. I've really liked the new Superfood stuff - I think that's really cool and I think Declan McKenna's a genius. I really think he's going to go far.

CM: Thanks for your time. To end, what would Mattie Vant's concluding thought for 2017 be, apart from 'Buy "Dumb Blood"'?
MV: Buy "Dumb Blood" and talk to each other. Just actually have conversations with people in the real world.

"Dumb Blood" is out on February 17th.

Jon Kean

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