Venini began in late 1998. The very tall and ominous Debbie Lime was in a few metal bands years back when. She met up with Russell Senior, a high priest of the band Pulp, Nick, Ash, and Bob the drummer are also in the band. I have been trying to write to them for ages after I heard their singles "Mon Camion" and "Carnival Star" and knew that this was something as exciting as when I first heard Serge Gainsbourg or even Stereo Total. When I was in London this past February, I called Debbie a few times on the cell phone. The last desperate call I made, she finally answered. She had been in London all weekend and was leaving on the train to Sheffield that afternoon. So we planned to meet in Euston Station in an hour. The place we mentioned as a meeting place, Knickerbox, wasn't there anymore. So I was looking around for a tall women. Finally we saw each other and gave each other "Is that you?" look. Luckily there was a bar or two nearby to talk about this band Venini. Many people in America are dying to know more and I was only glad to bring home the news. We got a few Carlings, and Debbie broke open a new pack of Silk Cut. I showed her my Benson & Hedges. She told that was too heavy for her. All I can say is that Venini is a very glamorous band, and people who want excitement in their life should tune in.
AL: Can you talk about the formation of Venini. People must compare you to Pulp because of Russell Senior?
DL: The single "Carnival Star" probably sounds more like Pulp than the rest of our stuff. We have two singles that we've deliberately kept back, which are the two best singles. Russell's a good producer but he's the first bloke admit that he isn't brilliant. So we want a proper pop producer for the next two singles: "Roxy" and "Photograph." The other two singles were in the Top 20 on the indie charts. But we don't want to be an indie band. We want to be a pop band. It's crossing over that we're having difficulty with at the moment.
AL: You did the first two singles on your own label, Bikini.
DL: We are looking to get signed to a proper label. We want to get more funding behind us so that we can actually do the songs the best that we want to really, a good producer and a good studio. We recorded "Carnival Star" in the same studio that The Divine Comedy did their album, Derry Studios.
AL: So Venini has played twenty or thirty live shows together?
DL: About twenty shows. We played with Sparks. I didn't realize that they were American. I thought they were German or English. They look like someone's English grandfather. They're really weird though.
AL: In England as in America, there are too many good and really awful bands around, but there's not really one thing that defines all of them. You could be in your little world and be ignorant of most of what's going on.
NH: That's the problem at the moment with the music industry, especially in this country, it's really divided. You have Stereophonics and Travis, which I detest; I think that they're the worst band ever, the dregs of Britpop; and then you got things like Steps and Britney Spears, and I prefer Britney Spears over that other stuff. Her songs are so throwaway but they're much more enjoyable to listen to. I like TLC and 5ive.
AL: Were you in any bands before Venini or what did you do?
DL: I trained as an actress. I was in two bands in Birmingham. I'm an extrovert. I think that a lot of bands now don't want to entertain people and it's too introspective and introverted. People pay money to see something entertaining. I hate the preconception of if you have an image you can't have good music as well. I like other bands as well like The Divine Comedy, Moloko, The All Seeing I, Pet Shop Boys.
AL: I hear that Jarvis Cocker is a fan of Venini. Does he show up in disguise? Is he standing offstage at every gig checking out the competition?
DL: No, he's only been to one gig. I don't think he's worried about us. I've met Jarvis a few times and he's really nice. We've never talked about Venini. I don't know what he thinks about us. Pulp's best time was His 'n' Hers I think. I don't they could do any better than that. I do like Pulp. But it does annoy me when people like a band and they become popular and then they don't like them anymore. When Pulp did "Mis-Shapes" which is about queer people who are into weird things. Then you go on the dancefloor with all these "townies" with shirts and mustaches who are singing all the words to a Pulp song. It's time to move on.
AL: I think that more bands like Suede or The Divine Comedy should grow a mustache or a beard. I didn't know that there was such a prejudice against facial hair.
DL: I'll get Russell to grow a beard. Actually this bloke who guests with us who plays saxophone, he's got a really big beard like Father Christmas.
AL: What about these photos of the band?
DL: The press shots were supposed to be the entire band. But the photographer who did them made the other guys blurred in the background. I guess that we are playing on the height. Me being six foot tall. I'm probably taller than the whole band put together.
AL: How did you meet these people?
DL: Russell I know from Pulp. Nick I know because he used to promote clubs around Sheffield. I used to visit around there a lot. Bob the drummer knew Nick. It's a bit incestuous. Everybody knew each other. Russell had just produced the Baby Birkin record, and he didn't want to be in a band for a while. Now we've been together for almost two years. In the early stages, I remember, Bob the drummer had just joined and we had two weeks to get ready for a support gig with Rialto. It was very undercover and nobody knew about Venini back then.
AL: Rialto is good. What do you think of Gay Dad?
DL: I like them. They are the start of what music should be. I don't think that they're the best band in the world, but elements of what they got, bands should make more of it, and Venini does that. I'm not saying that Gay Dad are crap, but we take what they're doing further. They're quite glamorous and the singer is quite lively and inspirational. We want to inspire people rather than going on about being on the dole. I don't want to hear about people being on the dole.
AL: What do you write about in your songs? "Carnival Star" is a love song.
DL: It's a love song. I tend to like men that everyone goes "Oh my god! How could you like him?" "Carnival Star" is like everyone is a freak. The other single "Mon Camion" is in French song. "Camion" means "truck, but also is the English equivalent of "tart." It's kind of about Serge Gainsbourg. He's a tart himself. He was dirty and old. It's about him basically. It's about Frenchmen and things French. I went there last New Year's Eve. You should go to Paris. It's a beautiful and amazing city.
AL: You write most of the lyrics right? You are not the flesh puppet of Russell Senior's aloof will?
DL: I write all the lyrics except for "St Tropez." I write the songs and boss them about. Keep them in order! Men have to know their place.
AL: If you are onstage, and the audience is in a frenzy, do you ever dive into the audience? And what do you do to prepare to assault the audience?
DL: No, I might mess my hair up. I take it so far but not that far. I've had some singing lessons, but now I just smoke cigarettes before a show. Russell's usually in a mood. Bob the drummer is really weird and he just sits there rocking backwards and forwards. Me and Nick pace and hit walls and shout. We don't have any of that Madonna stuff. We don't form a circle and pray and someone gives a speech.
AL: What about that review in the Melody Maker? Did you offend some reviewer who wanted to hangout backstage?
DL: That was the gig in London at Barfly. The Melody Maker slighted us. It was brilliant. "Worst band in the world." -- David Dumont. We put that quote in our next advert: "Come see Venini, worst band in the world." But the music press in this country. We are really liked by magazines like The Face, ID and Sleazenation. NME and Melody Maker absolutely hate us. We knew that they would. They said that we were really unoriginal. Then on the cover is Oasis, the most unoriginal band in the world.
AL: NME seems more like nitpicking and being politically loyal to certain bands, while Melody Maker is like unexamined fandom and love letters to whatever flavor of the month.
DL: The concert that Melody Maker reviewed said that people were walking out on the concert. But we have a bloody tape of the concert. People were cheering us for ten minutes to get back on. I knew that they were against us from day one because we're stylish. Any band who are ugly and don't have style on the agenda like Stereophonics get praised by them.
AL: I think the Melody Maker was upset by that lyric "Dress me up in Gucci." They want to hear stuff like Gomez I guess? What do you think of Catatonia?
DL: I used to like them but I think they got a bit rubbish now. I think she sold out and is over-styled. I used to like Tom Jones until he did that new album. It's awful. It's like bad karoake and he just shouts the whole album. Everyone likes Tom Jones now for some reason. I prefer Serge Gainsbourg.
(A homeless person asks us for a cigarette)
AL: Here you go.
DL: He looked like Frank Carson, an English comedian. I like Frank Carson.
AL: The homeless people here are very quiet and pathetic. The just hold out their hands, and look like they lost it and are going to die that day. But it may be an act. I don't know. New York City, they are more aggressive and in your face. Here they're kind of funny and harmless.
DL: In the tube? It's the English reserve.