Featuring bassist Andy Rourke (The Smiths) and frontman/guitarist KAV (formerly of Happy Mondays), Blitz Vega creates heavy yet danceable music with driving guitar hooks and powerful vocals. The two musicians had discussed working together for years but only recently found their schedules aligned. So far, Blitz Vega has put out a single, “Hey Christo,” and they will be following it up with an EP recorded live in-studio (no overdubs) at the legendary Abbey Road Studio. After having previous performances canceled due to visa issues, they made their US live debut on July 24 at The House of Machines in Los Angeles.
In an interview conducted in New York on June 5, 2019, Rourke discussed Blitz Vega as well as some of his other projects.
How did you meet and start working with Kav?
Andy Rourke: Mani [Gary Mounfield of Stone Roses/Primal Scream] invited me out to this gig in Manchester. He said to come and check out this young kid who was playing; his name was Kav. Kav was doing his solo thing at the time. So, I went. There were members of New Order there. There were a few celebs in the audience, and it was a really good gig. I was really impressed. I met Kav afterward, and we seemed like kindred spirits. But then, we lost touch over the years.
He later invited me to DJ. Kav used to do a DJ night in London called Dance in a Panic; he invited me to DJ there a couple of times. Our paths kept crossing. We always said, ‘we should work on a music project sometime.’ The last time I saw him was at Coachella when the Happy Mondays were playing and Kav was playing with them. I was DJing, and we both happened to mention to each other that we’d both left the UK and relocated to the USA: Kav to LA, and me to New York.
We were this ‘a couple of ex-pats abroad’ kind of thing. That brought us closer together. I was making trips to LA at least twice a month, for DJing and stuff. I don’t DJ so much anymore, but we’d always meet up, try and get some work done or get some ideas down at least. At the time I had been working on the D.A.R.K. project with Deloras [O’Riordan of Cranberries] that came to a tragic end, which gave me some unexpected free time, and Kav happened to be free. I think the stars were aligned, and it was the right time for us to work together.
In starting up Blitz Vega, did you have specific ideas of what you were going for sound-wise?
Andy Rourke: We had a certain sound in mind, how we wanted things to go, based on our influences. So, like Stooges, David Bowie, New York Dolls, and the very edgy kind of stuff like Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. That was our template that we brought into the studio. It just happened so naturally.
We recorded initially in the House of Blues in LA and then in a studio called New Monkey where we worked on the mixing desk that was used to record Ziggy Stardust. I think it still has some of the stardust attached; it was magical! It had something about it. Then more recently, we finished the EP at a place called Vaulted Sound, which is a new spot in downtown LA. We also did a recording at Abbey Road studio; we did it completely live, like people did in the old days. There were no overdubs, no anything. We just got a good sound and went for it. That live EP will be out after the summer, I think.
Was recording live in the studio something you’d wanted to do, or did you just feel that Abbey Road lent itself to that approach?
Andy Rourke: We definitely wanted to go for the live feel, and we rehearsed in Lester, where Kav is from. I was there for about a month. Luckily, we were busy every day, as it’s not known for its hotspots, or anything like that. But it was good because there were no distractions and we were able to really focus on the rehearsals. The band sounded great. We were on fire at Abbey Road, and it sounded great.
What is the creative process like within the band? Are you always together when you work, or do you do things long distance?
Andy Rourke: Usually Kav would come up with a basic idea and when we did get together, we would embellish on that. We tried the long distance with Facetime, but it’s just not the same.
Did the experience of working with D.A.R.K. have any influence on this project?
Andy Rourke: Spiritually, definitely yes. But I think that sound-wise, no. It’s like they are chalk and cheese; they’re completely different. But you know, I do think about Dolores a lot and what could have been and how tragically she was taken away from us.
How did the rest of the band come together?
Andy Rourke: It was mainly brought together again by Kav because he was spending a lot of time in the UK. His girlfriend’s father was sick. He also had to renew his visa, so there were many factors. He pulled his band together from recommendations of friends. I know he’d worked with the keyboard player, ASA, before. Between them, they pulled this really good band together, and I think we’re gonna stick with this line-up and take it around the world, hopefully.
Have the other members had any songwriting input, or do you bring them that material fully-formed?
Andy Rourke: It’s fully formed. But saying that, we didn’t tell the drummer, Craig, what to play or the guitarist. We just gave them the songs and let them play. They were quite fully formed, but if they wanted to interpret it and if it sounded great, then we just went with the flow.
For a lot of the initial recording, we didn’t have live drums. We did have live drums on some, but this guy just brings so much more energy to the songs. The same with the guitar player. The whole band really gelled together so well. We’re revisiting the songs; they’re ready to go, but we just want to make them better.
I think I’m going to revisit some of the basslines because I think that from playing at Abbey Road and playing in a live situation, I realized I was playing the baselines completely different than what was on the record, but in a good way. Just more energy, which I didn’t think was possible. It’s really exciting to have a real band, instead just me and Kav and having random session musicians pop in and out. It’s more cohesive and constant. You don’t have to teach somebody new arts, etc.
Is Blitz Vega currently your main focus?
Andy Rourke: Yeah, definitely.
Why were your initially planned US debut performances canceled?
Andy Rourke: All I can say is there were visa issues. Things can always get complicated when it comes to visas; they can never give you an exact day. I don’t know if maybe the Trump administration has made things more difficult. So, I think everything was becoming more complicated, and we didn’t bank on that. So, unfortunately, we had to postpone the LA and New York gigs.
How extensively have you performed live otherwise?
Andy Rourke: We did one gig in London; that was it. For next year, I think we’re going to go full-on with it with the touring and the whole festival scene. We’ve missed the boat on that for this year. We were hoping to do this year, but this thing’s just moved because of one thing or another. Things have been delayed. Next year is going to be full steam ahead
Did you have a plan in mind in terms of how you want to introduce Blitz Vega to audiences?
Andy Rourke: Our first single, “Hey Christo,” was just put out there for free. Streaming and stuff like that is obviously very important now. I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to stuff like that. Kav’s very focused on it; he knows how it works a lot better than I do. He’s constantly on his computer, sending stuff here, there and everywhere. It’s really important to promote on social media.
Where did the name Blitz Vega come from?
Andy Rourke: Kav and I were bouncing ideas back and forth, and they were all terrible. One day, we were maybe on like a day trip to Malibu or something like that, and Kav said he’d been doing some research, and he said the word Vega was related to the stars and power. Blitz has to do with explosions. We just thought, when you put the two together, it’s quite a powerful name for a band.
You have been involved with many projects over the years. Are there any in particular that you feel influenced your work with Blitz Vega?
Blitz Vega: I don’t think my bass-playing style has changed that much over the years. I think with Blitz Vega, it’s a lot edgier than what I normally play, which I like. But I tend not to overthink things and just do what comes naturally. Otherwise, it doesn’t sound like me. You might as well use somebody else.
I always really liked Freebass. Could you talk about that project?
Blitz Vega: Freebasss was me, Mani and Peter Hook from New Order. I think it came out of the frustration of being a bass player and working with bossy people. It was kind like the bass player liberation front, and it was fun while it lasted. It was really difficult to navigate through and to find space for three basses on a track. I’m sure the engineer was pulling his hair out, and then we’d forget who played what. We’d have arguments in the control room and said, “Can you turn my bass up a bit?” And someone would go, “That’s not your bass; that’s my bass.” So then I quit and became 2 Bass, and then I think Mani quit. But it was definitely fun while it lasted.
You’re best known for being a member of The Smiths. Morrissey is known for saying things in interviews that garner negative attention. Are you concerned at all that he may go too far and tarnish the band’s legacy?
Blitz Vega: Well, I know what you are digging at. Yeah, I’m sure it could tarnish our legacy. But, at the same time, everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I don’t agree with it; it is freedom of speech, I suppose. I don’t really want to talk too much on that.