Contrary to what one might expect, given its electro-rock instrumentation, the members of VOWWS are not fans of remixes. Frontwoman-keyboardist-programmer Rizz can barely contain her disgust when she talks about the concept.
“It just seems tired to me,” she says, fresh off a live performance and sound-design set at fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons Homme show in Paris on Jan. 18 for the French capital’s edition of Fashion Week. Rizz speaks with a sharp-tongued candor that somehow lands as more amiable than caustic. “Why would you take a perfectly good song and ruin it and put a doof-doof beat to it just so a bunch of clubgoers can dance to it? Dance to something else. Dance to fuckin’ Diplo or something.”
In case Rizz’s emphasis doesn’t make it clear enough, the Australian duo rebuilt its new track “Structure of Love II” entirely from scratch. The original version, which appears on VOWWS’ sophomore full-length, 2018’s Under the World, is redolent with precisely the kind of moodiness one would expect to appeal to Deftones singer Chino Moreno, a child of the ’80s who fell in love with goth/new wave acts like The Cure and Depeche Mode at a formative age.
But Rizz and her bandmate, guitarist-programmer Matt James, didn’t actually grow up listening to those bands, and describing VOWWS as goth is somewhat unfair in spite of the sonic connections. Rizz and James were nurtured on ’90s alternative. (Before that, Rizz was first drawn to music by a strong compulsion to record music cues from TV shows and even the jingles that played on commercials, using a tape recorder.) When the pair sits down to write songs, it starts out not in the digital realm, but with acoustic guitar, keyboards and vocal melodies. Both Rizz and James insist that, although they have an obvious affinity for electronic gear, the focal point of their music consists of songs, as well as the human element that drives them, however “broken” (James’ description) the arrangements end up.
No surprise, then, that “Structure of Love II” unites two seemingly likeminded but distinct sensibilities. Of course, Rizz and James were influenced by Moreno’s work with Deftones, so it follows that they in turn absorbed some of his influences in ways they perhaps weren’t even aware of. Moreno certainly sounds like he’s in his natural element on the slower and dirgier yet somehow more delicate remake, the uptempo drumbeat of the original replaced by an airy electronic pulse courtesy of producer/former Nine Inch Nails member Danny Lohner. Overall, the new version lands closer to the witch house vibe of Moreno’s electronic vehicle Crosses or even classic trip-hop like Portishead and Massive Attack.
VOWWS, which are now based in Los Angeles, were taken by complete surprise when, prior to their relocation to the States, Moreno tweeted a track from their self-titled 2013 debut EP — without tagging them. That caught the attention of the band’s friends, who later alerted them when Moreno name-dropped VOWWS on Triple J, Australia’s national radio network. When they listened to the broadcast, Rizz and James were flabbergasted to discover that Moreno actually had attended one of their gigs.
“At that point,” says Rizz, “we were like, ‘Holy shit, we should follow this up.’ ”
In November 2018, Moreno handpicked the act to appear on the Dia de los Deftones festival in San Diego. With “Structure of Love II,” he becomes the third distinguished guest vocalist to grace a VOWWS track, following in the footsteps of synth-pop legend Gary Numan and King Woman/Miserable vocalist Kristina Esfandiari.
“Obviously,” says James, “we’ve got very limited resources, but we’ve got the freedom to be able to do things like release an album and then revisit the songs and see how you can stretch a song to fit different personalities. If we were on a label, they’d have a template to how you do things. And once we got people like Kristina and Chino involved, it’d be like ‘Now we’ve got to delay the fucking album,’ and that could be a momentum killer. At least this way, we get to continue to foist ourselves on the world in any disjointed way that we can. But there’s a beauty to that. In the same way that imperfections in music can give it life, experimentation in terms of how you put music out there [can be the same way].”
Listen to “Structure of Love II” below.