VOSH Highlights the Drama of Goth Rock on “Vessel” (Interview)
Performativity, as in sincerely embracing one’s actions and amplifying them to their natural conclusion, is good. Ignore the guys crossing their arms to look cool, commitment to anything, even when it bleeds into high drama, should receive applause.
D.C.-based VOSH embody that ideal on their debut album Vessel, released in March. As vocalist Josephine Olivia puts it, “We want people to feel like they’re entering a horny haunted house.”
The group initially debuted under the name Aertex, but changed their name not long afterward. The change was a wise move, as aertex is a fabric used for lightweight, breathable clothing suitable for warmer weather. If VOSH were a material, they’d be latex—tight, stylized, and sensual. Their music plays as if it’d shriek in the daylight, pulling the most dramatic elements from synthwave, goth rock, and industrial metal into a concoction with surprising crossover appeal.
Olivia and fellow bandmate Chris Moore spoke to us about the differences between hardcore punk and their current music, how fashion and music intertwine, and more.
The word “goth” gets applied to your music pretty frequently—Do you have an opinion on the term and its connotations, especially seeing as how goth is different in music than it is in conventional usage? Goth in 2023 covers plenty of topics.
Olivia: We both agreed that pigeonholing it as one thing doesn’t do it justice, especially since we didn’t go into it trying to make a goth record. When you label something, it backs you into a corner and makes you only able to play certain things, and we both love being able to play metal shows, indie shows, and goth shows.
Moore: We definitely lean into the goth, industrial, or gothwave territory, but we’re influenced by classic heavy metal and pop music, so we tried not to limit ourselves when writing the music. We didn’t ignore one thing while pursuing our other interests. Everyone has been in bands or seen bands that are trying to sound like one thing, which is cool, but that’s all it is. With this band, we had this void in our lives where whatever music we were trying to create just turned into VOSH.
Something I like about VOSH is that you keep the playfulnesses of early goth rock bands, like the fun factor of being in a haunted house, specifically with songs like “The Static.” How did that become an important part of VOSH?
Moore: It was definitely intentional. The element of traditional goth, if you will, that we like is the drama behind it. Drama always borders on cheesy or corny, but that’s also inherent in metal, death metal, or thrash metal. “Hell Awaits” by Slayer is a corny song, but it’s also an assbeater. Trying to create an atmosphere or mood with art is important to us. Even with our live show, we try to make you feel like you’re experiencing something else. Maybe nothing unique, but we’re trying to control the environment as much as possible with lights and smoke.
Olivia: It’s fully immersive. We want people to feel like they’re entering a horny haunted house.
Since we’re talking about aesthetics, Josephine, you said before that you make statements with what you wear and that fashion and music go hand in hand. What aesthetic intentions did you have with this project?
Olivia: We’ve honed in on that fine line between cheesy and tasteful. I’m obsessed with fashion and always have been, and this is a fun way to be more dramatic for the live show. It’s a way to bring our look to the stage. I’ve been wearing the same thing to every show ‘cuz it’s awesome. I wish I could wear it all the time, but it’s falling apart. I love the idea of pairing fashion and music ‘cuz I think they’re universal languages. You can tell what someone is like by their fashion, if you’re horny for clothes like I am. You see someone wearing a super cool outfit, or playing cool music, and you feel it. You notice that they’re paying more attention to detail.
Since you mentioned fashion, I want to know who some of your favorite designers are.
Olivia: I’m more indie with my brands, and I always work with Busted Brand, which is an LA-based latex brand. I love what they do. They do the sexy thing but it’s weird in a sense that you don’t know if you’re supposed to wear it. It’s a little avant-garde. Of course, there are brands Mugler and Dior, along with YSL, who are my favorites. The designer I wear for every show is Laquan Smith, who I think is incredible. He’s a NY-based fashion designer who does a ton of body suits, and those hit. Also, I just wanted to add that one of my favorite designers is Vivienne Westwood because she always blended music and fashion.
It’s interesting comparing fashion to music because music can be more avant-garde and still have a practical audience, whereas in fashion, as you said, you don’t even know if you’re supposed to wear certain clothes if they’re too out-there. Where do you think the line is between creativity and wearability for fashion?
Do you think that philosophy applies to your music as well?
Vessel covers plenty of topics, with some coming off as more grounded like “2F8CED” and others more sensory like “Falling.” Lyrically, what were you chasing after with these songs?
Olivia: I drew inspiration from what Chris brought to the table with beat and synth lines. They change how I write, with some ideas not existing until I heard what Chris wrote, while other ideas exist in my phone in the notes app. It depends on which song, though some songs are more specific. “Falling” is more of a pulled-back experience, but I always want listeners to decide what the songs mean to them. I want anyone who listens to it to feel how they feel.
I’m drawn to “Night” for its subject matter and allusions to self-image. Could you guys tell me where it came from and what inspired it?
Olivia: It’s also about perfectionism, the body, and self-worth. Especially for me, being a woman, we have to move through life in whatever way we can, and there’s this expectation of being perfect. That’s true for everyone, though, especially about our bodies. We always want to attain these things that are slightly out of reach.
Chris, I know you used to play in hardcore bands like Coke Bust, but you transferred seamlessly to VOSH. What made that transition easy for you?
Moore: I still play in Coke Bust, but we don’t play too often. I’ve listened to the type of stuff VOSH plays, or similar stuff, for as long as I’ve been listening to punk. It’s just way easier to start a punk band than it is to start a goth band. With a goth band, you need at least a good singer, and maybe I never knew one until Josie. There are a lot of elements that I used in previous bands that I use in VOSH; I still play the drums just as hard. Even if I’m hitting a drum pad, I’m hitting it as hard as I did with my hardcore bands. It’s ingrained in me. The idea that something big is coming from my hand and hitting something hard looks cooler than hitting something softly.
The biggest challenge about shifting from punk is writing songs. Every band I’ve been in has involved me writing a ton of songs, but I don’t have any formal training on guitar, bass, or piano, so when I’m writing for other bands, I’m like, “Ok, I have a beat in my head, but it’s just onomatopoeias.” I felt stupid about it, but then I remember reading either Mike Judge or John Joseph saying that they had a Casio keyboard that they’d write the riffs out on, which made me feel better knowing there were other not-so-affluent musicians out there trying to write music.
VOSH completely took me out of my comfort zone. Writing was such a challenge, and I loved it, especially at the time it was happening before the pandemic. I realized I had nothing but time, so I knew I had to figure it out. Because of that, I write songs in a totally different way. I have more of an understanding of piano and bass. We also recorded the album ourselves, which we’ve never done, and it was equally gratifying and frustrating. In the end, it felt really good. I thought it didn’t sound like total shit, plus we did it ourselves.
It’s strange to enter a realm with more structure versus hardcore’s focus on energy.
Moore: For sure, I would say the thing that matters most is that the energy we put out when we perform is always the same. We’re a loud band and that’s off-putting for some bands we perform with because they don’t always perform with physical instruments. It may just be a synth and a laptop, which is cool too, but our thing has always been volume. We bring our own PA system when we play shows and have our own subs on the stage, so our shit is loud. It’s always heavy. There’s a cock-rock element to it. We want a physical presence. Think about Motorhead or Tom Petty; even though they were at the age that every band got rid of their amps and started using amp modeling technologies, and as a sound guy myself, I love using them for other people because it’s easy and you can get a great mix, but there’s something about amplification and volume. There’s a visceral feeling when you go to a concert and you’re getting blasted by an amp. It’s a little painful, but it leaves an impression.
Olivia: Also, Chris taught himself Ableton for this album. I’ve been saying that I need to learn that for years, and he went and did it just for this album. It’s fucking hard, and I think that’s cool that this album is the first showcase of his knowledge.
Get the album here.