Bad Seed, Bandante, Brilliance: An Interview With George Vjestica
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
It’s frankly not understandable of late about what is happening to our precious art world right in front of our eyes. We see the benefits; we see how it touches every single human in some form or way, whether it slight or vast. Yet, we are struggling, struggling to survive; it seems like our love, passion and livelihood is being pulled away from under our feet. However, this does not deter creative people from expressing themselves, that is occurring in abundance, and there’s no holding it back. George Vjestica has already reached startling heights as a brother in one of the most tremendously accomplished bands to grace our planet: Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. As an artist, he found a calling to combine visual and audio practices to form his own sideline Bandante. We had the phenomenal opportunity to discuss this with George, where we found out more.
With art the umbrella of creativity and expression, what does your relationship with contemporary art look like? Which artists do you hold in high esteem or move you and why? Would you consider yourself to have an artistic practice besides music?
I find art totally inspiring, and it has been a constant in my life since I was a teenager. I used to spend hours in my local museum and art gallery staring at the few paintings they had on the wall. In particular, I remember there were a couple of Lowry’s next to some abstract paintings, and the juxtaposition of the two very different styles made such an impression upon me. Art can be whatever you want it to be, and the individuality and expression which comes with it have, for me, a complete value in itself.
Theaster Gates is fantastic, and his work is extremely relevant in today’s world. Anne Imhof is somebody I’ve just discovered, and Zhang Xiaogang, I’m really into his family portraits. I just went to the Warhol exhibition at the Tate Modern; it's incredible. He was so ahead of the game; one forgets how radical he was at the time.
The old guys: I love Balthus, Rousseau, Bacon, and Freud. I met Lucien a few times. I once made him a cup of tea, and we talked, believe it or not, about The Beatles.
I’m very fortunate that in the line of work I do, I’ve had the chance to travel all over the world and have had the opportunity to visit some amazing galleries. The Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful place and the National Gallery in Oslo and Mona. David Walsh’s place in Hobart, Tasmania is extraordinary and one that really stands out in my memory; it’s like something out of an old Bond film. It’s a massive subterranean lair, and the walls are filled with his wild eclectic collection of art. Charisschwarz is a fantastic space in Berlin too.
I find a great sense of peace and calm when I visit a gallery and view art; it transports me. And no, I don't have an artistic practice myself - I just paint music!
Forming your collective Bandante, where did you source the initial idea? Why is Bandante an important contribution for the arts to behold and welcome?
I need an outlet for my own creativity musically, so that's why I decided to start Bandante. I don’t necessarily think my work is more or less important than anybody else’s, but what I do think is important is that anyone who is creative needs to get their work out there and share it with the big wide world, irrelevant of it being a huge success or not. It’s about communication.
The internet has given us a great opportunity to make art and present it without the restrictions of needing approval from, say in my case, A&R guys or record companies. The DIY approach I find very liberating and fulfilling. With Bandante, if I want to shift styles musically or work with different musicians and artists, I’m totally free to do it, and if my work is appreciated and can inspire somebody else, then that’s great.
Can we discuss the merits of creative collaborations? Does inspiration develop at a quicker pace? Do you have to be more considerate of differing views or is there a requirement for complete honesty?
I find the act of being in a room with another person or a group of musicians developing an idea very stimulating. When it comes to my music, I will demo a complete song, so it will all be there in terms of composition and arrangement. Once I bring the musicians into a recording studio, they will add their own individual stamp on it. The key is that they can interpret and serve the song to actually improve on the demo, which is quite a skill. Demos, as any writer will tell you, always have that initial spark and feel that is hard to recapture. Really good musicians understand this, and on top of being able to play well, they tend to be very sensitive and know what is best for the song. Being open to other people's suggestions can take a piece of music to places you may never have imagined, but its good to have a strong sense of what you want to achieve and realise.
If you are in a situation where you are co-writing with other people, it's great to bounce ideas off each other, but there has to be some common ground, and you can’t be too precious about your own part in the process. Sometimes it won’t work, and you have to accept that, but when it does work, it’s wonderful. You just have to be open, and the inspiration will come. Honesty with who you collaborate is essential, but you also need to be, let's say, tactful and diplomatic sometimes.
The past two Bandante songs ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘My Friend’ felt like more traditional rock tracks twinned with retro styled videos, while brand new song ‘So This Is Now’ presents a different, fuller orchestral attitude. Why the shift in direction and was this a conscious decision?
It was definitely a conscious shift in direction, and it comes back to my point about serving the song. I always heard this particular piece of music as a kind of score/soundtrack with a theme, and I needed to bring in more instrumentation to create the dynamics and sonics I could hear in my head. I wrote it on an acoustic guitar but knew it needed mellotrons, Hammond organs, and brass. Why restrict yourself? I love the freedom of putting a song like this out and people hearing it and thinking what the fuck is that? You gotta keep things interesting!
The calibre of musicians on ‘So This Is Now’ is top notch to say the least. Are they friends of yours? How did you get them to join the Bandante cause?
I humoured, courted, and bribed them! No, I just asked them, and fortunately for me, they were up for getting on board, and yes, they are all friends.
Ian Matthews and Nikolaj Torp have their own bands outside of Kasabian and The Specials, and I’ve played with them both a few times. I also played with Nikolaj in Horace Panter’s band last year; that really was special! Nik and Ian have that thing where you feel that they never really switch off from music. It’s always there inside them, swirling around and ticking away, even when you’re walking down the street or hanging out with them at a bar or in a restaurant. They both have a fine blend of ability, attitude, and experience.
They instinctively just know what to play. It’s a joy to work with them, and they shine on So This Is Now. They are really great musicians!
You have collaborated with friend and artist Tim Shepard once more for the video of ‘So This Is Now’. It’s a striking black and white number, where it is easy to witness the amount of work that went into producing it. What message does the video and song together convey?
‘So This Is Now’ is definitely a collaborative thing with Tim, and we spoke in detail about what the visual aspect should be. He meticulously worked out each frame - I mean, a lot of work and detail went into making it and what he came up with is really profound. He has a real deep sense of music, and we have a great working relationship; we see eye to eye on many things when it comes to making music and art.
It feels like we are living in very divisive and uncertain times. Tim’s film, for me, is like a visual lyric. The message in the video and the song to me is pretty clear: we need to take more care of each other and of the planet we are living on.
We also find band mate Jim Sclavunos working closely with musicians Wendy James and Joe Gideon, and yourself for Bandante, and I’m sure others will be composing too. Does the Bad Seed work influence new composing and projects in any way?
The thing I get from being around the Bad Seeds, more than anything, is to be yourself. There’s no need to imitate anybody or pretend; just make and play the music as honestly as you can. The bar Nick Cave sets is very high. There’s no way you can’t be inspired when you’re around him and the rest of the Bad Seeds.
We’re all hoping and wishing that the re-scheduled Nick Cave And The Bad Seed tour can happen in April 2021, with the belief that must keep faith that events like that will happen for our art world and life in general. What is your opinion on this? Can you envisage a Bandante tour or exhibition at some point?
I really hope that the re- scheduled Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds tour can happen. This year has affected everybody all over the world. In some ways, it’s given everyone the chance to reflect on what matters.
The live music scene has been hit so hard and not being able to have any kind of communal experience only highlights how amazing concerts, shows, and club gigs really are. Maybe we will be more supportive of all the arts if we can get through this and really appreciate how much joy we get from music, theatre, film, dance, and art.
I’d love to do something with Bandante in a live setting again. I’ve been working on some ideas with Tim; it has to be an immersive experience. I'd like to do it in some kind of art gallery, one in London, one in Manchester, Newcastle, that kind of thing. Be good to make it happen.
And with that, George offers the hope that we all crave about our future experiences. The creative work and the result of devising over the past six months are there and ready and waiting; we just now need to seek an avenue to view this in person and unity. The time will come, and when it does, we shall rejoice together and look forward to seeing Bandante’s interpretations greatly.
Article by Beverley Knight