On Bandcamp, RVG's debut record A Quality of Mercy, only has two tags: "Alternative" and "Preston." And unless you're prone to thinking of Courtney Barnett at the mention of the suburb, I would say that those tags are form a relatively accurate—and accurately mysterious—description.
RVG (the Romy Vager Group for long) have been more or less mystifying audiences for months. Thrilling, moving, and inspiring them, too. But in these last, most recent few, the whispers have become louder. Romy, the group's frontwoman, is called "hypnotising" and "stunning."
We met the band—Reuben, Gus, Marc and Romy—at the place where half of them live: Preston's The Bank, a notoriously central part of Melbourne's music scene, where pivotal records have been made and where seminal shows have been played.
Over white wine in the kitchen, and as the sun sets through the stained glass windows, we sat down with Romy to talk Tom Cruise, The Herald Sun, and what it feels like to drunkenly harass the Sisters of Mercy.
So. When did you move in here?
Couple of years ago, now. It's my second year here.
And when you moved in and thought it was a party house, were you wanting to party? Were you looking to jack up the party in your life?
No, I just came here a lot in the last five years and I watched it grow. Share houses are horrible for making music, and here it's not: Liam has his studio set up and bands come in here and play all the time so it's just nice.
So how long has The Bank been The Bank?
I reckon five years? There aren't gigs anymore, though, because of the council. They just eventually said "fucking stop it."
That sucks. I can definitely imagine living here and wanting to make a record. Wanting to play a gig.
Yeah! It's like that. All the lyrics I wrote for the record I wrote here. It was pretty exciting to move in here and realise that I could actually make music here.
Fuck, a housemate who says "can you please not make music?"
It happens. People are very strange. And it's weird because you live with people who have all different kinds of jobs and it doesn't always work. The other thing is that I've seen so many bands formed here and so many record written here. So it's amazing in that way, too. It's nice to watch the fruition here. The explosive stage was a few years ago but really good things are still happening here. The council just doesn't seem to want people to be creative, so these little places pop up every now and then in response to that.
Yep. Not beneficial for the government in any way, for you to be making music.
Haha, yeah, not at all. And that's the best part.
And did RVG all come together and say "let's do this," or were you writing lots and you needed help to flesh it out?
Okay… so I'd been making little demos for about a year prior, and I got roped into having a tape launch for a record label they were starting. And you know, when people say they're going to start a record label they never usually do. Um, so I had a bunch of songs so I thought "I may as well." I think my friend just expected I was going to play with an acoustic guitar, because I didn't have a band at the time. And so I pretty much just asked the three people who'd expressed interest in making music with me if they wanted to play a one-off show. And we played with some friends' bands and, yeah… It was supposed to be a one-off, but now it's a thing.
And what were you listening to while you were writing?
I was listening to pretty much exclusively Liz Phair and the Go-Betweens.
That makes a lot of sense. At least the Go-Betweens part. Were you listening to that stuff because you wanted to channel those sounds or just because you were obsessed?
Just because I was obsessed. I would basically listen to the same three albums in a row. I discovered something I hadn't explored, and I like to explore stuff.
Favourite Go-Betweens record?
Liberty Bell. Definitely Liberty Bell. I actually stumbled across that record in this house one day, and I just panicked and hid it, because I was like "I don't want this to disappear." So I hid it and protected it until I could find out why it was here.
You're from Adelaide. Does your family still live there?
They do, they're all still there… I'm a little annoyed at Adelaide right now because of the whole Coopers thing.
Yeah, what happened there?
Basically Coopers made this weird ad with a Liberal politician and the Bible Fellowship—this horrible Christian group—and they were debating gay marriage and trying to… make it fun. It was just like… You are fucked. It's horrible.
This is an ad?
Yeah, it's meant to be quirky I think. It was some sort of light beer and it was meant to be, I don't know, "the lighter side of life." Or something.
I know this is a boring thing to say but fuck it's so easy to forget about the bubble you live in. Majority of this country harbour very evil and selfish opinions.
I think people appreciate it, though. If you come from my side of the bubble, you really appreciate being inside it because outside of it is just so bad.
I much prefer to live in the bubble. In the same way that if I could choose not to have depression—and give up how emotionally intelligent it makes you, and how mentally complex it makes you—I would I think. Because that shit is way easier. Ignorance is bliss man.
It's amazing. I love it here.
The one thing that shocks me the most I think is not that these opinions are out there, but you would think that people with those beliefs—particularly companies—they wouldn't… advertise them. Even if it were just about money. You'd at the very least understand that it wouldn't end well.
I don't know what it is. It's just such a bad decision. People are getting meaner though.
Definitely. In response to being asked to be nicer.
Yeah, exactly. It's getting more and more weird. They don't have as much power, so they're getting angry.
Yeah, the divide is bigger than ever it would seem. The way people are talking there seems to be more anger, less discourse. Probably because for a really long time things were turning and the conservatives got scared and thought "fuck this. I'm not letting this happen."
Yeah, this is kind of what our song "A Quality of Mercy" is about. It's the closest I think I've gotten to a political feeling. That was in response to the execution of two of the Bali Nine. It's not really about that situation but it's more about conservatism. People who comment on The Herald Sun's Facebook page. It seemed like everyone was saying "let's give them the death penalty" over drug trafficking and this could just be some person you know's parents, who live on the south side or something, going "I've had enough of these drug dealers getting away with things, we should just kill them."
I love the concept of people getting sick of things they've never had to deal with. What are you sick of? You're sick of seeing it in the news? You're sick of hearing about it in passing? And then the people who it actually does affect, you're also sick of. So…
Exactly. But the news does make you sick of things. People say "oh, I'm so mad about this" and you're like, "why are you mad about it" and they're not really sure.
Yeah. Especially with ACA driving the point home tenfold after the news, telling middle Australia "Trust us, this is annoying you."
Totally! I just realised last week that I have no problem with Tom Cruise.
Oh my god.
It was all the media, I have had nothing personal against Tom Cruise this entire time. But I grew this aversion to him because of the way they portrayed him but I'm like… I'm actually quite neutral about Tom Cruise. I don't care about him whatsoever.
Okay: top three records you wish you wrote. Go.
Okay. Um, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ocean Rain. That was kind of what RVG was trying to be. A lush, 80s, poppy album. I can't listen to that record one time, I have to listen to it five times. What else? Patti Smith, Horses. And then any Sisters of Mercy album.
A bit goth, I like it.
I love them, they're my favourite band. I went to see them recently and I could not even tell you if they were good or not I was so into it.
That's a true fan: you're so in love that you can't see.
Yeah, exactly. I yelled at them apparently. I don't remember doing that. Apparently I was really drunk and I was in the front row and I shook my fist at them and said, like, "Ah, you're shit!" I remember seeing him through is sunglasses and one of his eyebrows just… lowered and I just went, "fuck. I'm so sorry."
Wow. God bless. Do you have a most embarrassing record you ever bought?
I think my first CD was a Goo Goo Dolls CD. I think it was just the hair I liked. They're like an alternative Bon Jovi or something.
Holy fuck that's exactly what they are.
Yeah. You've gotta listen to all those horrible things to find your niche, though. Like Pink Floyd and stuff. And you spend a lot of time pretending that you like stuff, too.
Totally. I spent a lot of time trying to streamline my taste, so that I only liked a couple of genres. Because I thought that was neater or more cool or something. But in actuality I like ACDC and I like Justin Bieber, and basically everything in between, too.
My taste is quite broad but I think in general it all comes back to eighties goth.
Yeah you live in this fucking house and you listen to eighties goth and you've got this haircut and you play in this band.
Haha! It's so silly.
And you've started the next record already.
We have. We've been playing some of the songs live, there's probably six right now. Half of them are a really good step forward. We've all decided that it's going to be even more lush that it already is. And lyrically I think it'll be even more depressing that it already is.
Great combo. The one enduring thing I've heard about RVG live is that people are enamoured, entranced by you. What happens to you when you've playing live?
I don't know!
Are you there? Are you present?
I sort of zone out I guess. I go in and out. It's something that's happened more lately. There's something going on but I don't know what it is. I'm a massive introvert so maybe there's a flip that happens when I go on stage, I'm not sure.
Yeah. It's funny, maybe because as an audience you see a lot of people attempting to nail down a mysterious or enigmatic aura or essence and so when you actually see it it's particularly arresting?
I feel like a lot of people aren't very genuine.
In general? Or on stage?
Haha, I think that's absolutely true.
I think people have read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies and have gone, "right. This is how you do it."
I think it's pretty easy to tell the difference between the real and the fake. The fakes. I think also it's really nice to see women in particular doing it. There's been male bravado in punk and stuff for a really long time and it's always refreshing to see a compelling front woman in punk.
I think that's the interesting thing about Spike Fuck and I. Both being trans, we take the male world that we've grown up in and we take it into a feminine space. Maybe it's like, looking at your cards and deciding which of your cards you want to play.
Listen to Quality of Mercy below. And follow RVG on Facebook
All photos by Isabelle Hellyer.