Beginning a new band is no easy feat under normal circumstances, let alone starting one mere months before being thrown into a global pandemic. This is what brothers Tom and Ben Vella faced when they took the plunge and created Child of the Parish, a project combining their love for disco, house and acid rock with visual mediums. Working alongside ‘Stranger Things’ graphic artist Pius Bak, they have introduced the character of Jacob Snape, the cursed, dark and dangerous child of the parish who appears on album artworks and plays the central character in their upcoming graphic novel. Set to be released with their debut album, the novel will transport you to the witchcraft trials of the rural village of Otherley in 1630.
Their latest single, ‘Midas Touch’, playfully explores experimental psychedelia with a flare of 80’s extravagance. The single is the first track to be released from their upcoming second EP and is inspired by many outdoor late-night games of poker played with friends during lockdown. The result is an anthem on bad luck, about being unable to escape a downward spiral and desperate for the next hand to bail you out.
FRONTRUNNER spoke with Ben about finding the emotion in the creative process, how relocating to the countryside inspired a narrative around folklore witchcraft, and more.
I read that you’ve worked on other creative projects before, so what’s led you here to Child of the Parish?
Well, the previous band I was in was a band called Vaults, on Virgin, and when did we finish? About 2017, I think. I knew as soon as Vaults finished there was no question I’d carry on doing music; I just love writing songs. So, kind of going forwards I was thinking not even what would I do differently, but why? You know, what am I going to gain out of this, other than just wanting to write songs? And then I realised that actually the art side of it, the creative side, was one of the things I’d enjoyed most in bands. So really, half the point of Child of the Parish was to structure the whole thing around getting me to do as much of that kind of stuff as possible, which is where all the animation and the comic and so on has kind of come from. I’ve always loved working with different artists in different mediums, but actually to work really closely with Pius has been really fascinating, to kind of see how he works and I had to read up and learn how you structure comic book scripts and stuff like that. I’ve got friends that help me with the writing of it and so on, and I just love every element of that, I find that really fun and it’s nice to kind of take a break from music while not taking a break from music at the same time, because the two things are intertwined. If I’ve just been staring at the screen listening to loud beats all day, it’s quite nice to give yourself half a day off to do something related but kind of completely different at the same time.
How did the collaboration with Pius come about?
The original kind of thing for the comic was from the name really; Child of the Parish was an old song that hadn’t worked out and I thought, ‘actually that’s a really good title, I should use that for a song.’ We didn’t have a name, me and my brother were just sending each other beats and writing and stuff, and then I thought, ‘oh I’ll do a song called Child of the Parish,’ and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a band name. And I’d just moved to the middle of the countryside, into the middle of nowhere; it’s literally like one pub, one shop and a post office, it took a bit of getting used to. I really love it now, it’s nice, but definitely fed into what we’re doing which is good in a weird way. It’s a really historic village so there’s loads of stuff to do with witch trials and creepy things here. The first house we viewed had a witch’s bottle buried into the wall from the sixteenth century, so it’s got a thing full of bones and red ribbon that they tied round everything to ward off witches, so then the whole thing basically came from there.
So, I did this terrible photoshop thing of the front cover where I just found like an evil boy, plonked him on, found a picture of the village, plonked it on, and then went on the website Behance – which is a website where different people who work in visual mediums can find each other, so cartoonists and graphic designers and font makers and so on – and I found four or five people from there whose style I liked and then I just got them, from my collage, to make this piece of art. And I think Pius was the first one and just absolutely blew me away, because it’s like he looked into my mind and had seen exactly what I wanted it to look like. So, I’ve never met him either, because he’s based in Lithuania, so we talk quite often, he seems very cool, but it’s one of those weird things where you can now work with people from all over the planet really, without ever meeting them. It’s a strange thing.
Have you and Tom always had similar tastes when it comes to music?
Yeah, he leant more towards the dance side, he got very into djing at one point – he was signed to Black Butter for a while, he was an in-house act – and then kind of moved away from it a little bit and got a job and stuff. So, when I was thinking about who I’d work with, it was the first thought I had. We hadn’t done any music together for years, but I’ve always loved his production and I really value his opinion musically when he tells me something is shit; I can hear that from him – well sometimes I’ll ignore it – but I can hear it from him! I guess we’re brothers so it’s quite a natural process of working together, but it’s been sort of more natural than I’d have thought, it’s been good.
And you’ve been working on a graphic novel to release alongside your music; has this been in the pipelines for quite some time?
Yeah, well it’s this weird thing where I feel like we’ve been going for years, and we have because of lockdown basically. The graphic novel was written, well it was finished before lockdown started, so it’s been there for a while, but it always made sense for the novel to only come out with the album, because the two will sit next to each other. Unfortunately, the album obviously keeps getting kicked further down the line, but I think we’re now looking at next year. So yeah, we’ve been sat on it for ages which is annoying, but it’s just kind of how it is really.
What’s the relationship between the graphic novel and the EP?
None of the songs are about the graphic novel; they’re not about demonic children or anything! I reckon I could have written one song about that, but I couldn’t have done an album, that would have been completely insane. So, with the EP the main link is that Pius always does artwork for each single, so we come up with a concept involving Jacob, the child of the parish, in the description of the track. Our current single, ‘Midas Touch’, is about poker, so the cover is Jacob having killed everyone round a poker table. Sometimes it’s really obvious, sometimes it’s kind of less obvious and you have to think outside of the box with how you actually involve Jacob in it, but in terms of sort of a narrative, it’s less so with the EP. There’ll be a bit more of that on the album, potentially the live show, but I think with the EP it’s more just the individual artworks. There’s a plan in our minds for the album for how the narrative might kind of lead into the album. So, in a sense, the end of the comic is like the start of the album, if you see what I mean.
I haven’t ever heard of anything similar to what you guys are doing – where did the inspiration for this project come from?
It’s kind of hard to say really. I mean, I really love Gorillaz, but I don’t see this as a Gorillaz type of project because Jacob isn’t the band, we are the band. There was a M83 series of videos that they did that followed a narrative which I’m a massive fan of, because they’re beautiful, but I’m not sure if there was any really strong thing. When I think about it it’s more just a love of the medium; I just love – I don’t love all comics – but there’s a few that I’m sort of especially in love with, and I wanted to do it. I think you have to set yourself short and long-term goals. I thought, ‘it’s a new band, let’s write a comic because that’s doable,’ and then there’s room for it to grow with the project and kind of see where we can take it. Obviously through, hopefully, the different albums the comic will develop, when we start doing proper music videos, the thing will develop, live it will develop, so I think we started it with scope to grow, and I think the music videos will be a part of that, but we’re not quite at the music video stage yet.
Is the narrative with Jacob one that you’re hoping to continue long-term?
I’ve written the second book in my head! Yeah, I definitely want to continue it at least for a couple of albums because there’s a lot of scope for it for a few more, and I’m sort of fascinated as to how it could bleed into the live side of it as well in terms of set dressing and things like that, and how you could kind of bring that style into it. But obviously as a new band you have to set your goals maybe slightly lower; we can’t have action screens in a 200-seat pub, necessarily!
You posted on Instagram that you always write to visuals, such as videos, films and animations, could you tell me about that? How do you feel about the relationship between visuals and music?
It’s massively important to me, I’m not quite sure where it came from, I think it was with the old band. It’s a bit demoralising just staring at the logic screen, looking at the bars move along, and I think it can be really emotionless. I kind of can’t almost assess the emotive pull of the music working like that. It becomes really, really apparent to me when you put visuals on the screen of how that sits, so I never write to kind of match it with the visual, things aren’t happening at the same time. I tend to use quite a lot of things from Vimeo just because you get slightly more random things. You’ll get animators who share things that are quite cool and fan videos, like the song that’s coming out next, someone did a fan video for ‘Why Are Sundays So Depressing’ by The Strokes and they used footage from the Richard Ayoade film ‘Subamarine’, and they’d kind of edited it into this amazing music video that was sort of part of the film, and it’s a really emotive film, and it’s beautiful to work to. The feel of that song was the feel of that fan video, which is quite cool.
Were there any particularly fun or challenging aspects to directing this project?
Definitely always the most rewarding thing is seeing Pius’ artwork come to life, because he sends a pencil sketch initially that’s incredibly rough, and then an ink sketch, and then it builds up and up and up until you get the final thing and it’s just amazing to see, as someone who can’t really draw at all, the development of how it works. He also sends me the photoshop files and that’s fascinating as well because there’s like a thousand layers, and it’s all these incredible details of shading and stuff and it kind of explains how he does it, not that I could ever do anything like it, so working with him has been amazing.
I think the most annoying thing has been the live side of it, because we’ve never played a gig, which seems completely insane considering how long we’ve been around for, but we booked our first show and then literally the next week we went into lockdown, it’s gutting. We’ve really written a lot of it for live, live’s been a real focus in terms of structuring the shows and we’ve written all these linking parts and instrumentals, and no one’s experienced any of them yet at all, so it’s really gutting. We have had an extra eighteen months to work on it, that’s the weird thing about lockdown. As awful and terrifying as it is, it’s really strange being just sort of gifted an additional year to work on something, because we’ve scrapped probably like half the tracks and rewritten and written the whole EP, and, weirdly, now it’s a very different band and it’s one that I prefer. I wish lockdown hadn’t happened obviously, but it has completely altered the band, which is interesting.
I guess it must be difficult as a new band to gage fans’ reactions properly until you can see it in person at a show.
Yeah, I’ve often found that with the old band where you do a song that you weren’t sure about, and then you see the reaction in people’s faces and you’d know that you’re onto something. And you can’t really rely on social media or streaming to gage that, you’ve got to see it in the room. You can’t even structure the set really because you don’t know the highs, you can imagine how the highs and lows would work but it’s really hard until you actually see it.
And you’ve said that with lockdowns the last thing you wanted to write about was the pandemic, so for you it came back to good old escapism. What have you turned to for escapism?
I mean, we sort of watched nothing but tv! I’ve read a lot actually, I’ve really been enjoying the guy that wrote ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, Kurt Vonnegut. I’m quite into reading, he does really weird comic sci-fi, really sort of trippy sci-fi stuff. I think I’ve read seven of his books and I’ve got slightly obsessed with him, he’s been brilliant. And actually I have kind of enjoyed things like ‘WandaVision’, stuff like that. I don’t read much Marvel in terms of comics, but I quite like the tv and film stuff they do. I’ve been trying to avoid depressing stuff, like we finally watched the last season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, which is amazing, I love it, but I’ve struggled with sad stuff during lockdown. I’m just sticking with upbeat, explosions and funny stuff.
You’ve collaborated with multiple singers in some of your songs, such as ‘Make it Better’. Are there any singers out there that you’d love to work with and feature in your music?
There’s loads of singers I love! I’m very into Remi Wolf at the moment, I think she’s a brilliant singer. I love Tune-Yards, I like kind of slightly off-the-wall singers. I really love Arlo Parks, I’m so glad she got the Mercury Prize. I got quite into using American singers because obviously we can’t get into the studios with people, we’ve had to use websites, so there’s a sight called SoundBetter where you can find musicians. I found all these soul and gospel singers in America and they record themselves and then email you the files and a couple of times it’s been disastrous, but actually most of the time it’s been amazing. So, we’ve ended up with these really soulful American vocals. One thing I’d love to do is actually be able to get in a studio with some really amazing gospel singers on some proper equipment, to actually record it live with them would be amazing. That’d be great.
What are your future plans are for Child of the Parish? Are there any dream goals? Your first single, ‘Before the Moment’s Gone’, has already made it onto FIFA!
You know what’s weird, I don’t play computer games, so I’ve got so many mates that do and they say they’re haunted by the song, they say it gets played like twice as much as every other song in FIFA, which is great news for me! Goals are just live, that is my main focus at the moment, because it’s been such a thing in my mind for so long with this band, and it’s been such a shame not doing it, just even rehearsing will be amazing, to get in a room with an actual drummer, an actual keyboard player and singers will be amazing. And it might take longer than we think, or it might come together quickly, but that’s one of the joys of starting a new band is you never quite know how things settle down and it’s a lot of fun putting it together, so that is the main goal now.