The Virgance is Nathan Smith, a Suffolk, UK solo artist specializing in Instrumental Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Noise Rock & Post Rock, on the roster of net label El Vals del Conejo. Hiko Shrine is the second album release, following up 2014’s debut Lost Continent. We featured The Virgance in January’s “Musical Finds” column, and in our very first “virtual mix tape“. From a rural small town base, The Virgance creates some impressive and vast soundscapes that offer a temporary journey in a way that only great instrumental music can.
What are your current fixations?
I have downed tools on Virgance 3 to work on a remix for Ummagma, so I suppose that is my current fixation. These days I try to avoid obsessing over anything too much, except where self-improvement and musical projects are concerned.
What are you listening to?
Nothing at the moment. When I’m working on music I don’t really have the capacity to properly enjoy other people’s, especially when it’s something that really blows me away. I have to keep my mind and ears as fresh as possible. It might sound a bit strange but I get excited at the prospect of a taking an indefinite break from this, having the time and energy to consciously discover and enjoy other music again.
Why do you live where you do?
I live in the small village of Acton in Suffolk. We sold our first house in my hometown of Colchester about 5 years ago, mainly because of an utterly despicable neighbour, but also we wanted a little more space for our son, and we found that the further north you venture from there the more house you get for your money. I do feel fortunate to live fairly rurally, but the only downside is that small village mentality which I cannot stand. That is one thing to be said for urban living – people are less judgmental, less hung-up on things, more open-minded. They tend to look further than their own nose!
What album inspired you to take up music?
This may come as a surprise. When I was 13 I got hold of a video tape of Queen live at Wembley, it had been broadcast on an old British music show called The Tube. I was immediately in awe of Brian May, and that’s really when I became interested in the electric guitar. I’d already been learning violin since the age of 8 or 9, but never really enjoyed it and only learned it as long as I did because I thought I was obliged to. At the age of 14 I saw a re-run of another old British music show called Colour Me Pop. There was one from 1968 which featured the Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Rollin’ Over, Song of a Baker, etc. I vividly remember thinking “This is the coolest thing I have ever seen. This is what I want to do”.
What advice should you have taken but did not?
Some say I should have accepted the invitation to play/write for Sophie Ellis-Bextor in 1999 after her band The Audience split up. I wasn’t into the material I had been sent, which was written by her husband in The Feeling. I don’t think I could ever have been “Pop” enough for her vocal style, and as it transpired she forged a very successful “Disco” career for a while immediately after that, with a UK Number 1 that kept Posh Spice off the top! I often wonder what contacts and thumbs in pies I might have got out of it, but ultimately I didn’t want it enough, to be a puppet playing stuff I had no real interest in.
How do you spoil yourself?
I don’t really, by most people’s standards. I am teetotal these days and recently quit tobacco. After a long day of work I enjoy a nice meal and then a late night film or two whilst chuffing on my e-cig!
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
David Lynch. I’m not much at cooking so I would politely ask my wife to prepare one of her wonderful curries! Yes, probably cherry pie and coffee for dessert.
What is your favourite 90’s band(s)?
It really depends on my mood. Nirvana, MBV, Verve, Stone Roses, Slowdive, Boards of Canada. I have a penchant for the darker side of Blur.
What is your favourite current band(s)?
Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, Puna, Bloodhounds On My Trail, Strata Florida, Sounds of Sputnik. There would be more if I had time to check them!
What is your favourite journey?
The drive home back up to Suffolk, late at night after a catch-up with old mates in Colchester. No traffic, foot down. The only time I really enjoy driving.
Who is your favourite hero(es) of fiction?
Chief Brody, Amity Island P.D.
What is your current mood?
Positive. The clocks here in the UK have changed back to normal for British Summer Time, which makes a big difference to me as someone who struggles a bit with S.A.D. in the winter months. Spring to Autumn is a very productive time of year. I might have to get some of those lights you strap on your head for next winter.
What does the next 6 months look like for you?
After I finish the remix of Ummagma’s ‘River Town’, all my free time will be spent on Virgance 3. I say remix, it is essentially a brand new song with samples of Shauna’s vocal strategically scattered over it. It’s quite a traditional, downtempo shoegaze sound and I’m pleased that it is fairly emotional, more like parts of Lost Continent than Hiko Shrine. Then it will be back to Virgance 3, which so far feels like a mid-way point between the moods of the first two albums. I hope to have the bulk of it done by autumn.
What are your 3 favourite films?
Jaws, Dune, Withnail & I.
Favourite TV shows/streaming shows?
Right now I’m enjoying the new Inside No.9 on BBC2, which for those who are unfamiliar is a series of dark comedy short stories written by and starring two thirds of the League of Gentlemen. I was excited about the prospect of Twin Peaks returning, until I heard that Lynch has recently pulled out. Disappointing. Watching the original series’ in my early teens back in the day is a fond memory. “How’s Annie?”
Who makes you laugh?
Sean Lock, Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Jo Brand…I tend to prefer the cynics. I suppose their confusion and disillusionment with the world we live in resonates with me! Nothing quite like putting the world to rights and being reduced to tears at the same time. To me they are like rock stars. Laughter is the best medicine.
What has been the most significant achievement you’ve had with your music so far?
To be honest I was made up just to be included in online end-of-year lists for 2014, as it had been many years since I was last an active musician. I find it pretty mad how drastically the music business has changed since I last had any kind of involvement with it. Internet radio, digital formats, social media, A&R being replaced by data, etc, etc. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been hibernating since the late ‘90s and have just woken up! As long as people are buying and downloading the music I will try my best to continue making it, but it is finite. I know the time will come when I have to stop or try my hand in other areas of composition altogether.
You can listen and buy The Virgance’s two albums at the Bandcamp page.
Thank you, Nathan for answering so many questions for us, and for all your insights on your favourites/musts and recommendations for bands of the 90’s and today. It’s been great to know more about the man behind so many great sounds.
By Step On Magazine Editors