Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

How depravity, David Lynch and God led the Veils deep into the American nightmare

"I tend to function better in the dark," Finn Andrews, songwriter and frontman for the Veils says.

It's an understatement. The band's music is saturated in nocturnal spirit. Their songs are moody and creeping, capable of sharp violence or restrained beauty. They are ill-suited to the bright of the day.

The band's fifth album, Total Depravity, doubles down on the nightmare, pushing further and deeper into the murk and offering confrontation before you even spin it.

The artwork, painted by Italian artist Nicola Amori, is classical-grotesque. A baroque portrait of a woman cradling a skull and orally oozing out her own entrails. It sets the tone exceptionally well.

The involvement of hip-hop producer El-P of Run the Jewels has had a massive impact, leading to a complete change of approach for the band.

His thuggish sonic signature jumps you immediately, opening the record with swampy seething synths and clatteringly distorted drum loops.

"It was very delicate," Andrews says, of this surprising collaboration. "I was very aware of how badly it could go. There were a few moments thinking, 'is this a massive error of judgment?'

"But El-P was interested in bringing something out of us that was there already and taking it somewhere new sonically."

He's succeeded. And it's not the obvious synth decorations or heavily-processed drums either. Rather, it's the rumbling bottom end - a deep unsettling bedrock the Veils use to ominously fill their wide, desert landscapes or summon the apocalypse.

"Those low frequencies ... " Andrews says with devious anticipation of their upcoming tour, which he confirms will bring them to New Zealand early next year. "You can do all sorts of things to people with them."

Mutual friends introduced Andrews and El-P in Los Angeles and the two bonded over similar musical tastes. They jammed throughout the next night, recording the song Axolotl on a laptop, with Andrews singing directly into the cruddy built-in mic.

The lo-fi, heavy vibe set the tone, hinting at possibilities.

"We were following a scent but I really felt like I had no idea where we were going," Andrews says. "It was exciting. Also scary."

The band exorcised about 50 songs down to 12. It was a long process. They recorded and re-recorded, deconstructed and rebuilt, before emerging from the dark with the finished album, which, Andrews says, really came together only in the final weeks.

That may be, but Total Depravity offers an incredibly cohesive yet twisted and decaying ride through the dusty aberrant Bible belt of Americana. How did that sound ...

"Seep into my brain?" Andrews says, chuckling softly as he finishes my question.

"America was always fascinating to me. Particularly the desert. Traversing that massive, beautiful strange, bewildering country ... you're out there at night with the truck drivers.
There are tornadoes in the distance. The American nightmare. A lot's drawn from there. A lot of stories come out of that place."

Stories like Axolotl, a surrealist horror about a preacher transforming into a reptile. "Who needs the Devil when you've got the Lord?" he cries in fervoured terror. It's the obvious example of warped holy imagery, but Total Depravity writhes with them,

"Religion's an alien concept to me but there are also things I relate to in it," Andrews explains.

"I grew up listening to a lot of music that began in churches. Devotional music. And it's a strangely monastic life being a songwriter. There are overlaps but it's not something I've succumbed to completely."

Instead, the stories that surround religion interest him. Where belief leads people, how it shapes them and the songwriting possibilities therein.

"Obviously, I haven't had first-hand experiences of these things. But the songs allow you to look at things from other perspectives and see the world differently. You get at yourself differently as well. Sometimes going about it in an abstract way allows you to speak more personally."

Abstracted religious iconography and a spiky, surrealistic fascination with Americana are also favoured topics of influential film-maker David Lynch. With such crossover it's not surprising to learn Lynch counts himself a fan of the band - so much so that he cast

Andrews in the upcoming revisiting of his cult classic TV series Twin Peaks.

"I ended up at Lynch's house and we recorded In the Nightfall there," Andrews says, sounding entirely the fanboy. Mainly because he is.

"One of the first things Sophia, our bass player, and I did when we were 13 was to get my Mum to drive us over to Videon to rent out Twin Peaks on VHS," he says, laughing. "It was hard to come by in the late 90s."

Andrews hasn't yet seen how his appearance has panned out. But he's looking forward to it.

"David was one of the first people we played the record to. It was fantastically surreal," he says.

"He's created a whole universe that he operates in. To be invited in was a real pleasure."

Our conversation opened with understatement and closes with it. What's David Lynch like, I ask.

Andrews pauses before answering.

"There's a radiation around him that makes everything ... 'Lynchian'. It's amazing."

- NZ Herald

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