By Laura Shields, Arts and Entertainments Editor, @LauraShields86
Steven VX released his energetic EP Rocket 21 in March and has big plans for a future album. With his brand of punk infused rock he is proving that acoustic acts are worth paying attention to. I caught up with Steven Donnelly, otherwise known as Steven VX to talk about the Belfast music scene and his latest release.
So where does the VX in your name come from?
[It] comes from my previous band who were…called VX. We were together for just about a year and we were really hardcore punk influenced; the likes of Billy Talent to Glassjaw. We separated eventually then I went on to become Steven VX. It’s D.I.Y, do it on your own. Since then I’ve just been pushing myself out there.
So what influences your Steven VX sound?
My inspirations are quite eclectic. You have the modern punk bands – Anti – Flag, Against Me, and Rancid – underpinning an earlier punk influence from bands like Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash. I am a huge Johnny Thunders fan; my EP, The Boy Looked at Johnny was my tribute to him. It was three tracks from across his career…as well as my song, “Dirty Pretty Things” which is about his death and how he inspired other people. [Then] at a local level, there are bands like Rudi and Stiff Little Fingers. People usually think I just…stick to punk music. It’s not the case. I’m a fan of everything; Gary Newman, BIG David Bowie fan. [Steven VX] is punk influenced rock and roll; it’s what I want to sound like.
You definitely give off that punk rock energy. Where do you draw it from?
When I used to be in a band we…bounce[d] off each other. All this insane, jumping into the crowd sort of thing, but what I’ve found out as a solo artist is that it wasn’t the same. At my first [solo] gig, I just remember being so nervous…but then as the confidence grew I was able to really get in people’s faces. When you are on that stage and you screw up, you don’t have a band to fall back on. To compensate for that I just had to make myself angry! I’ve had people say to me, “Oh you play acoustic? We’re just gunna go outside for a smoke”. Then they see me climbing up the speaker cabs and playing on top of them with an acoustic guitar. I put across an aggressive stage demeanour but I don’t let that take away from the song writing and the performance. You gotta have that passion. That makes it sound so energetic.
Rocket 21 was released in line with 2015’s Record Store Day. How would you describe the EP?
Punchy, dynamic, varied, and awesome. [Rocket 21 has] everything from modern punk rock, to dub –reggae, to garage, to a John Lennon cover. It’s all in there. [In new track “Memo”] I wanted big guitars; I wanted to sound like Steve Jones. I wanted a solo that sounded like Johnny Thunders. I wanted big drums that sounded like Killing Joke and I wanted the bass just to cut through people with bratty vocals over the top. All the instruments and vocals, the actual recording, mixing and mastering was completed by me. The cover concept was done by Punkyjoe D and myself. It was manufactured externally as opposed to the previous EP which was all done in house. This time we went externally because you can make it look really professional, really put it out there and show that this is serious.
You have been playing around Belfast for some time in one form or another. How do you find the music scene here?
It’s a scene that’s full of nepotism. Some promoters just want to stick to their 5 bands but don’t wanna reach out there…The punk scene [here] is dominated by older bands, there’s not many new bands coming out of the woodwork. Off the top of my head, there are only about 5 young punk bands I can think of – including me. And we can’t break into other scenes; bands just don’t seem to want to intermix. There are a lot of scenes – a lot of really good bands – but no mixing. The scenes have their advocates and they tend to stick with their friends. There’s no [attempt to] introduce new bands. The more young bands that come in and start filling gigs out the better. If there’s one thing I would like to say to people is support the local music scene. Go to a show, buy a record, buy a t-shirt, and help out whatever way possible.
Do you have any upcoming plans?
There is a whole album coming out at the end of the year. It’s currently in the writing stages. [It’s] is going to be a big landmark release for me. There’s quite a varied amount of songs and a lot of experimentations with instruments but still keeping that punk edge to it. You stay true to your roots, but them roots can be altered a bit to meet different sounds. Then this summer once I finish my degree there might be a couple of surprises.