Skip to content

Dirty Vegas

Many an American band has had to travel overseas to gain recognition before they’re appreciated on these shores. For the U.K. group Dirty Vegas this happened in reverse when the debut of their dance single “Days Go By” went quickly from the soundtrack to a Mitsubishi commercial (which also became parody material for one of Dave Chappelle’s comedy show) , to radio and the dancefloor, and on to hitting #7 on the Billboard 200

That was two years ago. After getting a Grammy for the single, which was a complete shock to the group, touring extensively and living the life of the proverbial rock stars complete with she-she, who’s-who L.A. parties, the three lads from Kent and the South London suburbs wanted to get away from the rhetoric and back to their roots, to just let the haze melt away.

Paul Harris, Steve Smith and Ben Harris all came from the other side of music, the classic set up of drums and guitars, before going the way of the strobe lights and turntables. That’s what they’ve returned to with their second release, One, where they seemed to have stripped down and redressed with rich velvets, silks, jeans and sunglasses.

The noise of the city proved to be too much for the men, causing months of writers block. So they headed out to the green hills and deep ocean water of Scotland where their minds could breathe and creativity could flow. The result is not only an evolution for the band, but welcome reprieve to the state of music today that is run over by the 2004 edition of angry and hurt boy bands.

It was a new beginning for them, and you can feel it, like when love is new and electric or when you’re driving your new car for the first few months. It’s fresh and inviting, optimistic not only in the lyrics but within each song’s heartbeat and skin.

Steve Smith, the lead singer and songwriter of the group, spent some time discussing the escape from the hype, those Hollywood parties, and the real focus on their true calling.

Kaffeine Buzz: The new album is definitely a departure from your last [self-titled] one, but I loved the organics and the orchestration.

Steve Smith: Thank you! That was the desired affect. I think to us it wasn’t that much of a change. There was a lot of song based stuff on the old album…but it just seemed the like the right place to go to take the sound of our music.

KB: Well, when you look back at the whole genre of dance music in the last 10 years, how it grew in popularity and everyone seemed to jump on this bandwagon. It seems like now, things are really going backwards, but is going in a way you guys have where even DJs are more and more becoming producers and not just spinning records.

SS: Exactly. With our experience…it’s like, we grew up as a band playing gigs and stuff. Then we completely embraced the whole club scene when it exploded back in England and Europe in the late ‘80s. People want to keep it in two separate things: either you’re a rock band or you’re a dance DJ. And for us it’s like, ‘Why? You shouldn’t be like that.’ People are listening to more and more stuff now, and their taste in music is much more varied than it has ever been. If I go around to my friends’ house and look at their CD collection, you’ve got Sasha’s mix album there next to Franz Ferdinand or something, you know? It’s like food tastes…

KB: You don’t want to keep eating at the same restaurant all the time.

SS: And that’s the beauty about a multi-cultural society. If you transpose that across in musical tastes…for us, we’re into all different musical styles. So we just fuse that together and see what comes out in the end. And if we love it, then hopefully it will have that affect on the listener. The thing about us is, there’s a lot of care that goes into the production side of the album. We’ve been DJs, we’ve been in rock bands, done remixes, and producing our own album…and hopefully a great song or a great album comes out of that.

KB: Speaking of production, it seems like the change in scenery really impacted not only your creative abilities, but the surroundings seem to influence the lyrics as well.

SS: We really wanted to leave the lyrics to be ambiguous enough to listener so they could make their own interpretation. There’s a track on there, “Giving You Everything,” which could be about someone in a relationship. But actually for us, it was a time for us where we were dissatisfied with the music scene. We wasn’t getting a break back in England. Wed done everything and given them everything and it just wasn’t working.

We were touring America and got invited to great parties. Everybody was going to be there and it was supposed to be this big thing…and I swear, we were there for like, 40 minutes. The room was so cold with everyone trying so hard to network and be important, that we just left. We jumped back on the tour bus with some beers, got the guitars out…you could just taste the desperation in the room.

KB: Well, that is the way Los Angeles can be…

SS: That’s the thing. We just wanted to write a song about…you know when you haven’t seen a friend in a really long time and you’re just catching up over coffee, that’s what real love’s about…that’s what’s real for us, what we’re trying to get across.

KB: Also it’s about what’s really important, to sit there and make an appearance when the people may or may not even remember the next minute or hear what you’re even saying. Or say, screw it, let’s just have fun no matter where we are. That story I read about you guys at the Grammys, where you were in the bar when they called your name that you’d won. The camera panned over to your chairs and you weren’t there. I thought that was hilarious. It sounds like something my friends and I would do, “wadda mean we can’t take our drinks back to the seat?”

SS: They had a funny kind of attitude towards that kinda stuff back home, “Oh, they’re so blasé, they didn’t even need to be in their chairs.” It wasn’t like that at all. The thing for us was like, “Are you kidding? We’re gatecrashing the American Grammys. We’ve got absolutely no chance of winning. So let’s just go. Let’s have a great night where we get to see Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkle,” all these people that we admire and look up to. So we were in the bar, and then we won. It was ridiculous…never in a million years would we have thought…just wanted to get the record straight on that.

But we’re also not a band that measures our success on that, it’s how many people come through the door, ‘cause that’s who’s put you in this situation. And that’s a big thing for the band. I’m really not being ungrateful. I’m immensely proud about the Grammy. But there’s no better feeling than walking out on stage during that first song with people clapping…

KB: Cheering, recognizing the music and singing along…

SS: Exactly. People buying our records, writing stuff on the website, and getting into songs…THAT’S what really drives this band.

KB: Speaking of shows and performing, you guys will have a full band for this tour?

SS: Yea, yea. The way we’ve done it before was, “Well, we don’t really run everything off the computer. We can all play. So why don’t we just do that. Unfortunately…well, I play drums, but I can’t drum and sing at the same time. So we have a drummer this time around, which is great. He’s an old friend of mine, a fantastic drummer and he really understand the music and the sound we’re trying to create.

KB: So you had some 40 songs? How did you go about choosing which ones would go on the album?

SS: We’re a very democratic band. It was always the same kinds of song that came up when we would say, “Ah yes, this sounds great. This is definitely on the album.” That’s kind of where the name of the album came from, ‘cause it was like, “oh that’s another one. That has to be one.” We wrote a lot of stuff that was confessional, heart on the sleeve type of stuff…I think it’s just an instinct thing. There’s actually some great songs that got left off, but we didn’t want to put like 14 or 15 songs on there.

KB: It would be over kill?

SS: Yea. We still believe in the concept of LPs, where there’s an A side and a B side, where the album is a journey. I think the CD should be like that too, not just going to track number 5.

KB: Where there’s a progression?

SS: Yea, where you start off with track one and finish the experience with the last one.

KB: It sounds like that’s what you had in mind when you put it together. There’s a really smooth flow from one song to the other. When I read about where you were in Scotland, I picked up on that during “Walk In To The Sun.” It’s the kind of song you would throw in when you’re taking a long drive down the highway next to the ocean, down PCH or something.

SS: It was exactly that. The production is paramount, but I wanted to get the lyrics right. So I would go for a long walk around the loch and just be completely into the mind, “I’ve got the lyrics.” It was a really, really enjoyable recording experience to get away from London ‘cause there wasn’t any sort of experience for us there.

KB: Well, you were talking about recognition in your own country. That had to have changed by now, hasn’t it?

SS: It hasn’t. It’s kind of a funny thing back home…some of the press that gave us a hard time back home have turned around now. What people don’t like is that we wanted to make a success in America before we did in the U.K. That’s just wasn’t the case. It was the Mitsubishi commercial, so we had to come over here first. It was as simple as that. But the old school journalist would say, “If you love America that much then go back.”

KB: That’s just silly. It’s so competitive in the music industry and it’s so messed up, that whenever you get any window of opportunity you have to run with it. You just pull on that string as long as you can. There’s a number of bands here that have done the opposite and made it big over in Europe and the U.K. first, touring over there because they can hit so many countries in a shorter amount of time. Whereas here, it’s a long stretch from one city to another. You were talking about diversity in music. I’ve thought that they tend to be into more different types of music over there than they are here. But that is changing.

SS: It’s changing back home as well. And like you say, bands that come over like Scissor Sisters. They’re huge in England and they’re just starting to do well here. It’s strange, they weren’t getting anything over here so they go to England and BAM, they’re career takes off.

KB: Then they get press in Melody Maker and NME and then on to MTV…

SS: NME. That’s the exact guys I was talking about that give us a hard time.

KB: They’ve actually always reminded me more of a gossip magazine than anything.

SS: It really, really is. NME gave Maroon 5 a hard time and they’re huge in England.

KB: We were talking about the “Days Go By” song, and aside from the Mitsubishi commercial, the video itself was really intriguing, how it told a story. What do you have planned for videos for the newer songs?

SS: We just shot the video for the first single, “Walk Into The Sun,” and the director Mark Webb really picked up on the lyrics, it’s really great. We were over at VH1 in New York last week and the guy there said, “You’ve done it again. This video’s great. You’ve got a story to it.” I think as a band when we’re looking at video treatment, at the moment for us it’s important that the video reflects the lyrical element of the track. On “Days Go By,” bingo. We got that one right the first time. For “Walk Into The Sun” is going to be another special video. Hopefully everyone will be seeing it soon over here.

KB: Do you know when it’s coming out?

SS: November 13th.

KB: Well it’s been a real pleasure. I really look forward to getting to see the show. I think you guys are going to do great. And again, really love the new CD.

SS: That’s really nice of you. I just think that a band can never go wrong if they just follow their hearts rather than, “Well, they’re successful with that sound, why don’t we do some of that.” If it works for us, then the rewards from that are fantastic.

Dirty Vegas will be playing on their own in Ft. Collins at the Aggie on Saturday, and with Tears for Fears Monday, November 15. It’s going to be a fantabulous combination, especially with the return of Tears. Steve says the boys haven’t skipped a beat and “it’s great to see them on stage, really.” Having missed them back in the days when Songs From The New Chair or even “Mad World” was getting airplay, this will be a truly memorable show.


Sign up to our newsletter and get updates to your mailbox