Sebastian Gainsborough, aka Vessel, feels at ease going back to square one – a place where most of us return with heads hung. Far from being discouraged, it is in this very place that Vessel made his second album, Punish, Honey. Learn to unlearn, accept discomfort and make things that you don’t know how to make, Vessel explains, even if that means hammering away for months in your dad’s shed. Find solace in being challenged, the results will surprise you. Approach with no cynicism, but with a great deal of good humour
I feel that I don’t function well when I am comfortable
What expectations do you have of yourself as an artist?
I find it easier to not think of myself in terms of being an artist. I’m just a regular person who happens to make music. I use it as a way to communicate with myself and an audience. So I don’t set any long-term goals, but it has to keep progressing – that’s very important for me. I feel that I don’t function well when I am comfortable. When I accomplish something, I then have to start again from square one, I need to feel like I am constantly learning.
You made a lot of instruments for Punish, Honey. Was that also a way of getting out of your comfort zone?
I felt I had to do something that I had no idea about. I had no woodworking or metalworking skills. So I got a couple of books and taught myself. All of these instruments were super cheap to make. You just need bits of wood and metal, some piano strings, or things like big reinforced balloons for making drums. I made a harmonic guitar, a flute and a bizarre alien drum structure, which grew out of my normal drum kit with lots of clamps and attached bits of hammered sheet metal. For months I was building them at my dad’s house because he has loads of tools, confusing him with what I was doing. He’s a middle-aged guy, a child of the ’60s, good with his hands, and as far as he was concerned, I had no idea what I was doing so I shouldn’t be doing it. He would come out in the morning with his cup of coffee and find me dismantling an old bike that I’d found in the street. Sometimes I think he was extremely worried about my mental health.
How do you deal with other people’s expectations of you?
I think at the end of the day, people will think what they want to think. Once your music is out there, it doesn’t belong to you any more, it belongs to the people. The compartmentalisation of electronic artists is a tricky one, too, because it means you have to engage with how the industry is promoting you as a product. For instance, I can’t shed the fact that I live in Bristol. It doesn’t matter that I don’t like Tricky, Massive Attack or Portishead, I can’t get away from the fact that people want to compare me to them because we’re from the same place. It’s lazy and boring. It helps to have a sense of humour about these things. There’s so many people making dark electronic music now that we need to know how to laugh at ourselves. It’s not all doom and gloom.
I need to switch off and read a book until I start feeling normal again
Where do you find comfort?
From doing nothing, sitting, reading, walking and being quiet and on my own. I feel that we’re so busy these days even though we seemingly do very little with our smartphones and the people we’re constantly in touch with. It’s a hollow experience that exhausts me. I need to switch off and read a book until I start feeling normal again.
Subbacultcha and SPRING Utrecht Present Planningtorock (A/V DJ-set) + Vessel (Live) + The Stress (DJ) on 24 May at Theater Kikker, Utrecht.