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Primitive Passion 

Industrial stalwarts VNV Nation haven't changed

Based on a cursory glance at the imagery (a stark monument of a faceless soldier amidst a desolate wasteland) on VNV Nation's new album, Of Faith, Power and Glory, you could easily dismiss Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson as yet another cold, industrial-rock band lacking any sense of connection to its fans. Harris, VNV Nation's lead singer and composer, would beg to differ.

"When we first started out, we were starting in a certain scene," says Harris from his Hamburg, Germany home. "Since then, we've reached so many people from so many backgrounds purely by word of mouth, purely by hearing us, and that's incredible. I don't know that we've really changed anything. I guess that VNV Nation's music has the ability to reach a broad amount of people."

Whenever a fan approaches him, Harris starts off the conversation by asking him or her, "How did you get into us?"

"It floors me how people get to hear us, and that something in what we do just triggers them," he says.

The band's approach continually attracts new listeners of diverse backgrounds.

"I met a couple of African-American guys at a show in New York, and I was curious as to how they got into the music," says Harris. "Because of their hip-hop background, I wasn't sure of the crossover point. They went on to tell me they were big fans of proto-techno, a lot of the European electronic music in the '80s, which in fact was inspired by James Brown. We ended talking about music and wound up sharing so much."

Of Faith, Power and Glory marks VNV's seventh full-length U.S. release. It's a continuation of what the duo has done on previous releases, as it combines electronics and melodies similar to those of Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb. The guys inject emotion into a genre often stereotyped for its rigidity and dehumanized elements. In cinematic terms, the band leans more toward The Fifth Element than Blade Runner.

"Our music is about being human; it's not about being classified into a cultural border," says Harris. "It's about emotion, the human element, the human experience. It's something we are all born with to a lesser or greater degree."

VNV's sound, which Harris calls "future pop," has garnered a very dedicated following, which surprises him to this day. He has, however, attributed some of it to his songwriting approach.

"Basically, it is rock music being made with electronics," he says. "It doesn't matter what instrument is being used. All the elements that listeners appreciate in what they normally listen to are there. They're not put off or think, 'Oh no, you've got a keyboard.'"

It hasn't hurt that a certain singer in a certain already popular band, namely AFI's Davey Havok, became an early emissary for VNV, wearing the band's shirts on magazine covers and telling anyone who would listen about Harris and Jackson's work. Not so coincidentally, Havok would form Blakq Audio, an electronic side-project with AFI cohort Jade Puget, and take a few stylistic cues directly from Harris.

"We're very, very grateful to him for him [to] sponsor us in this way, shape and form, because people go, 'Hey, Davey likes it, let's check them out,' and they like us, whereas in any other case, they never would have heard us," says Harris. "It's an incredible thing that he's become an ambassador for us."

The upcoming live show, Harris says, will also be a logical progression of VNV's work, with Jackson handling percussion and two keyboardists augmenting the lineup.

"We do what we do and wouldn't have it any other way," says Harris. "It will still have that same primitive passion we had in the beginning."

More by Norm Narvaja


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