A year and a half ago, singer-songwriter and producer VC Pines (aka Jack Mercer) walked into the F Word studio to have a chat with editor-in-chief Maisie Daniels about the making of his single Satellite. Fast forward to today and he's back to delve deep into his debut album MRI, which is out now.
The album has been a collaborative project with producers including Ninja Tune, Ross MacDonald from The 1975, Ant Whiting and friends. The opening track Chamber was self-produced and written by VC Pines and acts as an introduction and perfect metaphor for epilepsy; a condition that he has himself and which is touched upon throughout the album as he stitches sensory sounds and sentiments throughout. It's this injection of raw vulnerability and honest lyricism that immediately has you locked-in.
For VC Pines, the reaction to the album exceeded all expectations and it wasn't long before he was featured on Channel 4 News and Sky News promoting epilepsy awareness. He later stated: "what I am trying to do with this album is to try and help people find some positivity in their condition. Whether that be creativity, or even just understanding more about yourself.” This is further tribute to his belief that out of the of the mud, flowers can grow.
Prior to this chat, F Word spent a fun afternoon basking in London sunshine, belting it with balloons, and chasing after cows through the Hackney Marshes.
Watch F Word’s visualiser for VC Pines final track on the album titled Matches below.
Maisie Daniels: Hey Jack! Thanks for coming and shooting with us, did you enjoy it?
VC Pines: Yeah, it was wicked! Definitely, I think my heart was pounding when those cows got up close…
MD: [Laugh] I know! Your commitment to the cause is fantastic.
VC: [Laughs] I didn’t realise how close they were until Alex [photographer] was like ‘he’s sniffing the balloon’. I had no idea… I thought ‘I’m not looking’.
MD: [Laughs] Last time we shot together you were really invested in the creative process and got proper stuck in. You seem to put your all into everything you do
VC: Yeah, I think it’s important when you’re doing a shoot that’s tied to your music - it has to feel like you as well. I’ve done stuff before and the styling and aesthetic and stuff just in’t you at all, so it feels like a bit of a pointless exercise because you don’t want to share it. The more you put in, the more you get out of stuff.
MD: It’s lovely we all know each other now as well!
VC: Yeah! I think that’s why this time I was less involved in the creative because I knew it was going to be sick.
MD: You charmer! Your debut album MRI is out now and it’s a corker, I haven’t stopped listening to it. It’s a very vulnerable piece of work, let’s talk about the making of it…
VC: I’ve been making it for over the course of six-eight months and it was a time when I rearranged my whole team. I was working without a manager, without a label, without an agent but if anything I think that gave me more freedom to get as personal as possible. And sometimes it’s easier to do things like that by yourself and without having lots of different opinions on where your sound should go, or who you should be working with. For me, it was a lot easier to go ‘okay, I’m just going to project what I know best, which is me’. So the general sound, vibe and aesthetic of the album is the most me I’ve ever felt.
When working with my own music I like working with producers. I like to bounce ideas off of people and that way each song has it’s own little flare to it; they’re all slightly different but it’s all one cohesive body of work. So I was able to go and work with who I wanted, ranging from mates, to producers at Ninja Tune that I’ve known for years, Ross MacDonald from The 1975 and Ant Whiting. Just people that I’ve built good relationships with over the last six months and ten years.
MD: Do you think if you weren’t an independent artist this album would have come out?
VC: That’s a good question. I don’t think it would have come out yet. I was chatting to loads of different managers in the process and the industry now is at such a stalemate where all you hear from managers, or labels, is "don’t do an album yet" because there’s such pressure for your debut album to chart, or blow up, or whatever. But at the same time, I’d already been caught in the last six months of only doing singles when I was with a manager and nothing was happening because radio and press are like where’s the bigger story? So you have to have a bigger project but you’re being told to only do singles. So I thought I’m going to put out a project, and because it felt the most personal my music has ever been, it was a final introduction to me. Now I can progress and go ‘this is me, and I’m going to branch out from there’.
MD: I think it’s important to do what feels authentic to you. Plus, a manger isn’t always on the same journey as you.
VC: Exactly. Also the way social media is now... the artist’s have so much more control and power than they used to. You do all this stuff, and you put out a project to promote you as an artist. You can put an album out now and you have forever and a day to shout about it on social media and it could blow up tomorrow or a year from now. People want to have “the thing” now, rather than have the traditional six week campaign build up until the album, or single comes out but really if that happened on social media, people would be like ‘where’s the song?!’. And by the time it’s come out, they’ve all forgotten about it!
So now it’s out I can fully explain what it’s all about. And things like the intro track Chamber, that track I wrote and produced myself, and then I chose different producers for other tracks.
MD: Yes, so in this opening track Chamber, we are introduced to the sounds of a MRI machine, can you touch further on this?
VC Pines: Yeah! So, I wanted to have that stitched into the track. It’s this really soft, lovely piece of music but the way the MRI machine slices in-and-out represents how epilepsy can jump on you unexpectedly. I had a seizure yesterday just after sanding the floor in my flat. I’m standing in the kitchen and just came to on the floor. I wanted the MRI samples to be as disruptive as epilepsy is.
MD: That’s really clever - I remember when I interviewed you last time surrounding your single Satellite and you’d done something similar!
VC: Yes so I’d ran the vocals through a vintage harmoniser and they all printed out like bricked and scratchy.
MD: Yes! I love the use of metaphor that you transcend though your music. And those external noises… its very sensory body of work.
VC: Yeah, really, really sensory. And that’s what epilepsy is, or my form; it all plays on your senses. I have a seizure when it becomes overwhelming. Sensory is a great word to use.
MD: Do you think creating this album has helped you understand your epilepsy more?
VC: 100%. The reaction I’ve had to it has been completely unexpected. Getting on Channel 4 and Sky News because I’ve used my condition to make this album. Also talking to charities like Epilepsy Action and Epilepsy Society that have their own press and stuff like that. I’ve had loads of people see these pieces who also have epilepsy that have contacted me saying "what you’ve said in this interview, you’ve articulated my condition in a way that I’ve never been able to explain. So I’ve sent this piece to my manger at works, so hopefully they can understand me more and why I might be out of sorts at work". Someone else messaged me saying it's so nice to talk to someone else in the 'wonky brain club' and I’m like what a fucking great name!
MD: [Laughs] That’s got to be the name of your next album. Get that on a T-shirt right away!
VC: Yeah, yeah [Laughs] 100%.
There’s this sense of community that I never had before. I never knew anyone else that had it, so there’s a real network and a sense of responsibility now. I didn’t make this album to try and be a face of anything but It does feel like I’m definitely promoting epilepsy awareness a lot at the moment. And other people with epilepsy are really thankful for that.
MD: That’s incredible. I think if you can use your voice and your platform to give exposure and to make people feel heard, that’s one of the most wonderful things you can do. On a personal level, I didn’t know too much about epilepsy and I feel like it’s a condition that hasn't had enough exposure
VC: Not at all.
MD: I was aware about bright lights causing seizures but there’s so much more to the condition than this...
VC: Only 3% of epileptics are photosensitive. But because that’s the symptom that is the most visible, that’s the one that everyone associates it with. Or at least that’s the most visible cause of it. Whereas I have temporal lobe epilepsy, which is to do with your memories. It’s more sensory in a way that is I will smell or hear something and it will evoke a memory and then you’re locked in that for a minute and you don’t really know where you are. Then it either just goes, or you have a seizure. It can happen any time, anywhere. The other day I was walking through the Post Office and the tone of this guys voice suddenly put me in the town where my Dad grew up, where my Grandma lived and I was like [makes spooky sound] - it’s so weird!
MD: Wow that’s fascinating. If I said to you today that I could give you a pill that would take away your epilepsy and you’d never know you had it, would you?
VC: Nah! It’s absolutely me... the way that I write, and the way that I create is definitely because of my epilepsy. So I wouldn’t take the pill. But I do understand that I am really lucky to be in a position where I’m not having seventeen seizures a day like a lot of people are. So it’s easy for me to go and say ‘hey, everyone, go and use your epilepsy to create things’. When I know that might not be possible in every case.
I think what I am trying to do with this album is to try and help people find some positivity in their condition. Whether that be creativity, or even just understanding more about yourself.
MD: It was World Mental Health Day a couple of days back and you put a very vulnerable and open post up on your social media and I just think it’s commendable, especially as a young male to be speaking out about mental health and putting the visibility out there.
VC: Thank you. I definitely am going to keep doing it.
MD: MRI has been out for a few weeks now - how do you feel that the album has transcended from the past (when it was an idea), the present (of making it), to now it’s out (the future)?
VC: As it was happening, it wasn’t something that I was thinking too much about. I was working with people that I liked working with and making music. It wasn’t much more than that. And I think that’s an important way to be rather than going to a studio and being like ‘I have to make a single and it has to chart…’
With it coming out, again, the reception has been greater than I thought it would be, with the Channel 4 News, the tour and the Lafayette show was insaneeeee. I didn’t think it was going to be full and having over five hundred people all singing the words when the album has only been out a week… I couldn’t believe it.
Now that it’s out (and because of the way that the industry has changed) it’s now the hard work begins. Even though I thought the last eight months were hard, now it's pushing it. You’ve got to make album related content every day.
Also, since I’ve put music out on Spotify, I’ve actually listened to the music. All of the other stuff I’ve put out and on the day it’s come out I haven’t wanted to listen to it because there’s always been more things that I wanted say, to change about at the song or production. But not there’s nothing that I would change about it, and I love it for that.
MD: You’ve not long been off tour. Is playing live still the heart of it for you?
VC: 100%. I think I said this last time that when I started the VC Pines project (before I even had recorded songs) that the first thing for me was being a band.
People definitely don’t do that now, and I don’t think people need to do that now but having a live show makes me feel grounded. I think having session musicians opposed to a band… there are times when you need to find a drummer, or a someone else, and when the band’s not there, I do feel like I’m kind of floating without a paddle. Having a band now is great, the set up is wicked, the tour was great. I’ve had friends help with showing me how to MD, so I can MD the entire show and sort out the playback rig and live arrangement…
MD: What’s the biggest thing you think the music industry could change?
VC: First of all it’s this age thing. There’s this whole... maybe it’s me... but I feel like you have to break between the ages of seventeen to twenty-four. And if you haven’t blown up within that age span then you’re immediately put in this ‘other’ bracket like 'he’s never going to be super successful but he might just have a career in music', which is really weird? It’s weird because artists that have blown up in that age gap, you still listen to when they’re forty-years-old? So why does it matter what age you are?
When I had a manager, we were talking to an LA based company and they asked "how old is he?" (I think I was twenty six/ seven at the time) and they were like "Okay cool but what’s his LA age?" So my manager said "twenty-two, twenty-three, I hadn’t really thought about it..." and they said "okay, cool we’ll will say twenty-two". And the fact that that’s a thing was bewildering.
I think support for artists and creatives is needed now more than ever too. So many artists, including myself, are working 3 jobs or searching for work here there and everywhere. How can we continue to make great art that makes London the creative community it is, when there’s no time to create!
MD: Exactly. It must be exhausting to have to wear so many different hats, as is so often with the creative industries, especially as an artist. VC: Yeah and it’s not necessarily anyones fault. It’s just the way the industry is shaped at the moment and no one really knows how to monitor certain aspects. The way that streaming is divided... you can go on, and on about it but that’s not going to change, so we kind oh have to accept that and find something else.
MD: Is there a track that’s closest to you from the album?
VC: I feel like they all are in their own way. Lost Love is a special track to me. The outro to that is kind of comical and ironic, like the whole ‘I don’t wan’t to drag this on for too long’ in the longest outro ever [laughs] kind of encapsulates the end of a relationship. Where it just fucking drags out and it’s the same thing over, and over again but you still are in contact with people. So either that, or I think the lyrics in Dangling. There’s a huge vulnerability in them - almost like an embarrassment. It’s about hiding addictions, or things from your friends, and it all coming out and you don’t really know what to do and it’s a bit of a breakdown song. They really hit home. MD: Does it feel like a form of therapy, getting that out? VC: Yeah, it makes me feel better. And because of that I don’t naturally write happy lyrics. I need sometimes to just get shit out.
MD: It’s Friday the 13th today and this is coming out on Halloween! So let’s do some quick-fire questions surrounding this spooky date…
MD: Are you superstitious?
VC: I think so! I walk over two drains and not three.
MD: Going off piste but do you believe in manifestation?
VC: 100% I knew I was going to play Glastonbury this year! It’s funny because with manifestation, you don’t celebrate things as much because you knew you were going to get it. But there's this permanent positivity or delusion [laughs] that you’re going to get this! I think it’s really important to stay in a positive frame of mind.
MD: Are you a good or bad wizard?
VC: [Laughs] Errr do you know what, “a wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to”. And I am always on time, so I’d say I’m a pretty good wizard.
MD: [Laughs] fantastic answer. When do you feel the most scared?
VC: Just before I on stage!
MD: Any pre-show rituals?
VC: Listen to music, jump up and down, vocal warm-up and just get in the zone. The moment I’m on stage I’m absolutely fine, it’s the whole day before it happens where my stomach is going bleughhh. MD: What did you dress up as for last Halloween?
VC: Space Cowboy.
MD: Favourite horror film?
VC: Nightmare on Elm Street is close to my heart because I first watched it when I was thirteen and we use to go around to my mates house and he had a caravan in his garden. His parents never knew what we were up to, so we just smoked loads of weed in his caravan and watched that.
MD: Best halloween costume you’ve ever seen?
VC: I’ve not seen it this year but I really want to do the ’90s vampire. Like the Buffy vampires with those noses and foreheads - I have to do something like that for a gig!
MD: Our next shoot! Okay, last question, what’s your favourite F Word? I have a feeling it might not have changed.