Although his recent appearances on stage have been few and far between, former Louis XIV frontman Jason Hill hasn’t been resting on his laurels following the band’s breakup. Apart from being holed up in the studio working on tracks for a wide variety of musical icons — ranging from the New York Dolls’ David Johansen to Macy Gray — he is also the creative mastermind behind Vicky Cryer, a sprawling collaborative effort that has so far featured Dominic Howard (Muse), Mark Stoermer (The Killers), Nick Fyffe (Jamiroquai), Dave Elitch (The Mars Volta), and Jeff Kite (Julian Casablancas), to name just a few.
The result of this labor of love, The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering, is set to be released this April on Hill’s own record label, Fancy Animal Records, and I recently had the chance to talk to Jason about this upcoming release and his life in LA post-Louis XIV.
So let’s start with the obligatory: how did this project come about and where does the name Vicky Cryer come from?
It came about initially following this long, 3-4 month tour with Louis XIV. Everyone in the band was sort of at each other’s throats, which was uncommon for us. We were touring Europe with The Killers, and I had flown out my then-girlfriend to Italy. By Spain, we had broken up. My life had unraveled, and it was just this miserable situation that I wanted out of. The band decided to part ways at the end of that tour, and immediately afterward, I began writing new music. I was living in suburban San Diego at the time and decided to split town and move out to LA.
After writing “Smut” and “Young Love,” I thought, “What am I going to call this?” I didn’t want to call it something boring like Jason Hill, so I thought I’d just reinvent it and call it another person’s name. I liked the idea of an androgynous name like Vicky/Victor Cryer, so that’s how it came about. I like that you can’t really pin it down, although you do run the risk of people saying, “That’s some folk singer I saw at the coffee shop the other day.”
What struck me about The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering is that it seems to draw influences from multiple genres spanning multiple decades. You’ve got “Smut,” which sounds like it could have come from a follow-up Louis XIV record, and then there’s “The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering,” which is almost reminiscent of ’70s pop.
[LAUGHS] I’ve never heard that, but I like it! I’m a really eclectic sort of writer. I live in the back room of what basically is all one studio, so you walk in here, and it’s just different instruments everywhere: organs, pianos, consoles, guitars, etc.
Anyone that knows me knows that I always have new songs every week or every couple of weeks, and this album was written over the course of a few years. A lot of the tracks started off with me playing everything and then one of my drummer friends would come in and replay the drum parts in his particular style or one of my friends on bass would come in and replay the bass parts in his.
How do they tie together to make a cohesive album?
This whole record is written for the most part about a particular girl that was in my life before I met the girl who’s now my fiancé. I don’t want to say it was a relationship because it was more of an infatuation. It’s a story about being infatuated with a girl who wants you to love her but never really allows there to be anything deeper than this cat and mouse game. It’s about making sense of this intangible idea of someone.
I have a tendency to write sister songs, and this album has several of them. “Smut” and “Young Love” were written one day apart, and that’s why they have a bit of a resemblance. Same with “Girls” and “Touch You.” They all kind of related to each other, in my mind at least, in terms of telling this story. By the end of the album, it’s about moving on from that situation and into the next one.
Are there any songs on the album that are particularly meaningful to you?
“The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering” is the track that tells the story of what the whole album is about. Oddly enough, I had written the synth parts way back on the last tour I did with Louis XIV. The Killers used to set up this studio in the back room of whichever venue we were at that night to jam in before they’d go on stage but would barely ever use it apart from that.
During the tour, I would go in during the day and just fool around. That particular day, they set it up in the locker room of this arena, and that’s where I wrote the synth part. It took me a couple of years before the lyrics came out. I tried writing it several times, but nothing ever felt like it was real.
One night, I hit a wall with this girl where I said I was ready to move on, but there was that slight hesitation. One of my favorite aspects of this track is that you can hear that slight hesitation of not wanting to move on at the actual moment you do.
The song title references Brave New World’s College of Emotional Engineering where kids are groomed and conditioned in a Pavlovian way to stay within their task in life. I was referencing that concept within the title, especially the idea of being ready to break free from this moment.
There’s a huge lyrical shift compared to what I’m used to hearing from your work in Louis XIV.
Absolutely. I purposely wanted to make a record that didn’t sound like Louis XIV. I could have gone off and just kept calling myself Louis XIV, but I wanted to make something different musically.
The first Louis XIV record is actually really heavy and dark, but then we made The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, which is the record that most people know from us, and, to be honest, it’s my favorite one. On that particular record, it was a party and all those songs came really quickly and easily with the lyrics coming mostly off the cuff.
But for me, you musically have to change. If I didn’t, I’d be incredibly, incredibly bored. In the studio the last thing I usually want to play is the guitar even though that’s what I grew up playing.
There is a laundry list of heavy-hitting names that you’ve collaborated with on this record. How did all these collaborations come about, and how will this all translate in a live setting?
The first collaboration was with Nick Fyffe and Alex Carapetis. A stewardess I met on a flight back from Australia called me up when she came back into town sometime later. As we were hanging out, I mentioned I was looking for new people to collaborate with, particularly those that would play instruments differently than how I would. She asked, “Well how about Nick Fyffe from Jamiroquai?” and I said “Absolutely.” So it was 3 AM, she calls Nick in England, and within 3 weeks, he was out at my house writing songs with me.
Right after that phone call, she says, “I also know this really great drummer,” and she introduced me to Alex, who can play the drums really soulfully despite being this white Australian. When I moved up to LA, Dom would come up every so often to jam. Mark from The Killers, whom I had known from before, also asked to be on the record.
I’d start having these parties where a number of people would come up, and whoever was around would jump on an instrument. It was just sort of this festive, communal atmosphere where a lot of it was because people wanted to be a part of it. We’d have some wine, stay up all night, and fiddle around in the studio.
As far as a live setting goes, it’s sort of limited with this particular lineup since everyone has other projects they’re working on. To me, it’s this evolving thing. The next record might not have anyone else on it. Who knows? It doesn’t have to be all these members; it was just the spirit of it at the time.
We did play some shows at the Satellite and the Troubadour with the big cast of, for the most part, everyone who played on the record, give or take one or two guys. I don’t know how it’s going to be live in the future because the invention of this thing.