Black Vanilla on Eddie Murphy, Neapolitan Ice Cream & Throwing It Down

Written By Bianca on 11/25/2014


Black Vanilla are a supergroup of Australian electronica, of sorts. Made up of Cassius Select, Guerre and Marcus Whale from Collarbones, the trio have made a name for themselves crafting innovative, introspective RnB mixed with a healthy dosage of electronica. This year Black Vanilla have toured with Whale's duo, Collarbones, and are now set to ace it at Astral People's OutsideIn festival. With their new track, Smacks, giving a harder, more aggressive sound, they're bound to be a force to be reckoned with live. We caught up with Marcus Whale of Black Vanilla in advance of their upcoming OutsideIn performance.

You’ve recently been playing double Collarbones/Black Vanilla shows. How do you handle doing the two at one time?

I realised that I needed to do a lot of vocal warm ups and try to take care of my voice. I thought I’d just be able to wing it but after the first night, where I could barely make a sound out of my voice in the final Collarbones song, I realised that it requires a lot of care and preparation. So for the rest of the shows I had to really think about it. 

On a performance level, I was fine. I would say that the Black Vanilla sets were definitely more dynamic than the Collarbones ones because of only having a certain amount of energy. But at the same time, Black Vanilla is more all over the place than Collarbones which is a bit more centred, and performing through the voice rather than the whole body.

How do you decide which band you’re writing for?

With Black Vanilla, we usually do it all together in a room at the same time. It’s quite sensual, quite immediate, because it’s meant for the live aspect. If you want to have a Black Vanilla experience, best thing to do is go to a live show. Whereas with Collarbones, it’s kind of like songwriting. Also we start with production first and then I sing over it. Black Vanilla’s a lot more in the moment. 

I guess it’s more about the experience, you can do more things on the spot?

Yeah, on the spot is definitely the feeling of it. 

What do you feel like you can do in Black Vanilla that you can’t do in Collarbones?

I think with Black Vanilla we can be quite aggressive. It’s a little bit punk, a bit antagonistic, and I really enjoy being able to do that, being able to be confronting. Collarbones by contrast is more about the atmospheric, about the concessionalism. And through that it becomes, for me, a different experience.

I recently read that you’re influenced by the spirit of hostility of death metal bands?

That’s a term that I have used, definitely. And I stand by that. I think that, for Black Vanilla, it has been important for us to try and counter the status quo which is a bit about trying to get up in the world. I guess really about trying hard, which is nice, but we’re not really interested in that. We’re interested in just throwing something down and being really strong with what we do. 

As per your latest release, Throw It Down?

Haha, yes, as per Throw It Down.   

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Have you performed any of your new material yet?

Well, we used to play Throw it Down about a year ago and we don’t play it anymore because we have newer music now. It takes a long time for these things to come out, it is now!

So you’re getting a bit sick of it?

I think it’s become less relevant to the way that we perform now. The music we make now is more barren and aggressive than Throw It Down, which is more of a feel-good kind of song.

Yeah, because Smacks takes a bit of a harder approach to R&B, it’s a bit more aggressive.

Yeah, we made that six months after, so there you go. If you’ve been paying close attention to us, it would seem we’re going back and forth a bit, but it’s actually just like a narrative that’s been split up and moved around a bit.

What was the idea behind Smacks? What influenced you to take this more aggressive approach?

It became clear to us that we were more interested in being brutal and spectacular. I guess it differentiated us a little bit from stuff that we see around. And I think we’re also inspired by a lot of music that maybe isn’t the type of electronic music that’s popular at the moment. I would like to mention some friends of ours called Making, a Sydney band, they’re our biggest inspirations. They’re really incredible with their energy and their commitment to the sound they make. I think that sort of stuff is really influential for us.

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You’ve been around for a while in your respective projects. How have you seen the music scene develop? In particular, the Sydney scene?

It’s been quite amazing. It feels like so long ago, even when Black Vanilla got together. Just to paint a picture, we started playing music in the middle of 2011, Jarred, Lavurn and I. Lavurn and I had been doing stuff for a couple of years before that. At that time, we were playing mostly warehouse shows, shows with rock bands. We were playing small shows with people like Seekae, Lavurn played a show where he was supported by Flume, that sort of stuff. And meanwhile, people that are actually younger than us have become really successful and in many ways it’s really exciting. Software is acceptable now, young people, anyone can make music really easily. And I think that’s great. It’s really democratising and it means that people can understand music more.

Your live performances, they’re very interactive. Being up in the face of the crowd seems to be a big part of the show. Do you feel that this level of personal interaction is important?

I do often wonder why we do it and I suppose it’s a contrast with the hierarchy, with the performer being on stage and people being down on the ground and watching you, being appreciative  in a passive way. I think it’s really about us wanting an active experience. Any experience in which where we are, is where you are, and that we’re all in the room experiencing the same thing at the same time. It’s interesting, the bigger you get, the more removed you become from the experience. It gets to a point where it’s like a big pop act. You’ll be on a big stage, you’ll have monitors so you can’t even hear the crowd. I’m totally into that mode of performing but for Black Vanilla, it’s important that we’re all together at the same time.

How does the audience usually react to that level of interaction?

Usually, these days, people come for that, people come to our shows to be in the moment. But before that, it was kind of us bringing people into the experience, trying to get them to be there with us and confront passivity a bit. I think it’s totally okay to be passive but we want to perform in such a way that you can’t be passive and our aim is to make you want to be as involved as possible.

Five Quick Questions

1. What’s your best party trick?

Being able to hit that top note in that Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America. There’s an ad in the TV shop for Soul Glow shampoo and the theme tune of this fictional ad involves this guy singing so high and I can usually hit that note.

How often do you get to use that in day-to-day life?

Not often. I’m kinda clutching at straws here haha.

2. Would you rather collaborate with Avril Lavigne or Chad Kroeger?

Ugh. Definitely Avril. No one wants to hang out with Chad Kroeger. Although after that Hello Kitty song, maybe not, but I would with 2002 Avril.

3. What’s the weirdest or most embarrassing song on your iTunes?

I have everything from One Direction to ABBA...I’ll go One Direction.

4. On the subject of Black Vanilla, what’s your favourite Neapolitan ice cream flavour?


5. Would you rather have Cheetos fingers or have a popcorn kernel stuck in the back of your throat for the rest of your life?

I’ll have to go popcorn kernel. As long as it’s cooked in oil, not butter. That way I could maintain my vegan lifestyle.

You can catch Black Vanilla this weekend, alongside Cut Copy DJs, Seekae, Giraffage & more, at OutsideIn Festival.

Tickets still available here