Bob Vylan create music that’s as loud as the message behind it—interview
London duo Bob Vylan combine grime rapping and electrifying punk guitar to create visceral music that’s loud, brash and unflinching, especially when it comes to the message behind it. Formed in 2017, singer Bobby Vylan and drummer Bobbie Vylan played their first show two weeks after meeting. Since then, they’ve toured with the Offspring and Biffy Clyro, starting their shows with meditation and ending with a group hug to express the band’s gratitude. “I think we wanted to show that we appreciate the energy that people are putting out because it’s more than someone’s bought a ticket, and they’ve parted with their money,” Bobby says. “They’re giving you so much.”
Bob Vylan’s music tackles social and political issues, including racism and income inequality head-on. “We’re not trying to pull our punches,” Bobby says. “We’ve just got something to say.” The lyrics are plain and direct. Take, for example, their latest single “GDP”: “Let me make it clear: This wretched system isn’t playing fair,” Bobby raps. “I couldn’t give a fuck if this country hates me here/They stole our people, displaced and placed us here.”
Their upcoming album, The Price Of Life, out April 22, is the same. It deals with issues as diverse as colonization (“Bait The Bear”), technology (“Phone Tap (Alexa)”), healthy eating (“Health Is Wealth”) and systemic racism (“Whatchugonnado?”), but it ties into one all-consuming theme: money.
How did you end up with the sound you have now?
I think it just came from blending those two things. Growing up and listening to a lot of rap music and a lot of grime music but also listening to rock music and indie music. Once I learned to play the guitar, I knew I wanted to use the guitar to make music, but I didn’t want it to be so straightforward, like this is a rock band or a punk band or an indie band. I wanted to put all my influences together and make something that I felt was missing in my music catalog.
I was and continue to make music for myself, and as a band, that’s what we do. We just make the music that we want to listen to, and that we want to hear and that we don’t feel is being made. It came quite naturally, just wanting to use the guitar, but also not being a virtuoso at the guitar. I can play punk chords, and I can then put that together with a producer’s background that I have and make beats over the top of it.
What were some of those influences that you wanted to pull from or combine?
Definitely things from grime music. Some of the production techniques that they use and even when it comes to the tempo, the BPM of 140, which is a standard grime tempo. The lyrical aspect of that music as well, I still think, is way more complicated than a lot of rock and punk music. I think the cadence, the flow, the wordplay is a lot more interesting. So I knew that I wanted to take the lyrical aspect of that because, to me, what always drew me into that genre of music was the lyrics and what they were talking about and how they were doing it.
The social commentary, the political aspect of punk music, especially because I think that’s lacking from so much contemporary music, but also, I think it’s lacking in punk music... I think just seeing that die and become more mainstream was like, “Where is this music going?” I wanted to take that anger from that music and the political direction of that and blend those things together.
I don’t see [current punk music] as being very challenging to listen to. I almost feel like punk music should make you feel somewhat uncomfortable because the topics that are being discussed in a lot of it. They’re serious issues. But it just seems like they’re being discussed, if at all, in a very happy-go-lucky way. I just didn’t want to do that. So we wanted to make it as confrontational as possible, as confrontational as it was when it first started.
Your music touches on so many important issues. For you, has music been a helpful way to learn?
For me, listening to other people’s music is the way that I’ve been introduced to so many different ways of thinking — some ways that I agree with and some ways that I don’t agree with — and I’m sure our music does a similar thing for other people. But in terms of creating the music, we find inspiration, and the topics or the themes, through lived experience. There’s so many things that have happened in our lives that we could talk about on these records. Some of them, we do. Some of them, we haven’t even really scratched the surface on. But the message is in the music because it’s something that we already live by.
The Price Of Life is a concept album. Your music covers a lot of different subjects. How do you see them all tying together? How did you come up with this overarching theme?
On this album, like most things in life, it all comes back to money. It all comes back to the thing that unfortunately presents itself in this day and age as the most important and most power-giving thing, which is money or capital.
It’s looking at where those [cheap fast-food] shops are. They’re always in places that have a high percentage of working-class people, where the average income is low. People don’t have access to healthy food, organic food, fresh produce and don’t necessarily have the time to eat healthy, the money to eat healthy or even the knowledge on how to eat healthy. There’s a reason why they’re in these communities, and it’s due to money. It comes back to the fact that these people have less money.
I realized, “Oh, this is bigger than just me not eating right.” This is almost like a form of warfare on the working class because that is an easy way to kill us off, to let us kill ourselves with this unhealthy eating.
Unfortunately, it’s like people’s worth is deemed by how much money they have or what assets they have. Money is a tool. It’s neither good nor bad. Unfortunately, there are some people that are using it for evil and to keep other people down.
SONG RECOMMENDATION: “GDP”
This story appeared in issue #403 with cover star Dominic Fike, available here.