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'I Want to Give People Hope': Vukovi on Growth and Facing Their Demons

Tuesday, 16 April 2024 Written by Will Marshall

It has been a whirlwind couple of years for the Scottish rock duo Vukovi. Last month, at a sold out Electric Ballroom in London, they celebrated their third album ‘Nula’ by playing it in full, capping off a rush of information that also included critical acclaim, riotous live shows and signing with SharpTone Records.

​Vocalist Janine Shilstone is obviously still making sense of it all when we meet over Zoom to talk about the LP’s spirit of sci-fi escapism, their rapid ascent and what’s next for the pair as they prepare their as-yet-unannounced fourth album. “Last year was a lot of adapting to the change in our lives,” Janine recalls.

“I underestimated everything that came with it, the business, attention and pressure,” she continues. “But it’s a double edged sword. We’ve worked for that, but it’s quite scary.” She’s also mindful of what this means going forward. While for years they’ve had a dedicated fanbase showing up for them, the translation to real-world success has come with a lesson. “My attitude for 2024 is to live more in the now and not think too far ahead, because life is just too unpredictable,” she says with a grin. 

Living in the now means celebrating your wins, which was the spirit behind their Electric Ballroom show. ‘Nula’ is a concept epic about the titular character, whom Janine ultimately expressed herself through in a liberating fashion that chimed with listeners. Playing it front to back was not something they’d considered doing before, despite feeling during writing that they had something special on their hands. “We wondered if we were delusional or if it was actually a really good album,” Janine says.

During work on it at the height of the pandemic, Janine found she was returning a lot to the science fiction that had comforted her in the past, when she’d escape into the worlds of Ridley Scott’s Alien, or George Lucas’s Star Wars, or modern cult hits such as Westworld. “I went down a sci-fi rabbit hole; that's what I loved when I was  growing up, it was my escapism,” she recalls. Ultimately, it led to a revelation. “I ended up writing a rough storyline and description,” she continues. “It just poured out of me.” 

With this framework in place Janine found herself writing the sort of dark lyrics that had defined her music to date, but focused through a new lens. She had stumbled across a safe space, making it more about Nula than herself. “Fans have asked me if I’m Nula,” she admits. “I’m not, but it’s incredible how fans have come up with their own fan fiction and theories behind her.” In fact, she’s fleshing it out into its own book as a part of the puzzle connected into the record “Writing this [album] was my therapy, reflecting back on my life and growing as a person,” Janine says.

Tackling mental health and ongoing struggles, Janine admits that “there’s songs on the album [she] can’t listen to.” At one point she remembers remarking to guitarist Hamish Reilly that she wasn’t sure if she could perform them live. But the album has taken on a life beyond the one Vukovi initially envisioned, changing their relationship to it. “I don’t like saying what songs are about,” Janine explains. “It’s so personal to me, but it can mean something totally different to you. It shouldn’t be personal, everyone has the same problems, we’re all human.”

It’s also helped her learn more about not only herself but the art they want to create, and how best to approach that. Since signing to SharpTone, they’ve released two singles in Creep Heat and Mercy Kill. Both of them show that since ‘Nula’, Janine has been able to write more openly than ever before. “‘Nula’ was an awakening that’s passed on to our new music,” she says. “I’ve let a barrier down, I’m acknowledging my feelings and what I’m singing about.” That comes with a stronger sense of self for Vukovi. “This is who we are, and where we are with our healing,” she says.

With ‘Nula’ charting a significant part of this journey, albeit allegorically, and their upcoming album focusing on the next steps, including further recovery and growth, Janine has some parting wisdom for fans who identify with her lyrics. “I want to give people hope that it’s never too late to heal yourself and face your demons,” she says. “The only way you can live a long, happy life is to really look at your traumas and not have shame attached to them.”


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