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Interview: Vagabond

PUBLISHED: 15:30 14 August 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 October 2010

Emma Lee

Vagabond play a low-key catch-them-while-you-can show at Norwich Arts Centre. They might have recorded their debut album with pop super-producers Xenomania, but, as EMMA LEE discovers, Boys Aloud they ain't.

Further listening: Vagabond

Vagabond play a low-key catch-them-while-you-can show at Norwich Arts Centre tomorrow. They might have recorded their debut album with pop super producers Xenomania, but, as EMMA LEE discovers, Boys Aloud they ain't.

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They've produced hits for Girls Aloud, Alesha Dixon and the Pet Shop Boys. Now meet the latest graduates from Xenomania's Kent pop school.

Under the guiding influence of Brian Higgins, singer Alex Vargas, guitarists Stephen Carter and Luke Fitton, bassist Sam Odiwe and drummer Karl Penney have been holed up in the studio that's been dubbed the modern day Motown. According to Alex, it was a meeting of minds.

“Steve and Luke were session musicians for various acts. The three of us ended up working together and it made sense for us to form a band,” he says. “It's amazing how things happen.”

Indeed, fate must have played a part in them meeting as between them the group hail from Uruguay, Denmark, East London and, er, Huddersfield.

They've been snapped up by the Geffen label and their debut album, You Don't Know The Half Of It, is out on Monday. It really is a curiosity of a record, starting off so radio-friendly it wanders into Boyzone territory in places, before morphing into New Order (I've been Wanting You), then Girls Aloud (the riff on Ladelle is almost a carbon copy of last year's hit Can't Speak French) and the intro of Clouded Circus sounds like the Smashie and Nicey favourite You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet by Bachmann Turner Overdrive. Add to that Alex's Nickelback-esque growl (in your mind's eye he's playing air guitar on a windy cliff top) and Xenomania's big choruses and shiny production and you've got a record that's reassuring familiar but manages to sound fresh too.

But then, as Alex explains, they have such a range of influences that it's unsurprising that the album is such a mash-up.

“I suppose I was raised with music. My dad's a musician as well. For me personally Michael Jackson was probably my biggest idol. Then there's everything from Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles to Aretha Franklin, blues and soul. If I was given the option of only being able to listen to one music genre it would have to be the blues, just because it really touches you when you listen to it,” he says.

Though the album's in the can, the hard work is far from over. There's the obligatory press charm offensive to attend to and the band has had a packed summer of live dates - supporting everyone from 80s stadium rockers Simple Minds to pop princesses the Saturdays (you can't say they aren't willing to put the work in - they were spotted handing out flyers in the rain after the UEA show in June) - and are now on a headline tour of more intimate venues, including Norwich Arts Centre tomorrow night.

“We did the Saturdays tour acoustically because there wasn't enough room for us on the stage. But supporting James Morrison was incredible, a perfect audience. And we did a date with the Script and Simple Minds, so we've covered all ages.”

And it's helped them to bond as a band.

“When we first got together we went out and did acoustic gigs. The social side works as well as the music side. Both are equally important I find,” Alex says.

And they're loving taking the record out on the road. Are there any tracks that are particular favourites?

“I really enjoy playing all the songs, but Smile of Mona Lisa always stands out for me - it's more bluesy” Alex says.

With the record on the starting blocks, all they can do now is keep their fingers crossed that the punters and critics like what they hear.

The signs are looking positive so far. The hype machine was cranked into action at the end of last year and a buzz has been steadily building around the band - several critics have already hailed them as the next big thing.

But Alex is taking it in his stride.

“People are saying nice things about us, and radio and TV seem to be convinced by us when we play live, but there's a great amount of pressure we've placed there ourselves because we've chosen to go down this road,” Alex says.

t Vagabond play Norwich Arts Centre on August 15.

t You Don't Know The Half Of It is out on August 17.

Further listening: Vagabond

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