This is maybe my favourite interview to date. As a huge Vukovi fan, I was fucking buzzing to speak to Janine about their new album and get nerdy about women in music. Vukovi are releasing a concept album, a sci-fi horror set around alien Nula, and civilization as we know it, all fleeing a dying Earth. We talked about how Andrew Lloyd Webber realised she was a rockstar before she knew herself, mental health, Vukovi’s new album, Nula and how we need to support and encourage minorities in music.
"I realised I didn’t want to be Dorothy. I didn't want to be a character. I wanted to be Janine."
How did you first get into music?
I was more into music than I thought I was. I used to sit in my room for hours and hours a day listening to music, singing along and dancing. It was more in my bones than I thought it was. It was a good escape for me. I’d throw myself into any kind of music, I loved to sing in the school jazz band but always wanted to be in a rock band.
I went down the musical theatre road- I didn’t actually do anything with it. But I went to this audition with Andrew Lloyd Webber, west-end Dorothy lead. I went down to London and stayed in this place for a week. I had to audition for him, and he said “you don’t want to be here.” and I said “I don’t, I don’t like this,” and he said “you’re a rockstar. Go and be a rockstar”.
I realised I didn’t want to be Dorothy. I didn't want to be a character. I wanted to be Janine.
Andrew Lloyd Webber approved rock star. I love that!
When I got home, that’s when me and Hamish met. It just sort of fell into place from there. A lot of things aligned around that time. I got out of a relationship. I just felt like I was kicked out into being on my own and being a bit lost, not knowing who I was. Especially being treated so badly by someone, your confidence is not there. [Meeting Hamish] was a verification that I deserve to be in this place, I deserve to be in this place in the world.
When you have those experiences as well, when something good happens to you- you meet Hamish and you feel this connection musically, sometimes it’s hard to feel like you deserve this because you’re so used to being around negativity.
When you’re surrounded by darkness and toxicity you don’t see your qualities, and you don’t see what you have to offer. That’s just something I’m just starting to work on myself, recently especially getting therapy and help. Talking about my past, delving into why did these things happen? What choices did I make? What would I change?
It’s so hard being in music and having these experiences. Speaking from my own experiences, I use music as another form of therapy, but it’s hard to know where the line is.
That kind of scares me a bit. It’s a bit of release for yourself. Exercising all these subconscious traumas in your head, pouring your heart out. But you don’t have to question everything. I want the listener to listen and relate to themselves. They don’t need to know an answer to why I’ve said a certain line. I’m not trying to air any dirty washing. It’s just my way of a release, it is like therapy.
Some of the lyrics aren’t about me, some come from a subconscious place and I don’t even understand them.
"I’m so used to being a minority in the music industry, it’s hard to imagine what it’d be like to not be a minority. I’m just trying to be myself and not be disheartened by all the knocks you have, and the unfairness and inequality."
It’s why we are all so drawn to music. One lyric to you, may mean something completely different to me! That’s the beauty of it! You should give yourself a lot of credit for how open you are, it’s so hard to do.
You bury things for so long. I hate the thought of people, especially women, thinking they are alone. It’s hard, and I never really admit that. But it is fucking hard. I’m not an over sharer, but I need something to vent and talk about. One person could listen to me talking about my experiences, and embracing them and realising there’s nothing wrong with that. I'm trying to persuade myself too.
Women need to talk more, especially to each other. Last year I had a breakdown, but I started living. I got to the point where it was sink or swim, and I knew I needed to live my life. I’m worth more than that. I’d find myself talking to a lot more women, having more open conversations with them, hearing their pain and their experiences. I was like- there is a pattern here, this is way more common.
"I couldn’t stand up on the stage and sing our songs if I wasn’t talking about something I believe in."
When you’re speaking to women or community groups talking about your own experiences and theirs, it helps to validate your own experiences. I have my own mental health problems myself, and I notice I am naturally more drawn to other people who are struggling. There’s just a vibe you get when you speak to other people, and you know they are one of you.
I always describe it as “you’ve seen the dark” you’ve been there. It’s a bit like Harry Potter- the bit with the horses that you only see if you’ve seen death. I think sometimes that’s what it’s like when you’re drawn to people and you just seem to click. It’s how they speak, something in their eyes, you know they’ve seen it too.
I love that, I couldn’t have summed it up better myself.
There's just something there that you can’t see, but you know you both see it. It’s mad. I’ve been thinking about this quite in depth recently from going to therapy and looking inwards. Thinking about how I can be the best version of myself.
Listening to your music has really helped me, and I know your honesty and transparency has helped so many people as it’s helped me!
I couldn’t stand up on the stage and sing our songs if I wasn’t talking about something I believe in. I need to feel it to let go and have fun myself. I believe in every word I’m saying; I want the audience to believe it too. I want to see more of it in artists. Everyone's life experience is unique to them.
"I find myself way more supportive towards other bands with females in them. I’d rather take a gender minority fronted band on tour with us now."
You have a new album on the way. What themes can we expect?
The album is a concept album, it’s a sci-fi horror called Nula. It’s in the future, the earth is dying. The first colony ship is departing to go to Mars via a company called Sanctity corporation. Just imagine your Amazon, SpaceX. You find out that Nula is actually an alien who was discovered on Mars and kidnapped by the guy who owns Sanctity corporation. She was experimented on for 25 years to try to perfect a serum so that humans could live on Mars because she can live without air and radiation. That’s me cutting it short.
That’s why it’s a concept album and not a concept song.
The album is about Nula. She’s on the ship and gets free. It’s about her fighting back. There’s also another guy, a nice guy who lost his mum and managed to get a job on the ship. He falls in love with Nula. It’s a really brutal story. There’s a lot of blood and death.
Is the concept album creepier? The topics sound quite dark.
The lyrics are probably the darkest and most poetic I’ve ever done. I really wanted it to be a lot of imagery. Music wise it’s so poppy, but it has a sci-fi undertone and stupidly heavy guitars, lots of electro. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I’m not going to try to be modest.
"I just want to bring more minorities on tour. I’m not just going to pick a band because they have a minority in them, it’s because they’re good. They deserve to be listened to."
YES, we don’t want modesty, fuck that.
We put in all of our heart and soul. It was a really fun album to make. It felt special the whole way through it. We spent all that time in lockdown working on our songwriting. I wrote this comic about Nula and wanted it to all tie in with imagery. Everyone that has heard it so far has been super excited.
YES we love it. What was the inspiration behind it?
It was being in really dark places and not knowing how to talk about them. I wrote the Nula story one night, and it came sprawling onto the page. There are a lot of different themes in it lyrically, not just talking about OCD all the time. There are things that I want the listener to wonder what it’s about. This album is the process of therapy, a lot of life changes, that I’m now out the other end of.
I’m very glad to hear that! Therapy is good- hard- but good. There’s so much going on with your life changes and also a global pandemic. It makes sense that THIS would be time to make a concept album.
The concept idea is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I love Songs for the Deaf, Coheed and Cambria have one too. I knew I needed to do it. My escapism as a child was sci-fi. It’s a nod to the future. This is where we’re heading, the direction the world is going in.
How do you want to see the music industry change for women and gender minorities?
I’m not sure. I’m so used to being a minority in the music industry, it’s hard to imagine what it’d be like to not be a minority. I’m just trying to be myself and not be disheartened by all the knocks you have, and the unfairness and inequality. I find myself way more supportive towards other bands with females in them. I’d rather take a gender minority fronted band on tour with us now. All I’ve seen is every fucking opportunity gets flung to five white guys in a metal band.
"Don’t dumb yourself down to men in higher positions to you. They prey on that. I’ve done it for years and I wish I never did it. It affected my art and what I’m producing. I’m not stupid if you don’t understand me or what I’m saying that’s your problem. It’s very liberating to be like that."
It’s hard in the music industry as there’s not many women, but in the alt industry it can be even harder to some degree. When you play a lineup with more women in bands and gender minorities, I instantly feel safer and happier. It’s nice to see more people speaking out about it now, especially within rock and metal.
I would love to think that I can play a part in that. We took Delaire the Liar away on a tour. The bass player said to me one night, that I was the reason she got into music. She said “I saw you at 2000 trees and you didn’t give a fuck. You were confident, and I thought I could do it too.”
I love that so much.
I just want to bring more minorities on tour. I’m not just going to pick a band because they have a minority in them, it’s because they’re good. They deserve to be listened to.
You are doing good things! By taking them on tours and being vocal on Twitter, having these conversations helps too. You are a badass and when you’re performing you fucking own the stage. You don’t give anyone a reason to question it.
It’s not just guys that can do that, women can do that, minorities can do that. It’s not just a man’s world. Just seeing things like us being lower on the bills than we should have. I look at the stats of us compared to the other bands, and I can’t figure out the reason why we’re lower.
It’s just sexism, the stats don’t lie.
When you look at the numbers, there’s no other reason for it. Why can’t you put a girl at the top?
I think they’re scared all the women will come out of the woodwork and take over. You know your value and it’s good you’re speaking about it. Things will change because you have the sway, you have the fanbase behind you.
Do you have any advice for women coming into the music industry?
Don’t dumb yourself down to men in higher positions to you. They prey on that. I’ve done it for years and I wish I never did it. It affected my art and what I’m producing. I’m not stupid if you don’t understand me or what I’m saying that’s your problem. It’s very liberating to be like that.
Me and Hamish just understand each other, we have mutual respect. I’ve never had to dumb myself down. He respects and listens to everything I have to say. Another bit of advice would be to find people who embrace who you are and respect you. No jealousy, no one’s threatened. When it comes to art, push yourself to the limit. It’s freeing. When you believe in yourself, other people believe in you. Your ideas are great, just commit. I want minorities to believe in themselves more, and not not do something out of fear of being judged or shot down. The world needs more individuality and uniqueness. The only way to do that is to build other people up. I do think that the future is female.
What qualities are you most proud of in yourself?
I know I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. People don’t realise that about themselves, you don’t give yourself enough credit for the things that you’ve come out the other end of. Now I’m starting to be like that was a shit time. Well done for getting through that. I know now that I’m a very obsessive, compulsive creative. I can’t look at something without turning it into something creative. It can be exhausting, but I don’t think I’d want to change that now. I’m now appreciating what I have to offer. I’ve grown so much as a person.
What musicians who are gender minorities are you backing right now?
There are bands like Bambie Thug, Zand and Wargasm absolutely smashing it right now. All these people are so interesting!
You’ve given me so much wind underneath my sails, thank you. I’m going to fuck with the patriarchy now.