Melbourne’s RVG have certainly come a long way since recording their debut album at The Tote. The thrice-released album entitled A Quality of Mercy, took the band overseas for the first time this year, and has arguably cemented them as one of Melbourne’s most cherished musical acts.
Speaking from her London hotel room, the band’s songwriter Romy Vager is dismayed to see a double-decker bus go past her window, a sight she never thought she’d get to see while on tour with a band.
“Most bands in Melbourne don’t expect to start playing gigs in Europe or the UK,” she says, following up by dryly quipping, “I think we barely even expect to play gigs in Brisbane.”
RVG is short for the Romy Vager Group, and much like the Patti Smith Group, in which the band’s name pays homage, a commanding woman stands front and centre. Vager performs with a passion that leaves those on the receiving end completely spellbound. The combination of her highly emotive lyrics and the band’s post-punk sound transports their audiences to bygone eras and comes at a time when the most exciting music being made comes from LGBTQIA+ communities.
What may be a surprise to many is that Vager quickly threw together the band – consisting of Reuben Bloxham, Angus Belle and Marc Nolte – in order to play a show. Their immediate dynamic was a sign that they were on to something good, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A Quality of Mercy was recorded in the summer of 2016 and has just seen its second re-release via Fat Possum Records. “So many things in my life have changed drastically since I first started RVG,” Vager says. “I was a very different person at the beginning of the band; I hadn’t come out as trans which was a big thing. Looking at it now, even my voice has changed a lot. But I really believe in this album. It was always recorded as an album for us, our friends, and the people who were coming to our shows. No matter how far it travels it will always be ours.”
Now that they’re establishing an audience overseas, Vager fondly recounts a time on their last European tour when the band were approached on the street. “We played this show in Italy with Shame and it was great, but we just kind of walked away and were like ‘That was fun.’ The next day we were sitting outside in a café, and this couple came up to us and had a record they got us to sign. Things like that kept happening which propelled the whole tour for me. These little special moments of people really appreciating it.”
It took going overseas for Vager to realise that the band’s sound is synonymous with what’s happening within Melbourne musically and culturally, with touring helping her to recognise what distinguishes the local scene from anywhere else in the world. “I don’t really know anywhere in the world where we could make this music,” Vager says. “The rest of the world wouldn’t let these conditions happen in a way – they wouldn’t let a trans woman make this sort of very strange, indie-pop album with three cis boys and have it be a big thing in that community. I feel like it’s quite unusual that the Melbourne community have embraced it, but they’re really great for that.
“When you’re a musician in a local scene you can’t help but sound like your community,” she continues. “When you’re an Australian making music you sound sarcastic and a bit jaded, and then all these qualities come together to make all the bands we see on a regular basis. It’s our thing and it makes sense to us, and sometimes when you transplant it somewhere else it can be weird.”
The band will return to Australia to play the WinterWild Festival in Apollo Bay, something they initially gravitated towards given its uniqueness compared to a standard pub gig. “One thing I really like with this band is that we do special things, like playing in an old theatre,” Vager says.
“We’re playing in a quite old theatre for WinterWild, and that usually generates a very special atmosphere for us, a special energy that you don’t get anywhere else. I think the festival will be quite moody, dark and quirky which is all of the things I’d like to apply to myself. So I think it’ll be very fun.
“I’m very excited to play with Adalita too, she’s a very big hero of mine. When I was in my early teens, bands like Magic Dirt were the only time you saw a female fronted rock band that was very popular. It’s really fucking incredible that we’re playing with her.”
What ultimately feels fundamental to RVG is the emotional release you gain from their music. It’s a release not only felt by their audience, but the band as well. With so many performers playing almost mechanically, it’s incredible to see a band truly giving it their all. “You don’t want it to get easier,” Vager says. “I want our shows to be confrontational and for it to be hard. We want to make it real. These songs are about being a flawed person, so there is that element there that is very crucial. The thing that makes me feel like it’s cathartic is when I feel like I’m having an impact on people. We’re changing people’s misconceptions a lot of the time, challenging people.”