The Vaselines

It’s fairly safe to say that if it weren’t for Kurt Cobain, there’s a possibility that the Vaselines might have remained simply a cult favorite, known only to the most studious of crate diggers and music scholars. 

Back in the heady days of the ’90s, when Nirvana upended the music marketplace, Seattle’s son used his position as tastemaker to put the spotlight on a number of as yet unheralded groups, including this outfit from Scotland that played coy, childlike pop with a naughty edge. Cobain covered Vaselines songs like “Molly’s Lips” and “Son of a Gun” in concert and on record and sang the praises of the band’s founding members Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly as his “favorite songwriters in the whole world.” 

“It was interesting and exciting for a band that had already split up and hadn’t sold many records,” says Kelly of the attention he received thanks to Cobain’s endorsement. “That some musicians on the other side of the world are talking about you in interviews and playing your songs on their tour bus and in their set ... it meant something to me. It felt like validation at last.” 

The acclaim helped bring Kelly and McKee some belated royalty money and the stateside release of all their recorded material on Cobain’s former label Sub Pop: 1992’s Way of the Vaselines and a remastered compilation entitled Enter the Vaselines that came out last year with a second disc of demos and  live tracks. 

It was the latter release that inspired the band to try playing together again, taking on its first U.S. tour in 2009 and writing new material for the first time in nearly twenty years. “Our only thought was that it had to sound like the Vaselines,” says Kelly. “We needed to convince ourselves that we hadn’t become a different kind of band.” 

They needn’t have worried. The twelve songs that make up the band’s second full-length album, Sex with an X, carry on the wry, ribald ways that marked their earlier material. Aided by members of Belle & Sebastian and the 1990s, Kelly and McKee poke holes in knee-jerk nostalgia (“I Hate the ’80s”), reduce religion to a schoolyard taunt (“My God’s Bigger Than Your God”) and use the title track to hearken back to those glorious teenage fumblings. 

When the Vaselines hit the stage at the first Heineken City Arts Fest, it will be the third time the band has performed live in Seattle, having taken part in Sub Pop’s twentieth-anniversary celebration in ’08 and returned to support Enter the Vaselines last year. Kelly says they are thrilled to be returning, as they are starting to consider the Emerald City as something of a second home for the band. 

“It’s a special place for us. The way the whole Sub Pop family has adopted us, and the security of having people around you from the record company when you play, makes it that much greater to come here.”


See more in Music
See more in the October 2010 issue   →