Unloved might be best known for soundtracking ‘Killing Eve’, but their third long-player, ‘The Pink Album’, widens the scope. Epic yet intimate, and gloriously diverse, it’s a beautifully spun fusion of psych hallucinations, fearless invention and melancholic jazz – and that’s only the half of it

Unloved’s latest studio album is big, pink and impressive. Featuring 22 tracks, with contributions from Jarvis Cocker and French popster Étienne Daho, among others, ‘The Pink Album’ is a veritable smorgasbord of moods, textures and genres, held together by Jade Vincent’s unmistakable, world- weary croon. Easily the most ambitious thing they’ve done, it feels as if Unloved are entering their own technicolour era. Moreover, that promise of musical variety and abundance will undoubtedly remind students of pop of The Beatles’ seminal, self-titled 1968 record, better known as ‘The White Album’.

“Yeah, I mean, wow, we definitely didn’t want to be putting ourselves in the same strata as The Beatles,” insists the band’s keyboardist and composer Keefus Ciancia, recoiling from the very suggestion.

Ciancia is speaking from an Airbnb off West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip with Jade Vincent – his partner – sitting alongside him. The album title was inspired by British graphic designer Julian “Ghost Box” House, who has helped to define the Unloved aesthetic by producing all their artwork to date, including this release’s brooding portrait of Vincent in a fierce pink duotone.

“When we saw that picture, I came straight out with it and said, ‘Let’s just call it ‘The Pink Album’,” says Ciancia.

David Holmes, the other third of the trio, speaks to me the following day from his studio in Belfast, and he’s less hesitant when it comes to the tacit reference.

“It was Keefus’ idea to call it ‘The Pink Album’ and I said straightaway, ‘Yes, that’s the title – it’s great’. Pink is the colour I associate with punk and, in a way, it’s another version of ‘The White Album’.”

That Unloved work so well is due in no small part to this difference of perspective and the physical distance between its members – while Holmes is in Northern Ireland, Ciancia and Vincent usually resident in Saint-Malo, north-western France.

It’s “their band”, says Holmes of Ciancia and Vincent, although they clearly wouldn’t be without him. And for good reason. This is David Holmes – the celebrated Northern Irish DJ, electronic music producer and composer who Steven Soderbergh customarily commissions for soundtracks.

Photo: Gill Jade

Holmes calls the equally award-laden Ciancia “a fucking genius” and coos when he talks about Vincent’s existential vocals. These are the elegant threads binding everything, with an aura of 1950s girl groups and yé-yé, “old” Hollywood and the French new wave. Shadow Morton and Joe Meek. Roy Orbison seen through the refracted lens of David Lynch. A hint of Brel here, a flourish of Morricone there. It’s truly breathtaking stuff.

In a sense, Holmes is the outsider looking in, bringing a uniquely European world view that adds to the already uncanny sheen of Unloved yet another layer to lose yourself in. Given the changing circumstances, that universe has expanded vastly on the new record.

“I don’t think we intended to do this album a certain way – we just let everything evolve in its own direction,” explains Vincent. “Especially with this bunch of songs, which feel like a lot of different stories in one audio film, capturing all the things we were feeling at the time.”

The Unloved story really begins on 29 June 2011 in the Rotary Room in Santa Monica Boulevard’s Little Temple bar. Inside this small, dark, orangey space, Ciancia and Vincent ran a club night where some of the great musicians in town would come out and play for what’s been described as a modern-day Wrecking Crew. Wayne Kramer, Jim Keltner, Deantoni Parks, Gus Seyffert and many others would create their own version of musical heaven in a well-coordinated jam space.

“I chose this Airbnb because of the beautiful memories we had of the Rotary Room, which was just down the street,” says Vincent. “It was a music salon – a place where all our buddies could get together and play.
There’d be a little bit of direction, in the sense that there was a theme and somebody would be curating for the night.”

Since Vincent and Ciancia left LA for adventure before they settled down in France, much has changed in their old East Hollywood neighbourhood, and the Little Temple bar is no longer open. They still have fond memories of the music created there, which Ciancia remembers not as a place for virtuosity of the worst kind.

“I mean, you could noodle if you wanted to, but it was like, ‘Hey, this isn’t a masturbation sort of thing’.”
On that particular June evening, Holmes had been invited to curate an event at the club by Ciancia – who he’d met when he was hired to play keyboards on a Soderbergh soundtrack – bringing along artists such as Money Mark, Benji Hughes and Gaby Moreno.

Significantly, Holmes’ DJ set included old nuggets and rare gems like Ram And Sel’s ‘Screw You’ from 1970. Immediately captivated by Vincent’s melancholy vocals, he suggested to Ciancia that they should try something together. Many of the Rotary Room’s musical stalwarts would eventually pack into the nearby legendary Electro-Vox Recording Studios to help commit Unloved’s debut album to tape. Released in 2016, ‘Guilty Of Love’ took angsty girl-group pop and brought it into the 21st century, sung by grown-ups.

“Vox is gone now, too,” laments Ciancia. “But the memories are still strong.”

The owner of Electro-Vox, the award-winning video game and film composer Woody Jackson (best known for his work on ‘Red Dead Redemption’), sold the building a couple of years ago and moved to Tucson, Arizona. He took the studio and its celebrated collection of vintage equipment with him.

“There were the drums from the TV series ‘Kung Fu’,” says Ciancia. “And a guitar that was played on the ‘MAS*H’ theme. It was our favourite studio, and there’s such a giant pot of artists here in LA who are just ready to go. It had such history. There was a feeling in there, a vibe that – without wanting to sound corny – ‘this is where magic happens’.”

Photo: Delphine Ghosarossian

Old Hollywood is disappearing, Vox Studios is now nearly 500 miles away, and everyone connected with the band has relocated to Europe, although the decadent spirit of Hollywood lives on in Unloved – boosted by new adventures.

“We made the choice to leave before the mess started,” says Vincent, referring to the pandemic. “We decided it was time to go, so we sold our house and started to travel around. It wasn’t for any reason other than wanting a change of scenery.”

To begin with, she and Ciancia spent several months as guests of Holmes in Belfast, where they worked on Unloved’s second long-player, 2019’s ‘Heartbreak’. More enjoyably synthy than their debut, especially on tracks like ‘Boy And Girl’ and ‘If’, it gave some indication of the progression to come.

Another track, ‘Remember’, features Étienne Daho, and he’s back again on the ‘The Pink Album’, sing-speaking surreptitiously in French on the spooky ‘Love Experiment’. When I spoke to Daho for Electronic Sound in 2018, he jokingly mentioned he’d been stalking Unloved, such is his affection for the band. Ciancia and Vincent, it turns out, feel much the same way about him.

“It was instantaneous,” recalls Vincent of her meeting with the singer. “It felt like we were connected somehow.”

“Eventually, Jade and I ended up working with Étienne, and he was so kind,” says Ciancia. “He knew we were bouncing around, and he helped us to get an artist’s visa in France.”

Ciancia and Vincent also appear on two songs on Daho’s excellent 2017 album ‘Blitz’. They now find themselves back in Los Angeles at the behest of their friend, because back in 2004, the pair released a self-titled avant hip hop CD as Vincent & Mr Green on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label, and Daho has fallen in love with one of the songs on it. He’s decided to cover it on his forthcoming record, and nothing short of the original tape will do, so Ciancia and Vincent have made the transatlantic trek to “deep-dive into the reels” in their last remaining storage unit.

“It’s all on two-inch tape, and it’s a reminder of the technology,” says Ciancia. “I have two giant buckets full of tapes and hard drives, and each one has a different power source. I found a guy from Wales in town and he’s doing the transfers right now.”

With Holmes and Daho such an integral part of the set-up, Unloved are like an extended family.

Ciancia and Vincent’s daughter, Raven Violet (who recently collaborated with Holmes on four tracks for his next solo record), is also a contributor to ‘The Pink Album’. It’s not the first time she has sung with Unloved, either – she’s often credited as a backing vocalist and supplied lead vocals on 2020’s ‘Strange Effect’ single.

As well as Jarvis Cocker, Jon “Blues Explosion” Spencer makes an appearance on the new album, and their masculine seediness becomes the perfect foil for the girls.

“They fit right into the Unloved universe,” says Holmes.

‘Strange Effect’ has had around four million streams on Spotify, thanks to its inclusion in the BBC’s hit series, ‘Killing Eve’. We are not avoiding Villanelle here, but the symbiotic relationship between Unloved and ‘Killing Eve’ has already been explored extensively. A road less travelled, though, is David Holmes’ recent foray into psychedelic-assisted therapy and how it has manifested in his work. He claims his productivity has increased since he undertook self-medication by microdosing, and that it’s been further augmented by the hiatus of the last few years.

“Well, that’s what happens when you have a pandemic,” he says. “There was fuck all else to do, and I just kept telling myself I was in the best prison in the world.”

On the new record, Holmes has been able to write lyrics for Unloved for the first time and has even contributed his first solo composition in ‘Turn Of The Screw’, which is sung by Raven Violet. Normally, he and Ciancia will bounce files between Saint-Malo and Belfast, and then everyone will meet up, either in Holmes’ Belfast studio or in one he’s currently building in Provence.

So, is the “screw you” refrain in ‘Turn Of The Screw’ a nod to the Ram And Sel single? And did it subliminally play a part in influencing the band’s bubblegum pop aesthetic?

“Yeah, that sort of did inadvertently become an influence on ‘Turn Of The Screw’,” says Holmes. “But when I started putting all the lyrics together, it became a very different sort of ‘screw’ in a sense, because the song is about mental health. Basically, it’s about diving into the world of psilocybin, DMT and LSD as a form of medicine, rather than taking them with your friends and pissing yourself laughing.”

When he moved back to Belfast full-time in 2012, Holmes found himself working through some historic trauma related to growing up as a child of the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s. His approach to self-healing has also been advocated by artists like James’ Tim Booth and Liars’ Angus Andrew, and he has been guided by the books of Michael Pollan and podcasts from American mycologist Paul Stamets. More than anything, though, psychedelic therapy has opened up new portals of creativity.

Six years ago, Holmes was diagnosed with Pure O, a form of OCD which makes him “obsessed with everything I’ve ever been into”. He now attributes his vast record collection and eclectic tastes at least in part to his condition, which has proven to be an asset for a project as broad-ranging as Unloved.

“It’s led to me scouring every fucking bargain bin, Oxfam shop, market and record store,” he admits. “I’ve always had a real obsession with records.”

‘The Pink Album’ is just the start of this new phase of productivity. ‘Polychrome’, an album featuring a further eight tracks, is slated for release later this year, with the promise of more material in 2023. It’s a fantastic time to be a fan of the band, with songs as powerful and moving as ‘Number In My Phone’ – perhaps Unloved’s finest moment to date – which, with its descending basslines and haunting choral motifs, has an almost French baroque feel.

“The song is an ode to my mother, who died,” reveals Jade Vincent. “David actually said that line about having the ‘number in my phone’ and it all made sense. He lost someone, I lost someone, and we were listening to those messages we had on our phones. I cried singing it, and I’m thinking about it now and it’s moving me to tears. It was a very important song for all of us.

“And it was really magic the way it happened. The song came together in a beautiful way – and real fast. Keefus had the mic set up, Raven and the cat were there, and it just caught fire. It doesn’t always happen that way, but that day it did.”

‘The Pink Album’ is out on Heavenly Recordings

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