Finn Andrews says that he's flattered that anyone would pay attention to his work.
"I sometimes wonder why anyone enjoys anything I do," says the singer-songwriter and leader of the London-based rock band The Veils.
"I just find it odd. It always surprises me when there are people at our shows," Andrews says via recent a trans-Atlantic call. "Much of the time, I get a distinct feeling when I am writing songs that I am alone in the world. ... And then you marvel when people come out and hear you, and you think, maybe somebody does feel like I do."
He'd better get used to it. People are listening to the hypnotic, magnetic and anguished songs on The Veils' new album, Sun Gangs, which was released in April on Rough Trade Records.
The Veils will appear in Tucson on Friday, July 17, at Plush, with opening acts Foreign Born and the Other Girls.
On the weird and wondrous Sun Gangs, songs such as "Sit Down by the Fire," "It Hits Deep" and "The Letter" are evidence of an alchemy that blends dramatic arrangements and moving poetry to produce a new compound. The Veils' music is similar to that of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, The Smiths or Scott Walker, in that it constitutes a singular statement in a world of assembly-line music.
The Veils also show their reach, ably taking on lurching, Birthday Party-style punk-burlesque, gothic blues, decadent vamps and piano-led cabaret à la Rufus Wainwright.
Part of Andrews' appeal is that his songs possess a dark and sexy romanticism that's compelling and maybe a little dangerous. You're drawn to him—or rather, to his characters and personae—whether it's good for you or not.
For instance, how can one hear lines such as, "Where I am going you can't save me," or, "There's no way out of this old world even if you try," or, "Always a larkspur / no rest for my heart," without being a little attracted to the tragic self-obsession of it all?
As for Andrews, he admits his songwriting style ranges freely from intimate and blatantly confessional to widescreen-fictional narratives. Like a flighty girlfriend, it touches down everywhere in between, and he's not telling which song is which.
"It's never the same thing for me. I've tried writing in different ways—from journals and fiction to nonfiction and poetry. Nothing ever worked for me until I started writing songs. I love how songwriting is able to be all those things at once," Andrews says.
He adds that he's more than comfortable with ambiguity.
"I never know what part I am playing in the song, which role I am speaking from. There's something freeing about that. You can be autobiographical, but make it a fiction, or take a fictional figure into yourself and make it you. Eventually, you're never quite sure in the finished product which part of it is you."
Born in Brixton in 1983, Andrews is the son of celebrated British keyboardist Barry Andrews, who was a founding member of the bands XTC and Shriekback and has played with such artists as Brian Eno, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen.
As a child, the younger Andrews moved to Auckland, New Zealand, with his mother, where he grew up playing guitar chords she taught him and learning to appreciate traditional folk music. In his teens, he alternated between playing folk in coffeehouses and playing with a raw-edged garage band.
"I first fell in love with folk music, more for the storytelling aspect of it, not necessarily the music—more for the words than the harmony, but I have grown to appreciate that aspect of it, too," he says. "With a garage band, nothing beats the genuine pleasure of making a really loud noise now and then."
While Andrews alternated between music extremes, he also moved back and forth across continents.
At 17, he left school, landed a deal to make a demo tape and traveled back to London to form The Veils. After that version of the group disbanded in frustration following one album in 2004, Andrews returned to New Zealand, where he reformed the band and began work on another record.
He and the new Veils moved back to London in 2005 and made the much-improved Nux Vomica, for which the group received good reviews. Riding on an even better album these days, The Veils circa 2009 includes Andrews' high school chum Sophia Burn on bass and English guitarist Dan Raishbrook.
Each of The Veils' albums has marked progress in the evolution of the band. Andrews says he wants each album to sound different from the last, but for them each to somehow feel connected.
"I try to make every song a departure from the last, really. I'm always trying to find something new that will make you feel a different way. I never want to make the some record over and over again. But there's a weird duality with that, too, because I always try to make each album feel related somehow to the last. I want it to say something familiar, but in a way you've never heard it before."