MTV’s “Unplugged” might have gone the way of the rest of the network’s music programming, but it did gift the world with a number of classic performances. Chief among them was Nirvana’s massively popular set, which included a cover of the song “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” by a little-known Scottish band called the Vaselines. The song’s simple, sad refrain, as growled out by Kurt Cobain, expressed the sort of profound alienation fans had come to expect from the band.
There was just one problem. The Vaselines weren’t really a band anymore. In fact, Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly stopped being a band before their first album “Dum-Dum” was released. But the song, and the band, continued to be in the public consciousness because of the enduring popularity of the Nirvana “Unplugged” album. In 2008, the duo reunited, then released “Sex with an X” in 2010, followed by “V for Vaselines” in 2014. The album features the sort of poppy, quick hits the band has become know for, and draws inspiration from an unlikely source.
“I saw a Ramones tribute band play and it just reminded me that the Ramones have written lots of great songs and how short they were, and how melodic, and how they got everything they wanted to say in in such a short space of time,” says Kelly of the types of songs on “V for Vaselines.”
He praises the Ramones for being able to “say everything you want to say in three minutes.”
“I think it just makes it a meteor and it doesn’t hang,” says Kelly.
Reuniting after a long absence might be some cause for difficulty, but Kelly says that’s not the case. “I think Frances just really cracks the whip and gets things moving. I tend to procrastinate and muse and wonder and just wait for inspiration and Frances just says ‘Come on, let’s get writing,’ and knuckles down and gets on with the job. Kicks me up the bum.”
The same holds true for their concert performances. “We just naturally get into the way we are onstage with each other. Frances just really takes the piss, as we say over here, and I take the piss back. We try to embarrass each other in front of the audience,” says Kelly.
One plus side to the band’s breakup before their first album came out? They never had a chance to get tired of playing anything off of it. “A lot of the songs we didn’t play live because we broke up when the album 'Dum Dum' was released. When we got back together a few years ago, it felt like we were just picking new songs and playing them,” says Kelly.
About that "Unplugged" legacy...
Kelly says he has nothing but positive feelings about the legacy of the Nirvana “Unplugged” album. “It’s not a burden or anything. We really embrace it and are always grateful to Nirvana for giving us a leg up. We would have just come along and disappeared like many bands from Glasgow in that period, but their patronage meant that we got a second life and we’ve been going now for over five years in this incarnation and it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t covered the song,” says Kelly.