Venus Hum – Ambassadors of Goodwill

Venus Hum — the electro-pop trio of Kip Kubin, Tony Miracle and Annette Strean — may very well be Nashville, Tennessee’s ambassadors of goodwill. At once, they defy expectations of what a “Nashville” band sounds like and represent all the great things about the city’s music scene. Though no Nashville-bred pop-electronica movement surrounds them, Venus Hum share the diligence, intelligence and superb song-craft of every great band from the city.

Miracle and Kubin create lush soundscapes on laptops, synthesizers, guitars, bicycle wheels, oscillating fans and anything else handy. Over the pulsing and swirling music, Strean sings incredibly visual lyrics in bright, hopeful melodies. Comparisons to the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, and Heaven 17 chase the band and critics drop such heavyweight names as Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Bjork when describing Strean’s voice. In such vaunted company, the band’s hometown should be but a footnote, yet it persists as the facet most interesting to first-time listeners.

Fortunately, the band is happy to discuss their city and gathers in a small coffee shop nestled between a guitar store, record shop, and Country & Western clothier to delve into the story of their existence.

Kip Kubin, tall and composed, arrives first. Kubin came to Nashville from New Jersey. He had no background in music and in fact had already developed what would become a life-long aversion to pianos. Instead, he preferred synthetic sounds. For Kubin, “there wasn’t music until electronic music. I didn’t care about anything until I heard a Tomita record at my friend’s house. That’s when I realized that music was worth something.” Kubin met Tony Miracle through mutual friends. When Miracle gave Kubin an Erasure album, it sealed their friendship and portended their future partnership.

Annette Strean, the delicate girl with the big, broad voice that carries Venus Hum’s bubbling tunes, arrives next. She is the only member of the band who actually drinks coffee, bringing the total number of coffee drinkers at the table to one. Strean moved to Nashville from Whitefish, Montana. Her childhood sounds somewhat idyllic in her descriptions–family gathered ’round, singing hymns with little Annette belting show tunes out to the rafters. Soon, she discovered The Cure and Siouxie Sioux and her eclectic influences took a wide detour through 80s synth and gloom pop. Her love of different musical styles collided in electronica. Says she, “I think of electronic music as so influenced by different kinds of beats and world music and sounds. I think the idea is the same–making a beautiful sound out of something that maybe traditionally you wouldn’t.”

Tony Miracle, the most rock ‘n’ roll member of the group with his spiked hair and blunt assessments of the music scene, has the most un-rock ‘n’ roll reason for arriving last–taking care of the baby. Miracle moved to Nashville from Cincinnati, Ohio to study music at Belmont University. His earliest musical influences came in the unlikely shapes of The Steve Miller Band and Styx. “That American rock is how I got into electronic music,” Miracle declares. “‘Jet Airliner’ had a minute and a half long synthesizer intro and radio back in those days would play that. It was just this weird Moog freak-out.” A guitar-player since age 10, Miracle forced himself to listen through a Thomas Dolby record, and afterwards, his vision changed. “When other kids would fantasize about scoring the winning goal, I would fantasize about making the coolest synthesizer sound of all time,” he says.

Nashville, as one may have guessed, is a city of musical emigrants. Publicly dominated by the country music industry, Nashville has built an infrastructure that easily supports its broad and varied underground music scene. After all, the studios, clubs and shops are there for anyone to patronize. Strean agrees, “Anybody can make money as a waitress and go get an hour in a studio.”

The long history of Nashville’s great songwriters is another boon. “Because that bar is higher as far as songwriting, it does make you work to always be better. You have to be. There’s going to be an amazing singer at the pizza place next to your house,” says Strean.

Of the competition in the city, Miracle is cynically positive, “There’s so much crap here that you really do have to rise above it and that’s good. I think it makes for better artistry.”

The stigma of Nashville’s often over-marketed and under-dignified mainstream music industry causes some bands to disown the city. “I think the biggest trap of bands from Nashville is the pressure to pretend they’re not,” Kubin remarks. He adds, somewhat philosophically, “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. You do what you do wherever you are.”

During the morning in the coffee shop, the bright sun disappeared in a powerful thunderstorm and has returned to turn the rain into a steam bath. With a musical landscape just as varied and lively as its weather, Nashville’s once one-dimensional reputation may soon cease to be a point of curiosity in a band’s bio. And with a solid, fascinating album, Big Beautiful Sky, guaranteed to cross more than just geographical borders, Venus Hum may soon gather to talk only music.

[editor’s note: I wrote this piece for another magazine that changed it so drastically it barely reflected my original piece. So, I decided to publish the piece here.]