Secret Archives Of The Vatican: The visionary act fusing world music with electronica

Tuesday 1st June 1993

Vince Millett of SECRET ARCHIVES OF THE VATICAN was visited in his Croydon home by Cliff Doust. Here is a record of their meeting.

Vince Millett
Vince Millett

Not many people know this, but the Secret Archives Of The Vatican are housed somewhere in the shadow of a Croydon fly-over. That is the Secret Archives aka The Shockin' Holy Saints aka one Vince Millett. But this is only the beginning of the enigma. This mandolin picking folkie with a passion for guitar synths and who has five privately produced albums under his belt, is the proud creator of music not readily penetrated, being the aural equivalent of the bricks in the Tate, or perchance the revelation of an alien mystic. In search of understanding I wandered through the wastelands of South Kroi-Donn to petition the keeper of the archives for his oracle. So how did this talented 32-year-old muso end up being a one-man record company whose albums may not get a sniff in your local sanctified bookshop, yet make for some of the most intriguingly eclectic instrumental music around? "Musically, it started with years of trying to get heavy metal bands together and handling the grief caused by other musicians. This coincided with the advent of 4-track and so I decided to do everything myself. Though I'm not into heavy metal at all now."

The London-born musician discovered the Wonderful World Of Synthesizer and there was no stopping him. Investing in a 4-track home studio and some sequencers the multi-instrumentalist finally emerged with a debut album, 'Secret Archives Of The Vatican' in 1989. Following home-recorded albums 'Across Darkness, Benediction' ('90), 'Lamentations Concerning The Five Sorrows Of Love' ('91, released as by the Shockin' Holy Saints) and 'White Flower Of The Blackberry' ('91) followed. Realising the limitations of the 4-track, Vince's latest album 'Fish Drum' was recorded in a commercial studio. I asked Vince to tell me a little about his latest musical offering.

"It's more adventurous, delving into Indian ragas, medieval, ambient and ethnic musics with the odd loud guitar," said Vince. "On earlier albums I was exploring different musical paths, in addition to learning more of composition and recording. With 'Fish Drum' I feel it's all come together and a distinct SAOTV sound has emerged."

So what process does Vince use in putting an album track together? "Well," began Vince, "as an example, for my next project I've taken an Arab folk melody, sequenced it and put a serious house groove behind it. Then I might add some over-driven guitar chords and vocal samples. Then I may play some improvised guitar synth lines here and there."

Normally Vince's music is pigeon holed as alternative. But is there any market for his eclectic endeavours? Commented Vince, "I'm not particularly into the Christian market, I'm aiming at underground tape trader networking and people who are interested in pushing back the limits of music. I distribute equally within and without the Christian scene. It's only alternative in the sense that whilst most Christian music apes the mindless drive churned out by the pop industry I'm attempting to do something creative."

Despite his alienation from the cosy Christian subculture Vince's faith is an influence on his music. "I'm a committed Christian and my faith is the foremost thing in my life, it has to influence my music," said Vince. "I try to express my faith in my music, however I'm a firm believer that art is at its most beautiful when it is somewhat oblique and poetic."

One at least of the tracks on 'Fish Drum' contains backward masking. Was there any artistic reason for doing this, or was this particular Christian muso simply having a go at the "backward masking is satanic" brigade? He laughed before responding: "No, I'm not being antagonistic - there was a sampler in the studio and I thought I'd have some fun. When the saxophone was first invented it was considered "of the devil" and orchestras would not use it for that reason. If a technique exists and creates an interesting sound then I'll use it. The devil never invented anything, anyway."

In the sleeve notes of one album there is the line "Life's a ditch and then you buy". Even allowing for the fact that Vince eschews being direct, was this not dangerously close to sending up both himself and his music? "I like to include copious sleeve notes which are always poetic and romantic," said Vince. Some are serious, some tongue-in-cheek, but it's up to the reader to decide which is which. The only sad thing about the death of vinyl is the loss of the venerable art of sleeve note writing."

Vince has hopes and dreams for the future: "I'd like my own studio and have a collective of musicians working under the Secret Archives name regularly producing albums of electronic world music {but not necessarily from this world!). Actually, if there is any one who reads this and they'd like to collaborate, please contact me."

Christian musicians often cite tight budgets as the main reason for product deficiencies. Vince gave me his thoughts on this: "This is true, however most musicians don't ever really learn to push their gear to its limits to get the best out of it. The Beatles' 'White' album was recorded on two 4-tracks manually sync'ed together but I don't think you could fault it. We have better gear now so it's down to imagination and application really." Did Vince see the independent Christian music scene developing in Britain over the next few years? "I see very little happening because there is no forum apart from Cross Rhythms. It's difficult for people out there to know you exist. In America there are networks of both underground magazines and tape trading (Christian and secular) which do not exist in the UK. I have more interest in America than Britain as a consequence - I get airplay on American radio which I can't get here. It's difficult to know what can be done to promote a similar British scene. Producing a fanzine requires a lot of interest and commitment, although there is a new mag just starting called 'Psalm 150' which is about to be published covering punk, hardcore, indie and underground music. Tape trading among musicians could happen if people want to use the Cross Rhythms classified ads!"

So what can the adventurous CR readers who've discovered the eclectic delights of Secret Archives Of The Vatican expect in the future? "More albums hopefully! I'm hoping to use more acoustic and traditional musicians along with the high tech stuff and I particularly want to use more live percussion." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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