Tony Cummings spoke to Pete Emms, frontman for Midlands hard rockers V-RATS
One journalist described the music of Midlands four-piece V-Rats as "a full throttle head on collision between Thin Lizzy and T-Rex." Add to that a touch of funk from the band's extraordinary bass player, singer and composer Pete Emms and you have some impression of what the band's debut album 'Intelligent Design' sounds like. Said Pete, "We really are at peak performance playing live and we tried to capture that vibe in the album. I guess we're a Marmite band, you either love us or hate us but you can't ignore us! I can handle any reaction you have about us except for indifference!"
The band, consisting of Pete Emms (vocals, bass), Paul May (guitar), Mike Dejager (guitar) and Rob Allen (drums), have a wealth of musical experience behind them and although the V-Rats (originally called The Vaseline Rats) have only recently settled on their current line up, their existence has been something gnawing at the back of Emms' brain for many a long year. Admitted Pete, "I was looking at doing The Vaseline Rats years ago. The name was really a stupid comment Deep Purple and Whitesnake's manager John Coletta made to me. But it kind of stuck. I'm amazed the controversy it stirs up, it's just two words with no hidden meaning or ambiguity. But it seems to get people outta shape and we get a lot of static over it. On the flip side, some people love the name. So, as we have evolved we have abbreviated it to The V-Rats. Anyway, V-Rats makes for a better logo and we can fit it on the front of Rob Allen's bass drum!"
Pete was born in West Bromwich in the heart of the Black Country. He recounted, "I was raised in Wednesbury in pre-slum clearance housing, so it was a pretty rough and tough upbringing. My dad died when I was three years old and I came from an original single parent background before it became fashionable and pretty much grew up on the streets. I've been involved in music as far back as I can remember. Some of my first memories are being a roadie for my sister's band at the age of four! So I was involved with that up until I started playing keyboards at the age of 12, then guitar and then fell in love with the bass guitar at the age of 13, about the time I left home.
"I didn't have anything to do with Church or any form of 'religion' until I became a Christian in 1989. Prior to that I was heavily involved in a LOT of bad stuff and lived the rock and roll lifestyle in all its accesses. I always say it was the Jews that led me to Jesus because I read an article about the Jews returning to Israel as modern day biblical prophecy happening in our times, so I started to read the Bible to disprove it as nonsense. Hence to say I was confronted in Scripture by the living God and realised I had to make a choice. Consequently I got born again. I really was 'catapulted' from the dominion of darkness to the Kingdom of God! So, no man had a hand in my 'conversion,' it really was all God. I think that's stood me in good steed over the years. With all the nonsense I've had to deal with from other Christians over the years, I can never deny the real experience of God coming into my life."
One of Pete's school friends was Paul May who was eventually to gain a
considerable reputation in the world of rock music. Remembered Pete,
"We attended the same school and kinda shared the same gigs and he
hung out in the music store I worked in, so we sort of 'orbited' each
other in the music scene back in the late '70s and both recognised
each other's potential. We eventually got together in a very metal
band called Arcana in the '80s which evolved through our time living
in London into the band A.N.D. Paul and I continued to cross paths
through various session work we were involved in and after Paul got
saved, I did some 'guest' stuff with A.N.D. and have done bits and
pieces in the Church with him, but only started to really work
together as in the old days since Paul joined The V-Rats. I needed a world class
guitarist in The Rats so Paul was my first choice. A.N.D. is still on
the boil and I've been playing bass with Paul and Dave Rowley's Temple
Long in the tooth Cross Rhythms festival goers might remember the appearance of the band Hush, an aggregation fronted by Pete, at the festival in 1995. Said the singer/bassist, "With Hush I made the mistake of using everyone from my Church who were also involved in the worship team. I stupidly thought I was giving the guys an opportunity to stretch their musical abilities and talents. However, the 'leader' of the church thought otherwise and I was accused of trying to be a rock star and leading the other guys astray! I was told the band was not from God and he refused to give the band his blessing (but it was still okay for me to lead worship!) The other guys in Hush didn't want to be involved and quickly retreated for fear of the consequences."
Before their demise Hush made one recording, a self-titled EP. Commented Pete, "Funnily enough I found a folder the other day with dozens of letters and requests from all over the world for the track we released. It just seemed such a wasted opportunity!"
After the Hush debacle, Pete understandably felt somewhat beat up. He said, "I basically went back to a 'hired gun' in session work and did some stuff with guys from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Tygers Of Pan Tang. Did a major tour of the east coast of the States with them alongside Obituary, Testament and Ice T. Finished off some albums, I picked up endorsement deals from Spector Bass guitars in New York and spent a lot of time over there. I was writing and recording new material for myself and wanted an outlet for this. So, thought I'd work on The Vaseline Rats." In 2007 The Rats released a self-titled EP to test the water. It was enthusiastically received by metalheads and Pete began looking around to establish a firm line up. All four members of V-Rats are Christians though as Pete well knows, the term "Christian band" is a rather pejorative phrase in the mainstream. He commented, "Saying you're a Christian band to the world has the same reaction from non-Christians as someone saying 'we're an Islamic band, or a Buddhist band!' People are generally really not interested in religion or politics in music and tend to switch off. They are more likely to be influenced by your character and behaviour than your words. Even non-Christians know what bad fruit looks like! Either way, I just say blossom where you're planted."
For the future V-Rats intend to play as many gigs as they can. Enthused Pete, "Playing live is what we do best. We're back in Los Angeles in January. 'Intelligent Design' is getting great reviews and we are looking forward to seeing how the next year pans out. We have some stuff lined up with a new endorsement deal with Marshall Amplification we picked up. So we're all set to go into places where even angels fear to tread!"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.