Monday, March 28, 2016

The Vatican Interview

1# (What's going on these days)         Right now is kind of a regroup, time to re-sharpen the teeth and claws, plan the next attack. Seems like every time we push ourselves into putting together a new recording life tends to push right back, really fucking hard. I've just come to expect that a close friend is going to die, or there's going to be a fire, or one of us is going to jail, or who the fuck knows, but it seems like there's always a general theme of our personal shit hitting the fan whenever we really focus on the project at hand. Right as we were going into the studio for "TGN," we lost Jorge from Barefoot Barnacle, and that just broke our hearts. It hit us hard. We've known that dude forever, just a hilarious and sweet guy, hugely entertaining, been playing shows with them since me and Lincoln first started playing in bands. And "The Trump Card" was no different, shit got real crazy. We lost Hershey ("Hershey Momma") while recording this album, who has been Lincoln's best friends and partner in crime since way before we started The Vatican. She was an old crust punk dog he had rescued and has been by our side for so many outdoor and DIY punk shows, so many people in our community have chilled with in fallen in love with that dog. Turns out she was even older than we knew, she had a great run and went happy, but that loss is heavy in our circle. She was our buddy. She is and will continue to be dearly missed.
Job turmoil, cancer in the family, oh yeah, transients burned down the house next door to my home on New Year's Day! It went up in a blaze at 10am as I was about to take a walk with my daughter, it was insane, I have no idea how it didn't catch mine or any of the other neighbor's houses. It was real close though and pretty damn scary, we had to leave the house. Par for the course though man; at this point I just think that's how life makes sure we REALLY want what we're after in this band. We kept our nose to the grindstone and there was a lot of extra work that went into this release. This was the first time we've put a release on vinyl, and we took the time to do research and check in with people who had more experience than we did. Kris put in a ton of work in on that and I don't think we could have done better than what he was able to come up with, a lot of which came from H-Murder when he recorded us, we learned a lot from that guy. There was extra work for me this time around, more art involved in a record, it was also the first time that the art wasn't already done before the final mix of the music. It was all done after the fact, and I did it in color instead my normal stark black and white stuff, so there were extra steps involved in that. So there was all the "normal" drama, there was a learning curve and a lot of extra work this time around, but we learned a lot and got a lot done in a short time, and we're really happy with the result.
While all this was going on there wasn't nearly as much time left to chill and drink, or play shows, or practice the same two days a week or jam new stuff, all those things you just take for granted when you aren't neck deep in a project. So that's what we're getting back into; it's time to get out there and shove "The Trump Card" in everyone's sweet little, fat little faces.
It's time to uncurl the tentacles a bit, get out of the home town and in front of new crowds of weirdos, and hopefully sell a couple records to them.
#2: (Sound on record / Difference from Previous)         Different people are after different things in a recording, so it should be noted that we are not a dynamic tech metal band, and we're not trying to sound like one. If you listen to only the most crushing technical death metal, play in djent band, or have spent thousands of dollars and hours at school learning to record music "the right way" and that's the kind of standard you judge all heavy music against you're probably not going to have much fun with our band. You'd probably hate us as people, and it's likely that any recording we ever put out is going to sound like shit to you... But opinions are like assholes and that guy is not the only person who listens to records, there's a lot of sets of ears out there and Tech Metal Bro is just not the one we're catering to. Our sound is not incredibly complicated. Can you hear the drums, the guitar, the samples, the vocals? Are they all discernible? That's really it, since the beginning of this band when we were recording ourselves, the first goal is obviously nail your parts, but after that the main focus is for it not to sound like a pile of mud. Then is the pace and the energy of your songs there? Is it adequately captured? If you've been playing your songs over and over at rehearsal and/or shows it should be there, listen to some play-back before you get too far, if it isn't there adjust and try again. We got that early on, so as we've recorded with other people it's really come down to refining the process of making it sound as heavy as it can while still totally sounding like us. Meticulously inspecting and making perfect every last riff, or word, or slap of the drums has never been one of our goals.
I think a lot of bands get stuck in that and it ends up doing a disservice to the music. They spend so much time and money, and mental... stress... trying to make everything perfect that by the time they have something they feel is finally good enough to put out there it doesn't even sound like their fucking band anymore. It sounds like a tissue culture of their band made in petri dish. We are firmly against that. The energy should prevail; we wanted something that feels as close to the energy of the live experience as possible. We went for a mix of that crusty garage vibe with a little bit of modern compression. Each one of those songs is us playing together, one continuous take. We doubled up the guitar track, and doubled up parts of the vocal track on some songs, layered a transition between songs here and there, but there are no punch-ins, no cover ups, nothing like that on any of these tracks. "No replacement of moving parts, just raw energy and heart."
We think that "The Trump Card" is the best job we've ever done at capturing that energy. This record, shit, this band is not for everyone, but you will now have equal opportunity both live and on recording to decide if we sound like shit, haha! Maybe this won't be the best record you hear all year, but it might be the most honest. It sounds pissed, and it fucking sounds like us. It sounds like us playing in front of you... in the dank basement of a punk house on a loud PA with the stench of sweat and weed and stale beer in the air. It sounds hot, and nasty, and uncomfortably close... Like the sweaty hugs you'll get after the show if you stay and party!
And that's really who this record is for... We love "The Great Northern," we made that record for us and some close friends that we collaborate with , not just in A God Or Another but also a handful of other people on the periphery of that record (The concept and title were the best idea we ever stole from Landon Wonser!). It was a celebration of Twin Peaks, the Northwest, and of us just getting weird with our friends. However, "The Trump Card" is a very different record; it is very much a back to our roots, back to basics record. There's some trippy noise and sludgy riffs throughout, like any of our stuff, but there's no long death march of sludge at the end of this one, the noise just kind of keeps things moving. Basically we trimmed the fat. We made this one for all the crusty kids, and grinders, and punks that have been with us and supporting our weird shit since day one and have given us a little niche of our own to call home. Anyone that has ever enjoyed seeing us live is going love this record.
#3 ...OK, I'm combining this with #4 (Lyrics / Band name)         I've gone into where "The Vatican" comes from at length before, so I'll try to keep this as succinct as possible. The three of us, to varying degrees, grew up with some pretty interesting religious indoctrination and came out the other side basically anti-theists, in a pretty similar headspace. We wanted something that could take a clear aim at religion without being too obvious or over the top, something that didn't have to be morbid or directly referencing "God" or "Christ" but could still be kind of moody. I'd been thinking of "The Vatican" for a while before we'd even been jamming. I liked that it sort of acts as a stand-in for the idea of "powers that be." It's a perfect marriage of Church and State, the right and left hand of the mechanism of power that may not always completely control society, but most definitely shapes it. "The Vatican" represents OLD world power, but it also bears a lineage to our world today. The American system of dominance was modeled on the British Empire, and the British system of dominance took its inspiration from the Roman Empire. The Vatican may not be where the concepts of empire, slavery, manipulation, racism, or classism were invented, but it does seem to mark a turning point in history where all of those things started to make the jump to lightspeed and there began a sophisticated, more scientific refinement of man's ability to dominate and exploit other men. It's a wheel that's been turning since long before we were born, a war drum that is likely to keep beating long after we're dead. That evolution of people manipulating people has been a foundational idea since we started, it's where not only the name comes from but where most if not all of my lyrical concepts flow from as well. There's a bit of sci-fi/horror movie shtick and just a dash of old fashioned paranoid conspiracy, but that's just to keep things fun.
From that general concept my lyrics have progressed over time but not really changed drastically. Fear, superstition, and habit have always been used as tools or weapons to manipulate, and not just by "the powers that be." How do we use those same tools on each other; how many ways are we keeping ourselves and everyone else in line? There is some real slavery left in the world, but the vast majority of us live in Slavery Lite, where the shackles are loose and comfortable, and the cage is really big, but the mental/emotional manipulation is incredibly sophisticated... every inmate is a cop, and is also a warden. If the inmates have no will for freedom and have lost all hope of surviving outside of the cage, is it even still a prison? Or is it a zoo? Does history repeat? Does it rhyme? Bigotry, group-think, and religious fervor don't seem to have gone anywhere, they're alive and well today. Even now people are beating the war drums, waging it against everything, including poverty, which is presumably to be just ignored out of existence. They align themselves with their abusers and worship cartoonish demagogues; they invoke murder from the sky with remote control flying robots... and most of us who can read this are living in relative comfort while the beat goes on.
I wonder sometimes if intelligent, reasonable, forward thinking people will one day just simply be out-bred by the ignorant, and the fearful, who are willing to worship any "authority figure" selected for them... What if that day is already here? Would we know? Could we do anything about it, and what would the best strategy be? Thinking too much about that could drive you insane. So I'm just yelling; I don't really have any solutions. This is just the "Mad as Hell" scene from that movie "Network." I'm just making art and praying to Joe Pesci every night that I'm fucking wrong, about everything.
What I can say about the lyrics for "The Trump Card" is that with the exception of the phrase "Comb over, and over, and over" not a single word is about him. None of this had anything to do with him until we decided on the name, and wrote the "title track" right before we hit the studio... and it's not even Trump, it's a cartoon zombie Trump, who's shitty face we made the mascot of our album and it just worked... He's like the rug in "The Big Lebowski," he just really tied the room together. The perfect nightmare leader for the perfect nightmare world, full of nightmare people, illustrated by this group of songs. If that dystopian world were the pyramid, he is the liver-spotted, scabies clustered, leaky brown eye that sits on top of that pyramid.
We thought it would be a good punchline and maybe would lead to a bigger conversation, but as this record was wrapped up and the political circus was ramped up that little joke has gotten a bit awkward. Politics has always been a divisive and cartoonish shit-show, but I think nearly everyone is astonished how that monster has grown and grown as the political climate reaches new heights of weird... So we decide to go right on ahead and make an apathy record, and drop it in the middle of what has turned into a very chaotic and emotionally charged election year. Some people just aren't going to want to hear that shit right now, but I think a lot of those people are still really going to feel this record and identify with that angst, even if they don't know the words. All this occurred to me as I was working on the art for the record. In the current vacuum of people screaming their opinions at each other, maybe my words aren't the most important part of all this, and maybe it's not that important at all. Historically I've provided lyric sheets in almost everything we've put out, and I've taken the time to provide lyrics on Bandcamp for basically every song we have that contains vocals. Anyone could click through and read all of them in probably a lot less time than it takes to read this interview, and they can get a feel of where I'm coming from. I decided this time to stick with the theme of "raw energy and heart" over minute details, and that changed my approach to the lyrics, at least as far as the album layout goes. They will all be available sooner or later but I plan to tease these lyrics out a bit; I'm figuring out more creative ways to put the lyrics out there, and to make it a little more interesting and more personal for anyone that actually gives enough of a shit about my lyrics to start looking.
I felt the best decision was to let the sound and the energy, rather than my rhetoric, speak for the record.
#5: (Best Shows / Describe live performance)     Describing your own live performance is a really interesting concept, I definitely have never been asked that, but I read a lot of interviews and I don't think I've ever seen anyone else asked that either. That seems like it would be hard to do. I feel the best route would be to give a feeling of an answer for the second part of the question by thoroughly answering the first part:
We've had the good fortune, and to some degree good planning, to not have very many shitty shows, so there's a lot of good memories. Even some of the frustrating shows, where set times change last minute, and then start an hour early and none of our crusty friends have showed up yet have still been redeeming. I mean shit, I got to play with Vision Of Disorder on a show like that, hardcore legends, who I thought I'd never even get the chance to see, much less open for. That's a band that made me want to make music; standing in there during their sound check was surreal. Once we got thrown last minute on to the opening slot in front of a crowd who had no idea who we were and spent the first part of the set arms folded, totally judging us... But when you're opening for Skarp and Leftover Crack, on New Year's Eve?! What have you got to complain about?!? Play your fucking heart out!
We've had countless fun times playing outdoors, or in the basement of punk houses. There's a house in Portland we like to play, last time we were there was kind of funny. We know the people that run the house and we know our boys in The Drip who we had meet us down there (Eastern WA grinders on Relapse Records, go check them out!), and we'd been there before, it was always chill... but for whatever reason there was a really awkward vibe going on. Couldn't tell if it was them, or if it was us, but being out of towners seemed to be a major obstacle and conversations just kept falling flat, it was weird. Two, maybe three, people spoke to us for more than 30 seconds. One of them was way rad, turned out to be a bartender at Sizzle Pie, which is one of my favorite places on earth. It's where punk rock and pizza go to make babies, in heaven... and it's a place I refuse to leave Portland without getting a pizza from. OK, so one tight friend was made, but until we played everyone else was really standoff-ish toward us. Who knows? Maybe everyone just had a shitty week at work and was just waiting to go off? Whatever it was, as soon as we started playing it was like somebody flipped the switch, those kids went nuts and moshed through every second of our set. When we were done it looked like the walls were sweating. It was awesome; if that's the way they're going to react to our music, that's worth every awkward second of wondering what the hell is wrong with us, that actually becomes entertaining in its own way.
One of my personal favorites was a battle set we played with our boys NUMB, in Everett, which is this loveable but totally shitty city north of Seattle, with one really rad little bar (Tony's V). It's not abnormal for me to be on the floor most of our set in that place, but that night it was out of necessity. We had both bands' gear set up at the same time, two drumsets on this tiny stage; they play a song, we play a song, just BOOM! BOOM! Nonstop. I've got a pretty sweet buzz going and first song in I manage to break the very tip of my middle finger against a monitor. Didn't know for sure it was broken until after, but it's pretty fucking bloody, and I'm pretty sure I played the whole set in shock... But hardly anyone even noticed that it happened because the bands, the crowd, everyone was just going off! At one point, Mikey (their drummer) dives off the stage right onto me. A song or two later I jumped over the drumset onto him; the whole show was a madhouse. Definitely one of the craziest bar shows I've been a part of. Just an absolute ruckus.
One our favorites as a group is one of our early shows that we still talk about all the time: When we opened for Resistant Culture in the south end of Seattle, in the gnarliest DIY punk venue I'd ever seen at that point, "The Morgue." It's gone, it was on its way out by the time The Vatican started really playing shows, I hear most of it is a walk-in freezer for a Mexican restaurant now... But it was a really rad place that was a home to a lot of good local bands, a lot of whom I didn't really find out about until it was gone; I had heard about it the year before TV started because my buddies Early Graves had played there right when "Goner" came out. It was a special place and I wish we'd have been able to play there more than the one time, but that night the show gods were on our side! We didn't know anyone there except the guy who had asked us to play, and at the last minute we were given a really sweet spot on the bill and a bunch of kids who'd never seen us before started getting DOWN! Resistant Culture were some of the nicest people we'd met, and we made some good friends that night. That neighborhood (Georgetown) turned out to become a place where we always feel at home. Great people down there, some of our best friends and fans are down there all the time. That show is also where we met Jim, the dude behind the Sci-Fi grind band Exogorth (as well as Slugged and others), without whom "The Trump Card" probably wouldn't have happened the way it did. Most of those songs were originally intended to be on a split with those dudes, which is where a lot of that dystopian Sci-Fi vibe comes from. He also introduced us to H-Murder (Old school punk dude, played with Capitalist Casualties and bunch of others) who ended up recording the album for us. Both those dudes have a ton of great bands under their belts and are two of the hardest working motherfuckers out there; we really can't thank them enough for having our back.
We've put in work, but we've also been very lucky. A lot of really good people have been really great to us over the years.
#6 (Touring Plans)         Yeah, you can't count on the internet to do everything for you, you gotta actually put your music in front of people in real life. The internet and the shitty economy and a lot of other factors have changed the way people are able to make and put out music; I guess on the one hand there are not a lot of really great or easy resources available to bands out on the road, but on the other hand the resources that are available are available to everyone, the playing field is pretty well leveled... it might be sparse, but it's level. So you don't necessarily have to ditch your whole life and hop in a van and not come back for months to be taken seriously, but you'd be a fool to think anyone is going to give a shit if in 5 years all you've ever done is play your home town, including yourself. The people in far away places that like your band are not going to fly all the way in to see you, especially if you've never made an effort to see them.
So yeah, it's important to get on the road. We started slowly, but we've been pretty methodical about it. We go east a few days, come back for a while, go south a few days and come back. Instead of hitting the road with our dicks in the wind, stringing together 2 weeks or 2 months of sketchy tour dates in towns where nobody knows who we are, we hit up the bands we know from out of town and focus on lining up 2 or 3 really good solid shows with them, in or on the way to their town. Every time we come back home we take a look at how we can push it the next time, go further, stay out a little longer. When we go out on the road we know the bands we're playing with and the people putting on the show, and not usually because we've already played their city, but because they already played ours. I think that's something that's overlooked about touring, there's a back end to that, and it's stepping up to act like a host for the good bands that come through your home town.
The most well known one to lay this out is probably "American Hardcore" but there's a ton of other documentaries and interviews out there on the internet, including some veterans from our local scene who site "Book Your Own Life" (this DIY manual for touring in the late 90s, I think) explaining this: You gotta make allies with other bands that you like. When they're in your neck of the woods you should be helping them find a place to crash and something to eat, a place they can play that will actually pay them, introduce yourself, get their numbers. Because no clunky random Facebook message is ever going to compare to a human being that you've actually met in real life, that you can pick up the phone and make plans with when your band hits the road, not to mention it's just the right thing to do.
So last year we went down to San Jose; now we'll be playing in Los Angeles in the middle of May. We're heading out to Colorado Springs a couple weeks after that, then we are right back out for our obligatory Portland and Spokane corridor stops. Those places have been very good to us. We've been talking about trying to get to Canada before the end of the Summer, which would be awesome, especially since we'll be able to hit Bellingham on the way, one of the only spots in Washington we've neglected.
If anybody wants us to come out somewhere, hit us up, it all comes down to cost/benefit, if it's not going to keep us from paying the rent back home, we'll get to your city, sooner or later. It would be rad to get out to the UK some time! We always get a good amount of listens over there anytime we put something up on Bandcamp, not sure who they are, but thanks!
#7: (The Great Northern / AGOAO)         How do we feel about A God Or An Other? You mean our boyfriends? Haha, we've been Bromancing the Stone with them since well before we decided to record that split together. I saw them one night by accident, got two dates with similar flyers confused, best mistake I ever made. They blew me away. I introduced myself, next thing I know we were playing a show together and it's been love ever since; if our bands were any closer we'd need a formal ceremony... but that's kind of what "The Great Northern" was. That was a really special split. We made it for us, and it's been a blast watching the different reactions. It got us some newcomers but the weirdness was a little off-putting to some of our existing fanbase, and the best part is the occasional review from obvious black metal dudes who are like "What the fuck is up with the other side of this split?!" Haha.  It's always good to have fans, but I also really enjoy a little hate now and then.  Sometimes it's just more fun to bum people out.  I've been talking to those boys a lot lately, and I don't want to say too much too soon, but you probably haven't heard the last of "The Great Northern." ...Twin Peaks is getting a re-visit... We'll likely be picking that scab again sooner or later.
#8 (Feedback, Internationally)     Oh man, I started to answer this at the end of #6 I guess. But yeah, obviously there's some people listening to us in the UK... by the way thanks to checking us out, this is the first time we've received an interview request from over there, we really appreciate it!
I think we've got some listeners in South America? I know we've sent some merch to Germany and other parts of Europe, so not a huge overwhelming response, but we're always real stoked whenever people check us out. Seriously, anyone in any part of the world that is enjoying what we do and reading this right now, THANK YOU!
#9 (Label Interest)         Not really. We're more in the market of say a "Sugar Daddy." You know, somebody that will just throw money at the band no questions asked. Haha, are record labels even really looking at this kind of stuff? It doesn't seem like there would be much of a return investment on grind... there's not much of "crust market" if you will, being "weird" on top of it really isn't a selling point either. The few record labels that we feel that MAYBE we might actually feel at home with and could possibly establish something mutually beneficial with are DYING, they're struggling not to go belly up.
We've been a DIY band of normal dudes from the beginning, and that's something that our people appreciate about us and identify with. We're always interested in talking to people that run a distro or book really great shows, but we don't need a middle man taking a cut in order to do that. We can meet people, we can make calls and send emails. There are a lot of people with a lot of experience to share, and you'd be amazed what you can find out and what you can get done if you're willing to just be honest, and to do more listening than talking.
#10 (The Future, "musically")     Future music will hopefully be even better music, there are a lot of different styles and flavors of punk and hardcore that we've been influenced by even if we were only dabbling at best. As time has gone by we've been able to figure a lot of that stuff out and that stuff is seeping into the present writing process. So hopefully stuff gets weirder, maybe more of a powerviolence vibe, probably uglier, but maybe also a little more catchy? We don't know, we're just trying to keep the momentum, maintain the intensity captured on this record and push ourselves. We try not to put too many constraints or get attached to any particular expectations. We've been talking about a few more splits, we've talked about a full length, longer than TV 3, who knows? We'll see what happens.

#11: (Influences / What listening to)     The other two guys in the band definitely have their ear more firmly to the ground with heavy music, especially the really underground heavy stuff. They really shape the sound and are constantly schooling me on various kinds of heavy shit, from metal to grind, powerviolence, hardcore, whatever.
We all agree on some fundamental stuff like the Melvins, Botch, Neurosis, Old Man Gloom, Skarp, old noisy hardcore punk like Black Flag and stuff like that. We're fans not only of those bands, but those sometimes successful, but always very small DIY record labels that have supported those bands, Hydrahead probably being the most recognizable/relevant right now. That stuff is always a part of what I listen to, but the longer I've been immersed in making heavy music, and seeing it live all the time, the less I listen to it on my stereo when I'm chilling out, even more so when it comes to keeping up with new stuff... So what I'm listening to day to day, especially recently, has very little if any influence on our sound. More than anything else, I've been listening to "Fever Daydream" by The Black Queen, and "Nabuma Rubberband" by Little Dragon, and those are straight up pop records. I've been listening to Run The Jewels, and Saul Williams and other weird hip hop shit... But what I do know is Dispara put out a brutal split with Argentavis, Great Falls' last record "The Fever Shed" is badass! I just heard a couple tracks off of the Early Graves / Ringworm split that sound sick. Oh, and our local boys, THEORIES are playing that Modified Ghost festival! I am super jealous of anyone going to that show, it is packed to the gills, a who's who of heavy. Dillinger is on it, and I'm an unabashed fanboy. Dead Cross is on that shit too, Dave Lomabardo and dudes from Retox/Locust, a band they threw together in a couple of weeks, I've seen some of the video from their performances, they are just pissed and noisy, I love it!
Kris is listening to Pizza Hi Five, Deterioration, Exhumed, Gag, Noothgrush, Iron Lung, and probably a bunch more I forgot to write down. Lincoln is probably listening to some sweet 80's jams right now and discovering bands in the dark nether-regions of the internet so KVLT that none of us have ever heard of them, and maybe we never will, mostly because you have to pay for it with bitcoins. He also just texted me a picture of a vinyl copy of Dr Dre's "The Chronic" ...so shit's getting pretty serious right now.
#12 (Non-Musical interests)     Movies. We're all part of a generation raised in front of the VCR, but also kind of watched the internet come into existence. Me and Lincoln both still have a ton of VHS to this day. The three of us could talk all damn day about weird movies, and documentaries, and all the crazy conspiracy and "Faces of Death" shit that blew our minds when all that stuff was at our fingers for the first time. Other than that it's kind of hard to say, it doesn't often feel like we've got time for much else, and the stuff we like doing tends to weave itself back into the band. I like to draw, we all like going to shows, and parties, BBQs, adventures in the woods, and road trips... all stuff that we do together more often than not, so it's kind of hard to separate what we do for fun outside of the band. I guess just spending time with the people we love who aren't in the band, as cheesy as that might sound, but we never said we were tough guys.
#13 (Closing Thoughts)     No... Wait. Yes. I don't want to miss an opportunity to say something really dumb upon my exit, so I'm going to go all the way and close this interview with a quote! It might even be a Haiku, but I'm not a literary expert. The Reverend M.J. Keenan once said:
"Buy, buy, buy, my new record. Buy, buy, buy; send my money. Fuck you, buddy."
Amen.

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