The music of Viet Cong is a little like the sculptures of Tim Noble and Sue Webster: Assembled from used and discarded parts, refashioned into something strikingly original yet intentionally scuzzy, its loose wires and barbs exposed for all to see. Noble and Webster are dumpster divers in the literal sense, of course; Viet Cong only figuratively raids the leftovers genres of pop music’s last sixty years. The songs released by the Calgary four-piece have plucked from post-punk, the Beach Boys, British invasion rock, and the Nuggets of forgotten American garage bands, and if the “rough mix” of the stunning “Bunker Buster” is any indication, there’s no telling what else might be woven into its forthcoming full-length debut.
Women – the former project of Viet Cong bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace, and thus the one it will inevitably be compared to initially – did a similar thing, but with the exception of the occasional (jaw-dropping) pop song like “Eyesore” and “Black Rice” , its music could feel cold and distant. In contrast, the few songs that Viet Cong have shared boast a greater immediacy and less interest in obfuscating its hooks. Those songs get a wider distribution this week when Mexican Summer gives a proper release to Cassette, an EP originally sold as a tour-only cassette (natch) on the band’s tour late last year.
Flegel and Wallace – along with guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen – embark on another tour tonight, a brief string of dates up the East Coast. BYT checked in with Felgel over e-mail the weekend to ask about Viet Cong’s much anticipated LP, the band’s sound, and the influence of Chad VanGaalen, the fellow Calgary native who produced Women’s Public Strain and whose backing band includes Felgel and Munro.
What’s the origin of the band’s name?
Our drummer Mike [Wallace] came up with it.
Have you encountered any negative reactions – especially in the States – to calling yourselves Viet Cong?
We’ve got a bit of hate mail about it but nothing too crazy. We were kind of worried about having some vets working at the border, but it’s been all-fine in the States so far.
I’ve legitimately had four conversations in the past few weeks where people have been singing the band’s praises – a small sample size, obviously, but still. Have you noticed an increased enthusiasm about your music in recent months?
I dunno. There’ve been some more people at the shows on this tour than the last one, but we had no press or proper releases then, so that kind of makes sense.
What was last fall’s North American tour like? When your going across the country, without an album officially released, just getting your name out there, do you ever think, “What the fuck are we doing?”
Naw. It was pretty raw, but we’re all pretty pro at eating shit. I’ve done some good tours, and Matt and Mike have too, but it’s fun to just hobo-renegade and sleep outside on the side of the highway.
How would you describe your relationship with Chad VanGaalen? Have your experiences touring and recording with him had any effect on how you approach music, from a technical perspective or more generally?
I’ve been good friends with Chad for the past 6 years or so, and Matt’s been friends with him for a bit longer even. I think how it’s affected me is that no matter how bad a show goes now, there’s always been one that’s gone worse in front of more people.
Recording with him has been good, because he just kinda goes for it. When I was just starting to get serious about recording and production, he was good to see work because I realized you could just figure it out as you went along and not worry about it too much.
I spoke with Chad a few months ago, and he said that he had encouraged you to record by yourself. Why did Viet Cong end up working with [Holy Fuck’s] Graham Walsh? What sort of history – if any – did you have with him?
Graham is the partner of our good friend Julie, so that’s how we originally got hooked up with him a long time ago. We just wanted to do something a bit more hi-fi than what we’d done with the cassette, plus we wanted to go to a studio outside of Calgary to get some isolated focus. Anyway, he did a great job on the record!!!
How did you connect with Mexican Summer?
They just emailed us about doing a 7″ and it just snowballed into the reissue of the EP.
I read that a few of songs on Cassette were from the same sessions as the forthcoming full-length, but didn’t fit “the shape” of record. What’s “the shape” of the LP? A song like “Bunker Buster” – granted, in its rough mix form – feels slightly more expansive.
The songs on cassette were actually just all the songs that we didn’t want on the full length. It’s really kind of a b-sides thing more or less. Honestly, we just threw the cassette together the day before the last tour so we’d have some merch. I’m happy it’s getting a more proper release now, but it’s definitely a bit of a mixed bag.
Any concrete details you can share about the record? Is it signed, sealed, and delivered?
It’s mixed and mastered, and the art is all done, but I can’t really say more then that right now. We have a label to put it out worldwide, and Flemish Eye will be doing it in Canada, but beyond that, you’ll just have to keep an eye out.
When can we expect to hear it?
The release date is gonna be in the fall sometime.
How would you describe the personality of Calgary musically?
Hmmm, there’s a bunch of good bands in Calgary right now. Lab Coast, Modern Aquatics, Un blonde, Teledrome and Fist City being some of my faves.
Do you think you’d ever leave?
I don’t know about moving somewhere else. We’ve talked about it, but I still like Calgary. It’s where I’ve always lived, plus all our families are there and all. We’ll see.
People have thrown a lot of comparisons at Viet Cong. Are there comparisons you’ve seen that make you scratch your head? Are there bands you’re directly inspired by or draw references from?
Whatever people are getting from it is fine, so nothing’s really made me scratch my head. I’m personally just trying to ape This Heat’s “Deceit”.