Beefcake jagged stoner metal hunks of diabolical guitar fury are on their way back, thank heavens, and Vincent Black Shadow are poised to be one of the forerunners of the horde. When I saw them last month opening for Sons of Guns all I knew was that the lead singer was a quiet guy I used to work with in Baltimore who liked freejazz and DJing. I wasn’t expecting him to crouch on the monitor like a longhaired greasy gargoyle and howl “Do Whatever I Want…Do What the Fuck I Want!” The music was both a perfectly familiar homage to mid-70s acid punk mixed with early 90s Am-Rep rock, and uniquely on its own darkly anti-humanist dance floor. But the key is Adam’s throaty horrific growl/scream, reminiscent of the Dwarves or some grindcore singer but with just enough tattered melody to make your head nod or arms flail along. Their recorded stuff is just as gritty and powerful, capturing gushy kudos from Julian Cope’s hard rock website Head when the first album came out. Now a couple years and a thousand gaping jaws (or pissed off/on prudes) later, they’ve released a new album [More Deeper] and set out on a course to smash their way through into America’s bloodstream. For a band that sounds like the embodiment of unadorned gutter nihilism, things sure are looking up!
Dan [guitar] spoke to us about Adam’s metamorphosis, Baltimore’s dwindling rock scene and the real story of what happened at South By Southwest.
BYT: I’m going to try to get this written up tonight so that we can run it before your Velvet Lounge show on Wednesday and the Baltimore show on Friday…
Dan: Thursday actually– we’re playing Philly on Friday. We’re doing all three days with our friends Nudity from Olympia.
BYT: Oh yeah, the guys who used to be in Tight Bros From Way Back. Nifty. So how did VBS get started? Did you all know each-other?
Dan: All of knew each-other for a long time. A couple of us met while we were in school. I met Dave in 2000, or something, the lead guitarist. I’ve been playing in bands with Rufus our drummer for like, seven years. So part of it shifted over from stuff we had been working on. And we had no bass player but we picked up Dirk, I guess it’s been two years now. He helped us complete this tour at the last minute, and he’s this crazy dynamic musician. So he joined up after playing a few shows with us.
BYT: You’re all pretty dynamic musicians…when I saw you guys last month none of looked like you were holding back.
Dan: With a lot of bands there’s an invisible line drawn between the stage and the audience and no-one really crosses it either way. So we’re lucky we have Adam to spit on people and sweat on them and stuff.
BYT: I knew Adam back in 2002-2003, and he was always a pretty quiet, I wouldn’t say shy, but, not completely insane guy like he is onstage.
Dan: Yeah, Adam and Dave weren’t really in proper bands before we got together. I hadn’t even heard Dave play guitar until he started writing stuff for Vincent Black Shadow, and I didn’t know he could shred, but he totally does. And Adam is the same thing. He joined because I was living with him. We were transitioning over from the other band we were in—we got rid of the singer—and he wanted to do it. It’s always best to start closest to home. I couldn’t imagine him not being in a band now.
BYT: Was there a period where he was awkward about it in the early days?
Dan: When you’re first learning how to sing you have to find your own voice, or even more, you have to learn stamina. So he blew his voice out a good couple of times. And on the first record, all the vocals there he was like three sheets to the wind at the end of a hard day. It came out the way it did there, and nowadays he’s able to space it out a little more and write the lyrics with our drummer…
BYT: You all have such a unified sound, it seems so organic but it’s pretty unique. How do you guys write music?
Dan: Basically usually someone brings something to practice. We’ve found that someone writing a song before they come to practice doesn’t always work. So most of it’s collaboration. Adam and Rufus do most of the lyrics and pretty much everyone else works stuff out on their own. It’s mostly getting the bassline down and then layering the guitars on top of it.
BYT: That’s interesting since I keep hearing you guys recorded everything “live to tape,” on the new record.
Dan: Pretty much that’s how we did the first one too. I couldn’t really imagine recording by tracking or whatever, because all of us feed off of each other’s energy. We always want the record to reflect the live show rather than try to recreate this perfect sound in the live show. I think with tracking you lose a lot of intensity, plus we’re also not real crisp about our sound or our parts. [laughs]
BYT: I was thinking that unlike a lot of punk bands you guys do some wicked pedal hopping, so that might be hard to recreate live when you’re recording…
Dan: That’s why we did tape this time. We kind of like the imperfections doing it that way. With some of the pedals and stuff, instead of using them to nuance a guitar part it’s more like writing the part for the pedal.
BYT: When I saw you at the Velvet Lounge they had just gotten a new sound dude and it sounded great, even though it was ridiculously, ass-meltingly loud. Do you guys sometimes get in trouble in smaller clubs getting that loud?
Dan: Oh yeah, all the time. Yeah we run into trouble with sound guys all the time. Here in town, in Baltimore, most of the sound guys are our friends so we don’t think too much about how we might appear, as opposed to some random dude on the road. We get asked to turn down all the time. It almost, well it did come to a head at South By Southwest when we went in 2007 because the sound guy was a total prima donna who called the stage “his stage.” Our friends were throwing empty beer cans at us and he was coming up on stage and grabbing them and throwing them back at our friends. We didn’t even have him mic our stuff and he was telling us to turn down. Eventually, towards the end of our set Adam knocked the top off this microphone, a cheapo microphone. The guy was like, “You owe me $200 for that.” Which wasn’t the case even if had been two of those brand new. So we were like Fuck You Buddy, and he called the cops on Adam, tried to get our check canceled and all this bullshit…so we had to hightail it out of Austin. So that was the worst extreme. We’ve gotten every possibility in between. But we’ve had a couple great guys…the guys in San Francisco at the Hemlock Tavern…the crew there were all eexperts. They realize it’s their job to help the band, not like you’re an inconvenience to them.
BYT: Those are the shows with the worst sound too, when the club’s guy thinks he has all the answers.
Dan: When we played in DC before at that place DC9, and two different sound guys there tried to tell our drummer how to correctly set up his drums. Trying to drop some knowledge on us, which definitely wasn’t happening.
BYT: So this year, no SXSW huh?
Dan: We went the week before, just because we weren’t sure we could get a showcase show. Playing parties is awesome but the showcases are the bread-and-butter…I don’t even know. We skipped it.
BYT: So you’re not officially banned.
Dan: We might be. I’m not really sure. I’m hoping that maybe that other band The Vincent Black Shadow might have had some trouble later on because of what we did.
BYT: Ha, do you want to talk about those guys?
Dan: I mean, not at length. They’re doing their thing, and going about it in a completely different way from us.
BYT: You don’t have to say that they’re terrible. I think they are, but you don’t have to talk shit…
Dan: I’ve never even really sat down and listened to them, but people have told me some things. They’re just a band trying to make it big and they have people willing to throw money at them. And they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. As long as they don’t bother us we’re cool with them. Obviously there’s some confusion that happens, and it’s a little annoying.
BYT: They have a hot chick, and you have Adam. Pretty much the same formula…
Dan: Heh, yeah if you listen to our bands side by side I feel like audience isn’t going to coincide at all.
BYT: You said you feel comfortable playing in Baltimore with the sound, what about the audiences? Is Balamont (as your myspace page calls it) receptive to the kind of thing you guys do?
Dan: It’s great playing here and it gets better all the time but…right now it isn’t as much of a rock city as it was like 8 or 9 years ago. There’s a lot of different stuff going on here, a lot of stuff getting attention but at the same time the audience for our nasty shit is smaller than it would have been maybe a little while ago. But we love Baltimore. This is a great city to be in a band because the cost of living is so low and there are a lot of degenerates around. It’s cheap to drink.
BYT: Speaking of degeneracy, you guys get comparisons to acid rock and the biker bands of the 70s…is it necessary to take a great deal of drugs to enjoy your music?
Dan: I don’t think so at all. It’s funny because we see reviews of our band and people all assume that there’s a ridiculous amount of drug use, or they assume that we’re methamphetamine addicts. It’s cool, it’s just a preconception, and we don’t discourage it at all. I don’t think it’s necessary since we try to make the live shows as visceral as we can.
BYT: It can get pretty hallucinatory.
Dan: The idea is that the music is kind of like a bad trip of a rock band but…God, I would never suggest anyone come see us tripping on acid.
BYT: Maybe I’ll give it a shot on Wednesday. I could use a nice tumble into the abyss. Thanks for your time!
Dan: No problem.
Make sure to show up early when they play tonight at the Velvet Lounge. Your Doors of Perception will thank you (or despise you, but that’s your problem.)