Sunday, April 3, 2011
A Sunday Conversation with VYGR
Perhaps one of the true tests of the depth of a record is if it piques your interest beyond the album itself; e.g., makes you want to know more about the subject matter of the lyrics, or the musical style, or gets you interested in picking the brain of the creators of said music. Fortunately for me, the Ripple Effect and you, Ben from Creator-Destroyer records and PJ Mion from the band VYGR were open to fielding my is-he-slightly-autistic-or-just-a-geek questions.
Obviously I'm biased, but I think the questions reveal a greater than usual depth to both VYGR's new record Hypersleep, as well as its creators.
Give a read and see for yourself:
What inspires VYGR? What music (metal or otherwise)? Books? Other artists?
P.J. Mion: I can really only speak for myself as far as this goes. For me, musically, it's a fairly wide range, probably a lot more than you'll hear in the finished songs. I think that almost everything that I spend a lot of time listening to, new and old, influences my songwriting in subtle ways at least. Admittedly, I'd be real surprised if anyone listened to the new record and came to me with "I can really tell how much Echo & The Bunnymen and Portishead you listen to," but in my mind there are some little things in terms of mood and structure that carry over from the albums I listen to frequently. I guess some more solid inspirations would be a few 90s "space rock" type bands like Hum, Failure, Year of the Rabbit etc. as well as some contemporary bands that I really like such as Editors, Guiltmaker, Katatonia - For our newer material, there was a conscious effort to incorporate some of the catchy, delay-heavy leads and melodic but relatively simple rhythm guitar stuff that all of those bands make such great use of. Obviously, I think some the heavier bands I love influence my writing too, stuff like Old Man Gloom, The Minor Times, Helmet and Crowbar. Anyone who expected to see Isis listed in here is going to be disappointed, that comparison is getting pretty tired and personally I don't think it really applies anymore if you listen to the stuff on Hypersleep.
As far as books go, I read a fair amount and watch a hell of a lot of movies, but I don't think that really tends to inspire things with the band past maybe imagery that we might use. I know that Devin (vocals) is into a lot of pretty rad graphic novels, movies, and obscure sci-fi stuff and I'd imagine that it inspires some of the concepts in his lyrics and artwork to some degree for sure. All of the other guys bring in a lot of relatively diverse influences, and I think that's definitely a good thing when it comes to working on songs.
Why do you play the music that you do, and not, say, jazz or classical?
The short answer for this one is that I'm not the type of inherently talented musician that would be able to do anything worthwhile in the realm of jazz or classical music without putting in much more work than I think I'll ever find the time to do, unfortunately. Keith is a great drummer and is a lot better with improvisation and music theory, so he might be the one who's slumming it with the kind of stuff we play, but we all are into what we're doing with VYGR or else we wouldn't be doing it. As long as this is still a lot of fun, I want to stick with it. I've always preferred jamming and writing out my own ideas vs. practicing for technical proficiency, and I think that for all of us the whole punk rock ethic still holds up pretty well. Everyone in VYGR has played in bands that are fairly different from what we're doing now, and I think we all have ideas about experimenting with other types of stuff on our own, but I know that I'm not ready to give up playing on floors and screaming my head off just yet.
For that matter, why music instead of art or writing or sculpting or whatever...?
Devin actually does a lot with other artistic mediums, he does some great graphic design & illustration work and has recently been getting himself established as a tattoo artist. I used to be pretty good with drawing/painting but never kept up with it. What I like about playing "indie" music is that it allows for more or less unchecked creativity but also presents the opportunity to perform and produce something that people will (hopefully) want to come and see and get into without the degree of overt criticism and blind luck that seems to go into getting your work noticed as a painter, sculptor, etc. But I'm not real well versed in that type of thing. For me, playing a few shows on the weekends is less of a time requirement than spending hours on end perfecting a visual piece, and that's a big help when you've got a day job involved.
How do you think Boston has influenced your sound? Or has it?
Hard to say, never really thought about it too much. I suppose if anything the miserable winters we tend to get up here, especially when you're living in the city and the snow never even stays clean enough to look anything but ugly, could lend a little bit of the gloomy/melancholy sound that a lot of our stuff has. I don't know how much of our material has been written in the winter vs. the summer months, but I'm always loving life up here when it's warm, there's a lot to do. I guess it's possible that what we write could have some mild seasonal affective disorder, haha.... Devin and I are both originally from NY though, so you won't hear us dropping any R's in the vocals. There is definitely still a strong punk/hardcore scene up around here, and a lot of those bands put on great shows, but we don't necessarily fit in with it all that well and I don't think that we've really got any noticeable elements of whatever would be considered the "Boston sound" these days.
What's your favorite part of Hypersleep?
Tough question. Half of the record was written in little spurts over a really long period of time with an older lineup, and the other half was finished up in a much shorter time frame so that we could get into the studio with a full record - but a lot of effort was made to ensure that everything was cohesive and that the record would flow well - so hopefully that's the case when people listen to it through. I don't want to be lame and just say that I like it all as a whole... Recently we've been opening our set with exactly how the first four tracks run into each other on the album, which I think works really well, so if I have to pick something that stands out to me it's the way that it starts off. Also I've gotta give our friend Zeuss a plug for how perfectly he fit the production to what we were looking for... to me it sounds huge without ever being overproduced or losing elements of how we sound as a live band, which in my mind is no easy task. The man knows his shit.
Favorite song to play live? Why?
This is another answer that would probably be different for everyone in the band. Especially now, with the split we put out last year (w/Monolith) and Hypersleep being released in addition to our 2008 record that we released while we were still called Voyager, there's just way more material than we can fit into a live set. Some people definitely still want to hear older songs at shows and I personally still enjoy playing them, but we want to work in a lot of the material from Hypersleep too, so it's led to a little bit of butting heads over set lists lately. But most of us enjoy headbutting each other when we're drunk anyways, so it's ok. For me, the best live songs are "Shapeshifters" from the new record and "Surfacing" from our first EP.
Ever do covers live?
Somehow, this has still managed to never happen for us at a show, but I'm sure it's something that we'll do eventually. We had a pretty solid cover of Crowbar's "The Lasting Dose," but never ended up playing it live and now that those guys are active again it seems weird to do it. One of the songs we did for our split w/Monolith is a cover of "Cold" by the Cure, but we've never talked about doing it live. I've got a few songs in mind that I'd like to cover at some point, maybe someday....
With whom would you most like to play?
Are we talking sky's the limit here? For me it's pretty easy, It'd be Faith No More or mid/late-90s-era In Flames. Could go even further out on a limb and say Sabbath or Pink Floyd. Back in the realm of reality, getting an opening spot for bands like Goatsnake or Cult of Luna would be pretty incredible for us. We're also really looking forward to doing some West Coast dates this summer with our labelmates in At Our Heels [Facebook here], real cool band, fast blackened hardcore stuff. I suggest checking them out for people who are unfamiliar.
What amp/ guitar/ effects setup lets you be "as loud as humanly possible?"
Our individual guitar/bass rigs have been known to get switched up or tweaked fairly often. I'm a Gibson guy mainly, I like SGs, even though recently I've been using an older Guild that I picked up, essentially just an SG copy but with a little bit brighter sound. Currently, I'm running a VHT Deliverance 120 through Orange and Mesa cabs, but I'm looking to replace the Mesa cab soon. Harry (guitar) and Brian (bass) have both recently changed amps, it's been a while since we've played and to be honest I'm hard pressed to keep track of what everyone is using most of the time. We all have our own little personal effects setups, but if you listen to the records you can probably pick out that we use delays and octave pedals a fair amount of the time. Mostly being "as loud as humanly possible" comes down to balls more than gear... we have enormous balls. We tend to always play with full stacks for both guitars, and two bass cabs, even in real small venues, which has been seen by some as overkill. That's alright though, they make fancy earplugs for people like that. Pussies, that is.
I remember reading about Helmet's setup way back before they were signed and how they blew up the PA at CBGB's; you're in good company.
Why B tuning? Isn't that hard to keep in tune? What kind of strings do you prefer?
We're tuned in drop-B for all of our stuff with the exception of some of the songs on the split LP. It isn't really an issue with the guitars holding tune as long as the instruments have been setup properly. The guitars that I use for VYGR I wouldn't go tuning back up higher to play for something else, they're pretty much set specifically to stay in the tuning that we use for this band. I use heavy gauge strings, .12-.54 or similar. I'm not necessarily brand-loyal.
What kind of electronics does Devin Toye use? How's that work live?
Up until this past year we had a complex rig that included a double keyboard stand, a big midi sequencer hooked up to a macbook, everything routed through a mixer into a DI box, etc. It became too much trouble for venues that didn't have good sound setups (or VFW halls with little PAs) and it was keeping Devin sort of trapped behind a bunch of gear, so nowadays it's just a Microkorg and a sampler, which still allows us to pretty much take care of everything that we would need to play the songs we play live from all of the records. It also gives Devin the chance to be a free-mic vocalist for a lot of the parts that aren't synth-heavy, so that he can get out and yell in people's faces, which gives a little better stage presence in my opinion. People like to get accidentally spit/sweated on, right?
I can only speak for myself, but yes. What's the symbol on the cover of Hypersleep, why does it look like a 12-sided die, and did I just out myself as a former D&D player?
It's a mysterious anomaly, an "eye of the storm" at the center of the nebula that makes up the rest of the album layout. Honestly I have no idea really, we had the idea of using a geometric or 3-dimensional-looking graphic as the centerpiece of the cover, and that thing is what Devin (who also handles our artwork) came up with to fit the overall sci-fi theme of the record. Looks pretty interesting though, right? Even without all of the little spikes coming out from the center, I think if you were to map it out fully there would be more than 12 sides for sure, probably closer to a 20-sided die. Luckily for you, it's metal, so I don't think too many people will be upset with any D&D references.
[Curses self] I should've known it was 20-sided...! Stupid stupid stupid...! [rubs "Who died and made you Dungeon Master?" t shirt sadly]
Best sci-fi author? Movie? Best comic?
Again, this is all just me, everyone in the band has their own stuff that they like... I think that Devin and myself are probably the ones most heavily into the sci-fi and graphic novel stuff though. For me, the best author in terms of ideas/imagination is Philip K. Dick, hands down. The guy wrote literally hundreds of short stories, about 80% of which had ridiculously progressive concepts that arguably did a lot to shape the genre as it is today. A lot of movies have been based on his work, not all of them that great (no fault of his...), but a few of the ones that did end up staying fairly true to the source material are also some of my favorites: Blade Runner, Minority Report, Screamers, A Scanner Darkly. Devin and I are both big fans of Cronenberg's movies... most of the visual effects that were used in the 80s/early 90s blow the CGI that's so heavily relied on today out of the water. John Carpenter's The Thing is a classic too.
Trying to keep up with the graphic novels/comics that come out is impossible for me, but I still read some when I can find the time - Mike Mignola's stuff is usually pretty good (Hellboy being his best known), and most recently I've been into Jason Aaron's series Scalped... not exactly under the radar, but it's popular for a reason.
Do you think your work influences your music? If so, how?
I don't know, haven't ever thought about it. On some level, I guess, sure. There's nothing real creative about what I do as a geologist, but rocks are heavy and so is most of what I write, so there's a connection for you.
What questions, during interviews, do you most dislike?
Yours have all been good, which is why you've got real answers here vs. rambling about outer space and drinking too much. The only questions I've seen that I hate answering are the "what are your favorite bands right now?" "What are the top ten things you think people should be listening to?" etc. No one's going to give a shit what we listen to, and they probably shouldn't. It's not like I'm Jack White or someone people obsess over, and even in those cases I think almost anyone would be better off figuring out what they want to be listening to on their own. No lack of ways to find new music to check out these days.
What questions have you never been asked that you'd like to hear?
No one so far has ever inquired about where they should paypal their donations to my Friday Night Bar Tab Fund [Editor's note: you can do that here]. It probably isn't a legit tax write off, but with so many semi-shady causes accepting money via text and all that nowadays, at least with mine you know where your dollars are going.
Also wanted to take a minute to thank Ben & Creator-Destructor for helping us out so much with getting this record finished up and released, definitely check out the label's site - www.creator-destructor.com. People can listen to a few songs from Hypersleep at www.VYGR.bandcamp.com, and for artwork/screenprinting related things give www.portalporfavor.com a look too. Lastly, thanks a lot for the interview and for giving our new record a shot.
It was distinctly my pleasure. Thanks for entertaining my attempts at nearly-journalistic questions.
Thanks again to Ben Murray and PJ and VYGR for their time and hospitality. Now stop reading this, hit the links up there and get you some VYGR. Hypersleep is out now.