Monday, March 19, 2012

Hybrid Or Emergent Form? Vaura posit this musical question

Vaura is a new Brooklyn, New York City-based band that is comprised of members of Dysrythmia, Gorguts, Kayo Dot, Secret Chiefs 3 and Religions To Damn. It features Josh Strawn (guitar/vocals), Kevin Hufnagel (guitar), Charlie Schmid (drums) and Toby Driver (bass). Given the band's avant garde musical pedigree, one might have some sort of idea on how they might sound, but get prepared to have your expectations upended, because on their Wierd Records debut, "Selenelion", they put forward a sound that merges post-punk with shots of metallic heaviness, and a little pop thrown in for good measure. It's infectious and well worth hearing. With the band coming to Lilly's Pad in New Haven on April 1, for a show with post-black metal acolytes Alcest and Connecticut instrumental metal masters De Omega, we sent some e-mail questions to Strawn and here are his answers. We suggest if you like what you read and hear, then check them out, you'll be glad you did.

What was the reason to start the band? Was there any specific goal in mind or was it more get together with friends and jam and see what happens?
I had written some demos that didn’t really fit comfortably into any band I was in at the time. I met Kevin and we discovered that we shared this very specific overlap of interests and he ended up liking my demos. Kevin was friends with Toby and at the time Kayo Dot was about to release the ‘Coyote’ record, which was a pretty dark record where he uses a lot of chorus and reverb and open strings on the bass. It has these slight elements of The Cure or Japan, but it's also completely his own. So we were kind of just all in the right place at the right time, not only geographically, but aesthetically as well. And the overlap also goes relatively deep in a way, to our childhood because before we got into more underground weird stuff, we were all into stuff like Ozzy and Dokken, the heavy hitters of mainstream metal that always kept things pretty moody. I doubt any of them would disagree with me if I said that maybe we've all been carrying around this love for that dark, synthy pop metal for years and somehow Vaura is a way of tapping back into that, but not without incorporating all of the evolutions we've all gone though as artists since then.
Personally I feel a definite affinity with artists like David Bowie in the way they sort of unabashedly get taken with new sounds and styles and just go for it. That’s often derided as inauthentic, but I’d argue that a huge chunk of great music gets made that way. British guys wanting to sound like American bluesmen or David Sylvian taking up with Ryuichi Sakamoto. So I’m the sort of person that one day discovers Blut Aus Nord and goes apeshit and I don’t care how that fits into anyone’s idea of my authenticity, to me it's just a passion for music. In a nutshell, that’s what happened: I was just really captivated by the way, for instance, a band like Portal was using metal instrumentation and technical proficiency to achieve what was to my ears something almost like noise or industrial. But as one who had listened to so much noise and industrial for so many years, that was a really cool new mutation and approach. I started hearing Scott Walker in Attila Csihar’s vocals and things like that. And suddenly the idea of taking the kinds of dark melodic music I’ve always liked and injecting it with much more heavy sounds became exciting. Somebody recently posted online that they had a playlist on and a Vaura song came on after ‘Shutout’ by The Walker Brothers (one of my favorite songs ever) and that the transition was seamless. I thought to myself, “Yes, that’s exactly where I want to be.”

What is songwriting process like? Does everyone contribute? Or more some than others? Do you think having such quality songwriters in the band helped or hurt the process?
Yes, everyone contributes, though not in the same ways or the same amount to each song. I think that keeps things interesting. It’s not like every song starts with a riff I write or with a riff Kevin or Toby writes. We play off of each other’s ideas and layer and build stuff in almost a new way each time. So for instance, on the record I wrote and played most of ‘Relics,’ whereas ‘Drachma’ I barely did anything but write a couple of super spare guitar bits and the vocal lines. There’s very little ego-clashing, everyone wants what’s best for the song I feel. It also allows us to all be as busy as we are with other projects—if all four people always had to be present and involved equally, we’d probably never get anything done! In some bands people get really proprietary about that and it fuels tension but with us it’s the opposite. And I think the mixture of songwriters has only ever helped the process. I love super bizarre and avant-garde music but I don’t naturally write it, I write pretty straightforward stuff. Whereas you listen to a Kayo Dot or a Dysrhythmia record and it’s not what most would call straightforward. I think we’ve found a way to blend our strengths in a way that works. But at the same time in some way we’re also all stepping outside our familiar zones which I think keeps us all pretty excited about what we’re doing.

Are you guys happy with how the record turned out? Is there anything you would change or is it fine the way it is?
I can only speak for myself, but there’s absolutely nothing I would change about it. That’s a rare thing to be able to say but I was actually discussing it with Toby the other night and we agreed often that feeling of wanting to change your work and feeling unhappy with it is a lot like the feeling of looking at yourself in the mirror for too long. You may like yourself fine, but too much is too much. It’s great when you write a piece of music, but then your band mates add things and take it to other levels you wouldn’t have thought of. You get to enjoy the fact that you were key to the creation of the song, but you are also getting to listen to other peoples’ spin on it.

Are you planning a follow up? If so, how far along are you in that process?
Yes, definitely. A large part of the song selection for ‘Selenelion’ had to do with the way the songs seemed to break down into two basic categories, one of which felt very cinematic and conceptual and the others that were almost like nocturnal pop songs with a lot of blast beats. Since I already had this concept and the artwork in place before the band came together, we opted to go with that first. So we basically recorded half of the second record in the course of recording this one. At least one of those songs is on Youtube as a live version and we’ve been asked several times where that song went. We’re finishing up writing the last few songs right now and we’re aiming to get into the studio and finish up this Fall.

The album mixes several different genres in a seamless way, was that the goal, to play a hybrid of varying styles of music? Or is this just how it came out?
We’ve all been playing music for a long time so our tastes and areas of expertise are pretty broad. Charlie is a classically trained percussionist who is as familiar with Slayer records as with Steve Reich as well as the most obscure instruments and rhythms. Toby, Kevin, and Charlie are genuine composers and have pretty deep knowledge across different genres, everything from jazz to classical to metal, you name it. And I'd venture to say that I'm much more of a fan of straight up pop music than they are, or at least probably the one who clocks the most hours with things like Rihanna or Prince. And even though I can hold my own as a player, those three guys run circles around me when it comes to the mastery of their instruments. So it just ends up happening however it happens, I don’t know if any of us ever really thinks, “OK, I’m now going to play this style of music and add this other style to it.” It’s just intuitive.
I’d even go so far as to ask whether once something’s been blended seamlessly, whether it’s still a hybrid, or whether it’s an emergent form. If we have any goals or any conscious processes I think it would more so be in how we judge what we do, what riffs we keep, which ones we change, what production choices we make, etc. And those are questions we approach trying our best to make sure we don’t do anything that feels put together in a way that just feels like something familiar plus something familiar.

Outside of the upcoming shows you scheduled are there any other plans to do more touring, or is that a little difficult given the band member's schedules?
Yeah, we’re looking at planning at least one more string of dates some time this summer. I doubt you’ll see a 30 date Vaura tour until at least album number two, though.

Manic Productions Presents:
De Omega

Sunday April 1
Lilly's Pad (Toad's Place)
300 York Street
New Haven, CT 06511
$12 - All Ages (21+ To Drink) - 7:00pm

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