I want to thank you guys for talking with me for a little bit. This is a conversation I’ve been interested in having for a good while now so, again, I appreciate it.
Oh man, no problem.
Vandallus released ‘On the High Side’ earlier this year, in the spring. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year, easy. How are you guys doing with the album up to this point?
SHAUN: Oh wow! Thanks, that’s awesome! Man, we’re just living music, day to day. Splitting time with all of the projects or bands we’ve got going keeps us busy. But we’re actually getting ready to go back into the studio.
Really? What are you guys gonna do?
SHAUN: We’ve got a few songs for a new release we’re ready to record. But there are a few tracks left over from the last album. Altogether we probably got about 15 new songs ready to go.
Is there a plan in place at this point?
JASON: We’ll probably finish up with what writing is left to do and then work on some pre-production. Once we’re able to track some demos, things like that, we’ll see what sounds good together and start putting the tracks together for the next album.
That’s pretty fucking quick, man! We’re less than a year since the last release and you’re already talking to follow up.
SHAUN: Oh man, the first record went by so fast! Honestly, we were done before we knew it. It was kind of crazy!
Is there some kind of frantic deadline time you have to reach or something?
JASON: Nothing like that, we just knocked it out really quick.
That’s cool to hear, I mean the first album came from out of nowhere, it seems.
SHAUN: It did! It was like one day there’s nothing, then the next day the album’s done and ready to go.
So it happened rather swiftly, huh?
JASON: I’ve always had a huge passion for music became out of the 1980s. So when we were ready to do the album, we were concentrating on trying to do it in a way that it would’ve been done back then, we wanted to try to make it feel as authentic and true as it could.
I have a really cool resource who sent me the high roller records material. I knew that anything coming from them would be worth listening to, which is where the Vandallus album came from. So naturally I checked it out and was summarily blown away. But again, it seemed to come from nowhere!
JASON: That’s not an exaggeration man, it’s like one week it didn’t exist in the next will ready to record it and release it.
Silly as it may sound, the first track comes on, and my minds eye I saw a grainy mid-80s film of a badass red Camaro peeling out with dust flying behind it as it’s taking off about 70 mph down the dirt road.
SHAUN: Yes! Exactly! That’s the feeling that we wanted to have, that we wanted the music to have. It’s just about a good time. And we had a fucking blast making the album.The songs that appear on ‘On the High Side’ are done in a way that I could see dozens of bands trying to emulate, in terms of musical style, but not everyone can capture that essential feeling. I guess if the music has a spirit or a soul, that’s the difficult thing about taking the music in the direction that you guys did. How do you think that you managed to convey that spirit so truthfully and fully?
JASON: You know, I think a lot of that is in the production of the music. I mean, the music absolutely has to have that heart and that feeling, but there are things that can be done in the process of laying it down in the recording that can fuck it from the beginning. Like the drums for instance, the sound of the drums has to be set up in a way where it sounds big and full of substance. The modern way of recording drums can really have a negative impact on music that is meant to sound like it came from another time. It might sound a little weird but there’s a clicking type sound that a lot of people get today with technology that wasn’t there before. It’s little things like that you have to watch out for because it’s the details that can really make or break something that has real potential to be great.
SHAUN: When we recorded it, we knew what we didn’t want to do. If we are going to make an album that sounded like it had come from a time before all of that shit was available. We decided that we would have to do it as closely as possible to the way it would’ve been done back then. It sounds like people are trying to leave it all out, in the recordings today. They want to capture your style in a way that kind of lays it all out on the table. And I’m like, “Fuck putting it all out there on the recording! I want to live show to be better than the fucking album!” Why would I want to give it all away in one place and not leave any room for surprises on stage? That’s how I look at it.
The fact that you guys elected to forgo a lot of modern techniques—use of software, other bells and whistles a lot of people use to make the process easier—really serves the album well. It’s got a good ‘what you see is what you get’ quality of presentation that makes the album that much better for having it.
SHAUN: Good! That’s what we hoped for. I mean you make the record for yourself, first and foremost, but you definitely want people to be able to get into it, so it’s pretty cool that you were able to see that in the album, man. We really wanted to capture it right there and right and then.
The way that the intro, “Rat,” goes into the opening track sets the album off impeccably. I’m guessing that an energetic effect by coordinating the opener in that way was your plan…
JASON: The way the songs run together is result of the songs that we had that we thought would work well together. Like we said, there were a few more tracks we could’ve picked from but, the way the songs flew together and made the album move was always at the front of my thoughts. The way the album comes out and hits you and just keeps on going pummeling forward felt like a live experience, and that’s what we wanted to get. That’s what we wanted the songs to play like; a live experience.
SHAUN: Really, I just wanted to open with an explosion and then let the album keep pounding and pounding all the way to the end with another big bang!
I’m glad that you mentioned the consideration of the live element because after I listen to the album I immediately went to find footage of the band live. I was really fucking impressed and happy to see that it had a faithful sound to what you’d done on the recording. And yes, it was a surprise that the dynamics had expanded, I think. What’s the audience feedback been like for you guys with fans hearing the songs live?
SHAUN: It’s cool that you brought that up because when we played this first few shows the songs were definitely full of the right energy and the audiences were really getting into it. But we’ve since added a second guitar player, that’s made a huge fucking difference. Now the energy is insane and the dynamics are monstrous.
JASON: Adding the element to the live performance was definitely a good way for us to go.
SHAUN: Yeah, those first couple of shows, looking back, now could’ve really benefited from that addition. But now we know what we need to do and the energy is pretty fucking incredible, so I’m looking forward to doing this now with that new addition.
Shaun: I want to live show to be miles ahead of the fucking record, man.
Have the songs that were left off of the first album been played live to an audience since you guys have been supporting ‘On the High Side’?
Jason: Those are just being kept as demos for right now, we haven’t really done anything with them as far as including them in the live set. We really want to keep them around because they could be useful in the future. Maybe on a new album or something like a 7”. There’s nothing being planned at this moment but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing coming, because we’ve got a lot of ideas.
It seems like the 1980s, in terms of sounds and styles that were coming out of the rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal the day, has been a popular thing for a lot of younger bands currently. ‘On the High Side’ does not sound like a throwback. As we discussed, it’s got absolute authenticity. How did you manage to transcend the artifice of the so-called throwbacks sound and manage to capture the real in a live recording setup?
Jason: Recording is something that I’ve been into for a long time. I guess you could say I find it fascinating, because it does fascinate me. As a result I’ve done so much reading, watching, learning about how to go about it. Going in to make this album, we knew exactly what we wanted. We knew how we wanted it to sound and what we wanted it to sound like. So I had an understanding early on of exactly what I needed to do to get the results that we wanted. And I think it makes all the difference in the world to know how to get that sound, rather than how to get it to sound like a particular sound, if that makes any sense.
It does, absolutely. It’s the difference of knowing how to get the sound, rather than knowing how to get a sound that sounds like the sound.
Since we’ve been talking a little bit about surplus music and songs, even though ‘On the High Side’ came out just recently, I am assuming that you’ve already got it fixed idea and trajectory for the follow-up that’s pretty solid. Right?
Shaun: Yes we do.
Jason: Absolutely. Honestly man, if you put it all together, there’s probably enough for two whole albums.
Shaun: Now, that doesn’t mean they’re all good ideas, but there’s a lot of music we have to work with.
Jason: Yeah, we got quite a few songs and I’m really interested to see how people are gonna react to them. But first, we’re going to try to finish the studio they were building.
A studio that you’re building?
Sean: We want to be able to have our own place and set up the way we want it to be.
Jason: We definitely want to make sure that we have all the right stuff in there, everything that we need to be able to do it all completely ourselves. This last album was mastered by Ernie Acosta, who did some of the U2 albums, some Helloween albums, a lot of really cool stuff that came from the ‘80s. I just really want to be able to do all of that in the studio that we’re building. We’ll have a lot of really good analog output gear. We’re just really looking forward to try to completely deck out this new album, man.
Jason: We’re really trying to deck out this new album, pull out all the stops.
And you guys are going to be hands-on for the entire process?
Shaun: We want to keep the feeling of ‘On the High Side’ alive and well, and strong as ever.
JASON: Obviously, it would be different songs. Hopefully we’ll be playing better, but everyone wants to improve in some way at some point, honestly. But yeah, there are a lot of good ones so far.