Vultures?, The Deuce
Years ago, Vultures! was a project that featured members of Bombast (and formerly Somatose) and This Is Me As A Woman. This four piece – comprised of bassist/vocalist Anderson Lunau (Bombast, Somatose, The Golden Hands Before God), drummer Scott Warren (Lone Locust, This Is War, Bombast, Somatose), guitarist Andy Langmuir (Lone Locust, Bombast) and Moog player/vocalist Kimberly Ann Kukoraitis (This Is Me As A Woman) – created a sound that was bold, fresh and straight up different than a lot of the heavy rock/indie bands at the time. They released a 4-song EP, The Very Best Of... in 2009 (that I previously reviewed on an older website here). They played a handful of shows and began to create a loyal local following. And then things took a turn for the worst. Lunau’s departure from the city temporarily ended the project, but upon his return a year later, the relationship between couple Warren and Kukoraitis had soured and she subsequently left the project. The remaining three regrouped and added former Somatose band mate Jeff Riley on guitar and began working together again.
They changed their name (slightly) to Vultures? and began doing shows here and there. Another small hiatus (Langmuir and his wife welcomed a baby) and they’ve returned with a brand new EP entitled The Deuce. The EP is free to download from their label/studio Rockerie Records‘ website.
“Knuckle Down” just may be my new favourite Windsor song of 2011. Lunau’s voice has never sounded stronger and his well-known love for vocal melody really shines through and makes this one of the catchiest songs in ages, in a vein similar to bands like Interpol or Editors – almost ’80s new wave hooky – or like if Midlake were more electrically heavier, or Tears For Fears tried to write a song for Queens of the Stone Age. The dynamics of this pop gem are all brilliantly executed and the production from Scott Warren at Rockerie Records creates a perfect blend. Each musician is given room to breathe and shine on this one. The end bridge part of the song is an emotional crusher. Simply awesome.
The second track, “Serendipitous Happenstance”, isn’t nearly as pop perfect as “Knuckle Down”, but it’s equally…well…bombastic. It’s a slower romp that carries it’s own swagger, again with a Tears for Fears feel in some of the vocal melodies on the chorus, but still unique that an exact comparison is impossible and would be counter-productive anyway. The layers on this song are mammoth – with superb backing vocals that add as much in their shadowed presence as the thundering drum work of Warren, the humbled vocals and minimalist bass lines of Lunau, and the guitar work of Langmuir and Riley. In fact, there are very few guitar tandems in town that have perfected the Art of Weaving as well as Riley and Langmuir – that ability that Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones possess to play in-between each other rather than with each other, creating a sonic tapestry of guitar work, trading rhythms and licks with ease.
The thing I’ve always enjoyed about this group of musicians is that whenever they work together – whether it be early in Somatose, Bombast, Lone Locust and now two different incarnations of Vultures!/? – is that the find a way to remain relevant and fresh without rehashing vibes or songs from other projects. Their chemistry with each other is perhaps one of the most complimentary line-ups in town right now and that translates to an ease and willingness to create without prejudice, blending each other’s strengths and dynamics into creating a sound that is both hauntingly familiar yet beautifully anticipatory.
There’s really no need to get into the why of This Is War. All that really needs to be understood is the what of This Is War. The motivations and underlying concept deserves explaining, and we’ll talk about that later, but either way, once you hear this you’re going to at least tacitly understand what drove Scott Warren to put this thing together. You’re going to know Scott from around. You’ll probably have heard at least one of the bands he’s either fronted or played drums for in the last ten or fifteen years, be it Bombast, Lone Locust or more recently, Vultures!. You might also know him as one half of the production team behind the Rockerie, a fully functional studio that runs out of a warehouse on Windsor’s west side. I know Scott as the drummer who replaced me in the long-defunct Johnny El Camino, many years ago.
So Scott and I have stayed in touch. I suppose it’s sort of hard not to stay in touch with someone so active in such a small, local scene. But we’ve remained relatively close. Even if you’re not a fan of what Scott’s done musically, you’d be able to recognize that it’s good and that the man knows what he likes to hear which I have respect for.
You’d know this if you’ve heard any of his bands, but there’s a fairly consistent undercurrent there and it sounds a little like Queens of the Stone Age or the Foo Fighters. Maybe some Soundgarden and the more ‘tuneful’ aspects of the Melvins tossed in there for good measure. If it’s got Scott’s name attached to it, it’s rock and it might just have a nice, tasty hook in there too. Of course all of this depends on who he’s playing with at the time, but to use the tried and true music journalism cliche, his ‘output has been consistent’. A good sense for song craft? Check.
Scott and I had been tossing emails back and forth for a while; “Hey, let’s do this.”, “Why don’t we write some songs together?”, and so on. Scheduling can be a bitch, so nothing ever seemed to materialize. When you’re a musician in a smallish local scene where everyone knows everyone else, there is never any shortage of those drunken conversations on a Saturday night, where you pat each other on the back, extol the virtues of the other’s work and talk at length on how you should do something together in the future. That’s what this had been between Scott and I. Except sober. And via email. The point is that nothing ever seemed to work out.
And then the whole ‘This is War’ thing happened.
Ever the prolific promoter, Scott started tossing photos and posts out on the Facebook and if you were paying attention, you could tell that something interesting was going on. Pictures of amps and tracking sheets, song titles and updates from the studio. From what you could gather from the vague and sometimes cryptic little bits of information that Scott was pushing out, there were a couple of things happening: a) It’s a ‘solo’ album. b) It’s a ‘solo’ album in the loose sense of the word, and c) There’s going to be some impressive guests on this album.
This was more than enough to pique my curiosity as it would be an example of what the man can do without having to co-operate with anyone. If it’s his album, the involvement of others would be kept on a short leash. He’d be asking for help, but only asking those whose contributions would fit most closely with his intentions.
I know some of these guys. From what I could gather online, Andy Langmuir (Vultures!, Lone Locust, Bombast) was involved. As were Jeff Riley (Vultures!, Somatose) and David Allan (Explode When They Bloom, Poughboy, Cellos). There were a couple of allusions to some guest vocalists too, but until that point we’d been kept in the dark about who exactly those guests were. Details only trickled out, so we’re left wondering exactly what the scope of the whole thing is. Song titles like “Know That You Know Nothing” and “Easy Off”; Scott’s playing guitar; There’s 17 songs in the works…Then I get this email, two days after Valentine’s:
“Wrote a track on Sunday for my album that can only be executed by you. Interested?”
Fuck yes, I’m interested.
I had dropped the more traditional idea of collaborating with Scott when This is War started happening; the man was busy doing his own thing, exercising his own demons and I didn’t want to get in the way of that. So now I’m being invited into the fold. Neat-o. Shortly after this exchange I was sent a track via Soundcloud and it was not at all what I was expecting. In hindsight, I hadn’t really known what to expect, but this was not it.
Heavy. Noisy. Bizarre. “September’s Whore” plays out like some kind of Morse Code nightmare in slow motion, with an undercurrent of static that breaks into a sort of catchy, sort of morose chorus. Wrap it up with some more static and then do the whole thing again. I’m left scratching my head and thinking ‘what in the name of Christ am I going to sing over this’ and then the pressure is on. Scott knows what I’m capable of, and he knows my particular limitations, and this is what he sends me. Okay. Game time.
Time passes, and as is par for our course we miss some connections here and there and I started to fret about whether or not my ‘grown up’ schedule was going to allow me to contribute to this. I want to be in the studio with Scott, and I want my name somewhere on the behemoth that this album is eventually going to be, but I don’t want to hold him up. My understanding is that things are rolling along and it’s becoming a beast with seventeen heads and if I stall too much longer I’m going to miss my boat.
Somewhere along the line I have a conversation with the drummer in my band, who had just contributed to This is War. “It’s fucking good”. He describes a carefully constructed and apocalyptic motherfucker of an album that can be a bit overwhelming. There are some heavy guitars at play, and even more heavy emotions. Some kind of hard-boiled fist fuck of an album that demonstrates Scott taking a troublesome situation and turning into some troublesome art.
The man got dealt a shitty hand some time ago and if you’re Scott Warren, when life hands you shit-lemons, you forgo the lemonade altogether and make a cathartic concept album about the road from losing what you think is everything, to rebuilding and then coming back stronger in the end. So now the heat is on not only to schedule some studio time with the man, but to put an appropriately troublesome/apocalyptic/hard-boiled stamp on it.
Fuck. What am I getting involved in here?
Pulling up in front of the Rockerie is an interesting experience. Hidden inside a dry storage warehouse, which itself is tucked away on a side street in the west end, you get the sense that you’re entering into some kind of near-future, post-industrial crime drama, where gritty detectives duke it out with gang members in abandoned warehouses. It’s Robocop. Or one of the sets from that shitty ‘93 Emilio Estevez movie Judgment Night. Scott met me at the padlocked gate and we wound our way up some stairs and past palettes loaded with odds and ends on their way to supermarkets and distributors. It’s cold. It’s got a concrete floor. And it’s lifeless, except for Scott, myself and a single dove who has taken up residence in the rafters somewhere. A door on the other side of the big room opens into a modest, but fully functional and professional two room recording studio and then the whole thing makes a bit more sense.
The studio itself reflects a little bit of the building, which in turn reflects a little bit back on the region. Let’s not forget that this is Windsor, so it’s apropos that you’d be recording in a semi-run down warehouse, in a semi-run down part of town. Moreover, it’s an album about losing shit and then getting shit back, written and recorded in a town that some might say has lost it’s shit and is also in the process of getting it’s shit back. Let’s not wax too poetic here, but the whole thing works on a couple of interesting levels. And I’m thinking all this before we even get started…
He plays me a couple of tracks and I’ve got to admit, I’m a little struck by exactly how all over the place this thing is. And not ‘all over the place’ in a scattered sort of way, but like a mix tape put together by someone with a very keen ear for the last twenty years of rock music. In terms of construction, they don’t get any more polar opposite than “September’s Whore” (the Sturm and Drang doom parade that I’ll be on) and “The Pinkest Slip”. The latter struck me as one of the prettiest, saddest things I’d heard in a while; all acoustic strumming over layers of hypnotic synths and percussion sounds. He’s got softly sung (and apparently improvised) lyrics over a bed of dreamy psych-balladry. Quiet. Bittersweet. Great.
We start talking about the way things have been coming together for This is War and it becomes even more apparent that Scott is putting everything he’s got into this. There’s not only an emotional attachment to the songs that are brewing, but it’s all being done at the expense of considerable time and energy too. I’m sure that the ‘giving birth’ analogy gets tossed around much more than it should, but the way Scott frames this album is such that it’s an incredibly apt description; A whole lot of blood, some pushing and then wham… something brand new is laid out on the table.
And then we start talking about what we’re going to do, cloistered away in a building that feels a lot like the apocalypse happened, on a gorgeous afternoon when we should be on picnics and flying kites. Before the headphones even go on we talk about evil, and making people uncomfortable with sound. We talk about biblical imagery, noise and how best to capture something that’s going to hopefully gnaw at people a little bit. Maybe even scare them too.
Without sounding too presumptuous, that’s exactly what happened.
Working with Scott was an interesting experience; we discussed things and there were intentions laid out before he hit the record button, but inside of this there was a whole element of surprise and chance at play. We tried things, hooked up old, dirty microphones to old, dirty amps; we tried singing in one room, then another and then we tried getting me to move around the studio, we tried whispering and howling and adding effects to the whole mess. In the end, what was sent to my email inbox the next day sounded an awful lot like what you would expect the Southern Baptist idea of a day of reckoning to sound like. Dense, heavy and scary-as-fuck.
And now we wait.
He’s got the beast trimmed down to a lean 13 songs from the 17 he wrote in the first place. A couple more guest spots and then his own vocals and the it’s done. There are rumblings that a live show might be in the offing, but let’s deal with one thing at a time. It remains to be seen exactly how this thing is going to be released, but I can guarantee you’re going to want to hear it.
There is no shortage of wispy singer songwriter types around, strumming some BS and trying to give us all a taste of what they’ve got going on inside. Emoting and strumming and emoting some more. The pool of solo talent is a shallow one, lacking in anything remotely interesting. But this is a little different.
When you see Mr. Warren around town this weekend, buy him a drink and start harassing him about when you’re going to be able to hear this album that he’s been cooking up. Trust me, it’s going to be worth it.
Continuing with our December Music Sampler (dedicated to December’s FunnelFest), we are proud to unveil our second monthly music sampler for you download, FREE of charge (compliments of the Windsor Zene and, more importantly, the bands and musicians involved).
We are looking to release a 12-14 song FREE music sampler every month, showcasing some of the best this area has to offer in original music. There are no genre guidelines and we encourage any local musicians to submit a track to firstname.lastname@example.org – please include production credits (producer, studio used, etc.) as well as writing credits, etc. All genres welcomed, from folk to death metal, from hip hop to rock.
January’s sampler features a preview of Poughboy‘s upcoming opus, The End of Men, the title track from Dave Russell‘s new EP Unnatural Disaster, a rare unreleased track from Vultures!, a glimpse at a new supergroup in Windsor called NeanderTHRALL (featuring members of The Heat Seeking Moisture Missiles and Gypsy Chief Goliath), as well as some entries from some great new talent such as Beijing Bike Club, Awake To A Dream, Weirdonia and Falling With Glory. Singer/songwriters Crissi Cochrane (who relocated here from Halifax, Nova Scotia last year) and Daniyal Malik (who previously fronted the band Allusion) lead off the sampler, which also features songs from veteran metal outfits Pitch Union and Tyburn Tree. Rounding out the rest of the sampler are a new track from Britpop inspired Bombs (lead by Ryan Yoker) and a gorgeous track from Luna Borealis, a side project featuring Jason Testawich from Surdaster.
Download your FREE January music sampler today (and spread the gospel!). December’s sampler is also still available!
Windsor/Essex musicians and bands who wish to be featured on upcoming sampler releases: Send one high quality .mp3 or .wav file to email@example.com. We can’t guarantee the month your track will appear, as they are taken first come first serve, but they will eventually be released. All genres welcomed and encouraged. The Windsor Zene is releasing these samplers FREE of charge and are not collecting any residuals from the release of these samplers. They are designed to encourage people to try out new music from their hometown.