Colorado has proven itself to me as an absolutely amazing state replete with a bustling underground/DIY scene not so different from our own, albeit hidden away in the beautiful scenery of forests, mountains and lakes on the other side of the Rockies. People all over the world have heard of Rhinoceropolis, Titwrench Festival and Pictureplane. L.A. label Deathbomb Arc has already featured numerous Coloradoans in the DBA Digital Single Series (Alphabets, Night of Joy, Modern Witch) and even had Denver artist Mario Zoots design the covers for each installment. Plenty of Pehrspace regulars here in Los Angeles know that Foot Village’s Josh Taylor served tenure at Denver’s Monkey Mania venue years ago, or that half of the formerly-and-partially-local Caldera Lakes is from Colorado.
I’m excited to add another link in the chain connecting L.A. and Denver by inviting Vitamins to perform at Pehrspace for Sean Carnage’s 6 year anniversary series on August 15th.
I spoke with guitarist Ryan Ellison and drummer Crawford Philleo to get a little insight on Vitamins.
Your music shows a wide range of influences that are distilled very smoothly without ever playing too heavily into one particular sound (such as prog, krautrock or shoegaze). Can you help explain what you guys are striving for musically?
The craftsmanship of Vitamins’ music is a product of collaboration and a rigorous working-through of each individual’s part as an element of the whole. So, with that in mind, I think we strive for an equality of input into the music we create. Since we each bring different stylistic choices to the final composition, the overall sound does have a blended characteristic. Although, Kraut, psych and other fringe rock styles certainly make up the larger portion of our influence, classical, jazz, modern pop, and ambient elements also make their way into what we’re trying to do musically.
Your 2009 album Songs For Stem Cells has a different feel from your new No Notion of Anything… 7″ single on Hot Congress. While the previous album drives a little bit harder and reaches the occasional orchestral moment, your new songs seem to have more complex arrangements bathed in a different kind of dreamy atmosphere, where texture plays as much of a role as riffs. How and why did this change come about?
Generally speaking, I am witnessing a trend of this band towards abandoning traditional chord-based songwriting in favor of riff-based, groove-oriented and minimalistic types of song craftsmanship. If you search earlier recordings beyond Songs for Stem Cells, you’ll hear a large repertoire of songs written directly from that chunk-chunk-chunk chord changes kind of approach. A lot of those songs were written following the “rules” of classical music theory. Since we were all learning about those rules in music school, it was natural for us to apply those techniques to songwriting. But, that’s not to say that the riff is an new or upcoming element of our sound, because it was from the very start. For example, one of our first singles, “Brontosaurus,” is wholly riff-based. That song has more in common from a songwriting standpoint with our current methods than the group of songs and the time period that it belongs to. So, it’s a slow process. Perhaps the change in songwriting you’re asking about is due to the focus placed within our collaborative effort, such that this concern is more fully achieved by riff or groove-oriented approaches rather than one person coming to the table with a set of chords already prepared for everyone else to learn.
Vitamins has opened for big bands like The Flaming Lips, and your singer Lizzy Allen has even performed in their live shows. I remember talking to Matthew Daniels for a minute between bands when I played at Rhinoceropolis in March and he said he was currently playing in Gauntlet Hair too. What are you all up to when you’re not recording and playing shows around town as Vitamins?
The members of this band are each individually involved in many other projects, activities and hobbies. Lizzy teaches elementary grade music classes and has a private piano and guitar lessons studio. Matt runs sound at a local venue called Meadowlark, plays bass with Gauntlet Hair’s live band and does a great deal of record engineering for Vitamins and other local bands. Crawford writes record and show reviews for two or three music blogs, including his own Tome to the Weather Machine, plays drums in Junior Low and also drums and plays vibraphone with a couple of local groups on an irregular basis.
Personally, I am doing a large number of musical activities on a weekly basis: on Saturday mornings I play string bass in a small jazz ensemble, and also rehearsal with an early music consort playing the renaissance string instrument, viola de gamba. Throughout the week I work in the music instrument repair department at a local music store, Flesher-Hinton Music Co, and have aspirations of becoming a registered piano technician.
Crawford, I remember you telling me a little bit about a strange experience playing at the Viper Room in Hollywood on tour a few years ago where weird circumstances all converged to make for a skewed image of shows in L.A. What was that all about? Was that a Vitamins tour, or were you in a different band? Does anyone else in the band have any experiences out here they want to share?
That was not a Vitamins tour—Crawford was asked to fill in on drums for a couple of L.A. gigs a band from Greeley, CO called Blue Stone Abbey had booked. The group was led by a dude who was essentially the Jimi Page of UNC… not exactly Crawf’s bag, but he figured a free trip to California couldn’t be too terrible. It was really just a weekend of two shows—the band’s singer had connections to that place and booked the gig and they just decided to do it. The Viper Room… that was an interesting place. They herd you onto a stage behind a curtain and don’t let you use your own amps or drums… red velvet everywhere… $10 shots of whiskey… yikes.
Then there’s the classic SXSW story of us (Vitamins) stealing the show slot of a local Austin, TX band, (The Vitamins) (Henceforth referred to as “Bizarro-Vitamins”) and getting several shows lined up in lieu of this mix up. Crawford noticed that “The Vitamins” were booked for a showcase during the 2010 SXSW and he proceeded to contact the folks running the event. They told him we were definitely booked and also that they could help us with a couple of other shows. Now, the event planner may have known that he was substituting us-Vitamins for the Bizarro-Vitamins, but in the end there was no communication amongst the various parties. It all came to a head as we were setting up our gear for this show and I was approached by a couple of scrawny, upset and scary looking fellows asking me the name of our band. “Uh, Vitamins.” I responded as I untangled cables. The main fellow looked aside at his bandmate, then looked back at me and said, “We’re Vitamins!” Later, this same scrawny Bizarro-Vitamin told Matt that he was going to sue our band for the use of their name. Matt slyly informed him that we Vitamins have held the name since 2005 and had a US postmarked copywrite to prove it. The Bizarro-Vitamins were accommodated with a set on the outdoor stage directly following our set, during which we announced ourselves as “Vitamins, from Denver.”
I can’t help but wonder what’s really going on in Colorado that doesn’t make the rounds back to L.A.? Who are some new bands, artists and labels from your state that we might not hear about over here otherwise?
Fissure Mystic (RIP), The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact, 9th and Lincoln Orchestra, Tjutjuna, Fingers of the Sun, Li’l Slugger.
Don’t miss them in concert…
It’s the Sean Carnage / Kyle Mabson Monday Night Six Year Anniversary Party, pt. 3
9:30 GED (Gay Electronic Duo)
Starts 9:30pm / $5 / all-ages
Pehrspace—325 Glendale Blvd., in Historic Filipinotown