The Vacant Lots On ‘Departure’, Sonic Boom & Mind Control! jimmy 15/08/2014 features, interview, psych The Vacant Lots recently delivered their psych rockin’ debut album ‘Departure’, highly praised by heavyweights like The Times, NME, Pitchfork and Mojo. They enlisted the help of rock royalty to put the album together, including Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham, Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom and Alan Vega (of Suicide). The Vermont duo (Jared Artaud & Brian MacFadyen) are fresh from a tour with the Brian Jonestown Massacre and it’s high time to find out what all the fuss is about! Your debut album ‘Departure’ is upon us – congrats! Are you happy with the result? And what went into putting it together? JARED: You don’t think about it at the time when you are writing the album how much work and help goes into it. We are really thankful for the amazing team and artists we have assembled to make this thing happen. The album was recorded primarily by NYC engineer Ted Young at Water Music in Hoboken, NJ. ‘Before The Evening’s Thru’ was engineered by Kyle Chunco and Ben Kindzia in Buffalo, NY and ‘Mad Mary Jones’ was recorded by Black Angels FOH main man Brett Orrison in Austin, TX. We were fortunate to have Sonic Boom on the mixing decks and mastering it all up. Our manager Samantha Tyson has been a guiding light (so to speak) managing the unmanageable and our label Sonic Cathedral has been incredible. Not to mention countless other people who have helped the record come into realization. We are really pleased with the results. We released a few 7″ singles and to have our debut LP come out of the gates this way is very meaningful to us. I know it has taken a few years, but it was worth the wait for us and we were ready to put it out there. Peter Kember (aka Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom) mixed and mastered the album – what was it like working with him? JARED: Sonic Boom is an architect of sound and an absolute genius. We learned so much from him mentoring us. What is most revealing about how he works is how innovative and methodical he is. It really doesn’t matter what he is doing, his entire perspective on the situation is singular and immensely creative. Moreover, through his vision we explored territory that would have been completely devoid to us if we hadn’t worked with Sonic. If you give Sonic something to work with he will do something you hadn’t ever dreamed of. When we were thinking about who we wanted to work with on ‘Departure’ we wanted someone who understood where we were coming from and where we wanted to go. Someone who would help take us to that place. Someone who knew our roots and help keep the momentum going. Sonic is also a master of subtlety and simplicity. There was no one else we could have dreamed of working with on ‘Departure’. When and how did The Vacant Lots form? Ever thought about becoming a trio? BRIAN: We stuck with the duo because we found we could produce a fuller, more focused sound between the two of us. As a duo we are able to really lock in and play off each other, in a way that we found couldn’t be replicated with an additional player. JARED: We got together in 2009 in Burlington, Vermont. I had put up posters around town “looking for a drummer”. I figured that would be a good place to start. I knew right away from that first rehearsal there was something there. Something that I was looking for. Although Brian has been using a myriad of different electronics for our sound, he is an extraordinarily unique and original drummer. We did a lot of rehearsing and demo recording in that year. Experimenting with ideas and trying to sculpt our own sound out of all this raw material. ‘Confusion’ and ‘Cadillac’ came from these experiments. It wasn’t until 2010 when we got invited by Sonic Boom to tour the U.S. with Spectrum that things started to happen. I mean we only played a handful of shows. It was the first time we had really got on the road and toured. We thought about adding more members to the band, but we felt then and now that you can do more with less. It is challenging we know, but we actually like having to problem solve and figure out how to get the sound we want with just two. You can produce a lot of sound with just two people. We feel that by limiting yourself you can actually achieve more. Through these imposed limitations we have always been exploring how much two people can do with sound. How did you connect with UK label Sonic Cathedral? I believe you’re their first stateside release? JARED: When we heard they wanted to put the album out we got really excited. Yes, we are their first and very grateful to work with such a dedicated and supportive label. Sonic has done a lot of work with them in the past and then we were asked to contribute to the ‘Psych For Sore Eyes’ compilation. It was a natural progression from there and we all just got on very well and they were really into the album. They heard the demos and rough mixes and it just felt like a great union of sorts. Plus our manager, Sam had a lot to do with sealing the deal. It wouldn’t have happened without her. I first heard you guys on ‘Psych For Sore Eyes’ (with The Band In Heaven, Hookworms and Lorelle Meets The Obsolete). It was a really special release, how did it come about? JARED: Sonic Cathedral always has their finger to the pulse. Just one of many good ideas I guess. That release pulls from contemporary psych bands all across the planet. We all played Austin Psych Fest and have crossed paths one way or another. The track we contributed ‘6 AM’ was mixed at the same studio we recorded ‘Mad Mary Jones’. I had no idea at the time that we would be working with Sonic Cathedral on the debut album. It’s funny how things pan out. What’s life like in Burlington, Vermont? JARED: I haven’t lived there in a few years. Take it away Brian. BRIAN: It’s a nice, quiet town. I have a small studio set up in town where we’re able to rehearse as well. I grew up there and it will always be home. The scenery is beautiful and conducive to creating. Galaxie 500 legend Dean Wareham makes a guest appearance on ‘Tomorrow’. Did you make room for his performance or was it spur of the moment? JARED: Well neither really. I have always wanted to work with Dean in some way. His guitar playing and lyric writing has been a huge source of inspiration for me. Dean is a phenomenal rhythm guitar player and one of the most underrated players and songwriters of all time. We had sent him a few tracks to see what he thought. He liked ‘Tomorrow’ and so I asked him if he would lay down some guitars and maybe take the solo. I never told him this but that whole middle section was inspired by Luna’s ‘Ihop’ that 3 chord break. Dean laid down the only guitar solo on the album. It’s so sad sounding and beautiful to me it fit in so perfectly. You’ve designed your own signature TVL Fuzz Pedal – I’m impressed! How did that come about? BRIAN: I’ve been making prototypes recently, working on some basic circuits. One piece in particular, this one knob fuzz, really stood out tonally, and allowed Jared to fully realize the grinding chainsaw guitar tone on 6AM. After discovering an effective way to apply Anthony Ausgang’s op art design to the enclosures we were able to put a small batch together that reflect the TVL aesthetic both visually and sonically. JARED: UK label, Fuzz Club Records is selling the pedals on their website and we had a handful to sell on our UK tour with BJM. What are you listening to at the moment? Any tips for SBWR readers? JARED: On the new front I would highly recommend checking out Tess Parks, The Black Ryder, Cheval Sombre and Prince Rama. On the old front I’ve been listening to a lot of Roxy Music, Nina Simone, Richard Hell and Albert Ayler lately. BRIAN: For newer stuff, I’ve been listening to Angel Olsen, Dirty Beaches & Wooden Shjips. Also been really into Dr John’s first record, D.R. Hooker & Django Reinhardt. Am I right that you create your own artwork or is it Anthony Ausgang’s work? Is the ‘Departure’ cover meant to send you into a hypnotic spin? Mind control! JARED: Quite the opposite! The music and artwork may seem hypnotic, but it is designed to wake people up. Mind control is fucking evil. There is enough of that shit going on with some of the most well-known man-made institutions. It’s time for something new, no? Ausgang designed the artwork on our TVL Fuzz Pedal as well as the Arrival artwork. He is a brilliant artist truly ahead of his time, you have to check out his work if you haven’t. He has inspired us a lot. It’s true that we design most of our artwork including the Departure album sleeve. I think the visual element is almost as important as the aural experience. That is also why we use visuals when we play live. We make all of those too. DEPARTURE LP by THE VACANT LOTS What are your favourite pieces of gear? Guitars, amps etc? JARED: I have been using a Silvertone 1484 amp since we started. All of the recordings have this amp on it. I try to use it as much as possible live, but sometimes that isn’t possible traveling overseas etc makes this impractical, so there are other ways round it by using effects etc. For guitars I have only used a Gretsch Country Gentleman and Vox Phantom XII. The Vox is great for live playing and has this very trashy sound that I like. BRIAN: Handwired tube amps because they’re built in a way that enables and even promotes modification and experimentation. You can pull and substitute components without worrying about messing with a circuit board. Other than the fact that the death caps could strike you down if you’re not careful, it arranges signal flow in what I consider the most intuitive configuration, and is a great tool when first learning about electronic circuitry. Plus they sound cool as hell. I don’t mean to keep name dropping but considering this is your debut, you’ve already turned plenty of heads! What’s your connection with Alan Vega (Suicide) and how did you earn a support slot with The Brian Jonestown Massacre? JARED: We are immensely honored to have collaborated with some of our musical heroes. And, it is a bit surreal that our first USA tour was with Spectrum and our first UK tour with BJM. I have so much respect and admiration for these artists because without them we wouldn’t be here. Alan Vega’s work with Suicide, as a solo artist and installation artist has truly inspired me in a myriad of ways. Working with him on a few releases has been a real eye opener and meeting him in person has only reaffirmed my resolve that he is one of the most brilliant and important artists of the last 100 years. We met Anton at Austin Psych Fest in 2012. He was incredibly kind and inspiring to us when we met him. We just stayed in touch. He was touring England and invited us along. We are really looking forward to it. If you could assemble a fantasy band (of musicians living or dead), who would be in it? JARED: Scott Walker trading off with Jeffrey Lee Pierce on Vocals Tom Verlaine on Guitars Elvin Jones on Drums Sun Ra on Keys BRIAN: Pete Drake on Lap Steel / Vocals Curtis Mayfield on Guitar John Cale on Bass Max Roach on Drums What’s next for The Vacant Lots? JARED: Well ‘Departure’ is out now. This fall we are going back for a full-on European tour alongside the release of a 7” remix by Alan Vega of ‘6 AM’ coming out on Sonic Cathedral. There is more to come but we can’t really say much more about that now. Thanks for the interview. Thanks for your time guys. **THE VACANT LOTS DEBUT ALBUM ‘DEPARTURE’ IS OUT NOW VIA SONIC CATHEDRAL – LP / CD / DIGITAL** *New single ‘Paint This City’ out September 22* < TOUR DATES > September 24 – London, Shacklewell Arms September 25 – Rugby, Grand Central Studios September 26 – Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia September 28 – Southend, The Railway Hotel September 29 – Bristol, Start The Bus Visit The Vacant Lots @ Sonic Cathedral @ Bandcamp @ Facebook.