Interview: The Viliets
Posted in Interviews
LONG LIVE THE OLD SCHOOL
Music today is obsessed with producing the craziest electronic bleeps and blurps you can come up with, but what happened to the tunes of yore? Not that we don't absolutely love and appreciate that kind of music, but you know, when people could just lay back, roll up a j, and listen to an entire Pink Floyd, The Beatles, or Yes record... the type of music that's not just a fleeting moment drunk by some hyped and farsed fad. It was a time when artists produced albums and not singles, when sampling was frowned upon because it wasn't considered original and therefore not creative enough for commercial release, when what you could do with a guitar completely overshadowed what you could do with a computer. Where the fuck did all those bands go?
Enter The Vliets. This four-piece band from Dallas, Texas was first introduced to LFTF by our main man Skrause. They make music we wish people could still make by pulling from elements of classic rock, psych rock, and psych folk to the point that their music doesn’t belong in this era and is timeless.
Tell me about you guys.
Our band name The Vliets (pronounced 'vleets') is in reference to Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart, one of my all time favorite musicians and artists. I started this band about 2 years and we've had many different members. Right now the band consists of myself, Daniel Gonzalez, Luke Ferrell and John Solis. I play guitar, bass, synthesizer, piano, drums. Daniel is on bass, drums, synthesizer. Luke is synthesizer, piano. John is drums. Our dynamic is unique, as in we don't get together as a band and jam and write and figure things out. If I write a song, I will write it in it's entirety and record each part as well, and the same goes for Luke and Daniel. After the songs are recorded, we then know how all of our parts are intended to be played, we learn them, and play them live. I have 5 or 6 new songs I'm in the process of recording right now that the rest of the band hasn't even heard, and I know Luke has been working on a few that no one has heard yet either. I used to desperately want a band that could get together on a daily basis, be best friends, all be on the same page, and just make good music. But I found after trying to write with many people and be like that, that being a band is a very delicate thing with lots of ego's involved, and I hated it so this situation is perfect right now.
I love your writing style of everyone kind of doing their own thing and then learning each tune from each other. Do you think this hinders your process though? Has it ever been the case that you just really do not like a tune that someone else wrote or someone doesn't like your tune? What do you say in a situation like that?
It doesn't hinder my process, I usually write most of the parts on the spot during recording and I have to be completely alone when doing so. It's difficult for me to write with others, and I've found that when I have collaborated it never turns out right and there's always something about the song that will bother me. Anytime a song comes to me, it's when I'm on the piano and my mind is blank with zero influence on what I'm actually playing, then something comes. I have to be alone while I'm doing this, anyone there is a distraction. Any song that I've written that I really like has been done that way and it's what's most comfortable to me.
There have definitely been times when one of us hasn't liked someone else's song, and it's a pretty awkward situation when that happens. It hasn't happened lately, but it did a lot in the past. Everyone who's been in the band is pretty passive aggressive though, sometimes when situations like that would arise, I'd start hearing about things others members had said about me to other people who weren't even in the band..So it's definitely a delicate matter. Sometimes feelings are hurt and people get pretty pissed off and will talk shit about you behind your back. But it's the same as if we were all writing a song together and someone didn't like a specific part someone is playing, rather we're all writing an album together and the songs are the parts, if that makes sense.
Tell me about your writing process.
To me, the process of writing music is a spiritual experience and/or communication with inter-dimensional spirits. I've never sat down and been like 'oh I want to write a song that sounds like this..' it doesn't work that way, and comes through in the music and feels contrived. Anytime I've written something that I actually like, it's come from somewhere else. It's a meditation of sort, your mind goes blank and you're playing your instrument, and then something is coming out of you that took no prior thought, it's just a thought, idea, image, or feeling that is being transmitted through you from another dimension, and you're just the instrument to pull it out of one dimension, and into this one. Then it's my job to take these messages or thoughts or whatever you want to call it, and arrange them and make sense out of them. I usually achieve that state by playing piano or synth, then once I figure out the basic chord structure of the song, I record the keys, and gradually add the guitars, bass, drums, vocals, etc.
I agree with you that writing music is a very spiritual process. To emulate is to not be true to yourself. At some point though all ideas have been recycled and an attempt to make it your own becomes less apparent to the listener. So I guess my question is how do you know when you've been inspired? How do you know it's coming from your spiritual base and not from merely a combination of other sources? Could a combination act as a vehicle through which spiritual insight emerges? Does all that make sense?
That's a good question. You're right that ideas are definitely recycled, which can be good or bad. The act of listening to music and being greatly affected by it is the same sort of spiritual connection as if it presented itself to you and directly made it your song. For example, the other day I was listening to Radiohead and there was a way that Thom sang a line that invoked so much emotion that I immediately had to go write music and it wasn't because I wanted to write something that sounded similar to what I had heard, it was the feeling I got from it that made me excited to create. The way I think about it is that you're not inventing music, time or sound when you write a song, you're simply manipulating things that are already possible. I didn't invent the specific chords or notes I use in a song, I try to connect to the spiritual realm to find the feelings to translate through a recording with my instruments.
There will definitely always be an influence from artists I listen to and love, but I think that's more of a style thing than the actual writing, and hopefully it's not such an influence on my style that I'm just a knock off of others. I'm certain that all of my writings have come from a purely spiritual place, even if the inspiration was stemmed from another song, I believe that's just as communicative with the spiritual realm if the inspiration is the feeling, not the actual notes and melody being used. So to answer your question directly, yes a combination would definitely act as a vehicle for spiritual insight.
How do you know when you've finished a song?
There's a point when the song just feels right, and if it doesn't, it's not done. Sometimes I end up with a lot of instrumentals, because I believe that was the best way to get the emotion across, and adding lyrics and a melody would've been contrived therefore ruining the true nature of the song.
You seem to have a very calculated approach to writing music. You know what works for your style and what doesn't. With that said, what do you think is missing from modern music and why is it missing? Do you feel like some artists are really forcing artistic expression?
As far as what's missing, I'm not sure if it's the case for every city, but in Dallas it's more about acting like a band and doing things on stage that bands are expected to do or what you've seen bands do before, and that's not conducive to an artistic environment. It's kind of like I have friends that I'm super comfortable around and I know I could say anything to, like if I cried listening to a beautiful song or something and they wouldn't make me feel weird about having an emotion like that. I have other friends who would think I was a pussy for saying that because that's not typically socially acceptable. I want to feel like I can do anything on stage and experiment and fucking jam sometimes, and unfortunately Dallas isn't wired for that. Maybe other cities are different. So other than the live aspect, I don't really think that there's anything missing from music today, I'm excited about a lot of the new sounds coming out. Especially in electronic music.
Yes, definitely. Having a band and wanting it to make money or be popular basically means starting a small business. I think more times than not, bands will have a target audience and that really comes through in the music, it sounds bland and contrived. I don't like to talk negatively about bands, but The Black Keys are one who fit that description and they are everything that's wrong with modern music, in my opinion. It's just a style, with zero artistic substance and is totally forced. Besides, why not just go all the way and listen to The White Stripes, right? I think John Frusciante is the best example of everything that's right with modern music. The guy really does it for pure artistic expression. He's quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers twice after making them famous because he felt he was compromising his artistic integrity. Apparently right now he has the better part of 300-400 songs that he may not even release because he doesn't want it to become a product and I really admire that. Don't get me wrong though, I'm not saying it's wrong to be famous or make money off of your music, but you can easily separate the artists from the suits.
Where do you want your music to take you?
I'm not sure. I don't know what I would do if a label wanted sign us and release albums and go on tour and all. I would only do something like that if it made it to where all I had to do was focus on writing music all day. That would be the best case scenario. Otherwise I'm completely happy recording songs on my own and releasing them on the internet.
What do you think about social media?
I think social media is great. It's how I've gotten my music out there. Among Twitter, Facebook and SoundCloud I've been able to reach hundreds of people with my music and have made friends with other artists in the process. We're based out of Dallas, and play in Dallas but no one really knows about us here. We have more people listening to our music in other countries than we do in our own city, and that's all due to blogs like LFTF and social media. Otherwise, I doubt anyone would ever hear our music.
What's in store for The Vliets in the future?
Who knows. In the immediate future, I have probably 20 new songs that are pretty much done and need to be recorded. So we'll play some shows here and there and hopefully release a ton of songs over the course of the year.