Jeff talks to Sphere Music about his band in detail.
I learned from time to time that music is your freedom. To see musicians devote themselves doing something in order to make people is one reason to believe in humanity again. It’s like going back in time, hearing the echo of monochrome TV broadcasting the landing of the first man on the moon and all was well.
Winter’s Grave is whale of an album in terms of sonic craftsmanship. They take everything that makes music warm and human(analog as opposed to digital) and blow it to epic proportion that makes you swoon as you are surrounded with layer upon layer of wondrous sounds.
The lover of vinyl and analog music in me warmed up the first time I heard their style. So I was lucky enough to have this interview with band member Jeff. His way of explaining everything is a joy to read.
We just really started out having it be anything but acoustic instruments. Ya know, electric guitar, drums, bass, keys, a lot of midi and synth stuff, drum samples – but of course the acoustic guitar always crept its way up on the album. Can’t deny that influence. James’ brother John laid down some trumpet on some tracks, Ryan laid down some pedal steel guitar. We added quite a bit of auxiliary percussion too, some shakers, and even this weird little wooden two-piped flute thing we found in James’ old house. -Jeff
1. what made you guys explore this musical path?
We all come from singer/songwriter backgrounds really. A couple years ago we started this musical endeavor called the Crystal Mountain Music Collective, which we turned into a blog (www.crystalmountainmusic.wordpress.com), and it sort of became our main hub outlet for a place we could put our individual singer/songwriter music on. We just wanted to have stuff out there for free, we were all writing a lot and releasing a bunch of material. I mean we had been doing that for years prior to the collective idea. But Vows was something that James and myself (Jeff) started up as a total shot in the dark really – we just wanted to “plug in” and make a more experimental album, kind of branch off from the folky acoustic stuff. We recorded the album and put that online and it really sort of took off among friends and the blog world so we were kind of left asking ourselves, “Well, how do we turn this into a full band?” Of course, however we knew who to go to for a lineup and that’s how Vows came to be.
2. Winter’s Grave sounds like a recording in vinyl..are you guys fond of analog music?
Absolutely. We’ve all been huge fans of vinyl recordings and records, but also analog, home-made, lo-fi sound. All of us have a bunch of our own stuff recorded by whatever means we’re able to do that on as far as equipment goes. 4-tracks, tape recorders, etc. The main guitar lines for “Winter’s Grave” and “Parallel” were both recorded to an old Tascam III Portastudio 4-track tape recorder used as a mixer. The whole album is really like a giant sound scrapbook. James was living in Baltimore at the time and we were just zipping a lot of files over the internet and recording by whatever means we could. Obviously all that shit comes down to money, but we’ve all also been in professional studio settings to record albums before, and we’re ultimately drawn back to this homemade type of sound where you can literally smell the mold on the inside of a great record sleeve. It’s funny, “Winter’s Grave” was what it was, but we have lately been defining our style through our live sound, and I think our new album shows that. Everyone keeps using the word “BIG” to describe it, which is rad to hear. It’s becoming this gigantic wall of sound, I think bigger and more organic than “Winter’s Grave”. Maybe not as “vinyl” or analog sounding, but still homemade, primarily in a basement setting.
3.I wonder why you guys took up the monikers Bone Blanket and Nillo and why not your real names?
Bone Blanket for me is my singer/songwriter moniker and James’ was Nillo. Ryan goes by Common Face and Sabeel keeps it real and badass with his actual name – because it’s real. And badass. We used to be called “Everyone” but Vows seems more fitting for our sound. We had all different monikers to fit our separate recording entities, but Vows fits perfectly for a one-stop-shop band name.
4. Born a Wolf is a beautiful track. What an interesting video featuring an old silent film. What inspired this song and the music video?
I honestly can’t tell you what inspires any of my lyrics, I mean I just generally like painting as vague pictures as possible. Presenting a general emotion or state for a song and then running with that theme. Like being in a fever dream, or sort of lost between sleep and awake, or extreme depression or happiness and love. Musically however James composed this track on piano and I just added what I could. For the video we really wanted to just have more band shots simply because our first video for “Winter’s Grave” was a giant montage of found imagery, which is cool, but we just wanted to personalize this one a little more. We filmed the whole thing except for the found imagery of the silent film, which fit perfectly for the lyrics. But again, I think less is more, and vague is more descriptive in a way, and the story tells itself I guess, or hope.
Ugh. Haha, this is always like the do or die right? I dunno, We’re all over the map. I can find something amusing in anything I listen to, but I also hate dropping band names as influences, though there’s nothing wrong with it. I’d say our influences are alcohol, sleep, love, death, everything over and over again amen. The end of the world…………..
6. Do you guys sit together to write music or is there a common formula how you come up with the songs in Winter’s Grave?
As far as recording goes James and I are sort of the main writers. I think it’s just easier that way, especially with all of us being fully capable of composing entire songs and albums by ourselves. But this is just sort of how Vows started and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Our live sound however, we all arrange, and the more we play together the more our sound takes on its own beast of an entity. We hash out parts and arrangements as a group for our sets and it’s awesome being able to do that so well, and more and more so without even talking to each other about it. It’s all getting really organic and beautifully flowing the more we play and especially with the newer stuff from our forthcoming album. I’m just lucky to be with a like-minded group of guys that I can share that with, like be on the same mental wavelength with.
7. What are the instruments involved in recording the album?
We just really started out having it be anything but acoustic instruments. Ya know, electric guitar, drums, bass, keys, a lot of midi and synth stuff, drum samples – but of course the acoustic guitar always crept its way up on the album. Can’t deny that influence. James’ brother John laid down some trumpet on some tracks, Ryan laid down some pedal steel guitar. We added quite a bit of auxiliary percussion too, some shakers, and even this weird little wooden two-piped flute thing we found in James’ old house. I think with this new album though, we’re using a lot of the same instruments, but we’ve been fortunate enough to get some new gear and really push our limits with the sound we can get out of what we have to work with. We’re doing a lot more with mic and equipment arrangement and our amp sound and pedals and the like. All in all, I think it’s making for a serious beast of an album coming your way soon!
8. What can your listener expect in the next few months in terms of the band’s timeline?
Well we’ve actually been getting a bunch of shows thrown our way without us actively going out trying to pursue them, so that’s super positive. Our website, www.vowsmusic.com has all the listings on our shows page, so check those out. We’re hoping to really nail some big ones, possibly opening for some larger indie acts would be awesome. We’re also currently heavy in the process of recording our new album, which is sounding incredible so far, I think. We’re going to head down to North Carolina at some point and get it professionally mixed and pursue pressing it to vinyl. We’d ultimately love getting signed to a label to release it too. It’s been a very busy couple of months and we plan to keep it that way. As Far as Vows in general goes however, I think we’re all seriously on the same page about trying to make this thing get big. We’re wholeheartedly dedicated, and like I said, I think we all feel great that we have great friends involved in this and it’s hard work but it’s all we care about. So with that said I seriously think it could bring us anywhere.
9. I really admire the passion behind Crystal Mountain Music Collective . What projects can we expect from this musical endeavor?
Currently Ryan our drummer is recording an EP as Common Face and we all plan on contributing to that to help him get it finished and out there. Anything that kid delivers is gold as far as I’m concerned, so be on the lookout for that. Also James, or Nillo, is finished with his solo album, which is also incredible, he played everything on it. We’re in the process of sequencing that and editing some track bleeds, so that will be amazing once it’s done. But honestly I just don’t think it’s something that will stop, or I hope at least. It’s seriously therapeutic for all of us to escape our norms and release music and do what we love.
10. Words to your listeners and the rest of indie fans?
Thank you of course, for anyone who has shown interest in what we got going on and whoever is in the same mindset keep doing what you’re doing. Support is what keeps this indie scene going. I think with this recent pop-culture fascination with the “indie” scene, it’s nice to see that it’s getting recognized, but stay true to what you love and who you are.
This is the official music video for “Born A Wolf”, the third track off of Vows’ Winter’s Grave (4/2011, copyright Crystal Mountain Music). The video was primarily shot on location in New Jersey and clips were also borrowed from (archive.org) “Wolfblood” (1925), directed by George Chesebro and Bruce Mitchell, and written by Cliff Hill. Check out the band’s official website, http://www.vowsmusic.wordpress.com and http://www.facebook.com/vowsmusic for more updates,