The Vespertines (as the Cars)
Oct. 31, The Blackbird.
The Vespertines hath traveled much land and suffered many a hardship to arrive in the land of milk and honey, the sweet sweet teet of opportunity, the Mecca of indie rock, Portland Ore. I had the chance, no, the privilege to meet up with the boys from The Vespertines at Claudia’s on Hawthorne this last weekend.
Claudia’s, by the way, has the biggest and most comfortable bar stools this side of Lincoln’s memorial. Ya feel like a king in those chairs, ya really do. Anyway, back to my meeting with The Vespertines. We all sat down to have a couple of beers, watch the baseball game, slap each other around and just get to know one another.
Well this is what I found out. Craig Emmons (singer/guitar-type person,) James Adair (bass player/slick ass dance moves) and Ben Nugent (drums/no “admitted” relation to Ted Nugent) played together in a band called Nine Minute Snooze from Raleigh, N.C. About two years ago the band, tiring of the East Coast and their sin-drenched pasts, made the cautiously optimistic move out to Portland. Along the way, they swung by Bay Area to pick up Billy Slater (guitarist/lady entertainer.) In a fresh city and with a brand spanking new member, the band made the wise decision to change their name to the Vespertines.
In gentlemanly fashion, I started to pry into the personal lives of the band, you know, to see what made these fascinating men click. What I found out could jeopardize their safety on the streets of Portland by possible hysterical mob attack. Billy Slater admitted to me, in a tearful moment, that he was a regular on the 1980s smash TV hit Silver Spoons. Come to find out that little Billy was not just an actor but also a model for “THE” JC Penny’s children’s catalog. In the admissions of his past Billy let the cat out of the bag that Adair was also involved with child modeling.
This all confirms my previous suspicions that the band was hiding something big, but I had no idea how big. A band of child actors hiding out in our little city; who would have thought it possible?
After a long stint of TV talk from Scott Baio’s (Charles in Charge) fall from grace to trying to figure out if Don Knots is still alive, I decided to steer the conversation toward music. The boys suddenly started spilling their guts about their musical influences. While influences were flying I believe I unearthed the basic ingredients for the Vespertines’ magical style. The Human League, Air Supply, Iron Maiden and Kraftwerk are all apart of the genetic make up that makes the Vespertines solid gold ballads work.
“So what’s next for you guys?” I asked. “We’re working with the folks at VH1 to make a musical situational comedy, kind of like Cop Rock!” said Craig Emmons. Believing him because; One: I’m not that bright, and Two: because they were telling the truth about the Silver Spoons thing, Craig and James went on to tell me what they are really up to. They have recently recorded at the Sweatshop aka “The Danger Zone” with the Standard’s Gail and Rob in Northeast Portland. Three of the seven or so songs they recorded are going to be released on 7″ vinyl by Portland’s Pamlico Sound Records (which also boasts Portland’s the Holy Sons and Delorean.) “The record will be in stores and in our hot little hands by Thanksgiving,” Nugent said.
Talking about the record made me hungry to hear it. I have seen the band many times live, and I was curious to see if they were able to capture that energetic charm on tape. After slugging down the last of our beers we took off – on foot of course – down the street to the home of Craig and Billy.
Along the way they tried to convince me that they all slept in a giant bed together with those pointy sleeping caps. When we arrived, to my dismay, I found no giant bed but I did find a hard working, indie rock bachelor pad. Walls covered with local show posters, records strewn about and an organ in the corner, yes this place was very cool!
Anxiously waiting on their shitty, gold couch for a listen, I was expecting good, but what I got was grand. The Vespertines have recorded a mini masterpiece. The songs were well recorded, well mixed and sounded excellent. Careful enough not to over produce, but big enough to give the song writing a boost.
After listening to a couple of the song I started thinking about the band’s live show and how the two compared. Live, the Vespertines have that rare ability to have “real” authentic fun. Some bands come off as contrived and some bands can just plain have fun because the music doesn’t mean much to them. The Vespertines on the other hand, do care very much about their music and deliver it in an intelligent yet energetic way.
I always thought that the Vespertines sounded a bit like Pavement with a splash of the Who and a healthy serving of the Beach Boys. The recording gives hint to those bands but takes on it’s own personality and life. Sure when I looked down at their coffee table I saw a Who tape on top of a Beach Boys tape and don’t forget about Cheap Trick that was there too.
I do get the feeling that these boys draw from those greats not only to make pure musical gold but just to say thanks! If you’re a fan of the Cars go see the Vespertines recreate them live at the Black Bird on Halloween. It’s cover night and you can expect to get a healthy dose of the past, present and the future.