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The Vigilantes of Love Cornerstone 2001 Press Conference
The bands file into the Cornerstone Festival press tent, and after thirty minutes of questions and answers, the bands file out. Few had said anything as newsworthy as Bill Mallonee and Kevin Heuer of the Vigilantes of Love, who laid out the sea change the upcoming release of Summershine represents before members of the fourth estate.
Mallonee: We're two-thirds of Vigilantes of Love. This is Kevin Heuer on my right. We're going to pass around the mike so we can all actually hear. [the Indoor Stage is located directly next door and is at full volume] Anybody got questions?
Press: What made you want to put aside a lot of the material you'd been playing and go with the sound on the new album?
Mallonee: The stuff on the new record? We've done four Americana records since we left Capricorn, and really, there's been a strain of Americana genre music in everything, I think, that I've done. The music that I grew up with, the music that Kevin [Heuer] grew up with, was a lot of British pop and clearly, early R.E.M. stuff. We've kind of taken elements of that stuff. Some of the songs in the past, like "Real Downtown," and "Tempest" have always had that kind of flare to it so we decided to make a record of all that kind of stuff.
It was kind of time to do that. It's fun music, songs that are inside and out real quick. A record of songs that when you hear the song finish, you just want to hit replay. That's what I wanted to make a record of.
Whereas I think records like Audible Sigh and Across the Big Pond were more, ...they were sort of conceptual records in the sense that all the songs sort of fit together and formed a part of a bigger whole. This is a record of songs that all stand by themselves.
We're going to be touring the United Kingdom a good bit. We're going to be playing for about a month in the United Kingdom, in pretty large-size rooms. That's a BBC Radio2 promotion thing, and we're very excited about it. We've been working that terrain for about the last three years and the rooms are about fifteen hundred to two thousand [people] theaters. We're playing with two or three other American bands, but as far as I know, we're the band that's on all the tickets, and the headline band, which is kind of cool for us. So it's England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales for us, for all of October. Some shows in London, and apparently, one is sold out. It's kind of nice to be wanted.
Press: How are your CD sales in the UK?
Mallonee: Given the fact that it's not that big of a big island, and we've only been over there a short while, the sales have actually been pretty good. They're happy with it. Just a sidebar: I think they've done a new distribution deal with another company over there, that's doing a better job. Not only in the UK, but hopefully, by the front end of next year, I think they're talking about France, Germany and Holland.
Press: Since BBC is involved in this tour, is there a chance that the show will be videotaped, and is there a chance that it'll be available in the States?
Mallonee: I would think, yes. When we were over there before, I played a show with Buddy Miller and his band, about a year ago, and a guy named Bob Harris, from Radio2, who has been championing our stuff for a while, they taped everything. They have these incredible mobile units that they just pull up, plug in, and make great recordings. I bet that's possible [for this fall.] I'll find out for you and let you know.
There is a video that will be released next year; one of the last shows we did with Kenny [Hutson] over there. We did about a seventy minute set of the stuff that was on To the Roof of the Sky and Audible Sigh. Two guitars, bass and drums, real fast paced, it was Kevin and Jake and me and Kenny. We actually thought it might be here at Cornerstone this year, but they didn't get it done in time. There may be a video and a CD to go with it. I don't know how they're going to do that. We're still working out the details with Compass (VoL's current record label). For those folks who really like the country.alt thing with Kenny playing, and we do miss Kenny, that record should be available sometime. It may end up being an Internet record. We're still sort of trying to work that out.
The thing with Compass is, ...they don't really want anything competing with what they're putting out so we have to figure a way to get it to people without competing directly in the chains, the Borders, the Towers, the Best Buys, places like that. But they [Compass] have been very open to it.
Press: Are there still plans to bring in a fourth band member to play the songs on the new album?
Heuer: Yes and no. Our pocketbooks say, "no," and it's got to be the right person. I don't think it's going to be a situation of another full member. We're going to stay a trio, if we have anybody else come in, it's going to be kind of in and out. We want to have the breadth; maybe we'll bring in a cellist. We don't always have to have another guitar player. The new stuff kind of requires that we have some keyboards. Jake is pretty much able to move over to guitar if we can find a bass player with the right credentials. So to answer your question, yes, but no, you probably won't see any more [musicians] right away.
Press: Any plans to visit Canada?
Mallonee: We need to get into Canada more often. I don't know why that's not happening.
Two things happened last year. One, we got the deal with Compass finalized, and the second thing, we actually got an honest-to-goodness, legitimate booking agent. We're on the road a lot anyway, ...but this person is very connected at the club level and we're very excited about that. She's done a good job for us so far. We don't get in the eastern end [of Canada] ...it's weird. We hope to get up there more by the middle of next year; I think next year. ... we're pretty much like on the road forever.
Press: What can we look forward to on Summershine, what is your favorite song on the new album?
Mallonee: It just depends on which one I'm listening to at the time. There's probably three or four that I think are singles. . . We got a chance to do some string sections, a lot of Melotron, things like that. It has a more orchestrated feel, which is why we need the fourth member. So if you guys have somebody in mind, let us know, but not that guy from Rush.
[hip hop from The LA Symphony next door, is overwhelming the press conference...] This is what we need to be doing. Stylistically, This is what the kids want.
Heuer: Bill, I quilt! [ha.]
Press: If you were to put together a job description for this fourth member, how would the ad read? What are you looking for?
Mallonee: We're looking for a fellow, a mature believer, who's got some flexibility in his life. Preferably plays the guitar, bass, and keyboard wouldn't hurt. And he has to sing like a bird. Because we have harmonies on this record that I did. Jake can cover some of it, but it really is a transition time. The stuff that you'll hear tonight on the stage, we'll probably do four to six new songs tonight, but we're still kind of making it up as we go along in that department. I don't think it'll really completely fleshed out until we get that fourth person.
There's been talk, there's a fellow over in England we'd like to get over here. A guy named Ian Archer, and I bet some of you have heard of Ian before. He's really a gifted player, and we'd kind of like to bring him to the states, if possible. Kind of a cross between maybe Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley. A very beautiful voice, but he's a great player, too. In fact, he's the second guitar, if you've got a copy of Electromeo, he's the acoustic player on that. He'd be a good choice if we could get him over here in the States for a period of time. That might be a nice thing to do.
Press: Okay, you seem resigned to tour forever. Have conditions improved at all? Are you still in your van?
Mallonee: Yeah, still in the same van. Right. We get two motel rooms instead of one now for three of us. We took out a fellow named Doug Nissley last year who came out with us last year, that was kind of nice. It's pretty shoestring. Pretty threadbare. We like it when it's in kind of short spurts, but I think when the tours roll past about two or three weeks at a time, it gets a little edge going on.
Also, the touring needs to feel strategic. I think that's the thing we're looking for, if possible. If you feel like there are things going on at retail, radio and press when the band is there, that's when things start to happen. So much of the time for us, it's been a situation where only one or two or none of those things have been happening.
To be quite frank, it's one of the reasons why Kenny ended up leaving. For us, we thought that the glass was half full and Kenny thought it was almost empty.
Press: How will your old fans react to the band's stylistic direction change?
Mallonee: I don't think anybody will run away. I think people that liked the band's more pop side will definitely like this. I don't know of any of our fans who are so hardcore with the Americana thing that they're going to be offended by this. I think most of our fans are pretty wide-ranging in their record taste.
Press: Will the themes be lighter weight?
It's a very thoughtful record. What happens in love to everybody? Everybody in this tent has fallen in love. What could be a bigger theme than that? It's a falling in love kind of record. I've never made one of those before.
It does have some spiritual themes running under it. There's not a lot of spiritual "code" on the record, as there has been in some of [our past recordings], but we've got that on the other eleven. It's not that the well has run dry. I'm thinking that if I do a solo record, it'll be a small band in a semi-circle and we'll just cut the thing live to tape. Those themes will be there; a song like "You Give It All Your Heart," that didn't make the record. That seems more like a solo song to me. We'll do a whole record of that, but I think the band thing now, might be more of a pop band, with a lot of punch in it.
Bear with us. We're going to have to grow in this. It's real embryonic right now. We did the record in three weeks, then we realized last week, when we were back out on the road, that we hadn't played the songs in about that long. I did five or six guitar tracks on every tune. I'm having to pick and choose what comes off the stage right now until we get another guy.
Heuer: A lot of the songs were introduced by Bill in the studio. We had a few before [recording] that we worked on, got a little framework, but basically, this is a studio record. So we're learning the record [on stage], too, in a way.
Press: How many singles do you plan to release from Summershine? You must know your whole marketing strategy by now.
Mallonee: We don't know.
Heuer: We're still discussing what the first single will be at this point. The way we've been brought to radio in the past was Triple-A, and as you well know, Triple-A has about gone away, especially Triple-A commercial. It's morphed into maybe more modern rock, or whatever.
Mallonee: That's a big concern for us right now. Does everybody know what Triple-A means, when we're talking about radio format? It stands for Adult Album...
Heuer: ...Alternative, or something like that. Album, Adult, Alternative.
Mallonee: There's only probably ninety to a hundred of those stations in the entire country and that's where "Real Downtown" broke pretty heavy in 1996. What's happened in the middle of that time, between '96 and '98, record labels moved in really heavy. You've seen a separation of commercial Triple-A and non-commercial Triple-A. We think, unfortunately for us, where Audible Sigh ended up falling was in the non-commercial Triple-A, which is 'NPR, which is forty-somethings. Which is people who don't buy a lot of records, or go to a lot of shows. We've always thought we were a college band. [Non-commercial Triple-A] is a niche we don't want to be in, a niche we've tried to, both in our live shows and anything else to say, that's not us.
I respect a great number of those artists, I know a number of people on the VoL list love that kind of music, and I've got some of it, but it's not what motivates what we do. I'm not saying that in any kind of arrogant sense. It's just not where we're at. And it's definitely not where this record is at. So we're a bit concerned that the radio formats match up with where that records at, or, just like a lot of the other records, it could go into the big black hole. And I think that's a possibility.
Heuer: As an exclamation point to that, that's why things maybe in the UK seem to be a little better at times. With the radio [stations] covering the whole country, we're heard basically every week, almost. We're heard all the time. It's amazing. The last tour we had over there, people would say, "I heard you on the radio." We don't hear that here very often.
Mallonee: The greatest thing about Vigilantes is that it has always been the fact that it is a word-of-mouth kind of organization. Both in places like here, and all across the country. We were in Springfield, Missouri the other night, Monday night. I wasn't expecting anybody to be there, and there were eighty people in a room that probably only held fifty. It was great! That's the kind of stuff, we get excited about that, ...but it's word-of-mouth. It wasn't because of some press barrage, or a Goodyear blimp dropped 200 leaflets on the city.
Press: Again, why the change in direction?
Mallonee: Two reasons, and they're both pretty simple. One, we've done the Americana thing for four years. I've heard so much out there, both on the band side, like the Wilco's and Sunvolt's ...and Steve Earle, and Buddy Miller, and the singer/songwriter side of things, and we made four Americana records: To the Roof of the Sky, Across the Big Pond, Audible Sigh, and all the other stuff that fell on the double disk. We've done four records worth of that stuff. I'm just kind of tired of it.
The other thing, though, that's interesting is, we've been in the UK for the last three years for about three months a year, and when you go to a pub, which is where we play almost all our shows, or even in a coffee shop, you are surrounded by the sons and daughters of the Beatles and the Kinks and the Who. You are surrounded by Coldplay, and Travis, and James, and Oasis, and all these bands, and they are great songs. There's melody that's in the front, there's beauty, there's vulnerability, which you never hear in American music any more, because it's just not cool. Way too much urban testosterone going on here.
Heuer: That's the influence. It sort of seeped into our heads again. That's the stuff I grew up playing drums to. I couldn't get enough of it.
Press: If it takes off, will you have anything to add to it, or any special releases for the fans?
Mallonee: We'll see. There's actually four songs that didn't make the album. We'll go back and finish those up. One, I think, Julie Miller will sing on. It's called "Summershine," but didn't make the record. That will probably be an Internet release, but we're still working out the dynamics with Compass, about how that's going to come out, and how many times a year we can do something like that.
We're having to educate them to the grassroots element of this thing, and bring them on board and say, "Look, we do want to partnership with you guys, but you can't let this availability of the music get in the way." Compass is a great label. They have a lot of vision, they have a lot of enthusiasm, and they are a phone call away. We're developing our relationship with them, and hoping they will see Vigilantes of Love as a different kind of band than their other artists. I think we tour more than most of the others do. We're in the trenches more.
Press: What about commercial placement possibilities?
Mallonee: Seems like there is an over saturation of bands with singles and the whole thing is to get it into a Miramax movie or something.
Press: Is Compass willing to keep up with your appetite for releasing albums?
Mallonee: We're going to have to get permission from them [Compass] to release things kind of on the sly, that don't compete with their titles. Things that aren't in the distribution chain, or things that aren't Soundscan-able.
I'm still looking to find a home, I actually own three or four of the records now; Jugular, Driving the Nails, Roof of the Sky. We still own Audible Sigh, actually, but they are licensed there, Across the Big Pond, I'm trying to find a label that might be willing to put those out and help me put a swimming pool in Kevin's backyard and pay for my son's college education. Those records are actually ours.
The other thing is, all the other records are out of print. This just dawned on me the other day. Except for Audible Sigh, every single one of our records are out of print, and there's twelve of them, well, will be twelve on August 14. That seems astonishing to me. Capricorn doesn't seem to be interested in putting them back out. I don't know what the answer is to that.
Heuer: We need a millionaire to help us.
Mallonee: I'd love to see Blister Soul and Struggleville and Slow Dark Train in a box set. There's actually some extra tracks floating around that we could put on there and make it all different. Maybe some alternative mixes, too, but I don't know if that's going to happen.
But I hate to see it go away. I don't know if that's just me thinking that's my legacy to the world, or whatever. It would be nice to see it available again. Maybe put Jugular, Driving the Nails and Killing Floor, that would be a nice little box. They sort of work out in threes, it seems like.
I have this sort of theory that most of the time, music is nothing more than a soundtrack for people's individual virtual realities, anyway.
Kevin and I were talking about this. ...Awaiting the release of a record back in the sixties, or seventies or eighties where there was really something behind it; because you felt that the artist, he or she, really had something to say. It might be a defining moment for your next twelve months. I don't think people listen to music like that anymore. Maybe that's a good thing, but it does seem like it's swung from artists.
Take the Beatles... at their
heyday they go to India, and they absorb Eastern mysticism, and they're
like the pop culture icons of the day. And in some ways, they are a conduit
for Eastern mysticism into the country for the next fifteen to twenty years
because George decided to hang out with the Maharishi. People used
to listen to Beatles records and get turned onto the whole thing that they
bought into. Now it seems the pendulum has swung back the other way, where
every song, every band, is forgettable because it's commodity. You can
download it, throw it on a CD with twenty other songs, and it's just your
soundtrack for the day. I think there are some problems with that, too...
I don't have any answers for it. I don't really understand it all that