With a sound steeped in the 70s, quintet Virginia Coalition explores new musical boundaries with a respectful nod to the past. Sometimes pop, sometimes funky, VACO serves up a variety of musical dishes on Townburg, their second album, which will be released later this month. The tag team vocal/guitar duo of Andrew Thunder and Steve Dawson lends a remarkable depth to the overall feel, as both singers have very distinct voices. The result being that each individual song steers the album in a slightly different direction, without losing focus along the way. The rest of the musicians back them up as the tight rhythm section of pianist Paul Ottinger, bassist Jarrett Nicolay, and drummer John Patrick.
Townburg was recorded and co-produced by Ted Comerford (Heather Gray, Long Stem Daisies, The Hollows) and mixed by Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Wilco, Suzanne Vega). We had a chance to talk to the guys in VACO about the new album and the many influences that make up their unique sound.
Q: Listening to your album, I picked up on some rather unusual influences--Steely Dan, War, Paul Simon, and James Taylor (with a couple of notable exceptions)--am I in the right ballpark?
A: Paul Simon and James Taylor are probably the most obvious and slightly intentional influences on us; I think the Steely Dan aspect you're hearing is the result of how we play and organize the music as a band more so than a sound or style that one of us is contributing to the group. And who doesn't like "Lowrider".
Q: Now for the exceptions... Two songs--"Mista Banks" and "Go-go Tech" are definite departures from the rest of the album. There's a gritty, funky urban feel to both. What's the story there?
A: Mista Banks is a tribute to Alfonso Ribero's portrayal of Carlton Banks on the hit television show "The Fresh Prince of Belair" so we figured it needed to have an authentic R&B quality. JP(drums) actually graduated from Go-Go Tech, class of 96, and was placed in the band by the schools job placement program.
Q: I noticed that Steve and Andy (the two vocalists) have very different styles. How do you determine who sings what?
A: If either Steve or Andy comes up with the germ of the song, they usually end up singing the lead vocal on it. Otherwise we just look at the song aesthetically and it's usually pretty obvious who's supposed to sing it.
Q: You were produced by Ted Comerford. What was it like working with him, and what did he add to your recording?
A: We primarily had the songs ready to go when we got into the studio so Ted really focused on tones. He comes from an Indie rock background, so he payed serious attention to the guitars and the drum mix. Both are very live sounding and prevelant in the mixes.
Q: What you pick up from Mitch Easter?
A: He's recorded and mixed some incredible records. He mixes without automation, so everything has a very human feel. We recorded most of the tracks and mixed the record at his studio in North Carolina on an older neve console which added warmth and body to the recordings. We had access to vintage acoustic guitars, a hammond organ, fender rhodes, and much timeless and sometimes useless kitsch. (The Danelectro Sitar-Guitar was my favorite.) Mitch is definitely a large and important part of how the record sounds.
Q: What about the name of the band--any significant meaning? There are some unusual song titles, too ("Achafalaya Love Affair," "Luminiferous Ether," "E song," "A song"). What's the inspiration behind those?
A: As far as the band name goes, we enjoy things of a generic nature, and nothing seemed to be more encompassing and generic as Virginia Coalition. We are less apt to go after names like fluorescent dookie stick and more into the blatantly plain and humorous "Townburg", which actually was "Townburgville" or "Dorfburg" at first, we can't remember which. The song titles are mostly in the same vein. "A Song" and "E Song" are obvious explanations of the keys in which the songs find themselves in. Actually, in those cases we probably have been outright lazy, and as Steve (vocal, guitar) always reminds us, who cares. "Atchafalaya Love Affair" was a title Steve came up with referencing his college domicile Tulane in New Orleans. The Atchafalaya is a river in Louisiana. "Luminiferous Ether" is one of those geek titles Paul (keys, percussion) came up with when he had too much time on his hands. He says it was actually the medium once thought to transport light through Space until Einstein came along and ruined that theory. Look it up and figure it out or come to a show and ask Paul or if you are in line with Steve you won't even care.
Q: The band sounds very at home in the studio. Is it a hard transition between live and studio work?
A: Our biggest concern about going to tape has been capturing lifeless music with sloth-like tempos. It is such a different endeavor from playing live that it is really its own craft as any musician already knows and we are figuring out. Its kind of like a drug habit. The first step is admitting you have the problem and then focusing in on how to translate the gusto that fuels the addiction into something more constructive. If it is not instinctive in the studio you have to make a concerted effort to play with the same zeal and you have to set your tempos ahead of time. It is more instinctive for us to act like monkeys on stage surrounded by people than it is to lay it down in the studio. So, yes, a hard transition.
Q: Looks like you have a lot of attention on the East coast. Any plans to head out West?
A: Well, we will be heading out on a mid-west stint in early april before we come back home to have our CD release party in Washington, DC. That is about as far west as we are reaching now. Guess we don't want to spread ourselves too thin yet as we have only been at this for a little more than a year. We also don't think it would be too smart to leave a large time gap between shows in a paticular area while we are still in the building stages here on the east coast. That of course doesn't mention how much we would love to play from DC to Cali and on around the world if we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity.
Q: How important is the internet in your promotion?
The internet is the centerpiece in our promotional plans....bar none. We sell everything through our web site, list all of our dates, conduct mass email, receive email and nonsensical/sensical BS, andmake sure that we put exclusive material on as bait. This is all internet 101 but still critical. In fact everything we know is pretty 101. I would venture to say that we are actually quite stupid, but sometimes thinking too much hurts and often is a detriment anyway.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add...
A: Yes, our CD release party for "Townburg" will be saturday April 22 at the Garage in downtown Washington, DC. You can buy tickets through our web site and after that date you will be able to purchase the new CD on our site as well through ccnow.com, amazon.com, and cdnow.com. We also endorse the use of mayonnaise.
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