There was a time when Tennessee was the prime example of a living breathing musical stereotype. If a band or artist came from there, it must mean they are from Nashville and play the kind of music that’s no more than a soundtrack for the county fair rodeo. In reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. While Nashville still remains the premier location for America’s brightest up and coming country stars as well as the fading variety, Tennessee is also the home of a lush scene of rock n’ roll of just about every shape, size, and sub-genre. In fact, in some ways Tennessee is as an important part of rock music’s infrastructure as the electric guitar itself.
Because of that, a group of individuals now have the ability to pick up their instruments, play the kind of music they want, how they want, when they want, and still gain the kind of credibility and respect they deserve without being lumped together in the lonesome cowboy stereotype. Rock N Roll is not dead and Tennessee could very well be one of it’s most valuable outposts.
Meet Vamptones. Ben, Erin, Shea, and Nicole; A group of young, hard working garage rockers from Murfreesboro Tennessee, that have some how merged their love of early 1960s surf with the fist clenching angst of early 1980s horror punk, without losing any of the wit or energy for the sake of a shallow gimmick.
Their self-produced, self-recorded debut record “Kicks” features all the tongue-in-cheek wit, the sleazy twang of Link Wray, the style and attitude of The Cramps, and Danzig era Misfits, but combined with the pop sensibility of some modern garage bands like Shark? I had a chance for a quick Q&A with three quarters of the band, hoping they can give you a better idea of who they are, what they do, and why you should be checking out one of the scene’s most promising new acts, Vamptones.
You guys are pretty new to the scene, how do you all know each other and at what point did you decide to be a band?
Ben: Basically I started playing music again (after many years outta the loop), so I made some “demos” for fun. I’d post them on the internet for kicks, and Shea (bassist) would always be the first offer feedback and compliments. I know Shea from his hilarious and witty comments on my bedroom label Culture Cringe’s website, and I knew he played bass, so he was my first choice for the low end! He said yes! I knew Erin had played drums in a cool garage band called Supertasters here in town and we have always gotten along really well, so that was a shoe-in. Luckily she said yes also. Nicole played guitar in this great all girl band called Fallopian Tube Tops that I loved, and after a little convincing I got her on board too! Everyone was my first choice for forming the band and I can honestly say that I couldn’t be happier with the way we get along and how we sound when we flesh out the songs.
Shea: Right. Ben and I met via Culture Cringe and some shows we attended. I met Erin and Nicole for the first time at our first practice, but I was familiar with Nicole from the Tube Tops. We all just clicked and got along like we’d known each other way longer.
Listening to “Kicks” I hear a lot of influence from The Cramps and Misfits, am I right in that? What are some of the major musical influences that make up Vamptones?
Ben: Well I was a HUGE Misfits fan growing up, but I’ve never really listened to The Cramps. I had one of their tapes when I was a kid, but that’s about it! But I will say that every time I hear The Cramps, I do get pretty stoked. Maybe I should get into their catalog! As far as my personal influences, it’s pretty all over the place. I DO know that I kept challenging myself to write a Monkees or Grass Roots song. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Pixies and Breeders are all over my musical DNA. More on the Breeders side though….I always loved the dynamic of their Last Splash album, how they dabbled in different genres but kept the sound so tight. That’s probably the main reason we put our instrumental “Switchblade Shake” on there! I also am a huge fan of Lorde’s debut album, and I remember when I was writing songs I’d wonder if she’d dig it. No joke! It’s always good to have a mainstream star to write for. Oh, and another band that I always harken back to are the Rock-A-Teens out of Atlanta. They were a great Merge band in the 90s and man-o-man, they really moved me as a young whipper snapper…..they’re my main influence for using lots of reverb.
Erin: I’m pretty new to music. Growing up, I sort of lived in a cultural bubble. I’ve never really intentionally listened to either band until recently. I knew a girl in high school who loved The Misfits, she was my friend, I’m sure we listened to them a lot in her car, but I don’t really remember it having any penetrating effect on me. I had a friend listen to a live recording of three of our songs from our first show (the place where I told Ben about my dream of becoming a drummer in a cool band) and he said that we reminded him of The Cramps. So I immediately searched for them on the internet. I think “Kicks” is like playing with a pet tiger. It’s thrilling,and fun!
Shea: I’m into 60s garage rock/guitar pop, so that naturally drew me to the stuff Ben was doing. I’m also personally influenced by Superdrag and by what I refer to as the Superdrag family of bands. I’m a fan of anything that anyone of the guys that have ever been in Superdrag has been associated with. It’s pretty impressive. Google it, and thank me later. I also might add that I firmly believe John Davis was gifted with the musical Midas Touch. In addition, I’m also a firm believer in James Jamerson’s philosophy of keeping the bass line moving. I try to implement that approach in my playing.
If you had to sum up Vamptones with only ONE of your songs, what would it be and why?
Erin: Not possible!!
Ben: For me it’d be “Wizard of Gore”. I like it cos it kinda tells an autobiographical story and has a chorus that’s fun to sing! People at shows seem to dig this one.
Shea: Ditto…What Ben said
Do you guys plan on touring any time soon?
Erin: YEAH! I think we will do a small local one first, maybe five times. Then we have aspirations of a world tour!!
Ben: Touring is weird! I was in a punk band for YEARS and we did the whole punk rock, sleep in the van, wash the clothes once a month thing. It was fun…..but it was also a different time. Not to date myself….but it was before bands had as much ease to get their songs out there as they do now, if that makes sense. Plus, we had label people telling us we “had to tour, tour, tour, tour, and tour some more”. I dunno if it’s really like that now. If the opportunity was there and it logically made sense, I’d love to tour again. But I don’t know if heading out on a blind hunch is gonna happen anytime soon. Of course, we’ll do some regional stuff hopefully this summer. I think our short term goal is to try and crank out another album this year!
Any dream bands you would like to tour with?
Ben: Depends on what kind of dream we’re talking about! Ok, big-time dream would be The Cure, obviously Pixies or Breeders, or KISS. Actually scratch KISS, I heard they only give the opening bands 1/3 of the PA power. Yeah we don’t have time for that. More realistic dream? Dum-Dum Girls, Beverly, Tweens, or Twin Peaks would be a blast to tour with. There are some great local bands around here that’d be fun too: Tennessee Scum, Churchyard, THING, Mystery Twins, Lees of Memory!!
Shea: I’m in full agreement with Ben here. Of course the Lees of Memory! Definitely scratch KISS. I’m afraid I might accidently anger The Starchild. Did you see him go off on that dude in the crowd with the laser pointer?
You guys recorded “Kicks” yourselves right?
Ben: We did! Haha….I’m such a NOOB at recording it’s ridiculous. I finally bought a “good” condenser mic at guitar center (the one that the dreadlocked sales associate pointed me to), and a small Mackie mixing board that had this crazy thing called “Phantom Power”. He informed me that I had to have it, and I believed him! Turns out, he was right. So, for drums I used the “good” condenser mic and then I strategically placed some Shure SM-58s around the sides. Boom! Done, next. Same for all the amps. I really didn’t know what I was doing. Still don’t. I just ran it all into the computer and hit the “GO” button!! I think it came out listenable.
Erin: Totally. Ben is a wonderful person. He’s like the leader of the band AND the band manager. He organizes most everything and makes sure we have everything we will need, always. In some ways, he’s like Santa; but you don’t have to tell him what you want for Christmas. Ben set up everything at the Tiki Tiger Lounge (where we practice). He had mics, cables, a Mac computer, some four tracker thing, he bought this new fancy no vibrations mic. It was pretty legit. I of course, used my regular drum set and hard ciders. Ben had these headphones I was supposed to wear when we tracked drums so that I could hear him play guitar, but the mics wouldn’t pick it up. I had to duct tape them to my head to keep them from flying off.
To me it seems like garage bands (meaning people actually playing instruments, and not following a certain format) are kind of becoming a new punk rock. Do you see this as a good thing or a ‘hipster trend’?
Erin: Garage bands have been around for a while, man. It’s not really anything new. We have a style sort of like a 90s garage band. They’ll always be there, because in a way it is punk, and it’s definitely cool.
Shea: I think it’s a good thing. And you say “hipster trend” as if hipsters are a bad thing. I like hipsters. They look like Torgo. They even walk like Torgo if their pants are tight enough. The Master would definitely approve.
Ben: I guess I think it’s great! I’m pretty much down with any kind of music as long as the people aren’t pretending. I don’t really have a pulse on what’s trending right now, but as long as I can tell that a band is genuine, I’m usually a fan.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Back To Bed” it seems like a departure from the rest of the record. Where the other tracks seem to be straight forward rock songs, this one seems like a ballad. Is there some deeper meaning with the lyrics? Where did this one come from?
Ben: Dude, I’m glad you like it. Honestly, I wasn’t going to include it but Shea twisted my arm a little. I’m glad he did, because it came out way better than I imagined! I wrote “Back To Bed” in 30 minutes one night when my girlfriend was out of town, then I demoed it immediately. It’s my attempt at a love song, but I’m sure most people hear it and think it’s a pretty bizarre love song. But it’s the result of stream of consciousness songwriting and honestly I described a typical way we like to spend a lazy Saturday! And honestly I couldn’t think of a better way……checking the roof for holes (a common problem here in TN), looking through stuff we’d bought at flea markets and never took out of the bags, feeding the cats, and sleeping all day! I also wanted a song with a “Cure” style outro. I think i was trying to write a song that’d fit on the Disintegration album. Yeah that’s it. Hahah.
So, what’s next for Vamptones?
Erin: )We plan on playing a lot of shows in the immediate future, friending up with a bunch of really cool local and regional bands. We will travel some. Then we will make a bunch of new songs, record another album, go on a big tour. . . it just escalades from there. We want to play a festival soon too! Then always, of course, WORLD TOUR.
“Kicks” by Vamptones is available now at Bandcamp.