Electric Bare: Can you talk a little bit about how the Vim Dicta started?
Cori Elliott: Matt and I met in 2009. I had just moved out here from Austin – which is where I’m from – and I didn’t know any musicians in the area. That year, I went to Coachella with my best friend who was dating Matt, and we all stayed in the same room. A year later, I sent him a message on Facebook to see if he wanted to jam with me, because I knew he’d been playing guitar in a few bands for a while and I just really wanted to play with somebody else who played guitar. We met up in his garage where he had this kind of digital 8-track Tascam recording thing set up with a bunch of old shitty mics and stuff. He was recording things he wrote on it but soon we started jamming on random stuff, like I would bring him licks and pieces of songs and it kind of progressed from there. We didn’t have any bassists around or drums so all we could do was record vocals and guitars. In the meantime I had a relationship with a manager who wanted to work with me as a solo artist but, I just didn’t want to at the time because I was focusing on other things, like acting, and so I was just showing him everything that I was doing musically and we’d talk about it. I sent him a recording of a song that Matt and I wrote that had a sort of Latin-infused root to it and he was just like “oh, this is really great, like there’s potential for something really cool here,” and that was the spark to our creative endeavors after that. We were like, “oh, let’s kind of write songs in this vein.” A couple weeks later Matt was like “you know we should form a band” and I was like “ok – cool.” I was at Santa Monica College at the time and I was down to do it for fun – I didn’t really think much of it. The whole time at school though I was thinking about music, I couldn’t wait to sit down and write more – and so that’s what we did… we started writing and soon found a drummer but he didn’t have the right feel so we brought on another one, who we had for two years – until he was replaced by Chris while we were in New York in 2013. The way that it worked out was mostly a very organic process.
EB: That sounds pretty fairy-tale actually, very cool.
CE: Yeah haha.
EB: So, what’s behind the name? How did you come up with The Vim Dicta?
Matt Tunney: Cori decided to put our names in an anagram generator, something that just jumbles up words, and the words that we put in the machine were Matt, Cori, and David (or old drummer), and those letters were scrambled into a list of a few thousand phrases and we were like “that part of that one is cool, and this part of the other one is cool,” and we somehow ended with two Latin words that when put together was this sort of power statement: “Vim” for “vigor” or “vitality” and “Dicta” which means “to dictate” – “to forcefully assert”. So we really weren’t nerdy and looked that up before like, “oh, we want to be a force of power, yeah”… it just sort of happened. It was just off the cuff like “oh this sounds cool,” and we realized later that it actually meant something.
EB: Sounds like Fate.
MT: Well, yeah – or as close to it as possible.
EB: Very cool, I love the story behind names particularly. Is there a similar story behind the name Von Tango or is it something that just aesthetically pleased you guys?
MT: Hmm, let’s see… Von Tango is interesting because it’s a callback to my song of the same name; it was one of our first songs, coming right after “Teaspoon” – and the name references that Latin rhythm we were talking about. We felt like that was totally appropriate for the direction we were going in at that time – very waltzy and dancey – reminded us of a “Tango”… like spicy music, you might say…
EB: I love the cover of the record, is there any significance behind that other than its aesthetic value?
Chris Infusino: Oh just admit it, you like the naked woman!
EB: Well, yeah, but I tried to say that in prettier words.
CE: Well our band’s symbol is this psychedelic trippy circle thing and its lines are very similar to the lines and contours on the woman’s body in that photo. Our manager came across it while searching online for things that were related to our symbol – like just trippy black and white whatever – and everyone was like “oh, we love it so much we should use this for our album cover!” Then we found out it was a photo by a guy named Lucien Clergue. He was a French photographer; so we contacted him, sent him our music and he loved it so he let us use it! Unfortunately, he just died this year, so it’s sort of an iconic photo now.
EB: You recorded the album live, how was that process for you?
CI: That was an interesting process. It was a lot of fun but – when we got into the studio to record Von Tango, we had only been together for a few weeks! So even the vibe and the gel you saw at the show that you saw us at, because we had been a band for a while at that point, still wasn’t quite there. When we set foot into Capitol, there were still some things we were still discovering about playing together. It was the first time that the three of us were in the studio hearing the music in that amount of detail… because when you’re in the studio and you’ve got the headphones on and you’re hearing “everything”… it sounds completely different! It was a fun process, but it was crazy doing a bunch of complete takes to see which one vibed best – like Matt would take a sick solo and then we’d do it again and he’d try something different, or Cori would come at a song with a different vocal approach or me figuring out the right groove or the right fills to plug in because I was still doing a lot of searching to see what the best way to play the song would be.
EB: Are you currently recording your new material live?
CI: Well… we’ve been doing new test demos of all our new stuff because in the last year and a half we have built up a healthy catalogue of some pretty amazing songs. There was a demo session that we did in a buddy’s studio and that one we tracked. I laid drums out and Cori and Matt laid scratch vocals and guitars and ironed them out later on. Another friend of ours is an amazing engineer and a front of house guy at the Fox Theatre in Pomona. He recently wanted to test his new mobile rig so he recorded us there – at least eight songs live.
MT: Kinda cutting back for a bit, I’ve noticed… well looking back for the past two years at bands… I never could hear, like, the room. Like have you ever listened to a Franz Ferdinand record and you’re like, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s like amazing and the production is awesome” but it’s so perfect I can’t even… maybe it’s the drums, like a certain part that makes it seem more open – put the room back in there.
EB: Like the allure of the first Black Keys record.
MT: Yeah, exactly!
CI: I was actually listening to a little bit of PJ Harvey yesterday and, I don’t know if you guys have listened to her, but on that album Rid Of Me, the first song, “Rid Of Me”, it is literally so quiet and it just sounds like a guitar and drums in a room. That’s the sound of it. There’s no production – but then they get really fuckin’ loud in the middle of the song and it sounds really cool.
MT: She’s super breathy, yeah. Her production uses a lot of subtly which requires, you know, the openness of a room, that reverberation and that character.
CE: I remember seeing this Pixies documentary – their album sounds really good – and she was in it and she was talking about how much she aspires to get that “thing” when she records. So I think the Pixies are one example and also, I don’t know if you guys know Fife? Her stuff is really… like there’s a lot of breath… like it breathes really well. I think it’s very rare though that you find bands like that…
EB: So we’ve talked a little bit about LA – could you describe the “scene” right now as you see it? What’s it been like participating in that scene?
CI: In what, the LA scene?
EB: Yeah, because I feel like a lot of musicians, a lot of young musicians, they have this impression of Los Angeles and New York and these icons of American music as like the Mecca or the place where you need to go because that’s were the talent is germinating. Is it that way? How do you see it? What has your experience been like?
MT: Hm… well there’s definitely a lot of people moving here, but –
CE: There’re a lot of bands here. A LOT.
MT: There’re so many bands that there are almost hierarchies of what bands can do. Like, you can be a successful cover band in LA or you can be a successful 45+ band in LA, but as far as making it as far as the blog and the kind of cool internet world and coming to LA you better be cool somewhere else first I’d say. You better be. Even if it’s in a small town. Even if it’s in a relatively small town in Washington. Like “oh they like that in Washington these guys might be good”. Nobody really respects locals in LA. Nobody really does, not like in New York. People really respect the whole local attitude in New York. LA is not more transient but people can shit on it because it’s so sunny outside. So many people pissing on the same block, essentially. We form our packs. We try to stay tight and non confrontational. And it’s been cool.
EB: Is there any cross pollination? Are there any bands… have you met any other groups that you’ve been working with or kick it with or like to share ideas with?
CI: We have… but it’s few and far between. Not that we’re rewriting music law or anything like that. It’s just hard to find other bands that we can share bills with or bands that –
MT: that work.
CI: That work. Exactly! You know bands that are slightly bigger so its like “hey why don’t you come open for us” so we can bring our fans and then we get to meet their fans and it becomes this great growing momentum. It’s just so far and few between… I’m not saying no one is doing what we are… I just haven’t seen anybody. I mean even to find a band that is dabbling in the blues-rock element… to find one that’s doing well – it’s very tough. There are so many that aren’t really doing that much or they’re so far into the Indie-rock side of things so it’s like, “Yeah you guys are good but we would never share a bill together,” you know because it’s so different.
MT: We end up sounding too hard but really we actually aren’t that hard-core. We’re like on the medium side of what hard-rock approaches sometimes.
MT: No, honestly.
CE: My point of view from being in the band… it’s like what they’re trying to say is that we have our sound that we are obviously trying to hone and work on… but there are definitely scenes in LA. Like pockets of different styles of music and a lot of it is very formulaic, but our band is our own thing, whatever, but when we play to any type of crowd we get overall a sense of, “ok I respect what you’re doing,” it’s usually positive so there’s no particular scene that we’ve really stuck in, you know? When we play for a more ethnic crowd; they love it… and then we play at places like Harvard & Stone, which is more hipster/actress/entertainment people and they love it, though their reaction is a little more sterile, like “oh, yeah, great show” as opposed to when we went to Tijuana a couple weeks ago, and everyone there was freaking out like “oh you guys are awesome!” Wherever we play we usually gain a few new fans… but there’s really no particular scene that we are a part of. We’re comfortable everywhere.
CI: Very well said. It’s very much like that. And it’s awesome. And it sucks.
CE: There’s just so much stuff.
CI: Yeah. In LA there’s just so much stuff… and just speaking like a music critic – not wanting to sound biased– but speaking as a fan of music there is just so much shit… It’s unbelievable! Like how do you sort through all the shit and find… like I was having this conversation with a friend of mine the other day: I’ve been a drummer for 20 years and I’ve played for a living for 10 years and it’s like I’ve listened to so much music like I’m sure Cori and Matt have, like I’m sure you have as well, and it’s just like for me, and I can definitely speak for Matt and Cori on this as well, like we are so picky as to what is good and it’s like… when I find a new band that’s like a life moment for me. Just recently I dipped into the Dead Weather catalogue and, I do the same thing with every band… when I discovered Led Zeppelin I listened to every record of theirs over and over again for months because finding a band that moves me in a way like that… it just doesn’t happen that often, and I’m looking for it. It’s just sifting through all the garbage and finding somebody that’s just really… finding something that just really moves me. And saying that it’s garbage doesn’t mean that it is. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t good, right? It’s all subjective. I’m sure I’m gonna be listening to the Dead Weather till like Christmas. And they only have two records haha!
EB: On the topic of what you’re listening to, I know Chris you said the Dead Weather, but what’s inspiring you guys right now? What are you listening to?
CE: I know what Matt’s gonna say, which I like them too – Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
MT: Oh, yeah! Unknown Mortal Orchestra is the SHIT.
CI: I just recently started checking their stuff out. They’re amazing!
MT: I’ve been listening to a lot of Flying Lotus, Black Moth Super Rainbow, some of their early stuff.
CE: I like Tune-Yards, like some of her… like from Whokill. I’m not sure if I dig her new album but I’ve only heard a few songs.
MT: I’ve got my Spotify up right now. I’ve been listening to Flying Lotus, some Temples, this reggae band called Catch of Fire – I wish I could just play them for you over the phone. I’ve been listening to a lot of old Kanye West. Chic Chic Chic, you know them? They’re a great show, man. So cool.
CE: I mean it’s all over the place really. It’s mostly old stuff though. Like David Bowie and Jeff Buckley, he’s a huge one for me.
CI: I’ve actually been listening to a lot of orchestra music. The other day I listened to the Boston Pops, like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra back in the 70’s, they did a rendition of a symphony called Gandalf and they did another rendition of Carmina Burana because after a while the radio becomes so “Blah.” If I’m in the car I’ll usually always listen to some type of Jazz… and if I’m feeling really chill I listen to a lot of the old ballads of Frank Sinatra. Like it just moves you in such a different way. Just his phrasing and how he chooses his melodies… it’s just unbelievable. It just takes you somewhere else.
CE: That’s Billie Holiday for me.
CI: Yeah, and Nina Simone’s a big one.
MT: I got Alt-J. Do you guys know Tabacco? I got Mac Demarco, he’s super good. Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, Connan Mockasin.
EB: If I could backtrack just a bit… actually kind of a lot… You guys released Von Tango on Psychogroove, which is your own imprint… is that something you guys want to expand? Do you release everything yourselves? Do you eventually want to add more bands to Psychogroove?
CI: Well I mean as far as vision for the company goes yeah, I mean if everything keeps going the way it looks to be going it definitely feels like it moves slower than it really does and then I look back and I think, “oh yeah well we just played TJ and they went crazy” and our fan-base is getting bigger… point being that if things keep going the way that they’re going I don’t see why Psychogroove Media couldn’t be a label where we would bring in other artists.
MT: It’s something that we will always use to control our media. Like even Chris just mentioned, it’s not even a label for other people yet, it’s just an imprint through which our media can be released. And there’s always a layer of protection and control that is super important. I hope we do get really big and have other bands be on Psychogroove. That’s a dream… I want to be able to just, you know, give someone else a cool chance. But that requires us to be big first and that’s what we are focusing on right now. We are really glad we have it there. It’s like our bulletproof vest in the music industry.
CI: Well put. I don’t see why down the road we could do what Jack White did with Third Man Records, you know. It was just his own thing for such a long time and then it turned into a really successful label. Like how Matt phrased it, it is our protection, our bulletproof vest. It has all the makings to be a label down the road.
EB: So you mentioned that you are working on some demos right now. Are there any tentative dates when you are hoping to have recordings finished by?
CI: Right now it’s all open. But the sooner the better, haha.
MT: We are literally writing so much new stuff that we need to record demos on more than just an iPhone, you know. But we still wanna get all we can out of Von Tango.
EB: You guys have Serenity Gathering coming up. Are there any other big dates on your horizon?
CI: Right now we are working with our booker in LA and he has a bunch of potential dates. We are basically gearing up for late spring and summer as of right now through him plus another gig or two in Mexico. Serenity Gathering is the biggest thing we currently have booked and we expect to see everyone reading this to be there! Seriously, we’ve been spending a lot of time hashing out new material and as Matt said, even though a lot of these songs that nobody’s ever heard are old to us but, you know, all of these songs are new to just about everybody out there! So for Von Tango, we still have a lot of love that we can get from that and share it with people, like what that record is and what it will always represent. But kind of like what I said earlier, all the new stuff that we are looking to record we can easily go and record these next 10-15 songs, maybe more, and partially have a record but it’s mostly for… you know we are starting to take notice of label attention and we are fielding a lot of buzz from higher-ups in the business so it will almost serve as this kind of… an audible press packet.
MT: Yeah, definitely.
CI: That’s why we are trying to record as many as we can but not rush the process… because you can only make one first impression. So we are trying to do it the right way and the best way we can.
MT: And when we record we want to do it so well that it costs less money so –
CI: And then there’s that.
MT: We mentioned the room thing earlier, like the sound of the room. Fortunately and unfortunately that room is Capitol Records, man!
EB: Yeah I saw a video of you playing there.
MT: Yeah that was shot by a good friend of ours – a super talented guy who’s really good at what he does. We were able to be captured in that room. And that’s our thing – we want to be captured every time we do that sort of thing because it illustrates what we talk about, like why is live – not better for everyone – but why is it our way. And that video, in the five minutes and thirty seconds it takes, you’re like “oh yeah, I got it.”
EB: What are you guys trying to say with the music?
MT: I would say briefly that Von Tango is, like a lot of the material Cori and I wrote in our post adolescence… tons of lover’s quarrels type stuff, which I think fuels a lot of the great classic songs. Only these are a bit more… dynamic. Cori what would you say?
CE: I don’t think it’s ever just one thing, it’s just whatever is inspiring us in the present moment and as we continue what is emotionally effecting us as humans. I mean that’s what music is about. It’s sort of, you know, getting out what it’s like to be human through sound. So sometimes the best way is through that. We are really attracted to bands that are very passionate and intense and so I think that that’s always been something that is present in our music. It’s always constantly evolving I would say.
MT: We are working on our rap Hip Hop album, haha.
CE: You never know… Whatever inspires us. We listen to all sorts of music and we hope that that continues to come through on our future recordings.