|Photo Credit: Ryder E. Robison & Greg Daniels|
In the last ten years it seems like rock bands of all shapes and sizes have sprouted up like weeds. There are always good and bad sides to any movement, and as a journalist who has to weed through all the incoming press kits, there are a lot of dandelions out there, infiltrating music’s crisp green landscape.
Then there is Denver’s VAUX, a group of guys who take not only their music seriously, but their career. Sure, they like to throw a beer down with the best of them, but this thing they call a band IS their livelihood and no matter how much one hates calling music a business, it is.
VAUX was never one to pay attention to the standard formula of how a local band gets started. One would question whether they ever really considered themselves a “local” band, having spent more time in the van touring across the country than playing gigs at home.
Built with a persona of tenacity and aggression, from their stage presence and musical energy to their determination in overcoming numerous obstacles, the group has persevered over the last seven or so years. In the last 12 months they’ve cleaned the slate, from the people put in charge of their business (lawyers, manager, booking agent) to how they play and write music.
As 2006 arrived, the band found itself in a position the members had not anticipated: being dropped from their major label, Atlantic/Lava Records, with a brand new record just waiting to be set free to the world.
The last time Kaffeine Buzz spoke with VAUX, it was with their bassist Ryder Robison during a brief-run in at the Hi-Dive before SXSW 2005. The band was very happy to have been signed with Atlantic/Lava Records because now they could afford to do things the right way.
VAUX went on to spend five weeks in the U.K. with producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee (U2, Snow Patrol) and Dave Sardy (Oasis, Rolling Stones, Hot Hot Heat) then mixed the album in Los Angeles. Things were all set for their debut release Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice last November and their single “Are You With Me” began to get good airplay on KBPI in Denver, WBCN in Boston, KTVZ in Houston, then in Vegas, Phoenix, and on a handful of other modern rock stations.
Then things went a bit off course. Just as they were finalizing their tour and marketing plans, Jason Flom, the co-chairperson at Lava, was fired. “Then everyone at Lava didn’t know what to do,” says guitarist, Chris Sorensen, over a bowl of steaming noodles at Denver’s Saigon Bowl, where he and guitarist Greg Daniels were getting me up-to-date. “He was championing us and then he got canned.”
VAUX was told that the record would still be released on Atlantic…and then manger, Jaz Summers from Big Life Management quit. Robison attempted to contact the label to get a meeting but without much luck. The news came soon enough from their attorney two days later. VAUX had been dropped by Atlantic a week and half before they were leaving on tour in support of the album’s release.
The reasons behind why VAUX was dropped are still unclear even now. But on the bright side, Daniels believes the legal connections to Atlantic seem to be behind them, freeing them to release Beyond Virtue… on another label. “I’m sure it all comes down to dollars and cents. For some reason they didn’t see the worth in putting [the album] out or didn’t think they would recoup the money they put into it,” but he adds with a level of gratitude, “Atlantic was actually cooperating with the separation. They treated us very well.”
In order to keep things copasetic, Sorensen spits out legal banter as if he’s reciting a disclaimer for a car commercial, “We can’t authorize any derogatory remarks or make any derogatory remarks regarding Atlantic Records, any of its affiliates, employees or artists.” You’d have to venture to guess that he’s read their parting legal contract more than a few times, “I got a lot of time on my hands,” he admits, laughing.
One of the biggest pluses to come out of their brief Atlantic stint was what Robison and the rest of the group had been elated about last year: being able to afford a top notch producer and other professional advantages that go along with a major label budget.
Photo Credit: Ryder E. Robison & Greg Daniels
Sorensen reflects on their experience with a producer like Jacknife, “I never had somebody that would push to make us better musicians and better songwriters. So as far as us growing up as a band, it was an amazing experience. That alone was worth being on a major label, even though our careers didn’t go anywhere the past couple of years.”
Going to the U.K. to record with Jacknife and only having 13 or 14 songs, VAUX was far from ready to record and was still in need of a “single” for the album. So, Jacknife assigned them homework when they first arrived: write a new song over the weekend and present it to him on Monday.
Sorensen thinks back, laughing. “We were all, ‘What? Are you serious?’ We had one song in the works and we had tried and tried to redo it. It just didn’t come together. We were setting up to track another song and I was just noodling in between [Jacknife] yelling at somebody and doing something else when I wrote the guitar melody that started “Are You With Me?” That weekend Adam [Tymn] and I started playing, somebody else would come in the room and start playing, then we were all playing it together. It was like, ‘Holy cow this is awesome.’”
Daniels adds, “The thing that did it for me was your guitar part and Joe’s drum beat. It felt like something we’d never done before but there was something really familiar to it.”
When they played it for Jacknife he was sold. They had their single and before vocalist Quentin Smith had even nailed down the lyrics they were being pushing to record it that day. It was Halloween of 2005 when they wrote the song, marking their seventh year as a band.
The end result is amazing. Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice shows the depths at which this band has progressed over the last seven years. Joe McChan, one of Denver’s finest percussionists, evolved his skills as well pulling out obscure tactics by banging on fire extinguishers and drumming on wooden stair cases. “Never Better” portrays a more modern approach for VAUX both in melody and echoing samples, while “The Rope, The Pistol, The Candlestick” flickers with fire and icicles, ending with a ballistic landing that is very much a VAUX trait.
Although the album never completely made it out of the gate via Atlantic, the label did send out a few copies to the press. As a result, VAUX garnered some recognition early on from the likes of Alternative Press, who interviewed the band for a piece in the November 2005 issue and gave Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice a raving review with a ranking of 4 out of 5.
The video for the single “Are You With Me,” directed by Zak Merck (who came highly recommended by their friends in Converge, Static Lullaby and Shadows Fall), shows guerilla level recruitment for their cause, starting out with a quiet look out the window of an abandoned house, and then builds into all-out chaos as street kids invade the premises. “The end sequence was way crazier than they actually captured on camera. It was madness,” laughs Sorensen. “Shit was knocked over and Ryder and I were on the ground, and not on purpose.”
“We were a little weirded out when we found out it was the same as the new Bon Jovi video,” Daniels deadpans.
What were the chances? “I don’t know,” Sorensen adds sarcastically, “Great minds think alike I guess,” then pauses with a wide grin, “Just wait for the ‘Cocaine James’ video. It’s going to be out of control.” He wasn’t kidding. “We’re going to get dressed up in these crazy paper mache owl costumes, going crazy wrecking people who aren’t expecting it.”
“We’re going to be falling out of trees,” Daniels adds as he cracks up.
What about running full speed and nailing some guy waiting at a bus stop? Sorensen, almost choking on his food laughing, “Yea, full speed! But the best part will be after hitting people five or ten times, what the costumes will look like…the wings falling off and shit as we’re playing our instruments. It’s gonna be awesome.” Sure, just as long as they carry legal release forms with them at all times.
Daniels gets serious again, thinking back on what 2005 served up for the band. “We took quite a blow there. I think it’s just made our band stronger.”
“We’ve earned the right to be bitter,” Sorensen jokes once more, taking it further, “’We Have Every Right To Be Bitter.’ That will have to be the name of a B Side.”
Currently living in New York, Robison has been using his locale to keep the VAUX business connections running and at press time, he indicated that the band will be able to make some positive announcements in the near future about their future. Sorensen confirms, “There are a number of interesting things that are starting to present themselves. We’ll be back in action, very soon.”
VAUX has a number of indie labels interested and the timing is right as they prepare to start playing again at SXSW. Many an A&R rep will be running around town with VAUX in their Blackberry calendars. They’re also excited to be back playing in front of their hometown, Denver fans March 10 at the Marquis Theater, March 11 at Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, and March 12 at Hi-Dive with The Swayback. At SXSW they’re booked every day, including a slot at the Volcom Party on March 15, the Vice Party at the Longbranch Inn on March 17 and at Lombardi Gallery on March 18.
Denver residents also have the advantage of being able to pick up the homemade version of Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice at local retailers. Available for a limited time, this package includes the 12 track album along with the three-song CD single and a DVD featuring four songs VAUX performed last summer at the Fox Theatre.
To view the video for “Are You With Me,” check out the VAUX gig schedule, get links to their MySpace.com and PureVolume.com spots, go to www.wearevaux.com.
Look for this article to appear in the April 2006 issue of In-Flux, available at all Independent Records and other lifestyle locations around Denver and Colorado Springs.