Viet Cong Talk About Their Cassette Releases and Roughing It on Tour – Exclusive Interview
Viet Cong have been around the block. Frontman Matthew Flegel and drummer Michael Wallace were once members of Women – the fantastic Calgary noise-rock band that infamously dissolved not long after an exhaustion-induced onstage fight in 2010. (Tragically, Women guitarist Chris Reimer died in 2012.)
Since forming in 2012, Viet Cong (also featuring guitarists Monty Munro and Danny Christiansen) have spent nights sleeping on the side of the interstate, played side gigs in a Black Sabbath cover band and scrounged together enough time and money to record their debut EO, ‘Cassette,’ which was originally released on actual cassettes and recently reissued on vinyl by Mexican Summer.
Viet Cong display their depth of experience on ‘Cassette,’ which is impressive in its variety – particularly the way it adopts seemingly disparate elements of psych-rock. With vocal quavering that recalls David Bowie and Peter Murphy (‘Oxygen Feed’), acid-sharp guitar lines (the space-capsule intro to ‘Static Wall’) and rumbling organs and sprinting drums (‘Structureless Designs’), ‘Cassette’ sounds like a tour through the band’s heady influences.
Their set at the 4Knots Music Festival in NYC last weekend felt faster, chunkier and a little more devil horns in the air than their earlier work, perhaps signifying that they’ve settled on a direction and giving us a clue as to the possible sound of their upcoming debut full-length. We stood around with Viet Cong (minus Christiansen) at the festival and talked about their new music and about finding the nicest patch of grass by the side of the highway.
What is Calgary like?
Flegel: To compare it to a place that people in the states might know, I’d say it reminds me a lot of Denver. It’s where the prairies meet the mountains – high altitude, cold at night. That’s the closest American city I can compare it to, size-wise and feeling-wise.
Are there a lot of good bands there?
Flegel: Oh yeah, there are a lot of good bands.
Munro: Un Blonde. You should check out Lab Coast.
Munro: Telstar Drugs. They mostly live in Montreal now, but they’re sick, too. Faux Fur, too. Although Faux Fur, Un Blonde, and Telstar Drugs are all kind of the same band. Oh, and Modern Aquatics featuring Flegel’s youngest brother on drums.
Weren’t you guys all in a Black Sabbath cover band?
Flegel: Yeah, [Wallace and I] were.
Wallace: We did that and it was really, really fun. Then when we were trying to do a real band, we were talking about who could possibly…
Flegel: Danny played in a couple of bands in Calgary at the time. We liked those bands and used to play shows together, but we were never, like, bros until I started the Sabbath cover band and we needed a guitarist. I was like, “What about that Danny guy? I know he rips!“… He jammed with us once and it was perfect.
‘Cassette’ was reissued on vinyl on July 7 and there’s a little bit of buzz around it. Are you noticing that?
Flegel: I’m noticing it when we have to run through about four or five interviews in a half an hour. [Laughs.] I don’t know if it’s benefitting us other than taking us away from having fun outside, man! [Laughs.] I’m just kidding. It’s been great. I don’t know that we’ve seen the risidual effects around that yet, but I imagine the next time we do a tour around here, we will.
Wallace: We’ve been selling [it on[ vinyl. People are excited to come get their hands on it. The tape was really limited and half of them didn’t even turn out – it was just rushed before our tour last summer. So that was kind of a really weak release. Mexican Summer gave it a second life it sounds better on an LP, it feels better to hold in your hand and [it’s[ exciting for us to have.
My impression of the EP was that it really represented everything you guys were doing. It feels like there are influences from all over the place.
Wallace: It’s just getting started, you know. [It’s] the first set of songs.
Munro: It’s a mixtape, kind of. The LP is a lot more cohesive.
Wallace: What we did was what we [recorded] in Monty’s basement. There’s a big difference in the sound of a basement recording and a studio recording.
You guys are working on a full-length, right?
Munro: It’s done. It’s in the can. But we can give no details about it.
Is there a sound on the EP that you guys honed in on as you were putting together tunes for the album?
Wallace: We tried to make it as good as possible.
Munro: Yeah. [We try to] just do as good a job as possible at any given time – you know, just drink a bunch of Black Label and get the best guitar tone you can get, then listen to it the next day and maybe it worked.
You released the EP on cassette first. Was that purely for ease of distribution?
Wallace: Just purely lack of organization.
Flegel: Yeah, [it was[ last minute [and[ slightly cooler than a CD.
Wallace: We could’ve burned some CD-Rs but we just ordered some cassettes. We tried to dub them ourselves, which is probably why half of them didn’t even turn out.
I’ve read about your 2013 tour, which seemed really hardcore. You guys were sleeping in the car and everything seemed really rock ‘n’ roll.
Munro: Mike and I slept on the ground outside by the side of the interstate a lot.
Wallace: Once I had to go stomp out a sprinkler system that turned on in the middle of the night when we were sleeping, but, I was like, “This is the nicest patch of grass!” It was the most moisturized, taken care of patch.
Is this tour a little nicer?
Munro: Yeah, we’re staying in hotels some of the time, although on that tour we were, too.
Flegel: Danny woke up in Delaware today.
Munro: He took a taxi from Philadelphia to Delaware.
Munro: Following a lady.
Flegel: Yeah, he found a girl.
Munro: Then he took a taxi back from Delaware to Philadelphia.
Flegel: [It was a] $180 taxi ride.