The Vandelles are rock n’ roll noir at its finest. Their songs are the perfect soundtrack to rain-slicked city streets at night, and the lust, betrayal and violence that filters through them. The band thrives on layers of fuzz and a wall of reverb-laden guitar noise, and they also harbor a penchant for 60s garage pop melody and surf rock riffs. Those expecting the Vandelles to sound like their Brooklyn contemporaries Vivian Girls or Crystal Stilts would be wrong—they channel a dirtier, scuzzier aesthetic more on par with the Cramps, Suicide, X, or even Link Wray. On the new release, Del Black Aloha, songs like “Lovely Weather” and “Dash N’ Dive” find the band’s ragged riffs, crooned vocals and crushing, dread-inducing pedal manipulations forming a perfectly sinister sound that both terrifies and transfixes the listener. Definitely not recommended for those who suffer from anxiety, late-night panic attacks, or criminal thoughts. TDOA writer-extraordinaire Sania, met up with the band during South By Southwest to talk about their beautiful noise.
TDOA: So how did the Vandelles first meet and start making music together? And let’s just clear up the fact that you are a New York band, because if I read one more time that someone has written that you hail from California, that person may need something thrown at them. Maybe a flaming guitar?
Lulu: Jasno, Honey and I met in college in New Jersey. We were in separate bands, wanted to get deeper into Psych and Surf and found each other in basement party that catered to that sort of stuff. Thereafter we got together and started jamming and picked up our first guitarist Dave; then he wanted to be a DJ. He told us after we played a show in Boston, funny enough and we met Christo at that show in Boston. After college, we all got sucked into the fervor of New York City and that is where we really have been gelling our style and sound.
Jasno: Yea, people in Philly and Baltimore recently asked if we were from California. They read it on some blog (not sure which). Goes to show that some people really don’t know what they are talking about, but they have a forum that reads them so rumors spread. In the end, it doesn’t matter where we’re from. As far as I’m concerned I’m from the last place I stored my clothes and surfboards at, which changes all the time, now it’s Brooklyn.
TDOA: The song structure of your music is so fascinating, every element has a distinct voice and a very present part to play, but cohesively, everything mixes so well. What is the song writing process like for you guys? How and where do you come together and record?
Christo : Generally we start with a demo from Jasno and then as a band we elaborate upon, add parts to it, and sequence it while playing it in rehearsal.
Lulu: Lately we have been writing pretty organically. At this point, we’ve been together so long that we sort of intuitively know what direction a song will go and what everyone is thinking in terms of song structure. Our most recent recordings have a bit of a summer haze to them because we wrote the songs and recorded them during three major snowstorms this winter. The recording was done at Junxt Studio in Brooklyn, which we recorded with our amazing friends, Mark Lewis and Ezra Selove. It was really fun and I think this time we were able to capture more of our live sound in the recording.
TDOA: Who or what do you look to for inspiration when it comes to your music?
Honey: With the newer songs, I am loving that there’ s definitely a girl group influence, at least in the drums. Essentially, I’m really just playing The Crystals songs while Jasno sings various levels of crooner.
Christo: We generally have three kinds of songs: psych-rock jams, surf rock dance hops, and yes, girl-groupish pop tunes. A lot of them are mixtures of all of the above, with some shoegaze and garage punk aesthetics thrown in for good measure.
Jasno: We all like Spaceman 3 and The Cramps, that’s a consensus for sure.
TDOA: Who are you guys listening to at the moment? Any new records that have really caught your admiration?
Honey: I just discovered The Diamond Center and they are hot to me right now. It reminds me of what the Supremes would sound like if they were belly dancers. And also, Napalm Death.
Lulu: I need new jams. But I agree with Honey, Diamond Center is pretty rad.
Christo: I really like the new Ringo Deathstarr album Color Trip. The whole album just has this huge sound to it that I love. Other than that, new Wire album is awesome and that Dum Dum Girls EP is pretty rad too. A lot of bands around Brooklyn have new stuff out that I love, like Telenovelas, Heaven, Mauve Angeles, Zaza, Elika, Invisible Days, Me You Us Them, just to name a few. Oh Yea, our manager just turned me on to Ian Drury – loving that stuff for sure, “Hit me with your Rhythm Stick, hit me, hit me!”
TDOA: The Vandelles live is a crazy assault on the senses, you get consumed by a suffocating, in a good way, wall of sound that crashes down on you, and then you have those perfectly matched visuals that add a whole other dimension. Who is responsible for putting together those killer projections?
Honey: Our old projections were done by Dave, our original guitar player–sometimes with me dictating which clips from Carnival of Souls I think seem romantic. The projections for one of our newest songs, “My Time”, were made completely by our good buddy and awesome artist, Troy Barrett. We are loving those new projections, mashed up pysch-surf love images.
Lulu: Lately Christo has been doing wonders with kaleidoscopes, mirrors and various oil on water type action.
TDOA: What is one of the cooler favorite moments you’ve had on stage?
Lulu: When we played in Toronto a few years back….that crowd was amazing. We played at 4am and everyone was somehow still incredibly energetic (or deliriously drunk) to the point that they started banging on the stage while waiting for us to start our set. One kid stole a microphone and refused to give it back. A friend of ours had to wrestle it away from him so that I could sing. And another kid stole our tambourine and went nuts. We then had a dance party until dawn. It was wild. Toronto is definitely on top of my tour destination list.
Honey: For me, it definitely has to be a very recent moment from our show a few weeks ago in Philly. I accidentally lost my grip on a stick and it went spiraling like a ninja star towards Jasno’s head. I was completely convinced he was about to be impaled, until seconds before impact, when he pulled a Mr. Miyagi and caught it without even rotating his head. The man is a legend.
Christo: Psychfest 3 was pretty fun because we had some unannounced guests on stage with us; Elliott from Ringo Deathstarr played tambourine on “Bad Volcano” and during “Bomb the Surf” Kirkpatrick from Spindrift was dancing around the stage and somehow managed to jump off and completely smash this liquid light projector that a friend of ours, Wayne, was doing from the side.
Jasno: Opening for Serena Maneesh at Mercury Lounge in NYC was fun, the place was wall to wall packed by the time we took the stage and the vibe was one big swell of music buzziness.
TDOA: It’s going to be so great to have the band playing Austin again for another SXSW, even more exciting than usual because you guys will be releasing the new Summer Fling EP. Can you tell us a little about it? The released tracks ‘Get Around’ and ‘My Time’ have this serious Beach Boys shake hands with the Ramones and then someone throws them in a rusty blender with a hit of acid vibe to them. What feel and sound were you guys going for?
Lulu: We are excited about SxSw, this year we are an official showcasing band. As for the sound, you gave a perfect description. We were going for that rusty-blender-core sound, for sure.
Christo: Sounds right to me. Definitely these songs have a more upbeat vibe to ‘em than some of our previous stuff, so while sonically it’s similar with the girl-group/surf/noise sound, the songs feel a little more light-hearted and less evil.
Jasno: We were in a mood, and that mood comes out in the EP, we’re proud of it and think that it will be a soundtrack to many Summer Flings – we dedicate it to those moments in time in which we are flirting with make-out oblivion in a summer sure to end.
TDOA: The band is also working on a full length LP? What can you tell us about it? How do you feel your sound has evolved from what’s presented on Del Black Aloha?
Lulu: A bunch of the new songs are definitely a lot sweeter than some of our older stuff. It’s extremely summery, because we have been dealing with snow piles and icy streets; we wrote the EP wishing it was beach weather. We still add our dark twisty noise to it of course, or it wouldn’t feel right, and we’d get bored – we like to grind a bit.
Christo: I don’t really feel like this new album is gonna be a huge departure from DBA. It’s a collection of songs that combine all of the different sounds we love. We are sticking to our sound, just expressing a different side of it. We are gonna be playing a bunch of new songs for SXSW, and then starting the actual recording late Spring most likely.
TDOA: One of the videos posted from your live show at Piano’s in NY this past month is of a killer new song called ‘All Aloha,’ will that song appear on the new record?
Honey: Sure will.
Christo: Definitely that’s a song that will be on the album, but we can’t guarantee that the current live incarnation of it will be exactly what makes it onto the album.
TDOA: What do we have to look forward to post-SXSW to fall even more in love with The Vandelles?
Honey: Dinner and a movie? Our treat.
Lulu: We are hoping to do another tour this summer. Toronto 2011 or bust!
Jasno: Keep an eye out for a new video in support of the Summer Fling track, also we have a couple friends who are remixing the EP so we’ll send that out, which should be fun. Thereafter, the LP has got to get done and we are looking.
Christo: We’ll be looking for a guru in India to go hang with for a few months, drop acid, swap husbands and wives, and learn Sitar.