If you haven’t guessed by now, psych rock is our current passion. As far as revivals go, few have been rekindled with such creativity and vitality. The Vacant Lots embody that spirit in spades. At once minimalist, yet intense, in bleeds into our soul and fills us with a sense of vertigo and adrenaline. Which is one of our favorite sensations….. TDOA writer, Sania talked to Brian and Jared about their experiences at Austin Psych Fest, playing with Spectrum and much more.
TDOA: So, the name, The Vacant Lots, what’s its story, and why was it chosen?
JARED: I got it from inside a William Burroughs novel. I happen to write down a lot of notes and ideas when I read and that phrase always stuck out to me. I like the duality of it, how it looked and how it sounded.
TDOA: What is the music scene like where you guys are based, Burlington, Vermont? Do you feel the atmosphere is a good one for inspiring artistic creativity? How do you feel the environment of your current home seeps into the pores of your sound?
BRIAN: When we first formed, there was a sort of Artist Collective by the name of Tick Tick that was really helpful with setting up some of our first shows and doing a lot of screen printing for us. We haven’t done much within Burlington for a couple years now, but it’s a college town — so plenty to see and hear.
JARED: I don’t believe it does. I think the inspiration for what we are doing comes from elsewhere. There’s no one in VT making the kind of music we are making. And we’re certainly not going to embrace some kinda false community milieu simply because we live here. I don’t believe in that. Brian grew up here, I was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. However, we do recognize this is where we formed the band and our first shows were performed here. We are grateful for that.
TDOA: You ended up touring with Spectrum last year, which is pretty amazing. What do you feel you walked away learning from that experience?
JARED: That was our first time touring the U.S. and to tour with Spectrum was one of the best experiences ever. It was pretty amazing. We learned a lot on that tour from Sonic Boom. And we feel very fortunate to have had that experience. They are 3 of the best musicians I know. Sonic Boom, Roger Brogan and Jason Holt. It was also very surreal for us to be there on tour with someone who we’ve admired for so long. It was like, there we were setting up our instruments and Sonic Boom was sound checking and tweaking the dials on the amps. There were definitely other memorable moments too where we couldn’t believe we were there, you know? The amount of concentration and discipline he puts into his music is incomparable. He’s an architect of sound. Sonic Boom has inspired us in many ways and continues to be a really positive and supportive influence to the band.
TDOA: The first time I saw you guys it was the pre-remodeled Hotel Vegas for the Sinister Foxy SXSW showcase last year. Just a dark room, and white sheeted stage. I have this theory about late hours in Austin having a strange magic to them when it comes to finding music. Something about the bareness of that place, mixed with the low lights, and the perfect amount of echo working with the reverb off your guitar was just really cool. Or maybe, everyone was just, really, really tired at that point, I don’t know. Either way, you guys were such a great find that week. How was your first SXSW experience? Your first time in Texas, too, wasn’t it?
JARED: Thank you. SXSW is quite different from what I had expected it to be. I suppose the fewer expectations one has the better. It was a lot of fun but my experience of Austin was eclipsed by the fact that we were there for only 1 day. We had 24 hours to get in all 4 shows amid the chaos and confusion before we flew back home. It was more like a whirlwind experience. I enjoyed myself and got to meet some great bands and people but it was more like a flash delirium. Austin Psych Fest the following month, however, was incredible and I had a chance to check out the city more as well.
TDOA: Lets talk about Austin Psych Fest! Are you as in love with it as I am? This year was your second time coming back, how was it? I saw a photo of Anton of The Brian Jonestown Massacre holding a record with your band’s name on it, pretty cool, right? Also, I miss last years power plant so much, and kind of wish I could just be locked away in there with amazing music forever, do you miss it too?
JARED: Yes, we are big fans of the festival. Each year seems to get better than the year before. Yeah, one of the highlights of Psych Fest this year was meeting Anton Newcombe of BJM. I have been a fan of the Jonestown for a really long time. It was an honor to finally meet him and we saved our last copy of the 7″ we put out on Mexican Summer last year to give to him. So that picture is of Anton holding the last copy of our single. Words can’t explain. I thought the Power Plant was intense and cool and nothing beats walking into something that looks like the ending of a David Lynch movie but I thought this year’s festival took it to another level and I am sure they will one up themselves next year.
TDOA: You guys are releasing a 7″ through Austin based The Reverberation Appreciation Society, co-brains with The Black Angels behind Austin Psych Fest, can you tell us a little about that?
JARED: Yeah, we are really looking forward to releasing some new music. It will be our second 7″ release. Last year we put out our Confusion 7″ with Mexican Summer. When we played Austin Psych Fest 4 last year we had the opportunity to meet The Reverberation Appreciation Society and The Black Angels. And they asked us if we’d be interested in putting out some vinyl. So, the 7″ should drop sometime before summer this year.
TDOA: You’re also in the midst of putting together a full length album, how is that coming along?
BRIAN: We just got done with a week of tracking down at Water Music with NYC engineer/producer Ted Young. Now it’s a matter of giving everything a good listen through and working towards getting all the tracks mixed and mastered.
TDOA: There seems to be a lot of art, and literature tied to your lyrics, and it reads in a poetic way. What are the influences involved?
JARED: There have been a lot of literary influences. The idea of combining a poetic angle with rock n roll really appealed to me early on. Some books I couldn’t live without are Baudelaire’s “Flowers Of Evil” and Lautreamont’s “Maldoror.” If I had to grab a handful of books or records in a fire – I would go for those two. I’ve also be reading Nietzsche, Kafka and Rimbaud. Mondrian, Warhol, Rothko, Anthony Ausgang on the art side have been influential too. As well as the films of Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson and Jim Jarmusch.
TDOA: What are you currently listening to?
BRIAN: Singapore Sling’s Never Forever LP, Mike Mind’s Resonate EP, & Fire Engines’ Lubricate Your Living Room LP
JARED: Aufheben by BJM, Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized, Phosphene Dream by The Black Angels, Grave 7″ by The Meek, some Link Wray, Little Richard, Joe Meek, Albert Ayler.
TDOA: The visuals involved in your live sets are really fantastic. Your music is cinematic in nature as it is, and with the images, everything is really set in motion. Actually, any visuals involved with this band in general, from band photos to album artwork fit perfectly. How are those put together, and do you feel they’re an important element to what you are trying to present?
JARED: Thanks. I really enjoy working on the design element. The visual element has always been important to me and we’ve always managed to have a lot of say with the band’s imagery. I make the visuals together or our live set from selecting carefully selecting each image and then edit them together with my girlfriend to add another element to the performance. We recently made some projections for Sonic Boom’s shows in NYC and France a couple months ago.
I like the multi media idea of having visuals going when we are playing. It’s kinda like the subconscious element behind the music. The visuals are abstract but symbolic and can produce the same effect on the listener as the words or music. Each person can interpret the images in their own way and give meaning to it from their own life. That is usually how I approach the lyrics too. That is the kind of experience we are after — inspiring others, changing lives. I see a lot of bands using projections for their live set but a lot of the time it’s just a series of images looped or some kinda boring 60′s reinterpretation of an oil light show thing. I don’t find that very relevant to our times. And I don’t find it interesting trying to redo what has already been done. I think we are continually searching for new ways to explore different things.
TDOA: Some may call your sound, oh I don’t know…. a bit dark, maybe? Lots of minimalism, low lying drone, and noir. What helps you to find balance when putting songs together so that everything doesn’t just fall into a giant sinkhole? When I listen, I feel it’s the melody involved. Despite everything, it remains light, and almost sweet. What do you think?
JARED: I think there is a lot of darkness as well as a lot of light. Duality has been a consistent theme and has seeped into the veins of our aesthetic since the beginning. Balance is key. The whole thing is a balancing act between madness and order. That it is the idea behind what will be our debut LP.
TDOA: What’s next for The Vacant Lots?
BRIAN: We were just invited to play with Wooden Shjips at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on June 24th. And we are headlining the first annual Psych Fest at the Bug Jar in Rochester, NY in July. We just recorded our debut album with NYC engineer/producer Ted Young and we are getting ready to mix the new record as well as releasing an upcoming 7″ single on The Reverberation Appreciation Society by summer 2012. Then we are planning for a Fall ’12 tour.