VHS or Beta makes two New York appearances next week with in connection with the release of the bands third CD.
Breathing 80s Air
With third CD, two NYC gigs, VHS or Beta emerges from Louisville indie scene
BY TIFFANY WONG
About to embark on a new tour across the country, experimental rock band VHS or Beta is getting ready to drop its third and latest album Bring on the Comets August 28. Having arrived on Louisvilles indie-rock music scene 10 years ago, VHS or Beta has since traveled the world, on tour with the likes of the Scissor Sisters aand Duran Duran, losing one band member and picking up everything from French disco-houses influences to a powerful fan base in Colombia.
The Villager spoke with Craig Pfunder, guitarist and vocalist for the band.
TIFFANY WONG: VHS or Beta draws a lot of critical references to bands like Duran Duran and the Cure. In your own secret fantasy, how would you want people to describe your music?
CRAIG PFUNDER: I dont think its completely accurate or fair. Its one thing to feel like someone is giving you credit, but for us it usually comes in the form that some journalists are like, these guys sound like them, they cant do anything on their own. Often time reviewers have tendencies to read other peoples reviews.
Im anxious for people to give us a genuine listen without trying to do what does this sound like. But its not worth it to try get away from the references rather than simply try to reach people through music.
But with all youre 80s influences, dont you ever feel like you belong to a different decade?
No, I was born in 1975 so I actually did grow up in the 80s, but I wasnt playing in this band in the 80s. Its hard to look at it like that for me, if I have 80s influences its because I had 80s influences growing up, listening to the Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen. So, I never actually feel bad about it but I do feel like it is interesting being a part of what is coined as a resurgence of 80s music.
I heard that you guys used to perform in these bright blue jumpsuits. What was all of that about?
At a certain point when we were playing music earlier, everything was so indie rock and arty and we just wanted to not look like that guy at the bar getting a beer. We thought, whats something special and not apparent? There was a mystery in a lot of bands we loved and we just wanted that approach to what we were doing.
They werent just jumpsuits either. They were these plastic hot, horrible smelly things! But any time you can present yourself as something different, people want to know something more about that. Or at least back then they did. It made people not take themselves so seriously.
You guys are all about the danceable beats
do you like to dance?
I love to dance; Im not just one of those people who make the music and hate to dance.
What kind of dancing do you do?
I dont know, it probably has no name and looks stupid. But I love to go out with friends, not caring about what I look like, just having a good time. Theres something very basic and human and guttural about a dance beat. You dont have to understand everything surrounding that beat, but just four beats on the downbeat when I hear that I get so excited. When I first heard Daft Punk in 98, it changed my life for that reason.
And the other guys in the band, they like to dance too?
Oh yeah, at any given time youll see us acting stupid, for sure.
How is this new album different from your past releases?
Well for one thing, my voice! For Bring on the Comets, Ive opened up and allowed myself to use my voice in so many ways and practically every song has words. This was the first time I got to take the step and become the songwriter for the band, writing the lyrics alongside making the music.
Theres a crash and burn mentality in the lyrics in Comets, for example in Burn It All Down Well burn the flags, burn the house, burn the churches, burn it all down. Is there anything behind that?
Comets was more about if the whole world ended at the same time, how oddly beautiful it would be instead of killing ourselves off slowly. In my head it seemed like the most fair way to live, outside political hands, outside the conventional ways that were killing everyone off war, famine and everything. Im not a fatalistic or a negative person but its hard not to look at things like that. Its easier for us in America have a brighter outlook. No ones right no ones wrong. Comets was really a juxtaposition of beauty. The title track actually had more to do with the end of the world end of love more had to do with my views on death and how the world is living itself right now.
Are you trying to send a message?
Maybe not a global message but I take my small two cents that I have to offer. When you make a record youre making it of things you feel, not trying to rally the world. Its just a small statement from a small person in a small city in a small bedroom.
You said in a past interview that this album is all about making great pop songs, but for many people pop invokes images of artists like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. What do you make of that?
Thats because the word pop has been bastardized. I think the Replacements are pop, the Cars are pop. The word has taken on different forms from what I grew up with. I think the Beatles are pop music. Its a term thats kind of gotten lost in translation in a way. Its popular rock music. I just wanted to stay away from oh were an indie rock band. We write intelligent, fun, dance music. This record was more about expression without the confines we had in the past.
You guys started in Louisville, is that where you see yourself settling down in the future?
Well, there are different degrees of settling down. You mean like having kids? Im single still, Ive been down the troubled road of relationships and touring, it can be pretty hard. I can see myself raising kids in this city but I can also see myself in the West Village raising kids. I love New York. Its something thats kind of unspoken for me, when Im here I feel like wow Im home again. I love autumn in New York, and that level of anonymity. There are some things you cant translate.