October 7, 2009
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT NYC
I can’t help it, there’s something about surf music that’s always felt very wholesome to me: I think of Colgate smiles and a healthy flush from the California sun, shiny surfboards and shinier cars. But don’t let the surf label fool you like it did me: The Vandelles are fun, but they’re sneaky too…let’s not forget that they also draw their aesthetic from film noir and fifties spy movies. And The Vandelles’ music isn’t pure sunshine, it actually can be quite dark…let’s not forget that those surf riffs are just a frame over which they pile layers of noise. Even in their live show the band is often intentionally obscured by projections and crazy lighting – but it’s these aural and visual, even biographical layers that make them all the more interesting. I sat down with drummer Suzanne Pagliorola, bassist Lisha Nadkarni, and guitarists Jason Schwartz and Christo Buffam last week at Satellite Lounge to prepare myself for what’s in store tomorrow night when they play the JezebelMusic.com Feature Show.
JM.com: How did you get started? I read that you were two different bands, right?
Jason: The thing is, don’t trust anything we say because nothing is officially true. We’re probably the only band that’s honest about the fact that we just lie about everything.
Suzanne: Everything is a web of lies. Tell her the real story. Come clean.
Jason: Well, we met at school. Initially Dave and I – Dave who was one of the original members – started playing together with some demos that I put together in high school. I found Sue online through Facebook.
Suzanne: I’m convinced that they were completely messed up when they wrote this message.
Jason: No way.
Suzanne: It was this incoherent thing like, “You like The Jesus and Mary Chain, and you go to my school and also you play drums! Do you want to be in a band?” I was like, “I really don’t have anything to do, so I guess so.” I went to go meet them and I was like,“they seem a little scary” so I brought my boyfriend at the time. We went to their house and they were terrifying.
Jason: That’s not true, we were barbequing!
Suzanne: You guys had some Pink Floyd video on the TV like blasting.
Jason: Oh yeah.
Suzanne: And then you started playing and my boyfriend grabbed me and was like, “You are not going to be in this band.” And I was like, “yes I am!”
Lisha: I was friends with Sue in college and she tried out for the band and was like ,“Hey come be in this band with me we need a bassist.”
Suzanne: Our old guitar player ended up quitting. He’s still our really good friend and kind of an auxiliary member. So we had played a show in Boston with his [Christo’s] old band and we were like, “Oh we’re really hungry,” and he was like “I will take you to an IHOP.” So then when we needed a guitar player it kind of fell into place because we were like, “What about that dude from the IHOP?”
JM.com: So were you always based in New York?
Suzanne: Well I guess we started out in New Jersey
Jason: In mindset we were based in New York. We weren’t actually living there yet, we were just playing there a lot.
JM.com: And on your MySpace it says palm desert too?
Suzanne: That’s another lie.
Jason: I don’t think any of us have even been there. In the beginning we decided, we were like, “Let’s just see how much we can make up and how much people will believe.” The other thing is Manhattan; you have to bring people to the shows, otherwise you get blackballed for all the venues. So Dave and I decided we were going to lie and say we were a touring band.
Suzanne: The lying worked out. The third show we played together as a band was with Jonestown and it was all because of an intricate web of lies!
Jason: It was also South By South West 2006. Dave and I realized that it was more important to play shows that we set up ourselves with our friends than an official SXSW show. It started this whole community that I think people wanted anyway. So we set up this show under a rickety tent in Austin North Loop with Black Angels, Brian Jonestown Massacre, a bunch of bands. People really like us there.
Suzanne: Cause we lie.
Jason: We just told them we were big. And took good pictures. The music came later!
JM.com: Speaking of your live show, you often use projections. Does that preclude you from playing certain venues?
Jason: We have had issues with venues.
Suzanne: Really only because the sheet you have to use for projections has to be flame retardant.
Christo: You have to have an affadavit!
Jason: Also in the beginning I had no idea what we were doing with our cable, so…
Suzanne: So we would just trip people! We would just take people down.
Jason: So I learned how to gaff it down. I don’t think we’ve had a complaint in a long time.
Suzanne: We usually play with it but sometimes if we absolutely can’t we just put on our best rock faces. We like to attack all the senses
JM.com: And your album [Del Black Aloha] came out in…?
Christo: We self-released it in March so we could bring it to SXSW and give it to all our fans in Austin, but we’re out of the run that we have. We’re in negotiations with putting it out officially right now. You can find it online. When it gets re-released there will be some slight differences. It’s also good to send demos out to your friends and get some feedback. There’s some things we have to do with mastering to –
Jason: -tweak the frequencies. Especially when it was being mixed we went for a lo-fi sound, but I think with a little remastering we’ll bring out some of the lower frequencies and get it where we really want to have it at.
JM.com: What are some of your influences?
Jason: My take on it – because I’m sure that we each have a different viewpoint – is continuing the surf theme in music in general: really the late fifties when Dick Dale and Davie Allan were doing the surf sound that was really big with movies like Gidget and Blue Hawaii. In the sixties, rock ’n roll took a drastic turn toward the blues, with psychedelic music in particular, and today there’s like a resurgence of psychedelic music but we feel like we don’t fit. You can kind of look at it like each time there’s a [psych] resurgence there’s this dichotomy of surf versus blues, like if you look at The Jesus and Mary Chain versus maybe My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, not that they would say they’re blues influenced at all but there’s a drastic difference to me between someone like Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. And they’re on the same label in the same scene playing together sometimes.
Christo: I think the important thing too is that, whereas there are a lot of die hard surf bands that just love the Ventures and stuff, for us the surf is just one element. It’s almost like the infrastructure on which everything else is based on.
Lisha: We don’t play with a lot of bands that have a surf sound to them. We definitely play more to the noise side, like that’s what we find that we fit in with, that’s the scene that we’ve fallen into. We have a little bit of it in our music so it kind of has put us in that group.
Jason: I think our sound is definitely oriented in the visuals of the 40s and the 50s, we’ve kind of tried to translate that into sound. If you look like movies like any of the Elvis movies, or any of the good noir films from the forties I think that we try to take that aesthetic. There really aren’t that many bands out there necessarily trying to do that noir aesthetic. The tide definitely seems to be turning more toward our style. I don’t know why that is but there are more bands out there that are more likely to play with us than there were maybe two or tree years ago. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s really hip in Brooklyn right now to be influenced by girl groups. The Motown Sound. I definitely think that there’s a deconstructionist attitude in Brooklyn as far as Motown and trying to emulate it without being a girl group, although there are groups that’ve tried that straight up.
JM.com: This band I really like, The Dovers, this band from Santa Barbara, used to be called The Vandelles, I think. I was wondering about your name…
Christo: The interesting thing is that the word “Vandelles” is really a nonsense word. It’s taken from Martha and the Vandellas who, Incidentally is like Sue’s least-favorite girl group.
Suzanne: All I listen to is fifties and sixties girl groups, I don’t even acknowledge this current period of time. But I hate that band!
Jason: We were also thinking like the Velvettes, but that was almost too-
Christo: -Velvet Underground. And Velveeta. But I think the idea for The Vandelles, even more than The Vandellas was the feminization of the word “vandal” to a certain extent. And it made sense cause half of the band was girls.
Suzanne: That’s good, lets use that from now on.
Christo: There’s also a band of old dudes from like, Chicago who are called the Van-Dells. There’s a website in Austin, when they present information on bands it just sources stuff from YouTube. We had a show in Austin where it put the other name, Van-Dells, so there’s this video that’s just these other dudes and they’re playing in a baseball stadium!
Suzanne: They’re singing “God Bless America” like accapella and they were like 70. We were like, “This is awesome!”
Jason: We were actually kind of stoked about other bands called the Vandelles, like these kids from England.
Suzanne: We wrote to them! We were like, “Let’s get the dudes from Chicago, the barbershop quartet, the Vandelles from England.
Lisha: And the Vandals!
Suzanne: And go on a tour! But nobody has responded.
JM.com: So if you could stock a jukebox here, or DJ here, what songs would you play in your pinball bar? [Editor's Note: Satellite Lounge has a bunch of pinball machines.]
Suzanne: Okay, hands down I would pick “Roller Girl” by Anna Karina, which is my theme song.
Jason: I’d probably do, “Have Love, Will Travel” by the Sonics.
Lisha: I’d be caught between “Magnicent Seven” by the Clash because I love that and everytime I go into a bar it’s the first song I put on, I can’t help it. Or like some Eagles of Death Metal cause it’s just awesome, like “I Only Want You.”
Jason: Christo actally DJs under the Vandelles moniker.
Christo: I’m just gonna say something totally random because I was gonna say The Stooges but everybody says The Stooges, but I would play the song “Eyes on Mars” by Chrome, because it’s really psychedelic and really trippy and it goes well with pinball machines cause they make all these crazy sounds as well.
JM.com: If there was a Vandelles pinball machine…
Jason: It would definitely be stuck between two, I think it would either be zombie-themed, or like surf-themed.
Christo: I think it would definitely be surf-themed, but also it would have to involve motorcycles. I was working on a poster and we came up with this idea for a motorcycle that would be able to surf. So I think it would have to involve this surfing motorcycle contraption somehow.
Lisha:You’d have to surf and like, jump over the volcano.
Christo: There WOULD be a volcano! Okay so there would be a volcano, this weird motorcycle, zombies and a t-rex.
JM.com: How would you get points?
Christo: I don’t know how you get points in regular pinball.
Suzanne: You probably have to jump into the volcano.
Christo: You’d have to get the ball into the volcano, or the t rex’s mouth.
Suzanne: Or ride the t rex into the volcano. You take the motorcycle, jump over some barrels, ditch the motorcycle in the air, jump on the back of the t rex, and get in the volcano.
Lisha: All before it erupts.
Christo: Just make sure you don’t get that response wrong. Because it was very succinct, and someone might actually approach us about creating this thing.
by Erin Sheehy
photos by Jen McManus