April 11, 2011

Genre-bending Portlanders

Portland-based indie band Vanimal makes the sneaky kind of music where you’re listening to it, tapping your foot and going, “Yeah, this is aight,” and then a minute later you’re full-on rocking out to the beat without remembering how that happened. The tracks from their demo are built around catchy beats and swirling synths, and if you listen to them with headphones on you feel like you’re in a movie about robots discovering the beauty of nature. Or something. Anyway, we talked to them recently via email about what genre they see themselves in and hitting people in the face with their equipment.

What is a Vanimal? Is it an animal that’s like a van, or is it some kind of animal that you can fit an entire band inside and ride around in? Or is it something else entirely?
More or less all of the above but more less than more. It could be a van that’s an animal but when the members of Vanimal say Vanimal it is short for Live Animals. The internet tells me that it’s also a town in India.

Where do all of you guys hail from originally?
That guy is bass player/ vocalist/ multi-tasker Tim John O’Brien. Our drummer Andrew Meininger is a Portland native. Synth player Brent Braun is from Orange County in Cali. Vocalist/ Synth player/ Multi-tasker Nicholas Ramsdell is from Maine. Jakub Jerzy is our circuit bender who is from Chicago. Tim started the project in late 2009 after his old project, Babies Got Rabies, disbanded and gradually formed this lineup the old fashioned way.

You guys definitely have a New-Wave-influenced sound, but the tracks I’ve heard from you, you also craft some very danceable beats. Do you think of yourselves as making dance music?
We love dance music and new wave music but collectively we love a lot of different stuff. We mainly strive to make interesting and energetic music that we perform entirely live with an odd, eclectic array of equipment. We run everything from vintage to cheap weird synths, samplers, analogue and digital pedals, laser guns, vocoders, and a whole buffet of circuit bent toys that Jakub has built. Whenever one of us tries to describe Vanimal the word dance gets worked in there somewhere.

Are you touring right now? Do you have any horror stories about touring or playing shows? Or any shows you played that were incredibly awesome?
At this point we aren’t focused on the location of the shows we play, we are more focused on writing a pile of music. We have been playing shows in Portland in warehouses, house parties, and venues for about a year now. Most of the shows have been incredibly awesome, but we have had our fair share of getting shut down by the cops and graduation parties. Our most fun shows tend to have really drunk people being hurled into our massive sea of gear by packed basements full of audience.

The closest thing we have had to a horror story was at an early house party when an especially intoxicated person was enjoying the show so much that they decided to make themselves a part of Vanimal and started banging on our electronic drums. Nick finally had enough and just smashed the guy with an effects pedal and that put an end to that.

What musical directions are you interested in exploring next? Any big changes in sound?
The future sounds of Vanimal are really up in the air right now. We are going in a new direction with each new song and the next step will be creating a sense of cohesion with all these ideas. While a lot of things are up in the air some certainties are that the future will continue to be danceable, yet darker. We are pretty sure there will be a tambourine too.

The perception is that in Portland, every single person is in band–is that true? Is it harder to get noticed amidst a crowded scene like that, or do you think it’s good to be surrounded by other bands?
There is a weird misconception that Portland is a good place for bands and it is bringing a lot of people to town with the hopes of “making it” and then they get here and are surprised and disappointed to find out that nobody goes to shows or cares about what you are doing. The only way to stand out in Portland is to know a lot of people and get lucky. The upside is that there is an unlimited supply of great bands and artists that are all in the same spot, creating a community that feeds off of itself and is going to spit out some really great acts in the near future. Being a part of that is reward unto itself and makes Portland a great place for us to be, noticed or not.

Finally, what do you want to happen in 2011, either in the world or just to your band?
We just finished recording an EP with Karl Kling of Remix Artist Collective. We just released the first track from that upcoming EP. It’s called “Lift Me Up” and we’ll be offering all of our work free for download online.


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