Interview with The Vacant Lots

Image(photo by Tim Underwood) 

Interview with The Vacant Lots

By Keith Hadad

Just because a group is known for producing music of a psychedelic nature, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the band is overtly retro. Case in point: The Vacant Lots.

The Vacant Lots are Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen, who play guitar and drums respectively, as well as sing and operate electronics. Since their inception in 2009, the duo perfected a mesmerizing sound that utilizes drone, swirling guitars, trance-inducing drumming and floods of reverb. What sets them apart from most other groups, who are classified under the acid rock title, is their minimalist approach to their craft. Sure, songs like “Confusion” are just as hypnotic as anything produced by Comets on Fire or Acid Mothers Temple, but with much more subtlety. In each recording, the group maximizes every instrument and every effect they have at their disposal to produce a vast seascape of brooding sound. This studied approach to their music is highly impressive, especially for a band so young.

In 2010, Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, E.A.R.) invited The Vacant Lots to tour with his group, Spectrum. In the following year, the band released their compelling debut single, “Confusion”, on the Mexican Summer label. A digital only remix single, “Kingdom Come”, came out by the close of 2011 with Spectrum’s Roger Brogan playing various instruments on the track. The group was then asked to play at the last two Austin Psych Festivals, which gave way to The Reverberation Appreciation Society releasing the band’s next single, “High and Low” in 2012 (with Brogan producing).

The duo just finished a tour through America with The Growlers (a match made in heaven, in my opinion!) and Sonic Boom came into the picture once again to master the duo’s contribution to the upcoming Psych for Sore Eyes EP (which also features Hookworms and The Band in Heaven). I got in touch with Artaud and MacFadyen via email for the chat that follows.

RCU: How did the duo first get to know each other and form the band?

JARED:  We met in & around Burlington, 2009. Started pulling together songs & experimenting with ideas. Toured the US for the first time with Spectrum in 2010.

RCU: What bands/artists influenced you to first play music and who do you currently find to be inspirational today?

BRIAN: I remember at an early age hearing Joe Morello on a recording of Take Five and being captivated by the effortless, musical approach he had to the drum set.  It was one of the first moments I realized I wanted to play drums.

JARED: I got pretty heavily into the Stooges towards the latter part of high school. That music changed my life. The first Stooges album will always be for me a beginning and an end. I was also discovering Rimbaud & Poe during this time.  Everything kinda spiraled down & up from there.

RCU: Are there any non-music influences on your sound? If so, then what?

BRIAN:  I often find myself playing favorite films muted and trying to fill in the sound myself.  Eraserhead is one that always yields interesting results.

JARED:  Yeah, lots.  I/m particularly attracted to the writings of Lautreamont & films by Robert Bresson.

RCU: How would you personally describe your sound?

BRIAN: Gutter Rock.

JARED:  Ordered chaos.

Image(photo by Bret Zausmer)

RCU: What do you hope your audience will walk away with after hearing your music and/or seeing one of your shows?

BRIAN: A heightened expectation for what two people can accomplish sonically on stage.

JARED:  Maybe some vinyl & a new perspective on life.

RCU: Your singles are all superb and sound like the group has a great deal of experience within a studio setting. Do the two of you have a deeper history with recording? How much control did the group have in the recording of these singles?

JARED:  Thanks. We are still learning as we go.  The process is still very new to us. There’s a great deal of spontaneity that goes into it as well as a heavy dose of ideas that we carry into the studio.  I think for the most part we have a clear vision of what we want to do.

RCU: Which do you prefer, performing live or recording in a studio?

BRIAN: I prefer performing live, because nothing’s more powerful than one take.

JARED:  Hard to say. I like them both. It’s interesting how both act as a form of translation & expression. Being in an isolated environment can pose many limits, but I think it’s all about restraint.  You need to free yourself but at the same time, work within certain limits.  I think in both settings, if we want to try something new or different we will & this idea has certainly enabled us to push things forward.

Image(Photo by Bret Zausmer)

RCU: Your upcoming appearance on Sonic Catherdral’s Psych for Sore Eyes EP is mastered by Sonic Boom. This and touring with his group, Spectrum, must have been like having a dream come true. What are your thoughts and feelings on meeting and working with him?

BRIAN: It’s been a real treat working with him, and he’s always been very supportive of our sound.  A dream come true, to be sure.

JARED:  We feel really grateful to have gotten to know & work with Pete.  He has helped us in so many ways & has been like a guiding light for us.  Pete is an architect of sound.  A real innovator.  His touch is subtle yet immense.

RCU:  These days there seems to be quite the resurgence of music of a psychedelic nature. Any idea why the genre caught on again? What personally attracts you to the genre as a music fan and as a music creator?

JARED:  It seems so. I think Austin Psych Fest has helped push the movement forward. Despite the overwhelming popularity & consumption of mainstream music, I have faith listeners will be able to discern more accurately the truth from one kind of music from another. I think there are people that dive deeper into the music & others that remain on the surface.

RCU:  How did you get involved with The Reverberation Appreciation Society and The Austin Psych Festivals?

JARED: We were invited by The Black Angels to play APF4 & APF5. After the APF4 show, the Reverberation Appreciation Society said to us that they wanted to put out some vinyl.  That’s how High & Low came into being.

RCU: It being the new year, what are your biggest hopes for yourselves for 2013? For the world?

JARED:  Putting out our debut LP, more touring, planning for Euro/UK shows, more singles, a documentary on the band by Bret Zausmer, productivity, speed & intensity………….

Image(Photo by Courtney Chavanell Photography)

Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

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