Monday, August 10, 2009
A Wealth of Misinformation with Chris Leo
I had plans that I could not break the night that The Van Pelt reunited in Brooklyn so it was an instant mission of mine to catch them live wherever they played next. Their next show was scheduled to be in Washington D.C. at a venue that I knew all too well - The Black Cat. I as well as two of my best pals Mike and Tom have always dug the D.C. music scene and so convincing them to join me on a last-minute voyage to our nation's capital was a simple task.
We used to make it down to D.C. for every Fort Reno show we could, sleeping in the back of our friends' cars, sneaking ten people into one hotel room, or just plain not sleeping at all. We've tried to make it to every Fugazi show we could, accidentally and coincidentally caught a ride in the rain from Minor Threat's drummer Jeff Nelson's ex girlfriend, ran into the same people year after year, and never hesitated to act on any excuse we could find to head down there. A really interesting reoccurring factor on these trips has always been torrential rain. For some reason there have been more incredible rain storms on our trips there than not. Our June 2009 trip to see The Van Pelt would tally up another rainy trip down there.
Once we checked in at our hotel, we took some time to record shop, and like magic the sky cleared up completely. It was dark before long and so we made our way to The Black Cat. The idea of The Van Pelt reuniting was such an epic concept for me that the fact that Frodus was headlining the same show hardly excited me. Once I saw The Van Pelt setting up, I got right up front and saw something I thought I would never get to see.
Some music is with you always. It never fails you. This is how I feel about The Van Pelt. From memories of screaming the line "she's going away!" from "Don't Make Me Walk My Own Log" while getting into my Tux for my senior prom, to countless nights that were rescued by the cryptic, insightful lyrics found within all their songs. I consider The Van Pelt a work of art in every sense and this show furthered my feelings on the matter.
It wasn't long until the genius of their live performance in D.C. became apparent to me. The band lightly began strumming and playing "Let's Make a List" while rumblings of conversation in the crowd were still clearly dominant. This was the most perfect presentation of the song imaginable. On record, the song "Pockets of Pricks" ends with a track of what sounds like conversations being had at an interesting party. The track overlaps into the beginning of "Let's Make a List". The start of their set over the noisy crowd was a perfect live translation of an amazing recorded sound. The show continued on, and the band played songs from Both LPs and their EP. My eyes and ears gave full attention to this glorious time.
I went to see a noise show/ spoken word in NYC this past weekend. Chris performed there, showing words on index cards and reading prose that coincided with the words. His performance was interesting, entertaining, and very original. If anything, my reports on his efforts are simply DEBELLISHED.
IMFA: Tell me about your childhood. More specifically, what it was like growing up surrounded by your incredibly talented siblings Amy, Danny, and Ted?
CL: Kept you on your toes. My tinnitus began young from peripheral household cacophony. The tv was always on even if no one was watching it to keep the noise level comfortably constant. Our individual projects rarely overlapped though. Though we were all making shit, our personal MO's have always been of slightly different hues.
IMFA: Who or what were your first creative influences, do you feel that they are responsible for the shape of your current artistic state, and why?
CL: This would be a difficult thing to pinpoint, kind of chicken or egg type thing: did I choose my "artistic influences" because I'm already heading in a given direction or do/did they blindside me and set a new course? That being said, I can't remember ever being leveled by an entirely new way of thinking, except possibly losing my virginity late (18). New influences may have nudged me in new ways, but would I have even been receptive to them if they didn't already in some way ring true?
IMFA: Your band Native Nod stood out to me as a unique and thoughtfully creative band during a time when most bands in the underground hardcore and post-punk scene were collectively going for something completely different. How did this affect Native Nod?
CL: I guess we found our niche because of it. We never knew we were hardcore or punk though until much later when people told us we were. We thought we were melodic artsy grunge!
IMFA: What happened during or after The Van Pelt's release of Stealing From Our Favorite Thieves that resulted in the clean, minimalist approach The Van Pelt took when writing and recording Sultans of Sentiment?
CL: We approached each album as "albums" not "collections". So Stealing was our final go at the anthem, which felt like a dying breed of song. We were in our early 20's so, though we were fans of Branca, Gastro Del Sol, Philip Glass, et al, we were still American kids fresh from puberty and not ready to abandon the fight just yet. Stealing was our interrogation of the anthem as well as our declaration thereof; i.e. what role does it serve?/ it still serves a role! schizophrenia. Sultans was magic. I have no idea what we were doing, I have no idea how we all agreed upon our choices, I just know for being so lost thank god we still had enough residue of direction to glue it all together.
IMFA: There is evidence of atheism or a struggle with human belief found in the lyrics and titles of many of your works. From the subject matter discussed in "Yamato (where people really die)" to portions of song titles and details found within (heathens, fear, blindness, mourning, suffering, heaven ain't happenin', etc). What experiences or circumstances can you credit to this topic?
CL: I worked construction during my summers in High School. Everyone on the crew were public school raised God-fearing protestants. I was the only Catholic school raised ex-Catholic. They always asked me why so many Catholics were lapsed and I'd respond, "That's because we know what our religion is about. We study it, we learn it, and when you learn the nitty-gritty of anything you eventually doubt it."
IMFA: I thoroughly enjoyed seeing and hearing The Lapse, as well as the Octalapse project you did with Dalek. Did you and Toko have a plan of action for The Lapse, or was it essentially an obvious route for the two of you to travel as a couple once The Van Pelt disbanded?
CL: Toko and I were both at a similar point musically when the Van Pelt disbanded. I never stopped loving what Neil and Brian were making, but we were just on different pages at the time of collapse. We had been restraining ourselves for so long I was ready to burst. Again, music has always been more exploratory for me than intrinsic; that's to say pushing and testing my theories were more important to me than crafting perfect songs. We started the Lapse, honestly, because I had no idea why people came out to stand around and "see" bands when they could just listen to music at a space much more conducive to talking and getting laid. The Lapse may have been cruder than it needed to be (in retrospect), but I needed to test social crudeness and the musical side was an inextricable casualty of cross-fire.
IMFA: What is the story behind "The Speeding Train" being credited as both a Van Pelt song and a Lapse song?
CL: I thought and still think "The Speeding Train" was the apex of the Van Pelt's career. I couldn't get off enough on the idea of me playing my own song (as The Lapse) without anyone else on board (as The Van Pelt) felt like a cover, not an original. I also thought that as soon as a song gets covered it joins the public cultural canon, so by me covering my own song I thought I was adding the necessary distance to the song myth building mandates.
IMFA: I've noticed that in your more recent work (Vague Angels, and later Lapse) that you've gravitated toward subject matter that reflects sexuality and your interpretation on its place in society. Would you care to comment on that?
CL: Man, some kids develop a love for butterflies and they're encouraged to study entomology. Others like building things and they're encouraged to become architects. Some want to save the world from the top down and we push them towards politics. My passion is ass and all its related ripples that bleed into every other field. No one encourages you to pursue ass though. Ass, god knows why, is still incredibly discouraged. Little by little, but it is taking a lifetime, I am growing comfortable with what has always been my main motivation: ass.
IMFA: What can people expect for the future? More Van Pelt, more Vague Angels, another book?
CL: My next book will be called "Tales of the Vox Super Voltus". It's a collection of vignettes presented in the form of definitions. While that's being printed I'll duck out of sight for awhile and hopefully finish up a quasi-dormant novel I've had to lay aside called "We Pulse In Pink".
Also, Historics are releasing a series of 12"s with artwork by Mark McCoy and a serialized story called "Infinidelity" written by me. Regarding my own music, a final Van Pelt album and a Vague Angels album called "The Sunny Day I Caught Tintarella di Luna for a Picnic in the Cemetery" will be out in 2010. I'm sure I'm overlooking some massive opus I sweat over daily as well.
IMFA: If you were to die tomorrow, who would make it to your funeral, and what would be said?
CL: No dying for me, not manana, not ever.
Set List from The Black Cat. Washington, D.C. Saturday, June 20th
Let's Make a List
We are the Heathens
The Young Alchemists
The Good, The Bad and The Blind
His Steppe is My Prairie
It's a Suffering
Do The Lovers Still Meet at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
Yamato (Where People Really Die)
Magic Fantasy (We are Provincial)
Nanzen Kills a Cat
The Speeding Train