Interview with the Step-Dad: Vampire Step-Dad Talks ‘Love Bites’ Story, Live Improvisation, Carpenter Brut [Interview]

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Vampire Step-Dad performs live at Terminal West March 15, 2017

Synthwave producer Vampire Step-Dad has taken to the uderground retrowave scene with a mission, and he seems to be accomplishing it. From the success of releasing his most recent record, February’s Love Bites to opening for Carpenter Brut in his live debut, Vampire Step-Dad has already left his two-fanged mark on the neck of the synthwave community. We invited him to the depths of the Dungeons for a personal audience with your own blood-loving host, myself- Lord Raven. Here’s how that worked out.

From one vampyric patriarch to another, welcome to the Dungeons.

Glad to be here. I enjoy a nice, dark, musty room.

Don’t mind the rats. They’re really quite sweet. First things first- let’s find out more about the life of Vampire Step-Dad. You’ve mentioned before elsewhere that you’re influenced by 80s TV and film, which is obvious. Where exactly did you pick up your signature sitcom gimmick, that we find everywhere from the episodic “Thursday at 7” intros on your past two releases, to your behavior and dialogue between yourself and the audience?

It comes pretty naturally, actually. The idea for the intros came from people that said they wanted to see a VSD TV series, pitching ideas and whatnot. I don’t have the resources to actually pull off video sketches, but I can definitely do audio. So Thursday at 7 is a fun way to explore all the different worlds Vampire Step-Dad can be a part of.

Have you ever considered adding more skits to Future LPs than just Thursday at 7?

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of, or plans for, future entries in the Thursday at 7 universe.

I can halfway guess why that would be, but I may be wrong. According to the track titles and atmosphere on Love Bites, there seems to be some kind of direct or indirect concept going on on the album. Is there any sort of story or central plot to Love Bites? One would assume it could be the progression of the Thursday at 7 series, or a standalone process.

Love Bites is actually NOT directly related to Thursday at 7. The TV series and music projects are separate. I just find the ad revenue from the show’s creators to help fund the releases so I allow them ad space on the first track. Really helps with production costs. Love Bites most definitely has a theme/story. It’s not a fully fleshed out story. I like to leave that to the listener, but I wanted to explore the idea of a person that would literally watch every one he loves grow old and die. Over and over and over again. For generations. The tagline of the EP is “A story of undying love, for those that inevitably die.” It’s like a widow, who’s lost her spouse, but later goes on to marry again. It’s not that she stopped loving her first husband. So Vlad would experience that over and over again, forever. And at some point maybe he decides he’ll never love again, because the pain is too much. The growing list of lost loves has become too much to bear. But Love Bites is the story of him giving into love again. Letting go of his hesitations, and realizing that love is worth heartbreak. So, the EP is about him meeting someone, falling in love, the good times, and then she’s struck sick, and quickly succumbs to her illness. The good times, and the bad, but the love is there through it all. And at the end, he’s left, once again, to decide if he can bear the weight again.

As “The Funeral” emanates through the walls of the Dungeons, I begin to realize just how starkly different and more serious the universe in Love Bites is from the Thursday at 7 world. Do you think we’ll see this version of Vlad in more releases as the same character?

I’m not sure. I still haven’t fully decided where my next release will take me, and I don’t plan ahead enough to have decided that. I can say this, I can never take myself too seriously for very long, so…

Great. Speaking of “The Funeral”, inquiring minds want to know- what’s the origin on that rain sample?

Just a couple sound library tracks mixed together. Nothing interesting, sorry.

Hey, I ask the important questions. Your music, specifically those two most recent releases, A Night in the Life Of… and especially Love Bites, are considerably upbeat and emotional compared to the the darkwave and outrun genres dominating the retrowave music scene today. Even your earlier releases like the My Biological Father is a Werewolf EP had an outrun tinge we don’t see anymore. Repetitive, down-tuned, jarring, dragging tracks are being replaced with memorable instrumental choruses and themes that make you feel like a young girl at prom, 1988. (See: “The Skating Rink” on Love Bites. It’s a favorite of mine.) What kickstarted this change, and what’s going through your mind when you’re writing and recording these dreamy chillwave tracks that transcend happiness and sadness?

Well, in the beginning I just wanted to sound like Carpenter Brut. “Green Berets for Breakfast” is basically me trying to do Carpenter Brut and Lazerhawk in one song. But I can’t really pull off that sound very well. It just doesn’t come very naturally. Which kinda bums me out, because I really like “Green Berets.” But I know I’m not likely to make another song like it. It’s really fun to play live, though. But in general I try not to think about it too much. I like to let the music take me where it wants to go (not to sound too fancy-pants about it.) That’s why my sound might vary some. I’ve never considered myself a dreamwave artist, but I definitely know I’m on the lighter side of things. But my main goal is to just always sound 80s. And actually, I think songs like “Green Berets” don’t really capture that well, which may be why I don’t write that way very often. I lean hard towards the “retrowave” label, because “retro” is my main goal. Well, second to a decent song. But I want each song to start and have people be instantly transported to a movie theater showing the latest Brat Pack movie.

“The Skating Rink” actually worried me a bit. I felt like it might be TOO saccharine. But a lot of people really like it. I don’t generally go THAT hard into the sugary pop side of things, but I felt like that melody was too good to not put on something. And, it worked for the EP. So why not?

Are you kidding me? I’d definitely buy a Vampire Step-Dad bubblegum pop album on vinyl. Twice. Sanguine and saccharine. Another thing that is distinguishing about your releases is the usage of real instrumentation. You’ve got real guitar, real saxophone, real keytar. You’re not just a kid playing in FL Studio. Not that there’s anything wrong with completing an electronic release with only electronics, but you create full releases with real instrumentation. Do you feel like this proves to be a bit more difficult than using only a synthesizer for every note on an album?

“Real keytar.” (laughs)

As compared to a synthetic synthesizer, of course! Go on.

No, it’s not difficult at all. It’s natural for me. My history is in punk and metal, so I’m used to using instruments. Honestly, the biggest adjustment has been using synths! I’ve never been much of an electronic music consumer, so that side of things is new to me. I’ve been making music on computers for well over a decade, but I was always trying to mimic a live studio style.

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Love Bites album art by Sean Cusson of COMPUTRONIC

You just basically said you’ve got the majority of your experience in punk and metal. I didn’t expect that, but I can’t say I’m surprised. That’s really common for a lot of musicians in the current wave scene. Tell me about the projects you’ve been involved in before Vampire Step-Dad. Give us a history of your musical career throughout your life.

My parents had me take piano lessons when I was younger, but that never really stuck. I picked up trumpet in school, only because I didn’t know drums was an option. The next year I was all drums. Got a drumset for Christmas, and wanted to start a band with my friends, but one of them got a BIGGER drumset, so he got to be the drummer (even though I was a better drummer). So I used his brother’s guitar, and taught myself guitar so I could be in the band. We were just a terrible little 3 piece punk band, writing songs about girls. After that I got into death metal, and I wanted to make THAT kind of music, so I joined a metal band as the drummer, but it kind of fell apart and we rebuilt it with me on vocals. I did a lot of the writing for that one though, I just did vocals when we performed. I moved away and we had to kill off the metal band. Once I got to Atlanta I found a metalcore band to do vocals for, and did that for a couple years. Then I started playing bass guitar for a doom/sludge metal band. Which I still do. So I’ve played every part of the traditional band at one time or another. It was almost always under the idea that we needed X, so I became X. So Vampire Step-Dad has come fairly naturally to me, since I’ve been filling the gaps in for so many years. VSD just has a lot of gaps to fill.

Vampire Step-Dad was the vocalist for a metalcore band. If anyone but you told me that, I would tell them they must be thinking about the wrong “Vampire Step-Dad.”

I hope I never cease to surprise people in some way or another.

In the footage of your live sets, aside from your own key and guitar playing, we see that you work with a live drummer as well. The guy playing in these videos as credited as Steve Volpert. Who is this cat? Is he the official Vampire Step-Dad live drummer?

I’d say so, yes. Steve is a friend of mine with a long history as a drummer. I knew that I wanted a drummer for my live show. I saw what Carpenter Brut was doing, and I felt like he’d set the bar. I didn’t want to be a single guy on a stage. So I asked Steve if he would drum for me, and he was all in right from the start. He’s a rock. Completely dependable, easy to work with, super laid back, and just a solid drummer. A lot of drummers have a hard time playing to a click, but he just locks in and it’s like I have a drum machine with a soul behind me. I’ve said that I’ll play anywhere that someone will fly me to, but I honestly dread the idea of playing a show without Steve. He brings a legitimacy to the stage with him. I’m not just a dude making music in my bedroom. I’m serious about this, and we here to give you a real, live show. Live performance has always been very important to me. I feel like the stage is sacred, and you don’t get on it unless you can bring your all. That’s actually why I never planned on bring Vampire Step-Dad to the stage, cause I didn’t think I would ever be able to pull it off on stage. But when I had a chance to open for Carpenter Brut, I had less than 40 days to make it happen, and thanks to Steve, we pulled it off. And we did it in a way that I’m very proud of.

There’s footage of that set on YouTube, and you did remarkably for only 40 days of prep time. Let’s talk about another show though. There’s a video going around via yourself entitled “The Live Show Disasterpiece”, where your equipment malfunctioned during a live performance of “Green Berets for Breakfast”, in which after failing to get it running again, you began to SING your “meow” synth lines into your mic. After a few bars of that, you took to very intense dancing to keep the crowd moving, and it almost seemed to energize them more than they already were. You’re a real synthwave MacGyver. Tell me more about that moment. Break down for me how that went and what was going through your head. Your thought process.

Sheer panic.

The first thing that went through my head: I felt the cable tug under my foot. “Shit. I forgot to tape that cable to the keytar AGAIN!” (I’d forgotten to do it for the Carpenter Brut show also, but tragedy decided not to strike that night.) I knew it was hopeless. Getting the MIDI to work again after pulling the USB cable means stopping the music. I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew I couldn’t stand there, and I was PISSED that it happened during the solo. I love the two solos in that song, and I love playing them live. Mostly I just didn’t want the show to be bad. Not for myself, but for the audience. This song is the big finish. It’s the end of the set. It’s the climax! And if that gets ruined, the whole show will be tainted. No one likes being interrupted during the climax. (facial expression redacted.) So I was just trying to cover. You can literally see me jump from idea to idea in that video. “Sing the part. You’ve got a non-working keytar around your neck, so why not let other people bang on it, and you can pretend they did a great job.” I realized that at that point, the keytar was just a prop. It was rendered useless for making music, so now it was only good for making a show. So, give ’em a show. So I tried to think of ridiculous performance things, like playing a guitar with your teeth, or behind your head. Then I ran through the crowd, cause at that point, all bets were off, and if this ship was sinking I was going to light the band on fire to see if it made them play faster. Then I ran through the crowd, cause at that point, all bets were off, and if the Titanic was sinking I was going to light the band on fire to see if it made them play faster. By the time I got back on the stage I began to realize I had A LOT more song. I tried singing the parts again, but my mic had now died (No idea what happened there). I had made a joke on Twitter, before my first show, about memorizing choreography, and a lot of people took it seriously, which I thought was ridiculous. But at that moment I was like, alright, we’ll, we’ve done the other stuff, so lets try some dancing. At that point it was just about survival. I can’t really remember it at all. My body just took over and I guess got me through the rest of it. It was completely horrendous, and completely wonderful all at the same time. I knew I had managed to save the show, even though it could have been a complete disaster. And it still WAS a disaster. My wife says she cam barely watch the video, because she’s cringing so hard through it, but she’s also laughing at the same time, and, for me anyway, that’s exactly where I want to be.

I’m going to be honest- From the video we see, everything almost looks completely intentional. I’d say you handled things quite well.

Heh, well thank you. Of course, if all that was intentional, that would bring up a lot more questions.

Well, all of this being said- you’ve got a very strong stage presence. This is evident in videos of your live sets on the internet. Your rapport with the audience is uncanny in the footage of your set in which you opened for Carpenter Brut, from the moment you took the stage to the moment you exited. Your banter is second to none, especially for a first show. There are no nerves to be seen. Where did you gain such a high power level in presenting yourself to the public in a live manner? It sounds like you’ve had plenty of experience in your past bands, but have you always had a knack for public presentation?

I guess. I did plenty of drama in high school. To be honest, the rapport is some sort of weird defense mechanism. I nearly died before the Carpenter Brut show. I skipped dinner that night, cause I was too afraid I’d vomit on stage. Before I played I sat behind stage in an empty room and was telling myself affirmations like Stuart Smalley. “Gosh darnit, you’re good enough, and people like you.” So once I get on stage, it just comes out of me. It’s not like I’m confident up there, it’s just like, I go on auto-pilot. When things go well, I’m just as excited and surprised as the people watching. On the other hand, the playing of the music, there was no auto-pilot there. I was super nervous, and it shows in a lot of the flubs on the Carpenter Brut show. Over thinking, second guessing, and so I messed up a lot of parts. But it was the most important night of my music career, and I didn’t want to keep it from all the family that couldn’t make it to the show. I mean, I also took home a trophy for being class clown my senior year of highschool…so I guess it’s just in my blood.

My favorite line of yours from that set, and my favorite quote from you ever, will always be your guidance into “Green Berets For Breakfast.” “How STUPID is this? Here we go!”

Heh, yeah. That was just me trying to connect the the audience. “Look, I get it. I know, this is NOT cool. This is dumb. But this is what’s happening right now, and you’re either along for the ride or not. I’m about to hit the gas, so jump in fast, cause we’re outta here.” I was seriously NOT going to use the keytar during that show, because I knew it was dumb. But then it was like, that’s WHY you should do it. Don’t do the safe thing. Do the stupid thing. And when it fails, it’ll be glorious. And if it succeeds? Even more glorious. better than regretting NOT doing it later. Same reason I did the CB show in the first place. Worse to live with regret than failure. Failure means you’re TRYING.

Wise words from the synthwave scene’s surrogate father figure. You’re based out of the gorgeous city of Atlanta. Where are you from originally? Aside from Transylvania, of course.

Nope, not from Transylvania. That’s stereotyping, and I find it offensive. #NotAllVampires

I was born in Germany, but we had to flee before I was two. Pitchfork wielding mobs and whatnot. I spent most of my childhood an Army Brat, so I moved a lot, but did a good portion of my growing up in Tampa, Florida. I like to say that the best thing about Florida is the roads leading out of Florida. Been in Atlanta for 13 years now, and I like it.

Tell me about Atlanta then. You recently opened for Carpenter Brut there, and you’ve played at least one other show in Georgia. Go ahead and give me a State of the Retrowave Scene address on Atlanta. How are things there?

Well, I’m not plugged in well enough to give an accurate picture. I’m a boring, suburban stepdad. I will say that the turn out for the Carpenter Brut show was amazing. I’m glad to have made a few contacts from that show. But I don’t really know the electronic music scene, so I’m kinda not sure where to go from here. I feel too much like a band to play at a club, I don’t know how to do a DJ set…but I feel too electronic to be playing alongside rock acts, etc…so I don’t know. I’m going to have to figure that out. I will say this about Atlanta: The people here don’t seem to appreciate their local talent. Atlanta is a big market, so all the big acts come through here. And people come out to see them. But I guess when you can see big acts all the time, you lose the will to go out to the small venues and see the up and coming artists. After all, once they get big, they’ll come back to Atlanta like everyone else, right? So that’s very frustrating. But I can imagine it’s like that everywhere. At least to some extent. Being a performing musician puts you in the realm of entertainment, which means, whether you like it or not, you’re also competing against TV and video games and movies and every other thing people could be doing on their night out, or night in. It is what it is. I wish I was cool enough to enjoy this city like it deserves to be enjoyed, but instead I’m just way outside of it, with a two-car garage and a lawn to mow every weekend. C’est la vie.

Only time will tell, and I’m very certain it will tell us great things about the life and times of one Vlad Legosi. Thank you for joining us in the Dungeons for blood and cheese on this fine evening. Dawn approaches, and I know there’s a comfy coffin with your name on it.

Thanks for letting me talk about myself. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Just ask my wife.

I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’ll see you down here by any means. You indeed played a small role in forming the idea and architecture of these torture chambers. But we’ll leave that out for tax reasons. Good day!

There are no “good days” only good nights. So, goodnight.

So, there you have it folks. Vampire Step-Dad really does live the “Thursday at 7” life. You can find stream, buy, and learn more from Vampire Step-Dad on Bandcamp and at vampirestepdad.com! Don’t forget to also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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