Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Interview With Voxtrot

Last Friday during SXSW I had the pleasure of sitting down with keyboardist/guitarist Jared Van Fleet and guitarist Mitch Calvert of Voxtrot to interview them about their success, touring, recording, their new EP, and a bunch of other stuff. I didn't want to really cut anything out, so it's a really really long interview. And be kind, it was my very first interview. The guys were very kind and provided me with a lot to work with, providing tons of insight on the beginnings of the band and stuff.

So you guys have been on tour for how long?
Mitch: About a month
Jared: Well, the first time we went on a tour was in January of 2005 in three or four jaunts every three months and we just got back from a month-long jaunt on the west coast

How long have you actually been a band?
Jared: Like...two and a half years? When it actually started Mitch and I were in a band together months before we met each other because it started with us, it was sort of a recording project. And Ramesh would come back, he's from Austin originally but he went to school in Scotland and met Mitch in Boston. So you know over the summers and Christmas vacation everyone would come back to Austin and record here. We had sort of a staggered working relationship.
Mitch: I remember actually meeting you and thinking 'Oh I've heard all this guy's parts' (laughs)
More after the cut...

Was that just with Whiskey and Apples or what?
Jared: Well yeah that's a label run by our friend Red Hunter and you know the connection is well, Austin's a pretty small city and the music community is pretty strong right now so everybody in Voxtrot is friends with those guys [Whiskey and Apples] So they're musically different than what Voxtrot's doing but we're all into all different kinds of sounds.

I know your bassist Jason is in Belaire, saw them last night and they were great.
Jared: Yeah they've got a great live show.
Do either of you have other side projects?
Jared: I have a solo project called Sparrow House that's just me and a guitar. I play with Red a lot.
Mitch: I cook and clean for Ramesh.
Jared: (laughs) That's his side project.

Are there any other Austin bands you're especially close with?
Jared: There are bands that I think we feel a musical affinity with and bands that we might not be totally musically related to but that we're good friends with, like The Black, we're all really good friends with them. I've even played with some and Matt, our drummer has. Obviously Belaire, Sound Team...Peel? They're a new band but definitely have a lot of musical affinity with. They're one of the first pop bands in Austin since us...very similar.
Mitch: The Carrots; Jennifer Moore who sings back-up on some of the tracks, like the b-side on "The Start of Something" 7" ["Dirty Version"] sort of left the group and now is the backbone of a band called The Carrots, they're brilliant.
Jared: Yeah they're awesome. They're like a an old like...
Mitch: They're a 60s girl group sort of thing and it's just like, the most entertaining live show.
Jared: They've got the white gloves and everything.

Is it all girls?
Mitch: It's all girls except for the rhythm section. We played with them on a Valentine's day and it was so perfect, because we set up the stage with fake roses and garlands, streamers...
Jared: And they were singing stuff like "Then He Kissed Me." I felt like I'd been transported back to this awesome high school prom in 1963.
Mitch: How I wish my prom was. My prom was hip-hop DJ's...
Jared: (laughs) There were flasks and forty-year olds...that's how my prom was.
Mitch: Awkward...

Are there any road games or anything you like to do while you're driving? Anything?
Mitch: We basically know. We don't have a CD player, we have a tape deck and FM/AM radio so we just have a lot of conversations as a band. As a band we could probably just generate conversation for hours upon hours on end, and I think that's just amazing. It's always fun.
Jared: It helps that none of us listen to each other.
Mitch: What?

Are there any bands you're especially into lately that you might listen to on the tape deck?
Jared: Heron? They're this really obscure sort of folk-prog band. Not that their obscurity makes them awesome, they're just an awesome band.
Mitch: They're a gem. A diamond in the rough.
Jared: People need to hear about them. In the early 70s they did two albums and we've only really been listening to them. We're actually going to cover-no we're not. We were going to cover one of their songs tonight but we haven't practiced. I really like Dr. Dog a whole lot. We're playing with them tonight, I saw them a few months ago and got their album Easy Beat, it's really good. Crystal Skulls, um...those are two recent bands we're all into.
Mitch: I'm a big fan of Hot Chip's live set. That's actually where Ramesh is right now..Comet Gain? Like early catalogue stuff. I like their stuff now but I think I really fell in love with their early stuff.

So you just put out, or, are going to put out your second EP?
Mitch: We're selling it on the road now, the release date is April 4th.
Jared: Yeah we finished it, it's all done. The pre-orders on the website are going out March 24th and it'll be in stores April 4th.

How do you think this compares to the other one? Is a continuation?
Mitch: This one's definitely the model of rock bands that start out playing for a long time and then releasing stuff. It's definitely a sophomore record. These are songs, the first record is a collection of songs that we knew and loved for about two years, this is, as a sophomore record that showcases how Ramesh has grown as a songwriter in a shorter period of time.
Jared: I fell like it makes sense with the other EP, but it's a progression. It's a lot tighter.
Mitch: We're a lot tighter as a band now.
Jared: yeah I think it reflects that we've been playing live a lot, you know. Touring really changes the way you play as a band, you're playing every night.
Mitch: Yeah we play together a lot more and on the's a lot more of a group effort I feel like on this record.
Jared: And the songwriting's changed a little bit like, we realized the other day when we were listening to it, you can't really dance to this EP as much as the first one. We still think it's really catchy.
Mitch: This is the record you fall in love with (laughs).

What about a full-length? Do you have any plans of recording one?
Jared: We're gonna try and record something this summer. We've got a bunch of songs we haven't recorded yet, and we have a lot of songs that we've recorded but never released, just because recordings been where we've been growing.
Mitch: The bulk of the album should be new material. Personally I'm really excited about the back catalogue tracks that we're gonna see if we can put on the record.

So you're not just gonna mash the two EP's and make an album?
Jared: probably not. I mean a lot of people do that but...
Mitch: As far as I'm concerned, they should just be reissued eventually if there's a demand for it because the thing is the EP's have an issue of about 5000 copies each and the full-length we're hoping to find a label so the issue of that is going to eclipse that of these two EP's.

Are you hoping that at SXSW someone might see you and you'll get a deal with a label?
Mitch Were discussing what labels..
Jared Oh I love this song!
Mitch: You know it's the hardest you could do so (Jared's singing along with the radio) you don't wanna say too much about it because it's difficult...
(they talk some about the song on the radio...)
Jared: You know a lot of people have talked to us and suggested putting these EP's together and different labels want to do that and put it out but I think artistically they're different from each other. All of us really liked bands that put out EP's, we kind of like the EP format.
Mitch I think it would be stronger for us to fully back a full-length release of new material as opposed to focusing on like, "Let's reissue the two EP's as an album, tour behind it, then work on the new material."
Jared: I don't think we're ready to do a greatest hits yet. (laughs)
Mitch: We're still ready to keep pushing on and if there's demand for the other albums, maybe we'll mash them together someday.

Have you ever thought of re-recording any songs that you've done?
Mitch: Ramesh has brought it up in passing, maybe re-recording one of the tracks from the EP's, probably one from the first EP. It'd be pretty redundant to, you know "Let's redo it. I know it's two months ago but..."

Yeah 'cause I noticed "The Start of Something" is pretty quiet on the EP?
Jared: That's the one, all the other nine the four other songs on the first EP and the five on the second EP were recorded with Eric W. That one was recorded with Craig Downing at Esophagus. That song is about as old as the band, about three years old. It's one of the first things we did and it is quieter, and our equipment was different we were still figuring things out. It is different.
Mitch: The back catalogue has such a wide spectrum of production styles.
Jared: Yeah you'd be surprised. There's some stuff that doesn't sound like Voxtrot.
Mitch: The Longest Part of the Winter...some country songs.
Jared: It used to be when we started out it was more of a recording project and each song was stylistically different. Then when we started playing live more we started to develop this sound, which is what you start to hear on the EP's. Before then, if it needed a certain instrument we'd play that certain instrument, so the songs all sounded pretty different. So "The Start of Something" comes from that era.

How do you judge your success?
Mitch: What success? (laughs)

Well online you have a lot of fans and everything.
Mitch: The Internet's a strange place.
Jared: I'm still surprised by it.
Mitch: I've still yet to accept anything...

That it's valid?
Jared: we think it's valid.
Mitch Oh yeah! no I definitely-
Jared I believe people are real. It's just luck I guess. I'm glad a lot of people like it. I feel like...
Mitch It's a new sensation for me, so that's why it's hard for me to accept all of the attention.
Jared I'm really excited that we can be a part of this 'cause I feel like, even if I wasn't in a band, or our band wasn't sort of talked about on the Internet, that's something I'm really into. The empowerment of blogs, and new ways of finding out about music. I mean it's really rapidly changing how people find out about music and everything.
Mitch: It's a new model. it's these things at conferences, and I don't mean to trump the tradeshow, but the speakers always have this foresight into what's really going to change the industry this year, but from what I've been seeing is that I really think that these things aren't actively made, they're sort of...that's how things come together.
Jared: I mean who would've guessed the advent of the podcast, but something like that changed immediately with Technorati and stuff like that. Those things are done on a small-scale all the time, and you never know how they're...I mean I kind of geek out and really get into like, I listen to new music all the time. So it's still sort of weird and surprising to me if I see our band name on a blog. Not what you expect.

When you first started out did you try and get on the radio around Austin?
Mitch: No, it was actually just most exciting to give it out to our friends and to get people to come out to the shows, 'cause we really embrace the local Austin scene so it was really exciting to put posters up, and to make the posters, and put them up at all our favorite places and see who comes.
Jared: Yeah there was no talk of any of that. We wanted to record better songs, write better songs, play off to our friends. It was pretty well worth it.
Mitch We would play house parties and it would be well worth it to me.
Jared: That was the point, you know. And the CD started to spread by word of mouth and stuff and then it became a possibility that we could tour, and then it became a possibility to release the stuff officially. Things kind of happened.
Mitch: I wouldn't have wanted it to happen any other way actually. Whatever did happen...

Buy their first EP Raised By Wolves and pre-order their second, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters & Wives at their website

Their tourdates for the rest of spring:
Fri 31 - San Antonio, TX - Sanctuary AA

Sat 1 - Houston, TX - Walter's On Washington AA
Mon 3 - Atlanta, GA - Drunken Unicorn AA
Tue 4 - Athens, GA - Caledonia Lounge 18+
Wed 5 - Chapel Hill, NC - Local 506 18+
Thu 6 - Norfolk, VA - Relative Theory AA
Fri 7 - Harrisonburg, VA - MACRock ^
Sun 9 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge 21+ ^ SOLD OUT
Mon 10 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge 21+ ^ SOLD OUT
Tue 11 - Wellesley, MA - Lulu Wang Center AA ^
Wed 12 - Montreal, QC - La Sala Rosa AA ^
Thu 13 - Toronto, ONT - Sneaky Dees 19+ ^
Fri 14 - Detroit, MI - Lager House 21+ ^
Sat 15 - Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle 21+ ^
Thu 20 - Norman, OK - Opolis AA ^
Fri 21 - Denton, TX - Hailey's AA ^
Sat 22 - Austin, TX - Emo's AA ^

Fri 26 - Los Angeles, CA - Wiltern AA

^ = w/Irving


JAX said...

I saw voxtrot at the Big Orange party that Sound Team threw at their studio space. best show of the whole festival. I had no idea you were going! We should have met up!

tim said...

great interview! it was a pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

thanks very much tim!

and jax, I guess the starts just weren't aligned. I was gonna come to the blogger breakfast but I woke up late/they wouldn't let me in. oh well.

jacque said...

voxtrot = amazing + dead battery

but i did snag some hot chip

Chris said...

nice interview. jared is a good dude.

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