Members: Mya - Keyboards
Chad - Keyboards, Lead Vocals
Christian - Drums
Steve - Bass
Casey - Key
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Coined an "adventure funcore band," VCR offers just the right mix of electronic, rock and punk music.
If you like VCR, check out:
Go Betty Go
When one thinks of bands with multiple synthesizers and no guitars in its lineup, the usual black-clad new wave suspects probably spring to mind: Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, New Order, Human League, OMD. But when it comes to Richmond, Virginia synth-punk insurgents VCR, one must completely and eternally banish such dated preconceptions (not to mention any visions of asymmetrical haircuts and parachute pants) from one's mind. See, for this three-keyboard five-piece, it's all about looking forward not back.
"We're not any kind of '80s throwback band. We get that a lot, obviously, because of our keyboards and electronic sounds. But we were all born in the early '80s, so we didn't even get into music then because we were too young I mean, I liked 'Ghostbusters' a whole lot, but other than that I didn't even experience the '80s!" laughs VCR keyboardist/co-songwriter Casey Tomlin. "So I can't stress enough that it was never in any of our heads to go for a retro-'80s sound. What we want is to try to make as future-sounding music as we possibly can."
So, what exactly does this brave new future sound like? Well, according to Casey, the hyperspeed VCR signature sound that he affectionately dubs "adventure funcore" (and that one Richmond music rag somewhat accurately described as "Devo on steroids") is an ultramodern amalgam of everything from Bowie, Eno, and Tangerine Dream to Prince; from Burt Bacharach ("especially the Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid soundtrack") to Talking Heads; from minimalist/experimental film composer Michael Nyman to Gary Numan and yes Depeche Mode ("especially Speak & Spell").
And then of course, there are those typical, expected indie influences...like, er, Mozart and Castlevania. "I try to make our songs sound as much like classical music as I can get away with. Or like video games; the music in old Nintendo games especially appeals to me," Casey reveals. "Of course, the recorded stuff that we eventually do certainly doesn't sound like how I first hear it in my head. It sounds totally different, much more organic probably because we mess up a lot more than a computer does!"
When this adventure funcore band formed in November 2002 under the undeniably awesome moniker VCR ("We were really stoked on ourselves just because of our cool name," Casey gloats), the members had no idea how integral to their music computers would actually become especially Steve Smith and Chad Middleton, who'd mainly played guitar and drums, respectively, in straightahead local rock bands. But, says Casey of VCR's early rehearsals, "We were interested in trying anything. We had no idea how it would sound, no expectations. We were just trying to make songs up at practice just to see if anything sounded good. "That technique didn't yield optimal results, however, so Casey (who had previous experience making electronic music, and had even recorded an album with local rap group Speakeasy) and co-songwriter Steve tried constructing songs on a laptop instead. "And the first few songs we did worked out really well, so we've been writing on computers pretty much exclusively since then."
Still, Casey again stresses "VCR is not strictly an electronic band. We're more of a conventional rock band, in the sense that we don't do any sequencing or use any MIDI stuff. We play everything live. Onstage, we try to keep it as much like a regular rock band as possible; we just happen to play keyboards to get a different sound from most other bands."
Indeed, anyone who has witnessed/survived the jaw-dropping, eardrum-liquefying spectacle that is a VCR gig will quickly attest that this is no band of knob-twiddling automatons posing rigid and expressionless behind mysteriously flickering keyboard banks.
On the contrary, a VCR show is a truly extraordinary, totally deranged, paint-peelingly loud event that if all goes according to plan more often than not climaxes with an explosion of splintered furniture, stomped-on stage props... and airborne fistfuls of kiddie cereal. ("We like to throw cereal on people," Casey states matter-of-factly. "There's this awesome discount grocery store in Richmond with really cheap cereal, like for a buck, because the boxes are dented...Choco-Balls, or something disgusting like that.")
From the moment that Casey, Steve, Chad, and bandmates Mya Anitai and Christian Newby first stepped onstage together back in May 2003 (actually, it wasn't much of a stage, really VCR's debut gig took place at a birthday party in a friend's living room), they've easily stood far apart from all other bands in the burgeoning Richmond hardcore scene. "There's a million bands in Richmond, and they practice for maybe three weeks and then have a show. But we practiced for about six months before we played," Casey recalls. "We practiced for so long that everyone was wondering what we were doing and telling us that it'd better be good or else!" It turned out to be well worth the wait, as VCR's audience certainly wasn't disappointed that evening, and has been mushrooming rapidly ever since.
"The first few of our gigs were kind of outrageous. At our first show, in the living room, the floor was like a trampoline, totally bouncing up and down, and the ceiling seemed about to cave in! Our second show was at an apartment a month later, and the apartment got totally destroyed: windows broken, footprints on the ceiling from people crowd-surfing... even my amp and my keyboard broke. But it was worth it!"
And then, of course, there was the demi-legendary Halloween performance that along with the requisite Choco-Balls and the band's homemade 3D cardboard signs included the added entertainment value that only generous buckets of fake blood and a setlist consisting entirely of Misfits covers can provide. Suffice it to say that "it's kind of caught on in Richmond that we're the band to see if you want to go crazy," Casey declares. "It gets so out of hand, so fast. As soon as we start playing, people are trying to stagedive, climbing on whatever they can, jumping into the crowd... it seems like some of the kids come to our shows just to go crazy. It's pretty damn fun."
Not surprisingly, the word of mouth generated by VCR's volatile, vigorous live free-for-alls led to demand for VCR "product," so in August 2003 the band entered a makeshift recording studio in the barn of their friend Jason Laferrera's family home where, during a whirlwind three days, VCR and recent recording school graduate Laferrera banged out VCR's self-titled, six-track, 15-minute EP.
Originally a limited-edition self-release (we're talking seriously limited: only 100 copies), created solely to sell at shows and give away to friends, the EP was enthusiastically reissued with added bonus tracks by SideOneDummy Records in the April of 2005. VCR's debut full-length, Power Destiny, will be released May 23.
Power Destiny, was also produced by Laferrera, albeit in a decidedly more exotic new workspace. Instead of a Virginia barn, this time VCR recorded in a den of iniquity, so to speak. Yep, that's right: Amsterdam. "Jason interned at a studio in Richmond that also owns a studio in Holland, and apparently it's actually cheaper for us to record there, so we decided to take a little vacation and play some shows, too," explains Casey.
After VCR completed their 12 days of recording in Amsterdam an almost luxurious, leisurely pace compared to the fleeting 72 hours allotted to record their EP they gleefully brought their uniquely future-shocking brand of electro-punk to lucky audiences in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Italy on their hugely successful first overseas tour.
Thankfully this trek was far more successful than their winter 2003 tour of North and South Carolina, during which Casey's (uninsured) car burst into flames on the side of the road (fortunately, the band had already fled from the vehicle upon seeing suspicious smoke streaming out of the tape deck, and perhaps even more astoundingly, none of their musical equipment including Steve's shiny new $1,000 bass amp was damaged in the blaze). But given the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the live VCR experience, one never knows what might happen the next time they hit the road.
Just get ready to set your VCR to stun.