October, 2013

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Artist Direct interview with Conan Neutron on Better Luck Next Life

Here’s another great interview, this time with Rick from Artist Direct

Hint: Better Luck Next Life is the Big Lebowski

“Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be loud, dumb, and mean all the time,” smiles Victory and Associates vocalist Conan Neutron. “We don’t make disposable music. You can ignore it, but it’s not disposable, for sure.”

Victory And Associates definitely leave a mark with Better Luck Next Life [iTunes link]. The perfect amalgam of heavy and hypnotic, the band’s hardcore grit remains fortified by melody at the right moments. It also might just make you think in the process…

In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Conan Neutron of Victory And Associates talks Better Luck Next Life, music, and so much more.

You guys strike the perfect balance between heaviness and hookiness…

We’re definitely fans of big ridiculously heavy music. However, at heart, when it comes down to it, we’re fans of rock ‘n’ roll—in its myriad of forms. There’s equal love for bands like Buzzcocks and Wire as much as, say, The Melvins. It’s cool that you’re hearing that. Sometimes, it’s hard for people to get what we’re all about with that because it’s pretty bombastic. For a lot of bands, it’s one or the other. We like to do both.

For you, what ties Better Luck Next Life together?

Well, it’s definitely meant to be a cohesive piece. That’s for sure. When one speaks of concept albums, there’s a real tendency towards, “Be the warrior, mystic heart of the night, and the orb of whoever”—that kind of ridiculous ostentation. The concept of this record is basically the overwhelming nature of the disconnection of modern life. We tried to put that forward in a way that shows the frustration and weird sadness that happens from all of these freedoms we have. We didn’t want to do it in a way that’s cynical, conceited, and mean though.

It’s more observant…

Right! “We’ll Have to Be Our Own Heroes” is a self-empowerment jam. It’s like, “What happens when the fellas that were supposed to save the day call in sick?” You’ve got to step up there. When you get to the end of the record and “Taste the Danger”, it’s the passing of the torch, if you will. The idea in between is an examination of all these communication tools. What do we use the advanced forms of communication and transmittal throughout all of history for? We use them to share cat pictures and memes to each other [Laughs]. It’s ridiculous. Everyone is talking, but is anyone really listening? If you ask people, they might stop and think about it, but it’s not at the forefront of a lot of people’s brains for sure. It can be a frustrating culture. I know it’s a weird thing to write a rock record about, but it’s where we’re at.

What’s the story behind “Taste the Danger”?

It’s totally awesome you mention it. I feel like that song gets overlooked by a lot of people. It’s one of my favorites. We had a song on our first record called “You Can’t Stop the Signal”. It’s a live favorite. We still play it all the time. The idea behind that song was whatever you do in life, whether it’s immediately recognized or not or whether it yields immediate results or not, it matters. The signal gets out there. “Taste the Danger” is a bit of a continuation of that. Communication goes out, and it isn’t necessarily something the originator of the idea will be recognized or lauded for. Stuff you do pays dividends down the line. If you look at music and culture as something bigger than a collection of things to click on, listen to, be done with, and then never think about it again, when you think of it as something so important it’s a big part of your identity as it is for us, the idea is you find other people who can find deeper meaning and help define themselves and who they are with this music. Ideally, down the line, if we do things right, we can add a little more to culture and make things a little cooler, rather than the other way around. There are a lot of space analogies too [Laughs].

Is it important for you to paint pictures and tell stories with the songs?

For me, it is. I think there are a couple schools of thoughts. There’s your Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits confessional telling deeply personal tales thing. Then, there’s the other end of it. People are telling stories and they may not be necessarily related to anything. They’re just singing the words. This record definitely falls somewhere in between there. Some of the songs definitely come from deeply personal places. There are also songs that are more allegorically informed. I’m a collector of phrases of things. A phrase itself can be consumed with a good amount of meaning beyond just what the words grouped together are. That’s something really cool. On the song, “Are We Having Fun Yet?”, it’s directly inspired by the show Party Down. The Adam McKay character is basically reduced to the Budweiser “Whassup?” guy. His existence is pretty much tied up in a stupid catchphrase. That show is so important to us because it’s this cross-section of delusion, disappointment, and hope. You get a phrase like that, and it’s super evocative. There are repeated themes like that throughout the record. I like phrases that can mean more than just the phrase. They’re words that grab you or snag you.

What artists shaped you?

I came to music through the world of post-punk like Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Melvins, and Nirvana. I worked at a record store. Not only did I find bands like Television, Buzzcocks, and all of this amazing music that happened before, but I was like, “There’s also this country music that’s really cool”. It opened up my horizons quite a bit. When it comes down to it, I’m a rocker at heart. From the cradle, I was played AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles. That’s just in my bones for sure. To answer your question, I once said my political belief system is Fugazi, and my religious belief system should be Devo [Laughs].

If Better Luck Next Life were a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?

I have to think about this! It’d have to be something with a dark undercurrent of greater meaning. I’m tempted to say The Big Lebowski, but I think it’s a darker record. Then again, that’s pretty good. Let’s go with that. It’s sassy. I think there are many truths told in jest. It definitely tells a story. It comes out great in the end. The Dude fucking hates The Eagles [Laughs].

—Rick Florino

Shutter 16 – Review: Victory and Associates – Better Luck Next Life

Thanks to Andy Frisk and Shutter 16 for a great review! of our new record.

While their sophomore album Better Luck Next Life might be filled with tracks with titles like “Are We Having Fun Yet?,” “Ignore Button,” and “Exasperated, Inc,” none of these tracks exude a seething anger like you’d hear from The Sex Pistols or Black Flag. That doesn’t mean that Victory and Associates aren’t intense rockers though. While they definitely have a strong punk ethic running through their tracks, which is most evident on the glorious “The End of Memory,” they often display a humorous, ‘shaking my head’ cynicism rather than an “I am an AntiChrist”-like, and angry, yawp. Much like the grunge made popular by early Nirvana, and Mudhoney in particular, Victory and Associates’ songs thrive on sludgy riffs and uplifting bridges and choruses (both key components of the album’s powerful opening track “We’ll Have To Be Our Own Heroes”). They aren’t afraid to play solos, and they even indulge in the occasional outro drum solo (gasp!). When they put all these elements together, as they do so often on Better Luck Next Life, Victory and Associates demonstrate why they are such a compelling listen. They are a band that isn’t afraid to cross boundaries and embrace their love of just about every kind of rock, often times within the the same song. “For Serious,” one of the album’s standout tracks even dabbles in psychedelica (double gasp!).

Every song on the album would work great in a club setting, but could easily make excellent use of arena acoustics. While Victory and Associates aren’t quite an “arena rock band” just yet, they could easily make the jump. Their songs, as described above, are a melodic blend of what is great about a wide variety of rock music, and have enough space within them to clearly, concisely, and radiantly echo around, while enveloping the crowd of, more spacious venues. If you don’t get to see them live though, Better Luck Next Life, is also one hell of a headphones record. It can take you places like the best of records can. Highly recommended.

Neutron interview in Ghettoblaster Magazine

Here’s a great interview with Conan in Ghettoblaster Magazine about our new record Better Luck Next Life. He talks about working with Toshi Kasai, how the songs differ from the first album and lots of process “inside baseball” stuff. Check it out if you like… words and stuff.

Victory and Associates, the Oakland-based quartet that the SF Weekly has described as “an outfit that matches anthemic rock with punk energy,” release their sophomore album Better Luck Next Life via Seismic Wave Entertainment on Oct. 29.

The band, helmed by former Mount Vicious/pop culture cult hero (see his attempt to Google bomb Karl Rove) and now Victory and Associates front man Conan Neutron, recorded the 10-track release in the Spring of this year with Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Federation X, Liars, Tool) handling production.

Since the band’s 2011 release, These Things Are Facts, Victory and Associates have spent most of their time on the road, touring with Mike Watt, Helms Alee, The Thermals and The Blind Shake. The quartet also blogged about their 2012 SXSW experience for the East Bay Express, who described the band’s debut as “snarly guitar riffs and aggressively pummeled drums.”

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Neutron to discuss the new record and this is what he told us.

When did you begin writing the material for Better Luck Next Life?

About a week after our first record, These Things are Facts, came out, one valid criticism that came from our first record is how there’s almost no breaks in it at all. It’s just constant and propulsive and never lets up, that was intentional. However, we wanted to showcase a different side of the band, and lyrically I got really into the idea of sincerity itself being under attack as a tool for shameless marketeers and hacks.

The first record was also very purposefully heart on sleeve too, so that’s how “For Serious” came out. A song against noble apathy and disconnection and a case that earnestness doesn’t have to equate schmaltzy background music.

Musically it’s very different from anything we had done before either, there’s more space to it, the dynamics are a huge part of the song and it is meant to kind of coil and unfurl if you will. After that came “Exasperated, Inc.”, which started to set the tone for the rest of the record. Beleaguered from the world with all of its “freedom” and “content” (emphasis mine), and the frustration that comes from that. We toured on those songs a lot and they quickly became live favorites.

Then the rest of them came together anywhere from a year before the record was recorded to a few weeks before. We purposefully decided to put out a double A side single called “Plausibly Wild/Wildly Plausible” on Latest Flame Records and a digital single called “Friend Rock City”, we had those kicking around as well but those were always destined for their own releases as the mood that we were putting together for this record didn’t fit them. Plus, we like absurd concepts and a single called “Plausibly Wild” b/w “Wildly Plausible” pleased us greatly and the songs fit together well, and releasing a digital single about poorly run “friend rock shows” that is front-loaded with a comedy bit can probably be construed as a dick move by some. That’s the kind of stuff we love. Those were meant to stand on their own though, all of the BLNL songs are meant to stand together even if all of the songs don’t all sound alike.

What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?

Honestly? Writing is a pretty easy process for us, we’ve played together so much now that we have that kind of band telepathy that you need to really have an idea of what the other person is going to do next and then play to that strengths. We can be more thoughtful on arrangements and sound since we’re more comfortable playing together.

“A Cheeky Little Wish For Your Attention” probably took the most time, but that was probably because it was so new at the time. I think we had only ever played that song once before live. I wasn’t convinced that we’d be able to get it together in time for the record. Heck, I don’t think I even had the part I play in the bridge fully worked out until the third take. It was exciting though because we loved the energy of the song. And of course, it’s some peoples favorite song on the record too. It ended up turning out really well.

My frustrations with the recording and mixing process are abjectly miniscule, it was a great experience and not difficult at all. I guess it helps that we’ve toured on almost all of the songs multiple times over, nothing helps recording better than a band that knows the material.

Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?

Definitely “We’ll Have To Be Our Own Heroes” that song, which Rob Montage from Waxeater called “the Torchiest song that ever Torched” wasn’t always a drop-D mini arena rock epic. It started off as a land speed record sort of Thermals bite, but it never took flight that way. I loved the lyrics so much, which uncharacteristically for this band came first, and I loved the progression but it just never had the weight that it should.

Then, one day I was just sitting around and picked up a guitar was already in drop-D and started playing the progression that way and a lot slower and it sounded awesome. It almost immediately took on the magic quality that I always knew it deserved. It took us an embarrassingly long amount of time to get it together on the vocals since we wanted the vocals to be just as preposterously huge sounding as the music, but it all came together pretty quickly after that. It’s probably one of my favorite songs that we’ve done and it’s so different from the silly little demo that I jotted down that it’s very funny.

Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?

Nope! We originally had plans for that, just to have a few pals from other bands come in for some background vocals and what not, but once we actually got going Toshi had the rest of the guys do vocals as well and it sounded full as all get out. All four of us do vocals all over the place. Mine are still the lead, Evan’s are still the second most constant, but Evan, Shane and Mouse all did a heroic amount of harmonizing and backup vocals on “Better Luck Next Life”. To our ears it sounds lush as heck, but there definitely reached a point where just wasn’t any room for anybody on the outside to come in! What you hear on Better Luck Next Life, for better or for worse is Victory and Associates.

Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?

The incredible Toshi Kasai, who is most well known for working with the Melvins on pretty much everything they’ve done in the last ten years. He’s done records by Tool, Federation-X, Hurry Up Shotgun, Tweak Bird and many others. It’s crazy he’s mostly known for heavy music but the guy has an incredible pop sensibility and an ear for harmony as well as just being a damn fine engineer. He’s worked on all kinds of crazy mainstream stuff too like Foo Fighters, Bloodhound Gang, Dave Matthews Band and such, but is heart is with scrappy little weirdo bands like ours.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with some damn fine, talented people but I think it’s safe to say that this would be an entirely different record without the very talented Toshi Kasai with us every step of the way. I think he can get away with saying things with serious candor because of his heavy Japanese accent too: “Ahhh… that was pretty good, but try vocal part again and this time… do it cooler.” How do you argue with that? “Do it cooler?” Incredible. The guy is gifted it was a joy to work with him on this, we will absolutely do so again.

Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?

YES! Thank you for asking. This record focuses on the increasing alienating aspects of modern society, which leads to the safety blanket of cynicism and disconnection. This is frequently mistaken for critical thinking, but it’s not. It also deals with how on the surface we celebrate the individual without supporting the needs of the individual, while at the same time rewarding things that already existed for already existing. It starts off with “…Heroes.” which is a pretty open call to stand up and not wait for others to do stuff for you, walks through the general frustration of our increasingly enclaved and bedroom communitied social structures, takes a few existential deep breaths to wonder if any of it means anything and then ends with “Taste the Danger”, which is the idea of a passing of the torch to the next generation. For every four that fall away five more will take their place. Beaten, bloodied, but not defeated, never defeated.

Heavy concepts for a rock record right? I guess it’s fine if people don’t give a damn for any of that and just like the songs too, but that’s where it’s coming from.

Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?

We’ve played all of these songs live quite a few times, yes. People seem to really, really dig “Everything’s Amazing (Nobody’s Happy)” as well as “A Cheeky Little Wish For Your Attention” and “We’ll Have To Be Our Own Heroes”. “For Serious” always gets a great reaction too because it’s so… ugh… I hate to say it but “groove oriented”? It lends itself well to live arrangements and provides a much needed palette cleanser from the big rocking. They all rotate in and out of live sets for us, the only one that doesn’t have the same oomph that I would hope for crowd reaction is “Taste the Danger”, which is a slow burner. It’s not bad, but we have so much material at this point it will generally get passed over for songs that have more immediate kick. Some songs are just better on record, and that’s totally OK in the Victory and Associates book.

(Catch Victory and Associates at one of these forthcoming dates:

Upcoming tour dates:

October 27 Oakland, CA Hemlock Tavern

November 21 Portland, OR The Know

November 22 Seattle, WA Chop Suey (w/Helms Alee)

November 23 Bellingham, WA The Shakedown)