Victory And Associates
Victory And Associates is a Bay Area band that has been around the blocks a few times (as they put it). I recently challenged singer/guitarist Conan Neutron to expound upon the ideas behind the songs on their latest release, Better Luck Next Life. He happily did so and the results are below. Check out the album on their bandcamp page.
We’ll Have To Be Our Own Heroes
Album opener. This one is based on the idea of “What happens when the champions just decide to call in sick?” Like there’s supposed to be this huge battle between good and evil, and the paragons of justice and nobility partied a little too hard the night before. What if it was all just left to the busboys, the junior technicians, the ill equipped? And then the turnaround is you keep your elbows in, and hit as hard as you can. Do your best, don’t wait for somebody else to save the day because they probably ain’t coming, better to go down fighting than to just complain.
The line “we laughed and we laughed, but nothing was funny” is probably one of my favorite lines I’ve ever written. I’m sure I probably accidentally stole it from somewhere. The line before it “always for love, and rarely for money” is obviously a Talking Heads homage.
This song lived a few different lives, and never truly “popped” until it got much slower and was played in drop D. All because I didn’t feel like retuning my guitar after Billy from Trophy Wives had played it last. Hooray for inspiration through laziness I think it’s a nice opening shot. Honestly? Probably one of the cheeriest songs on the record too. That’s depressing.
We live in a world of increasingly cloistered and protected communities of our devising. It’s so easy to just shut out the world at large and only hear viewpoints that you know you already agree with. It’s how we can have an election and we can have tens of thousands of people that cannot even PROCESS how the other side *COULD HAVE* won, let alone that they did win. It’s an echo chamber of things we already know that we like. And it’s dangerous.
It works just as much with music as anything else, people close themselves off to new experiences and prefer to hear about things they already know or things that remind them of things they already know. That’s stagnation to me man. I think nostalgia is a hell of a drug. We’ve made it ridiculously easy to remove dissenting opinions or even things we don’t care to look at with a click of the button. Is that freedom? I suppose, but it also ensures an endless feedback loop of things you already like or agree with and that can be dangerous.
Ultimately it’s about communicating without any communication taking place. You’re talking to the wall and there’s no impact. You’re talking to the dog and there’s no comprehension. It’s some frustrating business and there’s more and more of it as we move along unchallenged to our little subsects of subsections of culture, retreating away from the common experiences and overimbuing essence and meaning into things simply because they are already familiar.
Musically this is all Cheap Trick/Wipers worship on my part with some Fugazi/DEVO weirdness in the chorus but everybody brought something neat and unique to it and the arrangement. Mouse is a nutcase on the drums here. It’s always a blast to play live.
Weightless and Pointless
There’s a moment at the end of a relationship, at the actual end, where there’s just a feeling of being weightless. As if the floor itself has completely disappeared. Even if you knew it was coming, even if you felt you were braced for it emotionally—until it actually happens, you aren’t ready. There are no songs that I am aware of, or that I care about that have really embodied that feeling that I can think of. I’m also fascinating by the idea of being adrift in space, not immediately dying, but just adrift as slowly, inexorably everything you love disappears off into the distance. What would that feel like? Would it be at all like watching your perceived future life with somebody drift away? You have this shared common experience of being adrift, but no way to help each other. Everything I love is so far away, it just got a whole lot further now.
I guess that’s what that movie Gravity is about. I don’t know, I haven’t seen it. Heard it was pretty good. I don’t write lyrics about relationship stuff, but that concept was bouncing around my head for awhile and this is what we got out of it.
Musically: this is probably the “mellowest” song on the record. To me it’s part Afghan Whigs circa the record 1965 and the parts I don’t think suck about the band Spoon or early Elvis Costello. You’d probably get four different answers if you asked the rest of the guys though.
Everything’s Amazing (Nobody’s Happy)
Yup, the jumping off point is that Louis C.K. bit. Yes, we are fans, except for Mouse. He would want that recognized. That bit (and the idea really hit home for me) that we live in this world of complete and utter miracles, with all of the knowledge stores of all of society at our disposal. Stuff that would blow the minds of the ancient philosophers, or even people from fifty years ago. Yet we most often use it for bullshit, and we get all worked up because the flippant nonsense we use it for doesn’t move QUITE as fast as our entitled selves feel like is worth it.
You didn’t have to hunt and kill your dinner tonight, but you can tag #FML on twitter because you went over your text message allocation. “I wish I was dead!” REALLY?!? Do you REALLY wish you were dead? Are you listening to yourself? Is there anybody actively burning your fields and raping your neighbors? No? Good, I invite you to stop whining.
There is a lot of complaining for the amount of miracles that we have. Sure, no personal jetpacks or hovercars, but could you have in ANYWAY AT ALL forseen the smart phone? And everything you can do with it? Could anybody have forseen something like the societal change of Arab Spring all with devices that fit in your pocket?
The world we live in is incredible, it’s just our perception of it that’s fucked, and we use it to make ourselves feel miserable. “What do we do now?” I sing that about a million times at the end. Not providing the solution, but most definitely asking the question.
Musically, I really love how this one turned out. It’s all Ron Asheton scuzz riffs in the verses, with Shane doing some neat slide stuff over it. The chorus is very “The Cars” to me. And then there is the crazy psych outro that just takes it somewhere else. It took a while before that didn’t just seem indulgent as hell to me, but we wouldn’t change it for the world now.
Look: The world is in a sorry state right now in a lot of ways. All of this constant connection means being exposed to injustices, atrocities, and downright depressing things all around. Generally speaking, they are things that you cannot control and have no power of as well. It can wear you down if you let it. So don’t let it.
This is also one of two songs that has the phrase: “It used to be beat the odds, now it’s beat the clock.” That, to me is one of the major themes of the record as a whole. Time as a finite resource, the odds as insurmountable as ever. That’s what this song is about, being overwhelmed and trying to make the choice to not let it dominate you. It’s a song about the frustration of giving a damn about things around you.
Musically? Easy: Archers Of Loaf riffs played with a “Get Back” style Beatles groove. The guitar duo at the break after the first chorus is shameless Television (the band), but not by design. It’s just how it ended up. Mouse had to be talked into the drum thing at the end, he is vehemently against drum solos, but the idea was to have this big ridiculously ostentatious drum thing. And then this bratty Shellac-like single note hit at the end. I think it’s a fine way to end the first side of a record.
The End of Memory
As a culture, we are losing our ability to remember anything. The downside to having all of the information stores of history available to us at all times. It’s a problem, and one that will continue to manifest itself as time marches on. Why bother putting any effort into knowing something when you can type the words into your computer and look at the Wikipedia entry? It also means that these information stores can potentially be retconned in the future. Sounds paranoid, I’m sure, but it will happen. We’ll definitely notice our lack of critical thinking as a culture when that happens. I think we stand a real nature of losing a lot of our history and shared experiences to “the cloud.” Total drag.
Music wise: To me this is the absolute mélange of the more fast and aggressive In Utero Nirvana stuff mixed with mid-period Hot Snakes in the chorus. The slight syncopation and pickup in the choruses is a huge part of the song to me. There’s what I call a “pocket Iron Maiden” guitar solo Shane does near the end that I just love because it gets in and out so fast.
A song in defense of sincerity itself. Sincerity has been hijacked by lackwits and shameless manipulators. This is a straight up, self-aware call to arms. The answer isn’t abject disaffection and removed distance but to dive deeper and stand for something that isn’t ironic detachment. It isn’t shameful to care about things, or give a damn about what you do—far from it. This is a song about DOIN’ THANGS.
This song originally appeared on the incredible Lake of Fake single series. A super worthy subscription vinyl compilation series that is done solely for the love of music itself. Completely divorced from commerce and all of the other icky parts of music. This version is much better than that version though, and it should be—we’ve been touring this song for a couple of years now. I barely remember recording it, it’s so second nature. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the song that we’ve played the most of any of our catalog, it’s a nice set breaker for feel.
Musically: This one is rhythm and wide open spaces. A complete answer to the (very justified) criticism of the first record as being densely over packed. It all was built on that slinky slanky bassline Evan plays and the way the vocals and drums hit together. Sparse delayed guitar throughout. The chorus is all big arena release. Drawing a contrast with the verses. The vocals are impassioned and such, and since there’s room to breathe I can to have some fun with that with inflection. The dual guitar parts are like a post-punk Thin Lizzy to me.
“Are We Having Fun Yet?”
Some bands are inspired by old bands, some are inspired by new. Some are inspired by critically acclaimed darkly comedic TV shows that only find their audiences long after they are largely ignored and cancelled. This is a song directly inspired by the TV show Party Down, you can count that show as a primary inspiration for our band as much as Fugazi, as much as Cheap Trick, DEVO, Queens of the Stone Age or whatever.
There’s a fine line between delusion, disappointment and hope. It’s about trying to be the best you can be at something, really going for it and maybe the best you get out of it is a catch phrase or something that seemed throw away and reductive. Something that has nothing to do with your “art,” that’s now how you are known. The equivalent of the “Whassup?!!” dudes from that real life commercial. Talented? Who cares? Dedicated? Doesn’t matter. All you will ever be to the world at large is something designed to stick in people’s head and sell something you don’t really care about and have no stake in at all. All the while surrounded by folks in a cloud of delusion about their own adequacy and place in the world. Anyway, this song is directly about that show.
Musically: This song is a mix of New Order type melody played like KARP in the verses, and a big ol’ Thin Lizzy style satisfying ‘70s rock chorus. The guitar duo bit gets to do a little Polvo thing at the end, which satisfies our necessary weirdness quotient that prevents us from appealing to Wolfmother fans and the like.
A Cheeky Little Wish For Your Attention
Band bios are preposterous. The entire act of trying to sum up a band in a paragraph is completely and utterly absurd on every level. For added fun: translate the bio to Japanese and back again! Then you get great little phrases like the title of this song.
Message-wise it’s the counter part to “Ignore Button,” which I already talked about at length. Everybody’s talkin’, but we’re all talking to the wall. I got to reuse a few lines from other songs here that I felt never “popped” in the original song and reemphasized the “It used to be beat the odds, now it’s beat the clock” line.
Musically this one is crazed. Probably one of the most needlessly complicated arrangements on the record, that somehow ended up sounding natural despite of everything. Yet, if you listen to the demo it really isn’t that much different either. We just like to make things hard on ourselves I guess. The main riffs are from the Sonic Youth/early Trail of Dead/Unwound school, and the big huge stops are just a fun, dumb thing to do. Recording this one had just as much of the “holding on to a rollercoaster for dear life” feeling that the speed of the song hopefully elicits in others.
Taste the Danger
Ahh! The coda of the record and purposefully so. Sometimes the best you can do is to get out a message to those that came after you, the next generation. “It’s your turn.” Ultimately sad, but hopefully inspiring: for every four that fall away, five more will take their place. The messenger may fall, but the message will not. It’s part of being something bigger than what you are or do. Which is something we’ve all strived for our entire lives, but you have to get ok with maybe not having the impact that you want. Better luck next life.
More space analogies. They are all over the place on this record. Should have called it: “Sore songs about Space and some other stuff.” The towns of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Chugiak, Alaska, are both name checked out of the gate. The idea being: There are probably kids in far off places doing some mind blowing next level stuff that makes what we do (and what our peers do) look like tired bar band twelve bar blues. It’s easy to look at those that come after you with fear or wariness, but that’s dumb. We won’t be here forever, and that’s okay.
This one is totally Fugazi riffs but trying to play them with a purposefully Crazy Horse style feel to them, not loose so much as purposefully not so rigid. The end is very King Crimson to me.
So, Victory and Associates play what could best be described as “post punk”, but it’s more unique than what that might seem to describe. See, the thing is, if you date Punk Rock to 1977, it’s “classic rock”, right? Because, if Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who and Led Zeppelin are “classic rock”- how many years different is that? Likewise, the secret to what became “post punk” is that it was just when Punk Rockers started to inject Punk with whatever pre-punk music they were into. The usual suspects were David Bowie, Dub Reggae, and Chic, but could include everything from Jazz to Country to Rockabilly. My personal stance is that’s what made Post punk great- the cross-pollination of various music types. So, Victory and Associates mix some punk rock aesthetics with a whole lot of early 1970′s pop hard rock- FM radio circa 1974 mixed with the rawness of mid 1980′s bedroom raw lo-fi punk rock ( as opposed to hardcore). This is a formula that can be applied to everyone from Tom Petty to Guided By Voices, so why do I say they are unique? Because while the sound design is a lot closer to Bob Pollard & company, the actual core song-writing is a lot closer to Tom Petty. Which is- this is traditional rock songwriting, classic rock songwriting, almost entirely, but given a garage punk outfit. I don’t hear a lot of that, these days. Also, as per the FM radio songwriting, this doesn’t sound as good over headphones as it does on a small, cranked stereo. I bet it sounds best on somewhat worn vinyl, but that’s a theory I cannot test, just yet. Which, again, brings us back to that early 1970′s thing- you really don’t want a CD of Bad Company, or Foghat, or Bachman Turner Overdrive, you want that Vinyl copy you got when you were 9, and played 800 times on your radio shack turntable, until your poorly maintained needle wrecked your record.
But, let’s get a little closer- tracks like album closer “Taste the Danger” demonstrate just how right I am- at first, you might think it sounds like early Fugazi, but it’s too relaxed, and too “in the pocket” for DC postpunk, and then, you realize how poppy the structure is, so you start thinking of Sloan, but then Sloan and Fugazi have very little in common, right? Well, except a secret affinity for Blue Oyster Cult- and then, it all falls into place. Album opener “We’ll Have to be Our Own Heroes” might sound like Quicksand, until you realize how big of a Who fan Walter Schreifels is, making this into a mod power pop song. Even the most “punk” sounding track ‘The End of Memory” shares DNA with both TSOL and Ted Nugent.
That a Melvins producer (Toshi Kasai) recorded it makes total sense, now, doesn’t it?
However, the earnestness, and the sincerity lyrically espoused keeps this from Grunge/Alternative Nation/ Generation X irony, so Conan Neutron’s vocal similarity to David Byrne should not be taken for distance from the music made- he’s got a singer-songwriter’s heart, but a cock rocker’s golden god guitar, and, in the end, that’s the best way to view this- an LP from a group of Rocknroll true believers- fanatics, even- of a type that most of us can’t muster up the courage to be much after the age of 20. – Matt “Max” Van
Probably one of the best and most detail laden interviews we’ve gotten so far.
Thanks so much Jay Snyder and Hellride!
Victory and Associates – Better Luck Next Life (Seismic Wave Entertainment)
By Jay Snyder
October 31, 2013
This one turned out to be a nice surprise. I knew nothing about Oakland/San Franciscan punk rockers Victory and Associates before I let their hard rockin’, good time mosh attack unleash a full kicking on my senses. They’ve had a few other releases, and Better Luck Next Life is their latest one. To me it sounds like Bad Religion’s best melodic stuff (Against the Grain) mixed with the Dead Kennedy’s quirky aggression, Avail’s blue-collar sing-a-longs, the atonal yelp of Quicksand, and some old classic riff rock thunder. Updating the crunch is that noisy, heavy groove thickness utilized by bands like Federation X, Torche, Liquid Limbs, and Karp. It’s probably no shocker that Toshi Kasai (The Melvins, Big Business) twiddled the knobs for this album. Yeah, I totally wasn’t expecting to like this disc, what with the generic album cover, and all… But shit son, this is pretty good…played with fiery instrumentation full of explosive guitar solos/leads, a fluid bass presence, tricky drumming, and booming production that really pushes that rhythm section to the frontlines at all times (as well as the dueling guitars of Conan Neutron and Shane Otis).
Opener, “We’ll Have To Be Our Own Heroes,” represents the band’s expert merging of varied rock n’ roll techniques. The loud, clear, yet gritty and gravelly production perfectly separates the quartet’s tones, while a central riff gives the listener a mud bath of fuzzy 90s scuzz. It’s a familiar riff with that swooping, claw drawn tenacity of Karp’s best stuff floating to the top of the pond. A psychedelic, well aerated guitar melody comes into focus with tonal cues culled from straight-up punk (the economic, anarcho-laden rhythms, and sung/melodically shouted vocals of Mr. Neutron) and Otis’ lead guitar striving for a distinct 70s direction overflowing with harmonic hooks. Churning, chunky rock riffs break up the gracious melodies, and the duo of bassist/vocalist Evan Gritzon (who also contributes soaring harmony vocals) and drummer Mouse Menough put on a clinic of shifty, progressive accents marked by all over the kit fills that thrash the shit out of the snares n’ cymbals with ample support provided by effervescent, ever-changing bass lines. The whole affair reminds me of really good punk rock fluxed by the overdriven distortion of The Melvins and pretty much every band related to them.
“Ignore Button” is an adrenaline gland chewing punk n’ roll jam with raging solos, cranking percussion packed with twitchy, super busy rolls/fills and out of control bass riffs (there’s just riffs in general strewn throughout) jockeying ol’ paint straight to the nearest glue factory. This reminds me of the Dead Kennedy’s with the chord straining, yelling/singing vocal melodies of Conan having a similar expressive push akin to Jello, and alongside the smooth backing harmonies, one strong verse and chorus after another is crafted. Musically, it’s even more traditionally rocked-out than the DKs with a few of the riffs and noisy leads echoing of no nonsense hard rock. Lyrically, it’s also a gemstone of prose dedicated to assholes that just don’t seem to know when to quit talking once they’re already in a steel trap of a fix.
The off-time, off-kilter low-end runs and jazzy snare/tom jukes of “Weightless and Pointless” instigate some real troublesome, harmonized licks and vaguely rock n’ roll riffs which call to mind a stonerized version of Fugazi. A tapestry of solos, and echo enhanced melodies are beaten into place by the unstoppable sticksmanship of Mouse, with the vocals possessing a sarcastic, slick howl throughout. The closing riffs pair punk-rock, three-chord progressions with a dazzling solo, the pacing and tonality of the band’s spunky groove halted to a churning, fuzz-blasted hobble. What I really dig about these guys are that the guitarists do much more than simply mirror each other, the same goes double for the bassist…they’ll play in tandem when need be, but eventually each individual player steps out with a nuclear charged, “soloist” sort of contribution. The chemistry they’ve developed over the years is simply top-notch, and the production is glossy enough so zero notes are lost in hyperspace without the sacrifice of the necessary sediment that holds good rock n’ roll together.
Utilizing that sort of stop/start pacing and broken riffage that found a home on Am-Rep (the more I listen, the more these guys remind me of the underrated Guzzard), “Everything’s Amazing (Nobody’s Happy)” barges its way through a saloon door of swinging slide guitar licks and mid-tempo punk-rock. The melodic layering of the twin axes often rises and swells in the fine tradition of My Bloody Valentine, frequently encompassing the wall of sound tactic used by genre bands during the late 80s to mid 90s, but always going back to the slam of the almighty riff. Much of the same can be said about, “Exasperated Inc.,” which shambles along at about the same tempo, but intersperses a fuzzy, sunlit psychedelia into its shaggy haired groove. The 2nd half of the album is plenty good with faster punk oriented tracks like “End of Memory,” and “A Cheeky Little Wish for your Attention” pouring on the coal of speed and quick riffs, “For Serious,” and “Taste the Danger” psyching out the guitar-work, and “Are We Having Fun Yet’s” tasty knack for massive choruses, metallic guitar harmonizations, and gruff pop-punk artillery. There’s not a bum track in the batch, and there’s a lot of appeal to the open minded listener throughout.
Yeah, didn’t expect to like this, but Better Luck Next Life is such a well-written, energetic album I couldn’t resist. This could ALMOST be on the radio…it should be, but it might just be too ambitiously composed and hard-nosed for that fate. If you want to hear a punk album with sing-a-long melodies that doesn’t sound like some shitty Blink 182 or Avenged Sevenfold imitation, you should definitely check out Victory and Associates.
Visit the Victory and Associates website at www.victoryandassociates.com
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].
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.
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)
Oakland, you lucky bastards. On the night of June 22nd, a Friday night, three of yer best rock (and roll) bands will join together for a super-trifecta of sonic awesomeness at Vitus. Discard whatever petty, menial plans you may have made for that evening because, unless you are strapped to a hospital bed in some aseptic-smelling psyche ward, incarcerated, or declared dead before 10pm that night, you will face a lifetime of regret and all of it’s consequent, bone-aching misery if you miss this show. Why? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED.
I’ve never actually watched any of these bands perform because I live in a far away land called Wisconsin. I have, however, heard their studio recordings, and all three have made records that are near the very top of everything I’ve heard in the past 10 months. In other words, Oakland, yer town is in a unique position. Everyone says “rock is dead”, and from a surface-level view, (the radio, Pitchfork, etc.) there isn’t much evidence to the contrary, but you Oakland, you have Hurry Up Shotgun, Victory And Associates, and B. Hamilton, and on the evening of June 22nd, Vitus will be the hypocenter of a potential rock revolution, and you’ll want to be able to say you were there to not only witness it, but to help make it happen. You still have time between then and now to prepare to play yer role in the future of rock history, and you can start by picking up their recent, world-beating records on Bandcamp.
Hurry Up Shotgun – Hurry Up Shotgun (Seismic Wave)
This record positively shimmers with brilliant guitar arrangements and vocal harmonies that fly high up into the troposphere. If lead vocalist/guitarist Austin Pitts has the live vocal chops to recreate what he did in the studio with the impossibly perfect “Watermelon Sugar” (inspired by Richard Gary Brautigan’s 1968 novella “In Watermelon Sugar”) then he is without a doubt one of the most talented rock singers around in 2012. For real.
Victory And Associates – These Things Are Facts – (Latest Flame)
Buoyed by the endless positivity generated by bandleader Conan Neutron, Victory And Associates typically play fast, tight and sharp compositions that, to my estimation, come from somewhere in the space between The Buzzcocks and The Dead Kennedys. I have zero doubt that this band will raise the Vitus room temperature at least ten degrees by the end of their set.
B. Hamilton – Everything I Own Is Broken – (Parks & Records)
Jesus, listening to this record is like looking at the Grand Canyon, really… it takes several listens to fully absorb it. “Everything I Own Is Broken” is vast and complex, yet gentle and comforting and wise in ways that I’ve already blown over a thousand trying to explain. Halfway through 2012, this brilliant collection of songs is amongst my top three favorites of the year thus far.
We’d like to thank the our awesome local weekly, the East Bay Express for not only running our day by day tour blog from our SXSW tour, but also printing an edition in the newsprint version this week. Awesome! You can read that edited version here, or… here:
The Bay Area’s own Victory and Associates take us through the dirt-broke lows and rock-star highs of a weeklong SXSW tour.
March 11: Starry Plough, Berkeley, Calif.
Hometown kickoff! I spend most of the pre-show set wondering what the turnout is going to be, but my worries are quickly assuaged when folks start coming in. I fret, I fume, and I am constantly concerned, but you rarely let me down, Bay Area.
Then we’re up. The first two songs go swimmingly, with decent sound and good performances. We play a pretty new song, and lo! The power on all the amps shuts off. Weird. It comes back on, I make a joke about PG&E not caring for our new material, and we try once more. Again, it goes off. The house engineer does everything in his power to find out what is going on, but these intermittent power outages happen throughout the set and we have to cover for this abrupt change in dynamic range. We cut “Friend Rock City” two lines early; “Wildly Plausible” and “Plausibly Wild” both get lines in the choruses that are a cappella by necessity, and we cut “You Can’t Stop the Signal” out completely and call the set a touch early.
It’s frustrating; I won’t lie. But we tried to keep it light and I will say this: If we’re going to have a show where there are these kinds of issues, it might as well be a block from where you live on the first day of the tour.
You can read all of our exploits in the print version of this week’s East Bay Express
Or in the online version of our tour journal.
Part 1 – Berkeley (Tour kick off), Starry Plough, CA
Part 2 – Merced, Daylight Headlight house, Merced, CA
Part 3 – Pappy and Harriet’s, Pioneertown, CA
Part 4 – Rogue Bar, Scottsdale, AZ
Part 5 – Warehouse 21, Santa Fe, NM
Part 6 – Rubber Gloves, Denton, TX
Part 7 – Sidebar, Austin, TX, SXSW
Part 8 – Club 1808, Austin, TX, SXSW
We’re as pleased as can be to get such a wonderful review from one of our very favorite websites. The Allmusic guide, allmusic.com
Punk had become such a series of codified moves many times over by 2011 that the question was less what it was than what it could be otherwise. Victory and Associates’ debut album takes a simple tack to it all — what if the potentially anthemic energy were married to new wave-derived nerviness and nervousness, and giddily so? As such, These Things Are Facts rewrites no rule books — the love for the Buzzcocks, Black Flag, Wire, and Devo among many others is clear — but there’s a kind of fresh feeling that almost recalls early Vancouver punk as much as anything else, with a healthy dose of reflection sneaking in amidst the spirited rabble-rousing. Then again, given the band’s San Francisco location, it could be a Pacific Coast thing, and songs like “You Can’t Eat Prestige” come from a long line of artistic work about ambivalence regarding what it means to be functioning within a world designed to get you to compromise. “Brothers Doing It for Themselves” is a fittingly snarky title, but the sense of getting up and out and doing something is hard to argue, and everything from the bass growl in the introduction (and in the reprised conclusion) to the killer chorus comes together well. Having another song called “Turn Down the Guitars (‘11)” has — of course — a ridiculous but still satisfying guitar solo leading the way. And if the title “Funundrum” sounds like something that should be from a bad They Might Be Giants knockoff, the brawling overlay of vocals and guitars is more of a giddy leap of angry action all done with a smile.