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)
Nov 21st, Portland, OR – The Know w/Beach Party, The Cut 45
Nov 22nd, Seattle, WA – Chop Suey w/Helms Alee, Qui, TACOS!
Nov 23rd, Bellingham, WA – The Shakedown w/SEMINARS, Rookery
Nov 24th, Eugene, OR (tent) – W/ Fight Stories
Hey everybdoy, so we’re pleased to announce that we’ll be playing Mission Creek Music Festival this year.
here are the details:
And here’s a cool article on it.
Midwest! Thank you so much. Great shows and great bands, not a single bummer town show in the lot of them. Say…wha?!? Geoff, Tony and “Showtime”, AKA: TROPHY WIVES you are a wonderful band and the greatest of dudes LET’S DO IT AGAIN, Thoughts Detecting Machines, you are dignified. Blackout Dates: Glad we got to see you at least once. Jeff Moody: You are an incredible human being. Ryan Werner you are a treasure. Endless shout outs, endless late night laughs over cheap beer and ringing hearing from kick ass music. Gonna go ahead and call this one a win. Q: “ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?!?” A: “YES!!! YES!!! YES!!!”
Please don’t forget that you can order our new album from us direct/seismic wave:
cds ship immediately, vinyl in October… and digital immediately.
Here is the first song on the new Victory and Associates record: Better Luck Next Life. It’s called “We’ll Have To Be Our Own Heroes”. You can listen or get a free download at that link, purchase a download of the whole album NOW, or preorder it on CD or LP. Thank you so much for the support and please feel free to reshare.
August 8: Chicago, IL @ Burlington w/ Thoughts Detecting Machines (Rick Valentin of Poster Children), Blackout Dates
August 9: Normal, IL @ Firehouse Pizza w/ Thoughts Detecting Machines
August 10: Kenosha, WI @ 1146 at the Red Olive Lounge w/ TROPHY WIVES, FoWlMoUtH
August 11: Milwaukee, WI @ Franks Power Plant w/ Trophy Wives, Volunteer
August 12: Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon w/ Trophy Wives, Soundless
August 13: Minneapolis, MN @ Hexagon Bar w/ Gay Witch Abortion, Trophy Wives
August 14: Dubuque, IA @ The Lift w/ Trophy Wives, Young Indian