Interview – Vinyl Hero

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Vinyl Hero

With a new single recently out, Vultures, Montreal’s Vinyl Hero proves to be one of the most interesting bands currently on the Canadian scene. Ray Howard (lead vocals/lead guitar), Costa Siarlis (bass/vocals) and Tiburce “Tibs” Perlau (drums) embody a powerful music ensemble ready to deliver energetic and ‘dense’ rock seasoned with that unique Can rock taste. The trio has been delivering its dynamic sound for a while now, releasing in 2016 the EP Seven Days On A Train, and touring from coast to coast.

“Costa and I have known each other for a very long time. We’ve known each other for about 22 years, 23 years” – Ray told us on the phone about how it all started. Indeed, the two had been working on and off on several projects throughout the years before the band came together in its current line-up, namely when Costa and Ray met the third member of the trio. “This drummer, Tibs, came into the fold in 2013. I was working in a store, he came into the store, we started talking, he came to audition a week later, and about a week after we were pretty sure he was a done deal. So for the last almost 7 years, he has been our drummer”. Said Ray about how they met Tiburce. “When he joined, it was kind of the place where I wanted to rename the band ‘cause we’d had the band name for a long time. Costa suggested that we keep it, we did! I’m happy we did and after many struggles, and still struggling, still working, here we are today.”

There is surely something that you can feel at a certain point in certain bands: that sort of maturity, of balance and knowledge that perfectly links all its members and that in the end allows to put out great stuff, something that reverberates in their music. In point of fact, all of this flows into Vinyl Hero’s great new single and video Vultures. Dropped at the end of March and recorded at the Montreal studio The Freq Shop (co-owned by Dave Traina and Derek Orsi), this piece, from a first look and hear, leaves an indelible sign on the listener eventually captured by the abrasive “claws” of its sound and visual esthetic. Indeed, contrast appears to be the key to enter its world. Red, white and black intersperse its music video; drums and guitar enter the audible sphere when the bass delivers its riff punctuating the melody: a great intro to the “majestic” rock timber of Ray’s voice.

“We’re really surprised and we’re really happy about how everybody is taking it – Ray told us, addressing the song and its reception – like seeing my own video, you know, 15-20 times before I realized, actually it’s a really dark video, people are just like YEAHHHHH!” (laughs). “The song Vultures is kind of like my political letter. It’s our political stance. It was meant to be viewed as in, you know, how our overall mentality is kind of still playing us in the modern society especially when it comes to political parties, conservatives, and liberals, and moderns, whatever they’re called these days. I just see that it’s like, wow, it’s this government and you can’t really do anything other than wait around and watch what happens around you, that’s kind of the message of the song.”

“When I was writing the lyrics, I did some search apart in, you know, the bird itself, the vulture, like Old World Vultures and how they react. We did, like, 3 mini videos to explain certain keywords of the lyrics in the song, and then we just had a lot of fun writing them and putting them together and directing them. The same guy who directed and edited and helped us with our video helped us do the editing and whatnot with that …Tibs [Perlau] had a lot to do as well with the production of the video and production of the song and just, you know, making sure everything came out looking as wonderful and as powerful as it does. I’m blessed for the people I had surrounding me, it was just really really wonderful. And a lot of the media push is ‘cause our bass player Costa Siarlis is just a mad media guru, he is phenomenal at this thing, he’s been wonderful.” 

However, what struck me, in particular, is that Vinyl Hero seems to have created a very peculiar sound, definitely rock yet very classy somehow, often built on crystalline guitar riffs and captivating bass and drums lines: an energy that, to make an example, in a song like Keith Richards (one of my faves) delivers a clear empowering vibe. You can’t achieve that without a specific creative process. We discussed that with Ray, who opened up about it: “We are always together and there is never, you know, one in particular that writes more than anything. Costa is like the glue that keeps everything together” said Ray when passionately discussing his bandmates’ specific skills and contribution to their sound. “To begin with, he’s just an army of a bass player because he is so well versed in funk and metal at the same time… When I met him, he was the best bass player I had ever seen in our age group and inner circles, and I was like: ‘I don’t know who the hell you are but this is gonna work’. And to this day, like I said almost two decades later and whenever we’re writing something or coming up with something or working on something, he holds up these ideas for bass lines that are just incredible, and then he’ll be putting on one of these wonderful pedals that he’s grown accustomed to finding, and tweaks, and finding his sound with it that now it’s just so organic to what he does. And it’s just a beautiful thing, and he really is the other half of myself.” 

“HE’S… F-ING… MONSTROUS! – Ray told us about Tib’s phenomenal technique as a drummer – “The day he showed up for his audition, he tuned his kit, just hit it a couple of times to make sure it was just in place, and I was like, yeah that’s the guy. And he’ll always be the guy. But he has a way of like, taking all of his knowledge, because he is the best-educated musician in the band. But I mean like, even if education is kind of foregone, but like never misplaced. He’s a really well-schooled drummer but his blood and his flow and his drive to what he does is all rooted in, like, this hard rock…”. And later concluding: “he does things that just pull out whatever you describe as our groove”.

Ray continued to shed some light on their unique approach by sharing more of his own background. «I grew up in a musical family, I grew up listening to a lot of country music, a lot of 50s and 60s rock, a lot of old blues, and it was a long struggle for me to understand the difference and the roots and whatever. And it was weird because I was raised in a musical family, you’d think I’d have understood that like supers early, and I get it. And then when I finally did, everything unlocked… – then he continued – It’s just a sound in general. It could be pop if it delivers well its peaks. Not just its sound, its peaks: that’s where I try to find that happy middle. I mean, I love playing it old-school 12-bar blues but I love doing it with a butt load of” (laughs).

Back to the roots of their sound and the particular nature of their creative process, Ray then said: “Especially in a band, the thing that helps us find that sound the most is that there’s no disregarding being ourselves. (…) it’s like, whatever [we have] coming out comes out. Vultures is the combination of the three of us just really being ourselves at our most prominent…”.

Our talk with Ray was also very interesting as it disclosed some interesting points of view on what I like to call ‘the double life of a professional musician’ (well, maybe we could also count a third one and a fourth…): studio or stage? For an artist, there is always something different that goes on when thinking about performing live or recording in a studio …it is indeed dramatically unsimilar: a switch that can be compelling sometimes but that brings with it a sort of complementarity. We asked Ray about it and I liked very much the quote by Al Pitrelli (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) with which he started his answer: “He said: ‘I love playing live when I’m in a studio and I love being in a studio when I’m playing live’. And there will always be that duality of it where I fully understand, I fully adhere and I fully feel the same way about it”.

“[In a recording studio] You have the chance to take those 10 takes where, you know, number 8 was like: Oh, that’s the keeper! you don’t get a chance to redo that guitar solo or that bass part of the drumline live. On the other hand, when you’re playing live and you guys are in that song and you’re feeling that magic between a band or whatever it is that makes that band that band, and you pull out these one moves out of improv … When you did something that was so incredible and you shake your head after and you’re like: why the hell didn’t we do that when we recorded it?! So it’s a duality, I love both, I love both so much”.

Then Ray continued telling me more about the studio experience and the exceptional relationship that bonds the trio together: “I’m not just a fan of the songs or the music I play, I’m a fan of the guys I play with. My favourite part is all the tracking everybody else. (…) You gotta respect and appreciate the guys you play with more than anything. Because you can cover mistakes, you can re-take something, but if you don’t have that appreciation, you will not find that groove, you will not find that spark, you will not find that thing that just makes… Like I said, whatever it is that you’re loving about Vultures, well, it started because it was there first. And I just love watching the two of them play, whether they’re standing side by side or in different rooms, I’ll turn around, I don’t care. When we’re doing the bass and drum tracks, that’s my favourite part of the studio: just to watch those two guys do their shit so well (…)”.

“The vocal booth after all this time is the one thing I think still scares me the most and the one thing I always, always dread the most; not the backup vocals, just the lead vocals”. (…) “Those are the two endpoints for me. Everything else in between is ok but watching the bass and drums get done and doing the vocals are kind of like both polar opposite ends that take the most of my attention in recording”.

Considering the current times, it was honestly quite impossible not to address what is happening in relation to the spread of COVID-19 and how it is influencing the rules of the music industry. We went together through how it is interfering on the more specific scale of everyday life for artists themselves, thus forcibly redefining the concept of creativity and pushing them toward a new reality, new habits, sometimes good, oftentimes not really.

«As a band, it’s the fact that there’s no more rehearsals. You know, there’s no… as I said at the beginning of our conversation, I can’t just go away into a recording studio and be like, alright we’re doing it this week, boys! So that kind of puts a damper on everything, it really does. On the other hand, (…) the creativity hasn’t stopped, I’ve been rolling over some old acoustic songs and I’ve been on a pledge that one day I will make an acoustic solo album of some sort (…), but – he insisted – the creativity hasn’t stopped, and if anything, I mean as far as the band, just because the material’s ready to go for the rest of what would be the mixed EP or whatever, I have some lyrics that finish up for what would be Part 2 EP; 

I have a friend of mine who sent me material and he wants me to write and sing on it when all this madness is over; I’ve been putting up my own videos, little moments of goofing around on some covers that I like doing … But I mean, it hasn’t stopped the creativity, it’s just impeded on the life of it. And I don’t mean my life: I talk to my band members as much as I can every day, we are all going through stuff, we all have our own thing. I have a wife and two small children who haven’t been in school for two months: I run an 18-hour daycare seven days a week…(…) With everything going on with Vultures, it has actually made me have to do a lot more paperwork as I like to call it: we’re doing our radio tracking, we’re doing our own emailing, we’re doing our own everything at the moment, so it’s afforded me the time to give to my band and give to my partners in music what I’ve been lacking throughout everything else, so I mean … you gotta find the positives in everything and just stay you as much as you can.

I do feel for a lot of people who live alone and don’t necessarily have somebody, or the people that do have somebody and necessarily is not a good situation at the moment. I can understand how that can be like: horrible to be living in right now. So, like I said, I’ve all kinds of blessings and I do my best to stay very very positive about everything going on right now”. And I have ideas for songs, and I’m trying to get my kids’ music lessons here and there. (…) I am not saying everything is great – Ray continued – but you know what? My life as it stands at the moment, pre and post-COVID or whatever, I am excessively happy. I’m happy with my surroundings, I love my band, I love my family, I love talking to new people such as yourself, Francesca. This has been an interesting time of my life, and I really wish I could get out and tour and go back to playing, you know, my gigs and my weekly circuit and what not but, you know, when it all ends, we’ll go back to some sort of outdoor civilization, it’ll be fantastic!”

Therefore, it was also impossible not to address the pandemic’s impact on the local music scene and its lifeblood, and to discuss Ray’s expectations and hopes in that regard after it is over. “You know, whether or not people come out or not, or whatever the case is, I mean hopefully after the COVID-19, after the lockdown, people having appreciation will be like I don’t care if it’s hip hop, rap, whatever… let’s just go see people play, let’s just go see a live show, let’s go see a theatre piece… something that has more of a live appeal than anything else, you know what I’m saying? As far as the scene, I mean, the scene is cool. I think the one thing that should stop happening is the venues closing, I think that would be a wonderful addition to the music scene: the venues should not be closing down anymore. More than anything, a music scene’s a music scene. Having known the city like that, that’s just the way the scene is and every city has its own scene and its own way to be. 

There’s so much talent in Montreal! It’s incredible and, just in my lifetime, just in places I’ve worked or places I’ve rehearsed, just out of luck, I’ve gone to meet some of the best musicians I’ve ever heard in my entire life … I feel lucky to have known them and maybe worked something for them or just like been able to watch them up close and really see what they do. The tragedy in all that is maybe like, you know, not a lot of people ever get to know them but then that’s what might make it more precious to me, right? Like, I got to experience that. But hopefully when all this is over, for every music scene, not just Montreal everybody gets to experience those kinds of players, and those kinds of acts, and those kinds of artists, and those kinds of musicians, that type of music. (…)”

As for Vinyl Hero’s future goals, Ray was pretty clear: “Well, all things considered with the COVID-19, I think to be able to get back to a rehearsal room is kind of like: WE DID IT! (Laughs). (…) More than anything, beyond playing, going live, we have more songs we wanna record and finish and make music videos out of and do kind of like the same process that we did for Vultures. We gave you a bit of like, you know, some new art mini-episodes and whatnot, we have a good time doing that, we’re already talking about what we’re gonna do with the next one about that, the idea for the video. So I think, if anything, for the rest of 2020 we can at least finish the plans we’ve started and complete those plans or at least finish recording the music and get ready for Part 2, that’d be great. And for 2021, if we could get it out there to as many places as possible and play it in front of the people and for the other towns and places who have played our song or have featured our song …wherever we made fans throughout all this time, that would be just a great achievement along the way. But for 2020, we’re really hoping to get back into a rehearsal room and get back into a recording studio really soon”.

And we can’t wait to listen to brand new songs by this extremely engaging band! Thanks so much Ray, Costa and Tiburce!!!

Francesca Sacerdoti

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