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)