Alt-Nation: Music, Theatrics, and Musical Theatrics

The Viennagram – Learn To Tame The Patterns

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It was 2009 and The Viennagram had just finished a set for the ages opening the Finals of the WBRU Rock Hunt. I talked to a couple of judges after they finished and nobody quite knew what to make of The Viennagram. One of the categories is “radio ready” and nobody (myself included at the time) could visualize The Viennagram on the radio. Their performance blurred the lines between theater and rock ‘n’ roll. In the aftermath, as the last of glitter was swept up, the question of what’s next for The Viennagram came up. The band continued to play shows and record. In 2010 they put out MADNESS IZ AND MORE/RELEASE THE BEAST-EYES, which they AV Vienna describes as a “Musically Mutated mix tape!  “A buffet of Audio Oddities!  “From failed experiments, outtakes, demos to dubs and things I forgot we even recorded.”

It just always felt like The Viennagram were due for something better. Over the last six years the band have been recording constantly in different spaces amassing a catalog that eventually became their new release, Learn To Tame The Patterns.

Over the years I’ve probably described The Viennagram as anything from carnival blues, haunted cabaret to murder mystery rock ‘n’ roll. Learn To Tame The Patterns is the perfect record to lose one’s mind to while listening. I mean that in a good way. It all feels like part of a sinister narrative with just enough left unsaid for the listeners’ imagination. “The Immaculate Fire” sounds like it’s describing some witches meeting out in the woods. “Doom Patrol” has the feel of a murder mystery with the intensity club banger that samples Bugs Bunny among other things and makes it work. The next song, “Vulture Star,” might as well be a coal mining folk song. That’s just taking 3 of the 21 songs that are sequenced together. That’s the way it goes in the frantic you never know what’s behind the next door world of The Viennagram. “Long Way Back to Paradise” skirts the line between show tune and catchy rock anthem. I could go on about  Learn To Tame The Patterns, but what I’d say about one song isn’t going to be true of the tune after it. So instead I’ll ask singer/drummer AV Vienna a few questions.

Marc Clarkin: The Viennagram has been together for a decade, yet other than a handful of random recordings Learn To Tame The Patterns is really your first “official” release.  What was the hardest part in the 6 years of working on Learn To Tame The Patterns to bring it to fruition?

AV Vienna: Fact: 80% of people who know of The Viennagram don’t know we’ve ever recorded anything and 5% think we broke up in 2007.  All of this, of course, has led up to now, The Chapter of Learn to Tame the Patterns. Perhaps this could be our “official” release because we’ve gotten it together (kinda), paid some dues, made a lot of mistakes and tried to make something to the very best of our abilities. Its taken 10 years for people to catch on and in that time we have grown/mutated into a tight three-piece unit and generally have put everything we’ve got into this crazy vision dream.

The hardest part of which, for me, was having the exact idea of what the sound/feel/content/images for the songs from the very beginning; Sort of like working backwards through many obstacles to get the final product to get the sound/look/idea as a complete and uncompromising presentation. Over the course of the years as nomads, moving from studio to studio, was the only constant. Effectively, the existing sounds are but a living memory, the making of the album is the album approach, a strange time capsule collage from the times and places in the process. After all, the process is almost as important as the end result.

I kind of never wanted to finish it because I always knew things would change after it was completed, as it was the one constant guiding force for us for such a long time. But now it exists, for anyone and everyone to hear and that’s a really exciting concept; the idea of someone hearing it for the first time. It lives…

MC: The theatrical element has always been a huge part of seeing a Viennagram show.  I remember once you came to the Motif Awards with your skin completely green,  When composing songs, how does the theatrical element and songwriting mesh?
AV: The character you witnessed at said awards show was Iron John, who makes several appearances on Learn to Tame the Patterns. He is a reanimated corpse brought back by the Czech Republic. He was once a slave ship captain and was resurrected from the bottom of the ocean (hence his green slime trail) to promote total dance oppression and RC Cola.

The album is comprised of absurdist warring factions which reoccur musically and as an ultimate alter-ego mania. It has always been the intention in production to make it sound like a 3D movie but only having two speakers to explain.  After Halloween, work will begin on a Doom Patrol video, which introduces the cast of characters that inhabit the Viennagram universe.

Other songs were written with settings in mind.  For example, my directions for the song “Straight to The Void” were “a combination of The Haunted Mansion/Splash Mountain/Space Mountain.” In some cases, I was only able to record vocals in a particular way was to get into that character completely. Finding the theatrical truth.

Besides, when I was in first grade I wrote, “When I grow up I want to be a Cartoon Character.”

MC: What’s your biggest lyrical influence or is there anything that inspires you when it comes to writing?

AV: Lyrics are painting/collage/finding with words.  A way of triggering emotional memories from a listener and describing the inner world through invisible magic.  A few of my favorite songs lyrically are:
“Bad Boy” by the Jive Bombers
“Bitter’s End” by Roxy Music

“Up Jumped the Devil” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” by Bobby Dylan
“Love” by Nancy Adams

“Jockey Full of Bourbon” by Tom Waits

“The Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog

MC: Learn To Tame The Patterns is all over the place in terms of styles and sounds. It’s easy to ask about influences, but what is some song/genre/artist that you dislike/annoys/or can’t stand?

AV: I could never say I could truly hate music because at least it is eliciting a response of some kind. It is sad how the world will over saturate a song to death (e.g., Royals).  I hate when with an artist, you can tell when they are playing it safe, not taking enough chances, and/or compromising.

MC: People like to talk about scenes and music genres but the great part of The Viennagram is, while accessible to play with anyone, you are different enough not to be part of any of genre. What are some of the influences/inspirations of the band?

AV: A mystery which ingredients matter not. We are bringing a lot of imaginary imagery when creating songs, for example I would say “Okay, a group of psychopathic teenage kids living on an Indian reservation go and scalp an entire suburban block. It’s a horror movie but first it’s a song and this is the drum track…”

Some influences (but do not exclude Irrational Solutions). These are a few of our favorite things: Looney Tunes, The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall, UFO lore, supernatural occurrence, Black lights, Lucky Strikes D, Strange & Amazing facts, Spike Jones & his City Slickers, RC Cola, Nina Hagen, Tom Waits, Caligula, Salvador Dali, William S. Burroughs, Buster Keaton, Jem & The Holograms (The Misfits are better), Halloween decorations, Outkast, Screaming Lord Sutch, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Ventures, eating glass, Brian Eno, Tarot divination, The Joker, Lon Chaney, Astrology, Copy machines, Please Kill Me, Psychic powers , The Secret Destiny of America and Tuna melts!

In terms of genres: Once we played a warehouse party in Bristol, RI and a state trooper stormed in saying, “STOP IT WITH THE SCARY GHOST NOISES!”

Ravi Shavi, The Viennagram, Neutrinos, and Twin Berlin will rock Dusk on November 28.

Tammy Laforest –Copper

Tammy Laforest released the nine song Copper disc earlier in the year which lead to the formation of the band The Dust Ruffles. Copper kicks off with introspective note with I’m Alive” where Laforest sings about looking back at the past and finding peace with the choices that were made. Sadder is the title track, “Copper,” which profiles a character that has given up entirely. Laforest tries to reason with the Copper character here with lyrics like “depression is a battle, something you must fight.” “Flowers” has a brightening ’60s girl group pop vibe. “In The Water” has big chorus that feels like an emotional purging back by a clever hook. Laforest mines territory similar to bands like The Cranberries but her narratives and voice are her own. In addition to performing both solo and her band The Dust Ruffles, Laforest will be co-hosting a benefit for Crossroads RI this coming Saturday called the Harvest Bowl and Benefit show at Lang’s Bowlarama in Cranston.

Harvest Bowl and Benefit show for Crossroads RI hosted by Tammy Laforest and Athan Phynix will take place November 8 at Lang’s Bowlarama.  The bowlathon will take place from 3 to 5pm.  Bowlers can sign up online at http://benefitri.com/bowlathon.  There will be a networking social and movie from 5PM to 7PM.  The benefit show portion is 21 plus and runs from 7PM to midnight featuring performances by Athan Phynix “King of Improv”, The Dust Ruffles, Pistol Shot Gypsy, Vulgarrity, Emmy & The Old Dogs, Steve Volkmann, Malyssa BellaRosa, Jenny White, Leonard Levenda, Matthew Barrette, and Second Time Out.

Bill Keough – The Slow Get Up (75OrLess Records)

Longtime local music scene fixture Bill Keough has finally recorded his solo debut album, The Slow Get Up, proves to be worth the wait. I can’t even put my figure on why I enjoy it more than his work with Galvanize (which I enjoy as well) but it’s just like Keough nailed it here. The general vibe of the record is late ’80s- early ’90s underground rock which is not to be mistaken as saying grunge.  Tunes “Self Doubt” is closer to Nada Surf than Nirvana. “I’ve Know Where You’ve Been” reminds me of early Silkworm. “Tough Physics” reminds me of early Queens of The Stone Age. Throw in a great cover of PJ Harvey’s “Victory” and The Slow Get Up makes  for a hell of a kick ass record.

Bill Keough CD release show for The Slow Get Up happens at The Parlour on November 14 with J. Robbins (ex-Jawbox), and Oneline Drawing.

Bob Dylan 

Can you imagine if they had those reality TV shows like “The Voice” and “American Idol” when Bob Dylan was coming up? Think about it, he’d never make it past the first cut. That’s the sham of the “reality” shows. It actually makes one dumber to follow them. As for Dylan, the man just keeps on keeping on his “Never Ending Tour” that probably started in the ’80s. Unlike most of contemporaries that are still active, Dylan still matters.  He has had some solid albums in the last 15 years namely Time Out of Mind and Love & Theft. Dylan has a new chapter in his basement tapes due to be released as well as a record of new recordings due next year. Dylan can be the ultimate hit or miss when it comes to performances. That said, I’d go see Dylan when he is off because he is that good.

Bob Dylan will play the Providence Performing Arts Center on November 14.

Jessica Lea Mayfield

I caught Jessica Lea Mayfield earlier this year in Boston and was struck by raw vulnerability.  She plays stripped down folk/blues singer/songwriter stuff.  Check out her album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, which I prefer over her newer Black Keys guy produced one. Think along the same vein as Mazzy Star for a reference. Don’t miss T. Hardy Morris & The Hardknocks whose debut, Audition Tapes, brings a psychedelic singed alternative rock. The band  features T. Hardy Morris from Dead Confederate and Diamond Rugs.

Jessica Lea Mayfield, T. Hardy Morris & The Hardknocks, and Dylan Sevey & The Gentlemen will hit Fete on November 19th.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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