An interview with Paul Erickson (Vaz/Hammerhead)
Paul Erickson is the bassist/guitarist and vocalist of the almighty post-punk bands Vaz and Hammerhead. Both groups have releases for this year, the newest one being an album by Vaz. Erickson told us: “The new album, Chartreuse Bull, was recorded during the last year. It has been released as a cassette on Damage Rituals, then digitally on Bandcamp, and very soon on LP on Sleeping Giant Glossolalia. If somebody wants to make and sell 5000 CDs, please send them our way. It’s a new way, new day, everything is changing, just come and see our show. We’ll sell you a recording! Of our music!” Check it out over on their bandcamp. For fans of music at breakneck speed, gloomy guitar tones, and hooks on top; this album is another excellent entry in the Vaz catalog. Perfect for jogging, or just losing your mind. The following is an interview that took place back in February.
How did Vaz form?
In early ’96 we got another guitar player for Hammerhead, then in late ’96 we got another. After that didn’t quite work out, we thought, screw it, let’s just start a new band.
In Hammerhead you had an intense practice schedule, did this carry over into Vaz?
Yes, we kept practicing a lot, but it has toned down after time. Part of practicing earlier on was just making sure you knew how to play your instrument. After you get that down it turns into more of just coming up with ideas.
What about the instrumentation in Vaz? I have a CD-R of you guys that is mostly keyboard performances. Did you guys consider incorporating that stuff (and similar material) into “official” releases?
The consistent instrumentation has been Jeff’s drums and my vocals and guitar. The guitar being a combination of bass and guitar so I can cover the whole sonic range. The keyboard CD-R that you have is something we made and sold while on tour in Europe. It was only about 90% finished. The bulk of it was recorded in the van or the venue, just killing time. We have already put material like this on our records. The Lie that Matches the Furniture is a good example.
I was wondering about Gas War, which I believe was Jeff, Kevin Rutmanis, and you; why make this a separate project from Vaz? I guess I’m trying to figure out what the boundaries of Vaz are (as far as sound, members, etc.), since you guys did add Adam Marx on guitar for a while.
Gas War is as different from Vaz as Hammerhead is to Vaz. Just separate people, personalities, instrumentation and songwriting approaches. So far Vaz has been the core of Jeff’s drums and my guitar. Then we added Adam Marx on another guitar. Then added Ryan Hamilton to that lineup, making 3 guitars. Now we’re playing as a 2 guitar band again, with Tyler Nolan.
Could you talk about the decision to release your 1st album as Vaz. Why did it take 4 years after you guys had formed?
That’s what bands try to do, right? Release albums? Unfortunately, things can happen. Our first single came out in 1998. Our first LP should have come out in 1999, but the label went under. Everything gets pushed back. It’s happened, and keeps happening, over and over and over.
Are there recordings of the 3 guitar lineup?
Yes, we have an album in the can that hasn’t come out yet called Pink Confetti. We’ve already toured the US and Europe in support of it. It’s a done deal to us. There’s some video stuff on U-tube. It’s probably our poppiest record. It is a moment for us that was what we wanted to do at the time, however, we’ve moved on.
How did Tyler Nolan become involved in the band?
He showed up at my door one day. I didn’t know him. We played together and we liked it and he was in and that’s the story.
Is it difficult to move forward as band if you have to wait so long for a release to come out? Maybe you want to play new material but the audience wants to hear songs from the new album that was recorded a while ago.
Yes, it’s very difficult to move forward, especially at our level. It’s not like the world is holding their breath waiting for your next move. As far as new material, we just play what we want, and put on what we think is a good show. It’s kind of liberating when nobody out there knows your stuff anyway.
Speaking of The Lie That Matches The Furniture, it seems like that was a departure for you guys (new label, electronic vignettes, recorded as a trio, etc.) Could you talk about the making of that album and some of those decisions?
That was the most “wing it” album, as far as being ready to record, material wise. But we had been playing with Adam [Marx] for a spell, so it was just a go for it type of deal. The final mix is a little disappointing, because there’s a lot of cool shit on there that gets lost. It was a pleasure, it was a nightmare. At least we got to hang out in Montreal…
Could you talk about the decision to move around the country? I believe you guys were living in LA for a while, and these days you’re in New York.
We just wanted to get out of Minneapolis and try our luck elsewhere. We went to LA, kind of upon the suggestion of Kevin Cow/Melvin. It wasn’t our cup of tea, so we moved to New York.
How did the Hammerhead reunion come about?
We were asked by Tom Hazelmeyer to play the Amrep 25 bash. We had a couple of brushes with Paul Sanders [guitarist/vocalist of Hammerhead] joining us for a song or two at various Vaz shows, but it never panned out. None of us could remember our old songs anyway, so it’s good we waited until we could get together and do it right, plus add some new songs.
As far as song selection, why did you guys stick to playing material off of the last two records?
We haven’t been playing anything off of the still unreleased Pink Confetti, as that lineup no longer exists. We did play the whole album at the Turf club once, but everyone was wasting their time and money at the Monotonix show. You lose, suckers. We still play a few older songs now and then, but it’s more fun for us to play the new material. It’s the stuff we came up with Tyler, so it makes sense.
I love the new material and it seems like a very natural progression from where Hammerhead left off. How were you guys able to tap into that sound after so many years?
We have deep rock reserves. Next.
I heard that the new songs were recorded in just one day in the studio, how did you pull that off?
Wait, are we talking about Hammerhead now? Um, we focused like a laser beam.
Are there plans for more recordings?
It’s probably not in the realm of impossibility.