An Interview with Vampire Hands
Vampire Hands was formed in late 2004 by friends Chris Rose (guitar), Colin Johnson (drums/keyboard/vocals), Alex Rose (drums), and Chris Bierden (bass/vocals). When Colin left Vampire Hands the others struggled with their next move. They initially decided to continue on as a trio and recorded a split 12” with Daughters of the Sun (2010’s Skull Judge). Eventually it was decided that Vampire Hands would only continue on the rare occasions when all of the original members were available. The rest of the band chose to form a new group called Heavy Deeds. In addition to the three local resident members of Vampire Hands, the new band features Molly Harrington (vocals/keyboards) and Sarah Bischoff (vocals/percussion). Heavy Deeds will be appearing every Tuesday in October at the Turf Club. Go check out a show and make a big fuss over them like they deserve.
When Vampire hands performed at the Turf Club (May 20th, 2011) there was a shift in instrumentation; Colin had a guitar, you (Chris Rose) were playing the keyboard a bit…
CR: That’s where it was going before Colin left, he was switching over to guitar.
AR: I think he always felt restricted because that keyboard only had half of one octave.
CB: With the drums too, he felt like he couldn’t always do what he wanted to do. He got tired of being bound to it.
CR: Can’t keep him in a cage [laughter]. When the four of us do anything in the future it’s definitely gonna be that way. The other thing with Colin is, I mean guitar makes it really easy to improv, so we don’t have to spend a ton of time working stuff out.
CB: The few things that were new just happened spontaneously the day before and they’re fairly simple songs, “this is working, I think we can record that, let’s do this a few more times.” As of right now we’re looking forward to the new project, pretty much all of our creative energy is in that.
At one point that was gonna be Vampire Hands with a different lineup, right?
CR: Yeah, when Colin left we had this huge debate going back and forth about whether we should change our [band] name or not for the three of us.
AR: The four of us had a pact that if someone quit, Vampire Hands would be done, and if someone died we would carry on without adding any more members.
CR: We tried to do long distance stuff with Colin, and initially we couldn’t think of anyone that stuck out to us.
CB: With Molly and Sarah we can achieve stuff that I’ve always wanted to do that’s been out of reach, especially with the vocals. Having them in the band has reinvigorated our creativity. The kinds of songs we’re doing now is something that’s been in the back of our heads for a long time, but we’ve never quite gotten there and now it’s happening. Music I always wanted to be playing all along, I feel like “Oh yeah, this is it.” It feels like arriving. I’ve always loved the stuff we’ve done [in Vampire Hands], but it’s like you go back to where you started, the first thing you loved about music. This is the kind of music I first liked when I was growing up. With the three piece we didn’t quite know how to fill the space up, so there was that huge gap. Now we’re filling it up with so many positive things.
You guys agree?
AR: He’s full of shit.
CR: It’s really minimal.
Let’s talk about touring. You guys were pretty aggressive for a while there.
CR: It’s pretty hard to maintain that though.
AR: The first time we went on tour I had a ton of money saved up and my job was awesome, I was getting overtime all the time. Then as soon as we got back, [my] hours got cut. You can only leave for four weeks at a time so many times, I guess. We were touring every spring and every fall for a few years there. It became really hard to build that money back up in between tours.
CR: You’d be broke coming back from tour and then you’d have to start saving for the next tour.
CB: I like touring, but it can be really stressful on home life in general.
AR: We also realized too, that in this day and age getting discovered is just as much luck on the internet as it is anything else. I think we could do it a little more strategically moving forward.
Even though touring was getting more financially difficult, it did seem like you were getting noticed.
AR: Well, there’s the 10 cities that you do pretty well in and then all of the cities in between, where no one has any idea, and even if they’ve heard you, the people who book the show don’t advertise, or you’re playing with really shitty bands.
CR: Part of the problem too is– when we first started we built up fairly good connections in towns. You do that [for] three and a half years and those bands are not always together that you thought were good, that club is maybe closed, y’know what I mean?
AR: That booking guy grew up.
CR: Yeah, that booking guy? He’s a lawyer now.
AR: Or has babies, you can’t stay at his house anymore.
CR: That guy in that sweet band is now in a weird Dub band [lots of group laughter].
AR: That and throughout the years you hear that some awesome record label has been talking about you, and then nothing happens. You hear your [song is] gonna be on CSI: Miami, and the scene gets edited out. That actually just happened. There’s always awesome things that are gonna happen and they never actually happen. Sometimes they do…
CR: …[and] then you take them for granted and want more [laughter].
I was wondering about the release of Hannah in the Mansion; it was on a bigger label (St. Ives), but limited to 300 copies.
CR: That came about in a weird way; initially it was supposed to be all B-sides, but then we decided to just do a full album. I’m happy with the way that album turned out, I really like it. You don’t really want to, on a label like that, you don’t want to– they wanted like demos or something weird. We wanted to be serious about it.
CB: We ended up just wanting to record an album. We talked about being super weird and experimental, just doing whatever off the top of our heads.
CR: It is kind of a bummer about the 300 copies. I’m kinda torn about that stuff. That’s cool in a lot of ways, but it’s also too bad people can’t get it that want to. So that was weird, and also St. Ives is, uh– we had heard that Spoon did a record with them, and Animal Collective, but it’s also like this side label. It was hard to gauge our expectations of what should happen. There were times when we thought it was gonna be big.
AR: Yeah, Colin was really good at making those things sound super awesome.
CB: Colin’s a super enthusiastic guy and I feel like when he left maybe that was one of the biggest holes he left, his momentum, and with Molly and Sarah we’ve gotten that back. Their enthusiasm is like, “Let’s just do this, it’s gonna be so much fun!” All I can think about is how much fun this will be, where before I was stressing out, “Are these songs good enough? Are we good enough without Colin? What are we doing?” and now I’m not asking those questions anymore.