The easiest and most useful tool one uses when writing about a new band is comparison. Nothing is more effective at giving readers a frame of reference than a list of other bands and artists that sound like the band or artist you are trying to describe. That is what makes Montreal’s USA Out Of Vietnam so wonderfully confounding; combining elements of sludge, doom, drone, dream pop, psychedelic, post-rock, and probably a bunch of other stuff, the band’s sound is impossible to pin down. To be sure, the group’s roots are in crushingly heavy, highly layered, atmospheric, slow-paced epics, but to list every specific possible influence or comparison act would verge on the comical. Clearly, USA Out Of Vietnam are far more concerned with simply writing good music than adhering to any sub-genre guidelines. I would also venture a guess that the band’s collective record collection is pretty fucking rad.
The band has recently released their debut album Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes through Aurora Borealis, an excellent London-based label with a track record for releasing complex, challenging music such as the great debut from The Haxan Cloak and music from Stephen O’Malley‘s (Sunn) two side projects, KTL and Ginnungagap. The album was recorded at the famous Montreal studio Hotel2Tango, a fitting place considering post-rock superstars and fellow Montreal natives Godspeed You! Black Emperor recorded both F-sharp A-Sharp Infinity and Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! there. Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes was released in North America and Australia on New Damage Records.
The music on Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes, whose run time clocks in at almost an hour spread across only five tracks, is so densely layered and nuanced that the listening experience is one of complete and total immersion. Instead of bludgeoning the listener into submission with an onslaught of low-end-heavy guitar, USA Out Of Vietnam achieve a different type of heaviness by piling so many different sounds on top of one another, creating a sonic monolith (maybe we could call it a “wall of sound”. I bet no one has ever thought of that before). The thick guitar sludge shares equal space with brass, synth, and vocoder, and the vocal performances range from guttural, doom-metal low end to poppy falsetto and looped choir-like chanting. Yet with all of the different instruments, sounds, and layers, USA Out Of Vietnam make excellent use of empty space, further adding to the record’s ethereal grandeur.
I had the chance to send a few questions to one of USA Out Of Vietnam’s members, guitarist & vocalist, Son of Fogman.
In an interview you did with Cult MTL, you said that the early iterations of USA Out Of Vietnam sounded like a technical metal band; “All head, no heart”. What pushed you towards the type of sounds we hear on the new record?
When the band first started I think everyone involved was in no rush to find a specific sound and just chose to let it happen more organically. This took a looooonnnnnggggg time. We knew what we didn’t want to do, but not necessarily what we wanted to do as the band members, then and now, have varied musical tastes and are musically eclectic from each other. After listening to our initial recordings we did for an aborted EP way back when, I just thought the band had lost sight with too much technical hoo haa and didn’t plug into the heart of the song. Utilizing minimalism and restraint while digging a little deeper in the gut and just serving the song was infinitely more rewarding for us. Our record Crashing… is now two and a half years old, and we have two new contributing members, so, again,the sound has changed and forged ahead, we think for the better. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work….
Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes has a very improvisational, organic feel and featured a large roster of guest musicians. Did the band have a really specific idea for each song when going to record or did they take form during the recording process?
Some things were very specific and others sections were completely improvised. Some guests had their sections written for them while others were free to improvise. Arrangements of some songs were constantly retooled during the recording process while others were more set in stone.
With so many different layers and sounds on the record, how do you handle live gigs? Were there any major changes you had to make to your set up to achieve the sound you want?
We are able to get a layered sound live through samplers, harmony vocals, and members wearing different hats that are sometimes outside of their traditional roles. The songs definitely take on a different feel in a live setting. We have rewritten songs to make them work easier in a live situation and just not leave them frozen in the recorded version. For the most part we recognize that recording and playing live are two completely different animals.
The critical response to Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes has been incredibly positive. Based on how well the record has been received, are their plans to tour?
With the record just languishing for two and a half years on bandcamp, we are really blown away that it got such a great response. Actually, we’re just beside ourselves that anybody has even listened to it. The band’s intention was always to be a real band and tour and we are getting that happening right now. We are definitely a band that keep our expectations low and like taking baby steps. I think that’s why we’ve stuck around despite setbacks.
Are there hilarious stories behind each member’s pseudonym ( The member’s Of USA Out Of Vietnam go by the monikers El Tigre, Fogman, Jordan Thomas Brown III, Son of Fogman, and Blankie). If so, can you share one?
Not really. We thought it was funny that we all have pseudonyms but made Jordan use his full name. The intention of using pseudonyms helps erase people’s past musical associations, I guess. I don’t know, I just think its funny that anybody would need to know the names of people in bands. Who cares!?
USA Out Of Vietnam has shared the stage with some pretty awesome bands over the years. If you could set it up, are there any other acts you’d really like to play with? Or maybe someone you’d like to collaborate with on a recording?
Nadja, Cold Specks, Justin Broakrick, Colin Stetson, Suuns, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Tim Hecker, David Lynch, Jeff Lynne, etc. We have collaborated with Montreal drone artist thisquietarmy and would like to do more work with him. We are also working with Andrew Dickson (who played synth on Crashing and did the artwork), which will be really fun as he’s one of the good ones.
Thanks! Appreciate the time!
Thanks for the interview, duder!
Written and Compiled by Jesse Gainer