Meet the Band: The Vacant Lots Interview

The "Eastwood Family" keeps growing, and one of the latest bands to join the fold are The Vacant Lots, one of New York's finest purveyors of unadulterated psych thrills. We spoke to guitarist Jared Artaud, who now plays an Airline Twin Tone.

The Vacant Lots 

From left: Jared Artaud (guitars, vocals, lyrics) and Brian MacFadyen (electronics, vocals, drums)

In just a few years since they formed (in 2010) The Vacant Lots have become a staple in the current psych scene, and have worked with some true cult legends such as Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre), Alan Vega (Suicide) and Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3).

The New York duo have just released their latest album, 'Endless Night', and have been touring Europe to promote it in recent weeks. We caught up with guitarist / singer Jared Artaud ahead of their UK dates (starting in London on 13th June) to find out more about the band. 

The Vacant Lots, live

The Vacant Lots live, 2017

 

LET'S START WITH THE BEGINNING: HOW DID THE BAND FORM, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE MUSIC?

I remember watching some TV program when I was about 16 or 17 about the greatest rock n roll bands of all time or something and Iggy & The Stooges came on. That was the moment that changed my life. A day or two later I went to The Wiz, which was a CD store back in New Jersey where I grew up.

That store went out of business. After staring at the cover and back for a few minutes, I bought Raw Power and when I got home I couldn't get past the first song cos I would replay the first track over and over.

I think that was the moment I realized what I wanted to do with my life and I let it take over. From then on I was completely checked out of high school. That was a pretty profound and influential couple of years for me discovering The Velvets, Television, Richard Hell, Albert Ayler and Coltrane. 

The band formed back in Burlington, Vermont around 2010 when I met Brian. I lived there for a few years while my wife was at University. 

HOW'S THE NYC MUSIC SCENE LIKE TODAY? HAS GENTRIFICATION SOMEHOW AFFECTED IT NEGATIVELY OR IS NY STILL AS CUTTING EDGE AS IN THE PAST?

Well the cost of living in Manhattan and Brooklyn hasn't decreased & yet there are a number of artists that still live there. But it's a hustle, as they say. For me, there is some kinda gravitational pull that keeps me living there. That and not knowing where else I would go. It just feels like home base. I don't think you can compare NYC today with how it was in the past.

The advent of Punk and Disco as well as what the Velvets were doing in the 60s and the New Wave Free Jazz scene. Not sure if you can compete with those moments in time. There's just so much looking back these days to the past when there is a lot of great shit happening now. In terms of seeing music & art openings, etc it's a great place to live. 

DOES THE CITY ITSELF INSPIRE YOU? 

Absolutely. I mean I love all the f*cking sounds... all the time it's a constant cacophony & noise symphony. But I can also find time to write & work & get my solitude. So it's the kind of balance and environment I like to work in. I also like the bright lights & skyscrapers. Like staring over the East River on the Brooklyn Bridge Park at night is the best man. I also like being part of and tapped into a larger history. 

 View from Brooklyn Bridge Park

An inspiring view...

YOUR NEW ALBUM SOUNDS VERY "NEW YORK"...

Yeah, we get that a lot in Europe people saying we have a "New York Sound". I mean our roots are there not just the fact that I was born there and grew up right outside of the city but our musical roots come from there too. There is a lot to draw from everyday & I think that rawness & gutter of Manhattan makes its way into our music. 

HOW DID THE COLLABORATION WITH ALAN VEGA COME ABOUT? 

We covered a Suicide song for a Xmas compilation a few years ago and we sent it to Alan. You know as a sense of gratitude and thanks and "hope we didn't butcher your track". Totally shocked, he got back straight away saying he really liked it & invited us round to his apartment in NYC for brunch. He lived one stop away from me on the subway. From then on we just hit it off. He remixed one of our songs and then we released a split 10" together on Fuzz Club Records. Actually, I was one of the last people to see him before he died. I went over to his apartment to show him our new album, Endless Night. He was originally going to write and sing the vocals for Suicide Note.

Jared Artaud and Alan Vega

Jared Artaud and Alan Vega

However, he died a week before he was planning to record the track. You know it was devastating his loss not just for me but for many people around the world. His impact was universal. I'm just infinitely honored to have gotten to know him and work with him over the years. I miss him dearly, but most of all just his friendship & mentorship that will last a lifetime for me. And that is one way to cope with such a monumental loss. On another note, Alan made a final album before he died & I got to work on the production of it. I'm really looking forward for that to come out this year. It's a very powerful and timeless album. 

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH SONIC BOOM FROM SPACEMEN 3?

Sonic is an architect of sound. He mixed & mastered our first album, Departure and mastered Endless Night. Give him one sound or note & he will build an entire symphony around it. You can't possibly understand this until you watch it happen in front of you. He is also like a kind of audio environmentalist. By that I mean he can recycle or reuse a sound and completely reinterpret it to present it in a new way. He is a natural innovator too. Not just in music but life too. And makes you laugh until your ribs hurt sense of humor.

One of the most important things I learned from working with PK is restraint. Restraint in the sense of using each note or chord or track as a weapon. Further, restraint as a mode of limitation. Limitations can be viewed in a positive light when you're making an album. Plus I'm naturally drawn to more minimal and simple musical ideas in general. It's great to work with Sonic because he has the blueprints for that style. By setting certain parameters for yourself you can actually achieve better results and realize endless possibilities. Out of one, many. 

YOU'VE RECORDED ONE EP WITH ANTON NEWCOMBE, AND ARE WORING ON YOUR NEXT ALBUM WITH HIM. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT, AND HOW'S IT LIKE WORKING WITH HIM?

We are working on our follow up to last year's Berlin EP that Anton released on his label A Recordings. This new record will also come out on his label. When we were on tour in 2015 we had 2 days off in Berlin. Berlin is where his studio is based. About a week or so before we left for that tour I just called Anton to invite him & his wife out to dinner, since we were gonna have a few days off in Berlin. He said "fuck that, let's make a record instead, come ready with your ideas". And that was that.

The Vacant Lots and Anton Newcombe

The Vacant Lots and Anton Newcombe (middle)

We had a week to pull those songs together. Then on the second day in the studio Anton goes "yeah, that fourth song... I don't know about that one... it's too funky, write another one". So we wrote "Funeral Rites" on the spot in the studio. This new album happened in a similar way. We have 3 days off here in Berlin, (I'm actually in the studio now writing this, Anton is laying on the couch next to me) and we started talking about making a new album together. So that's what we have been working on & doing on our days off.

Working with Anton is great. He is like an alchemist in the studio. He always has an endless stream of ideas & it's great having his perspective on music to collaborate with. It's almost like watching a sculptor work but with sound. His studio is filled with an amazing arsenal of gear. Plus he works with such speed & intensity, which I find incredibly inspiring. We do a lot of writing in the studio because the conditions in this environment have a kind of duality that we like work with.

Recording in Berlin, with Anton's Harmony H78

Recording in Berlin, with Anton's Harmony H78

WHICH GEAR HAVE YOU BEEN USING ON THE NEW RECORDING SESSIONS? ANTON'S GOT QUITE A LOT OF AMAZING GEAR IT SEEMS...

Yeah his studio is a psych rocker's wet dream. Loads of vintage gear. More Vox shit then you know what to do with. I've been using a Harmony H78 [note: the inspiration for our Airline H78] guitar through a Fender Super Reverb. Anton calls it the "Take It From The Man" guitar.

However, you can have all the vintage gear in the world and still make shitty records. And many bands do this successfully. It's not the gear that counts but the musicians that control them. However, there is a certain tone & quality that you can get with some of this stuff that you simply can't get on other instruments new or old. 

 

Jared and his new weapon of choice - the Airline Twin Tone

Jared and his new weapon of choice - the Airline Twin Tone (Picture by Martijn Berlage Photography, used with permission, all rights reserved)

WHAT'S YOUR CURRENT TOUR SETUP (FX, AMPS ETC)? HOW ARE YOU LIKING THE TWIN TONE?

I'm using the Airline Twin Tone and I think I have 3 pedals. Fuzz, Tremolo & Overdrive. And I request a Fender Twin to backline. That's it man. I like the Twin Tone. It's well made & can withstand the more violent beatings, so that's good. I've also managed to get less blood on it than my other guitars. But the tour is only half way over so... I have some ideas though for a new guitar that we should talk about! 

WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING NEXT, AFTER MAKING THIS NEW ALBUM?

We are touring with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in Europe later this year. 

- Article by Ivan S.

NEXT TOUR DATES:

  • Tuesday 13 June 2017: Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London, UK
  • Wednesday 14 June 2017: The Hope & Ruin, Brighton, UK
  • Thursday 15 June 2017: O2 ABC 2 Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  • Friday 16 June 2017: Temple of Boom, Leeds, UK
  • Saturday 17 June 2017: The Peer Hat, Manchester, UK
  • Friday 30 June 2017: Sunnyvale - Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY, US

FIND OUT MORE:

Aftermath of a The Vacant Lots gig. Thankfully, it's not Jared's new Airline...


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