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 released their second album, 'Endless Night', in 2017 and have toured extensively promoting it. We caught up with guitarist / singer Jared Artaud on two different occasions to chat about the band, ahead of their European dates. 

PART 1: THE BEGINNING, NEW YORK AND WORKING WITH THEIR HEROES

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 2nd ALBUM 'ENDLESS NIGHT' 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. 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 TWO EP's WITH ANTON NEWCOMBE FROM BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT, AND HOW'S IT LIKE WORKING WITH HIM?

We are working on our follow up to the Berlin EP (2016) 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! 

PART 2: RIPPING IT UP IN 2019...

HOW DID THE CURRENT DANDY WARHOLS TOUR COME ABOUT? EXCITED?

I dj’d a Pete International Airport show last year in New York City. So I got to hang & talk with Peter that night. A few weeks later we were talking about touring together in the States for their upcoming 25th anniversary tour. The invite came soon after which was an amazing honor. I’ve always wanted to tour with them. It’s kinda ironic how our new EP that we made with Anton Newcombe is coming out around the same time we’re touring with The Dandys.

Anyways, what I respect most about the Dandy Warhols is that they have a dual dimension to their sound. Their records are really well produced & no one does what they do.

 

Jared Artaud & TVL tour dates
Jared (left) and the new The Vacant Lots tour dates (right)

 

YOU'RE TOURING EUROPE AGAIN THIS YEAR - DO YOU RECKON GIGS THERE HAVE A DIFFERENT VIBE THAN IN USA?

I love getting out of America especially now with the fucking cheeto in chief.

YOU'RE SUPPORTING BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB AGAIN. HOW DID THIS RELATIONSHIP START? IS IT A BIG BUZZ TO PLAY WITH THEM?

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are one of my favorite bands. They’re an American institution at this point. They were up there for me with The Stooges & The Velvets in high school & their music got me through a lot of hard times. I’m really grateful to tour with such a hard working band & watch them consistently rip into live sets with the same level of intensity, fury & power night after night. I met Robert Been in Los Angeles at a show we played at the Roxy Theater back in 2015.

 

It was from there that we started developing a friendship. Robert was like a spiritual advisor during our second album Endless Night & BRMC have been continually supportive of The Vacant Lots, which really means a lot to us. The shows we play with BRMC are some of the best & largest crowds we’ve played to date.

YOU'RE WORKING WITH ANTON NEWCOMBE AGAIN. TELL US ABOUT THIS AND WHAT YOU GOT IN THE PIPELINE FOR THE 3rd ALBUM?

It’s really an honor to make records with someone who made you want to make records. Working with Anton in the studio for 10 hour days in a row, you learn a lot. You’re working towards this vision & process built on the strength of ideas. There's no time for overthinking. Anton is really generous with his ideas & time & lets things develop spontaneously in the studio.

 

He's been an early supporter of the band & on both EPs we recorded together he always pushed us further to get the best results. He brings out a lot in us that we wouldn’t have done on our own or with anybody else. When things start to form you really get a glimpse of what makes Anton creatively unparalleled & such a unique songwriter & producer. There were times at his studio where I was just like what the fuck, I can’t believe this is happening.  

As for the third Vacant Lots album we just recorded it in Brooklyn & are going to start mixing it next month. I feel the band is advancing from our last record & we’re continually developing our vision. An album is an attempt to make something timeless from what you’re going through as artists & your perspective on life. I just want to keep making music as honestly as I can & hopefully it inspires people.

FINALLY - YOU'VE ALWAYS BEEN BIG FANS OF SUICIDE, & EVEN SUPPORTED THEM, AS MENTIONED BEFORE. HOW DID THE ART DIRECTION FOR THE ALAN VEGA REISSUES COME ABOUT? WITH YOU BEING SUCH A FAN, WE IMAGINE IT WAS NOT JUST A GREAT BUZZ, BUT ALSO A GREAT RESPONSIBILITY? DID YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE - FROM YOURSELF AT ANY RATE -  AT ALL?

From the first moment I met Alan I felt an unspoken kinship. I cant explain it but it was like I already knew him for years. Soul connection. There was such a natural rapport between us. For me Suicide are like the Beatles. I got to know Alan over the years up to his death. He lived one stop away from me across the East River. I would visit him a lot & just spend hours talking about music, art, life, politics, physics, New York City, everything. He was truly a mentor & someone I greatly admired. After Alan passed away I started helping out his estate with art & music projects. I think in many ways our aesthetic & artistic process had a lot of parallels.

 

The art direction was a similar process. I tried to create order from chaos. First, I was doing some co-producing & art direction on his last album IT that was released on Fader, & then that led to working on the 6 reissue albums that GM Editions put out last year. We had a myriad of images, photographs, papers, drawings, lyrics, Alan’s leather jacket & gloves from the archives were all scattered on the floor & I was synthesizing & putting together all the pieces. I collaborated with designer Michael Handis on this project & we created those reissue sleeves in a fraction of time.
The only pressure I felt was not to let Alan down & I wanted to sincerely preserve his legacy & honor him as best I could in the most honest way. I still continue to work with his estate on art & music projects from the Vega Vault. There is a lot more amazing things to come on this front.

 

The Vacant Lots. On Tour

 

THE VACANT LOTS 2019 TOUR DATES
6 May. 9:30 Club. Washington, DC w/ The Dandy Warhols
7 May. Royale. Boston, MA. w/ The Dandy Warhols
8 May. Brooklyn Steel. Brooklyn, NY w/ The Dandy Warhols
16 May. Theatre at Ace Hotel. Los Angeles, CA. w/ The Dandy Warhols
17 May. Observatory at North Park. San Diego, CA. w/ The Dandy Warhols
18 May. The Fillmore. San Francisco, CA. w/ The Dandy Warhols.
5 June. Wharf Chambers. Leeds, England.
6 June. Shacklewell Arms. London, England.
7 June. Urban Spree. Berlin, Germany. 
8 June. Supersonic. Paris, France.
10 June. Levontin 7. Tel Aviv, Israel. 
12 June. Posthof. Linz, Austria. 
w/ BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB
13 June. Tvornica Kulture. Zagreb, Croatia. 
w/ BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB
14 June. Sabotage. Libson, Portugal. 
15 June. Maus Habitos. Porto, Portugal. 
24 August. FUZZ CLUB FESTIVAL. Effeenaar. Eindhoven, Netherlands.
  • more shows in August in Europe to be announced soon.

    FIND OUT MORE:

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


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