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VHS Or Beta - Tape The Power Back

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Monday, 19 May 2008
Kentucky’s VHS or Beta are responsible for one of the best albums of 2008 thus far in Bring on the Comets, which mashes classic rock n roll with a brazen dance vigour.  3D’s Carlisle Rogers speaks with bassist Mark Palgy ahead of their Australian tour.

Just old enough to remember the contest that sparked their name, this Daft Punk-inspired southern rock outfit has been making tunes since 1997.  Their first release was a self-titled EP on VHS only (thus, presumably, settling the debate) and their latest offering is Bring on the Comets, the second on Astralwerks.

Heading to Australia for a few dates in June including the Come Together Festival, they don’t care what you call it, as long as you dance.

“At one point we were on the electronic end of things,” confesses Mark Palgy, who plays bass alongside Craig Pfunder on guitar and vocals, Mark Guidry on skins, Mike McGill on guitar and vocals and Chea Beckley on keys. “We put a record out by ourselves in 2001 called Le Funk which was all disco, and that was on a very Daft Punk tip. Then we did Night on Fire, which people called electro, and then we were doing this record and people just came up with their own things for it. Sometimes journalists just copy and paste whatever people have said about it without taking any time to think about it. People ask me for sound bytes or something to say, I don’t have any ideas – I just think we sound like a rock band that’s dancy. You can have fun listening to us. We’ve always been about not having a snobby experience at a show. We just want people to have a good time.”

Bring on the Comets was recorded in a tiny little town nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina called Asheville. It’s a beautiful, secluded mountain town full of hippies. Mark says it was perfect. “We were talking to one producer when we were still looking around and this guy from the UK was really enamoured with this place in Asheville because it’s tucked away in the mountains and he liked the studio. It ended up not working out with him, but we talked to Brendan Mason, who actually ended up producing our record, about this place and he loved it too so we ended up going there. We figured that New York and LA were full of distractions, so we wanted to go somewhere more secluded.

“We wanted to strip it down a little bit. We wanted to make it a little less decorative. With Le Funk we were really adding a lot of layers and textures which is really cool and can be done well, but with Night on Fire we had to record it really fast and do the most in the least amount of time. With Bring on the Comets, we were like ‘let’s just take a deep breath, let’s see what these songs need and not overdo anything’. We always wanted to be groundbreaking and reinvent the wheel and be something that hadn’t been done. When we did the disco stuff, there wasn’t anyone like The Rapture going around, we felt like aliens. Then when it came time to do Bring on the Comets, it seemed like every band had a dance beat. We just decided to write songs and play them like we would like to play them live.

“You can sit and work on a record in a studio for a year and get strings and back-up singers and decorate it as much as you want, but at the end of the day you’ve got to take it on the road and be able to play it for people. I’ve seen so many bands who can’t pull off what they do on the record and my love for the band diminishes.”
Palgy says that the live show isn’t going to be like listening to the CD with worse mixing. “We do accentuate certain things live, but the idea is to get the recording across but since we’re live it will be weirder and louder. We have a vibe we get across. We’ve been playing for so long, it is second nature to play live.”

Pfunder is the writing engine in the band, usually producing small demos that he brings to the band. Mark says that everyone in the band has their own little studio at home as well. “So for example, Craig could give me a song and say ‘this is an idea I have for a song that has this vibe’ and then I’ll work on it alone. I’ll add a little keyboard part to this break and then the other Mark can say ‘I think the beat is cool, but let’s try this beat here.’ Basically we have a songwriter and he presents it to the band and we add to it. There was a certain point during which it felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen and that’s never conducive to do anything positive. This way seemed like the right way to go about it.

“We wanted the record to say something, but not a concept record. It’s somewhere in between there. It says what it needs to say from front to back.”
Headed around the world now to show off the new album live, Palgy says playing some of the out of the way joints is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“That’s the beauty of what we do. Going to Columbia, they don’t have a band come through very often, and I was just talking to another journalist about how in America everyone is so spoiled. When you go to different places like South America and Asia, a lot of people in those parts of the world take it much more seriously and are not as jaded. I don’t mean to be talking shit about America, I’m part of the culture that is like ‘oh so what they are coming through, I just saw them last month.’ That’s insane; it should be a big deal to see a concert. Thankfully there are still places in the world where people get excited.”

WHO: VHS or Beta
WHAT: Play Factory Theatre / Come Together Festival, Luna Park / Bring on the Comets through Astralwerks/EMI
WHEN: Friday 6 June / Saturday 7 June / out now