As massive fans of Chad Vangaalen, Women and pretty much everything their hands have touched, Viet Cong were always going to be a band we went overboard for, but from the first brooding bars of their Cassette EP it was evident they had tapped once again into a dark and hypnotic musical vein. We spoke to Matt Flegel about his band, their first full album and the Calgary cold.
Deluxe: Whenever we speak to Canadian bands, we often get the vibe that you spend a large part of the year surviving the elements
Matt Flegel: (laughing) yeah, that is generally true.
D: Is playing in bands a way of keeping warm?
MF: It depends, for us a lot of it has to do with the fact that it is winter eight months of the year so you kind of need a project to get you through those eight month. So this record was definitely a product of that, locking ourselves in the basement and not wanting to go outside for anything.
D: How about playing live, How supportive a scene for playing live is Calgary?
MF: I think so. It’s funny, we haven’t really played Calgary that often. I don’t live in Calgary anymore, I actually moved away to the west coast in December. We played there since then just once, and we’re playing again in July. I’ve played more times in… London, then I have in Calgary in the last six months.
D: So it doesn't feel like a home-coming?
MF: I mean it does sort of feel that way. A lot of our friends are still there so in that way it does and it is extremely supportive and very tight knit, but it is also kind of stressful playing live in your home town, as it’s all your friends. It’s easy playing to strangers (laughing).
D: How was recording with (Holy Fuck’s) Graham Walsh?
MF: Oh man, Graham is great. He was right on the top of our list of people to work with and it all just ended up falling into place. It was all very last minute. We are talking about ten days before we actually got into the studio, organising everything and getting in there. He’s great though and an old friend so it was very comfortable… an old friend who just happens to be an engineering wizard.
D: That helps right...
MF: Yeah, very convenient.
D: Did you feel like you were able to focus more on producing the music and your performance rather than the specific technical aspect of recording?
MF: Yeah, it was the main idea really. We kinda grew up and recorded in basement studios and garage studios a bunch before. Monty our guitar player is pretty good at the technical aspects… he’s like a conduit between a lot of my ideas and I guess putting them into the technical world of recording music.
D: In terms of cassette (your first release), I read an interview at the time where you spoke about being in part-time jobs. It feels like it’s all blown up around you pretty quick.
MF: Yeah, definitely. Well, actually, when did that even come out? I don’t know. Cassette is like… I don’t even really consider that a proper release, kind of thing. It had our name on it but it was mostly just me and Monty kind of fucking around in his basement. With the LP that came out in January, that was very much more the product of all four of us as ‘a band’
D: I dig Cassette, but your LP felt very much more crystalline, like it was all in focus...
MF: Yeah, it is a band effort, four of us playing in a room, you know?
D: I think it comes across. That’s why, certainly to my understanding, people have got into it as you’ve made a document of you as a band… like, they might see this if they see you live? Is that naive?
MF: No, that makes sense.
D: (laughing) I wasn’t trying to get a promise or anything…. is this what I am going to see live? yes or no?
MF: (laughing) - Thats fine. I can’t promise.
D: The aesthetic of the band feels all very locked in. Is that all of you together creating or does someone take point on that side of the process?
MF: We didn’t have anything to do with the music videos. I mean, we had the final say and we dig that both of the directors that worked on those videos were kind of in our same head space and liked the same films and books as us. The imagery, the cover art was essentially based on a photos I found in an old book. We actually couldn't’ find the owner of the photos so we… well… (laughing) just recreated it. We hired a photographer to re-create the set up, as we couldn't find any information, and you know we wanted to avoid any legal complications or issues.
D: In my experience a bunch of bands would have just cut the corner and used the original…
MF: I would have, but it’s not just necessarily my choice.
D: Going back home (although I know now you have moved) where is good for record shopping?
MF: In Calgary there were two or three we’d sort of hang out in or use. There is Hot Wax, run by some good friends, which is great. Very big used sections, good prices, like if you don’t have much money you can go to the basement and have a rummage through and always find something in there. I think for newer stuff there is a shop called Melodiya and they do all kinds of stuff, like reissues and are more focused on newer vinyl. There’s also a place called Recordland in Calgary that is pretty much all used. That place is mad, a real cluster fuck of a record store which is exactly what you’d want. You can’t have more than like two people in the isles at any one time, floor to ceiling, like fifteen foot high crammed with like everything. You can easily get lost in that place.
There is a great place called Fascinating Rhythm in Nanaimo where I just moved and that is really great. I haven’t spent a load of time there yet but I feel like that is going to be my record shop.
D: What makes for a good record shop?
MF: (laughing) Records man!
It can be any genre, it can be anything. For me I like the idea of rummaging through bins and finding used treasures, that is my favorite thing and I think a good record shop, if they don’t have something that you’d want, will order it in right?
D: So I guess somewhere in between…. helping people out, finding things and just everything dumped right in the middle of the store for you to find your own path?
MF: It’s funny though, I don’t know if it’s like it in the UK, but in Canada there is this cliche of the surley record shop owner, who just don’t want any shit… (laughing) He fucking knows what record you are looking for and he knows he has it but he won’t help you out… you have to just go in and search for it on your own. We get a few of those kind of characters in Canada.
D: … I think he lives in the UK too….
MF: It’s like its part of the aesthetic, you need an old, surly, musician.. (laughing), ‘FAILED musician’ running the shop .. and he won’t fucking help, and he hates you and your band in your tight jeans.
D: How about on tour, where have you come across you liked?
MF: Ah man, there is so little time to try and go and get to a shop but I always end up with a bag at the end of a tour with records from other bands that we played with, which is a nice thing too. Stuff you might not have heard before I guess, little reminders of that band live, supporting eachother.
D: I guess in towns that don’t have a strong, vibrant indie store, the merch’ table is going to be the closest thing to a shop right?
MF: Exactly. Obviously a lot of bands rely on selling records to just get by.
D: What was your first record shop experience? What did you buy?
MF: (Laughs) Well, i’ll admit that it definitely wasn’t at a record shop… probably gonna say, a K-Mart or like a department store and I am pretty sure it was… Young MC, Stone Cold Rhymin’... a tape… I grew up on cassettes, that was the medium for me and I think it was probably my first. If not that, then it was something equally shitty, or shittier like MC Hammer.
D: Young MC to MC Hammer in one purchase.
MF: I’m not proud i’m just honest man. I still have a soft spot for Young MC so I really shouldn’t be slagging him off.
D: He might read this...
MF: Exactly, if he’s still alive, I don’t know, he might read it.
Photo by Colin Way.
Buy Viet Cong's self titled album here.
Read issue six of Deluxe online here.