Hellbound Q&A with… Vilipend’s Derek Del Vecchio

By Matt Hinch

Toronto’s Vilipend has been in the news a lot lately. Between bassist Mike Crossley’s apartment woes,the release of their critically acclaimed debut LP, Inamorata, and most recently a controversial T-shirt design, “Northern Hostility” is making waves across the good ole interwebs. Upon returning from a brief US tour with Meek is Murder, I had the opportunity to discuss the album with guitarist Derek Del Vecchio. It’s an insightful look into one of this year’s most surprising and fascinating albums.

There’s a definite theme underlying Inamorata. Is it intended to be a concept album or did it just happen that way?

While there are certainly elements throughout the album that seem to tease at an overarching theme, I think that any art, any good art, ultimately leaves interpretation in the hands of the observer or listener. There was no single intent to go out and write a concept album. I feel that the whole approach to a concept album is a little overdone and overblown these days. They’re fun, and I love listening to some concept albums: The Sword’s Warp Riders, Mastodon’s Leviathan, even Coheed’s In Keeping Secrets. But, what we set out to do once this collection of riffs and ideas resembled something approaching coherent songs, we planned to write an “album”. I mean, not simply a collection of songs, but an actual album, where each song somehow complimented or expanded on the ideas before it, or foreshadowed and teased what was to come. We wanted to harken back to the pre-iTunes days when songs weren’t $0.99 consumables and made sense within a larger structure and framework. I wouldn’t necessarily call that approach a concept album, but simply, an album.

I love the way the artwork pieces together. What can you tell me about that?

To compliment the artistic intent of the album, the album’s cohesiveness, we wanted a similarly high calibre of artwork to accompany this release. Randy Ortiz is an incredibly talented designer and illustrator. I don’t even have to tell you that. Just look at the work he’s done with KEN Mode, Fuck The Facts, or his own showcases and prints (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, or more recently, The Goonies). Though, there is a single piece of his that stands out the most to me: a naked female body lies bisected by the edge of the paper, she’s surrounded by minutely detailed detritus and decaying vegetation. The stark contrast of the smoothness of the body lying next to the fine, hard lines of the leaves is simply stunning. In fact, I was lucky enough to order one of the final prints he had left of said print.

When we had settled on the name of the record, that piece of Randy’s immediately came to mind and the rest of the band agreed. We ended up giving Randy very little guidance before he set to working. We sent him a rough mix of the album once we were entering post-production, mentioned how much we all liked the aforementioned piece, and asked him to create something inspired by his own engagement with the songs, whether lyrically, musically, or both. So, what you’re actually seeing in Randy’s work on our album is another artist’s interpretation of our songs as seen through a different artistic lens and medium. Like seeing a fantastic film adaptation of a great literary work!

You’ve done an EP and a 7″. Was the timing just right for a full length?

Writing the full-length record was less about timing than it was a goal that each of us wanted to achieve. There’s really only so much you can do with limited songs on a smaller release. There was an option at one point to amalgamate the songs we had written for the EP and 7” into a single full-length album release, but we felt that going down that road would betray the intent of those songs and remove them from being situated in a specific place and time. With the more grandiose ideas that we had envisioned for the album as a single entity, slapping together two previous releases just felt like committing an injustice and doing a disservice to ourselves and fans. Not to mention, musically, we were better writers, arrangers, and producers. We wanted to showcase new ideas and challenge ourselves in a way that was completely new for us.

The performances on the record are really tight. Your rehearsals must be intense!

We’re all fans of raw, untamed performances on records because they’re a truer representation of what you’ll get when you see the band live. I love being able to buy a band’s album at a show, put it on, and recognize entire tracks, specific riffs or hooks, and know that it sounds just as good on record as it did at the show, which is very difficult to achieve in my opinion. We practice at least three times a week even when we’re not preparing for shows just to keep our shit tight. If a promoter were to call us up and offer us a good gig at the last minute (most recently, this happened when we were offered an opening slot for Converge), we’d be ready. The same is true for the record. We rehearsed our asses off to get ready for the record because not only did we want it to embody our best performances, but time in the studio is also money out of pocket. When you can kill a track in a single take, it frees up that much more time to explore additional elements that maybe wouldn’t have fit on the record due to time or budget constraints. Ultimately though, the performances on the record are all a function of Adam. That dude played every song to click, not even a scratch-track, just a strict, steady beeping in his headphones.

There is such a mix of styles on the album. Is that a deliberate attempt to tip your hat to your influences (which are……) or does it just shine through naturally?

The diversity of styles on the album is a matter of the songs themselves dictating how they should flow and what should happen next. Sometimes I can hear what should come next; others, we experiment with different types of riffs before committing to a solution for any given song. Sometimes the jarring whiplash is necessary; others, the slow build and release is what the song wants. I have such a high bar of quality when it comes to accepting riffs as contenders for songs that I’ll often outright reject any melody or rhythm that resembles anything in my collective memory of songs. Influences are essential in moulding and crafting your sound, but blatant mimicry and aping is never what I’ve wanted. That’s not interesting to play, nor is it fulfilling to work with as a creative person. That being said, there are clear moments in our songs that can be labeled as “in the style of” types of riffs. We have the “Dillinger part”, the “Deftones part”, the “Botch part”, etc. Before they’re situated in a completed song, where they can evolve and change as the song takes shape.

Is there a message you are trying to convey either through the music, or the lyrics, or both?

Quite simply, no. At least, not on my end and not consciously. With Gramlich, it’s different. With words in general it’s often different. He situates you in a time and place; music doesn’t always have the ability to do that because it’s so subjective. There is also room for subjectivity in lyrics, but it’s to a lesser degree than the music itself. If there is a message in the music, I’d say it’s to pay attention. Push yourself and your comfort zone.

The production is stunning. Was it hard to find a studio/producer that was able to capture how you wanted the album to sound?

It wasn’t at all, actually. I had a clear notion of how I wanted the album to sound before we went in to start recording. I didn’t want a typical metal or hardcore sound, which is why we went with Leon Taheny, who is better known for his work with the Indie rock crowd: Death From Above 1979, Owen Pallet (Final Fantasy), Bruce Peninsula. I wanted to avoid those familiar metal sound tropes that can limit a band’s sound (tight, but wimpy sounding kick drum, high-gain, processed guitar, among others). To that end, I wanted to work with someone who wasn’t biased by heavy music and who was genuinely excited for the project. Granted, this could have just as easily backfired, and while we definitely had a bit of trouble in post-production (mixing and mastering), we are immensely satisfied with the final product. Dave Sheldon, who did the final mix and master for the record, was incredibly patient with us and very receptive to our vision for the record. We definitely took him out of his comfort zone when working on it, but he was just as stoked as we were to hear it all come together.

A389 seems to be pushing you pretty hard. Have you felt an upswing in visibility since signing?

Dom at A389 has been very supportive of the record. He loves it and he genuinely wants other people to hear it and challenge themselves to like it; he’s not pushing us or the record just for sales. He believes in the record and us as a band. It’s an incredibly humbling experience to have someone believe in you so fully and completely. It’s an honour to be part of the A389 roster. It’s not like my signature on a piece of our merch or record will spark an Ebay arms race or anything, but it’s very cool to see more and more people from all corners of the globe checking out our band on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, or going so far as to like our band on Facebook. A lot of these metrics mean nothing to bigger bands, but I get giddy when I see tens or hundreds of new listens to posted songs, and ecstatic when people actually like it. Hell, I even love reading negative comments because they’re often inadvertently hilarious, or are so perfectly indicative of a certain archetypical attitude, that I can’t help but laugh. I always thought that negative responses to our music would bum me out, but it turns out that I actually develop any of these three reactions: agreeing with any criticism that I’ve already noticed (always analyzing to improve!); accepting any constructive criticism; or laughing at any “totally missed the mark” responses.

How long had you been working on the record? Is it an accurate reflection of where the band is now or are you already looking ahead to the next album?

By the time we went in to record, we had been writing Inamorata for just over a year. I’m already looking ahead to new songs. We’ve got one completed and are playing it live at select shows, and we have a lot of ideas down on tape for constructing future songs with. All I can say about the new batch so far is that the riffs are heavier, thrashy-er, and weirder. We learned a lot about ourselves and our writing when working on “Inamorata”. We’re moving forward with ideas and critiques from Inamorata and holding them against our new stuff as a kind of litmus test. If it doesn’t hold up to our constantly evolving standards, we trash it, or hold it until we can make it work. I think that if you can’t view your own art through a critical lens, there’s no room for expansion or improvement. I know there are things we can do better, or can do more/less of, and that’s in no way a negative reflection of what I think of our song reservoir to date. I’m absolutely proud of what we’ve accomplished, but instead of standing on the summit after a harrowing climb and basking in the glory of that feat, I’m already hiking to the next peak. As for what format the next release will take, who knows. There are bands out there we’d love to do a split with, maybe another EP, or, depending on how these tracks begin to take shape, it might be another record in the making.

Pretend I don’t know anything about Vilipend. Or much about metal in general. How would you describe the band to a stranger? (Like say…a classmate for example.)

Or to a police officer in New Jersey after he pulls your van over because of an allegedly illegal backseat? “Hard rock” is always the safe response in that situation. Or “metal” depending on how “tr00” they look! You know, if you really want a great description of what our band sounds like for the uninitiated, ask Luke Roberts, the man who did the wicked solo at the end of “Meant to be” for us. That guy has always had the best descriptors for our band after we’re done trashing a stage. Here’s a gem from him, “it’s like rats have infested and devoured my apartment, and I don’t care.”

Dream show. Vilipend and two other bands. Go!

Blue Oyster Cult.
Jefferson Starship.

I’d pay to see that.

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.