"I almost died last night," David Dobbs says as he walks into The Uniter office. He’s wearing a hospital bracelet. Seems legit.
Singer/guitarist Dobbs, along with drummer Matthew Powers, make up Winnipeg noise rock duo Vampires. While mixing the band’s forthcoming four-song cassette, tentatively called the Every Kind of Light EP, Dobbs thinks he had a panic attack. His lips went numb, as did his arms and hands. He went to the hospital. They sent him home. Understandably, he’s still a little freaked out.
In this manic spirit, the band’s yet to be released new EP (which it cranked out over two days in mid-April at 101.5 UMFM’s studio without an outside engineer or producer) is proving to be a more difficult animal in the mixing stages.
“I treated this recording like a four track,” Dobbs says. “When I mixed all the drums, I bounced them down. Then I mixed all the guitars and I bounced them down. Then I mixed all the vocals and I bounced them down, and then I have them all together. I’m treating it like a Beatles album or a Nirvana album. In the studio you call that ‘commit recording.’ The mixing has been a daunting experience and I’ve been kicked in the teeth repeatedly. That’s why I think I had a panic attack last night.”
The story of Vampires is known to those in Winnipeg’s incestuous underground music circle, and it’s a tricky one. Dobbs formed the duo in 2009 with drummer/guitarist Josh Butcher and the pair began gigging shortly thereafter. A slew of shows followed, and according to Dobbs, “everyone seemed to want a piece,” noting that Royal Canoe’s Matt Peters and Jicah’s Jeff Bruce offered to work with the band. In early 2010 they entered engineer Jeff Patteson’s (Eagle Lake Owls, Mitten Claps) Home Street Recording Company. With a record in the can, they began mixing and doing press. They played more shows. Mixing continued. And continued. Dobbs keeps insisting that they “weren’t able to make those decisions,” though. When pressed, he doesn’t quite clarify what “decisions” he’s referring to, but he elaborates on the process.
“It wasn’t sounding like the sounds in my head, and the process was hard on both of us in the sense that we had two very opposing ideas of what a studio meant,” he says. “I think a studio is where you add a little more magic in the bag and shake it up, and Josh was under the impression that it was a temple and everything is sacred.
“It was hard on us to come to a congruent understanding of what this was supposed to be. In hindsight, making an album is never supposed to be anything, it is what it is.”
Fast forward to late 2010 when Dobbs got involved with UMFM (he currently hosts Hllll!Yh!Wpg!, Tuesdays from 8-9pm) where he learned the art of audio recording. Vampires went in with the intention of recording a pair of songs for a single, but came out with a nine-track LP.
Then another year went by. More mixing. While Butcher took a trip to Argentina, Dobbs formed Softcore with singer Lasha Mowchun and drummer Taylor Burgess (though that band ended last year, Dobbs notes there is an unreleased record ready to go). This takes us to November 2012, when Vampires released its self-titled debut proper.
A day after the album release show, Butcher moved to Argentina to live with a woman he met there.
“How are you gonna stop your best friend from falling in love with someone?” Dobbs asks. “I have no idea who this Argentinian woman is, so I just have to trust him and he just leaves. So that’s where Vampires ended and started, all in one week. We dropped our first album and its core members.”
CHARTING AND REBUILDING
A lot of bands break up without even putting out a record, but just as many play the “album release show/final show ever” game. Vampires seemed destined for this, except something happened - the disc got radio play, and not just locally.
“We had top albums,” Dobbs says. “We were charting in Quebec and Ontario. Manitoba for sure. We’re on top ten lists alongside KEN mode and Boats and Yo La Tengo and it doesn’t make any sense, because we didn’t play one show in 2013, from January to December. Not one.”
While all this was happening, Dobbs’ friends were encouraging him to get out and play. His guard was up, though.
“I am a particular study in the sense that I do have the sound in my head, the vision quest, so to speak,” he offers. “It takes a while for people to come into my inner circles. I have many outers, but my defence mechanisms are to be extroverted and aloof, whereas really I’m focused and shy on the inside. So no one came along that I felt nice about or confident about. I just know from Winnipeg experience that it’s not what I’m looking for. So time passes.”
One day, while searching for new music on Bandcamp.com, he came across a group called Midnight Review Presents: an aggressive, DIY project that spoke to him. After exchanging messages with the band, a mutual admiration was discovered.
“I was kinda floored, who the hell is this band that knows my band?” Dobbs says. “There was lots of integrity behind it and I’ve always been more into the music than the production value so it hit a really good chord, whoever this is doesn’t care as much they just wanna put it out.”
It turns out that Matthew Powers (SitDownTracy, HCE) was looking for a drummer for the live incarnation for what is basically his solo home-recording project.
“At the time I was really skirting Vampires,” Dobbs notes. “No one’s capable or willing in that way, and I need to make myself happy so I’m gonna join his band. Turns out, not only is he the guitarist in this band that I’m drumming in, but he’s a really good drummer. He puts the idea in my head of drumming in Vamps and I’m like ‘no fucking way’ because if it capsizes or fails or if we don’t like each other after six months … I was conscious of the idea of all eggs in one basket. So I was really aware, even though I knew he was a top pick.”
Dobbs auditioned numerous drummers, including Powers.
“I even came out and jammed with you once and you just never called me back about it,” Powers relays to Dobbs. “You were like ‘meh.’”
After solidifying a new Vampires line-up with longtime friend Arthur Anthony (The Girth) Dobbs started booking shows.
“I contacted (local music festival) Big Fun on the last day of their submissions and said ‘I got the band back together, let’s do this!’ And they were like ‘If you have a band, we have a show for you.’”
(When we relay to Dobbs that not everybody gets such special treatment, that Big Fun is a festival that artists apply to and isn’t curated, he offers that “maybe it wasn’t like that, but it felt like that.”)
But just as quickly as Anthony joined Vampires, he quit. This forced Dobbs to revisit the possibility of being in two bands with the same guy.
“When (Matthew and I) talk about music, we’re walkin’ on the same street, just on different sides,” he says.
BUILDING ON THE BUZZ
Every band in 2014 has at least a Facebook page, if not a Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or out of date MySpace they can’t login to anymore. Vampires are working on it.
“I shot myself in the foot not having those set up,” Dobbs says. “In the five years I’ve had this going I could’ve had at least 600 likes and that would’ve gotten us shows booked in New York or whatever. So my plan to combat that is to personally contact every single person that showed interest in the past.”
It’s that type of DIY mentality (which includes handmade CD-Rs handed out at shows) that has kept the band’s charm going strong for so long. But the “industry ideas” (management, contacts) tend to creep in at this point.
“The idea of having a manager or a PR campaign, it’s boring,” Dobbs says.”Vampires has been purely grassroutes up until now. We’ve done really well spending no money for people to make us do well.
“There’s no reason for that. It’s working fine. My goals have been succeeded.”
We point out that the band recently purchased a membership to Manitoba Music, the province’s not-for-profit music industry association.
“The opportunity of riding on the album, being in a new position, it makes sense to plant more seeds,” Dobbs says. After bringing up such local success stories as Royal Canoe and KEN mode, neither of which have compromised their sounds or images to succeed, Dobbs and Powers relate.
“I think that’s their work ethic being put into the industry,” Dobbs says. “They could put that work ethic into anything else and I think it would pay off. They’re able to do it in a way because they want that. I think everyone wants that level of success. To be continually touring, to be able to play shows.”
“I got, I dunno, sent to a Rip/Torn (literary journal) launch,” Dobbs says. “It’s an intense magazine. (R/T co-founder) Gabrielle Funk’s there and she has her artwork there. I was really into her brushstrokes. There’s a certain kinetic pallet to it. I was really impressed, like if Van Gogh opened up his pallet and did real life fiction.”
“When David asked me to design the album cover, he stressed that he wanted the experience to be a collaboration that was mutually beneficial as opposed to something more one-sided,” Funk says. “The band gave me freedom to develop a piece for them that was inspired by their music and our personal interactions. It has been a totally ideal job for me because I have had a chance to get to know some inspiring local people who are pursuing their musical goals and create a piece of artwork that is developing very organically, and therefore is more meaningful to me as an artist.”
Dobbs says that the cassette insert will fold out, forming a square, and notes it could also be used as a poster. “The format of a square is the best, but printing vinyl and a CD doesn’t make sense to me right now.”
Funk states that the piece is darker than what she’d normally produce.
“When I heard Vampires’ music for the first time I was on an extremely crowded bus going to work on a wintery day,” she says. “The music transported me to a place not unlike the crowded bus, except much better - a local venue, in the dark, with a beer in my hand, surrounded by friends. Their sound is familiar and fiery and it immediately inspired me to start on a piece of work that I have been wanting to do for almost a year.”
The cassette features the tentatively-titled tunes “Winnipeg Song”, “There Is No Kissing Anymore”, “Waiting” and “Riff Rise”. The set also has a tentative title, the Every Kind of Light EP.
“I don’t know how I came up with it, but it seems so inclusive and metaphorical and really big,” Dobbs says. “So I typed it into the Internet and it’s a goddamn Trews album. On this particular Trews album, there’s a song called ‘I Know You’re Right.’ When you bought a computer that has Windows Vista or 7, they give you this sample pack, with Beethoven, Joan Jett, The Trews and a Flo Rida song.”
(Dobbs later relays via Facebook, “It was the Posies, not the Trews”.)
Clearly embedded in his consciousness, Dobbs is, at press time, still conflicted with the title. “I really like memes and I like the idea of viral attitudes implanted in your brain,” he says. “The idea that there are literally millions of people that bought Windows Vista and they have, in one shape or way, read the sentence ‘every kind of light’ and they had Windows Media Player and deleted or played that Trews song...
“I used to do graffiti. I would spray paint a square with the idea that people would walk by, and whether they recognize it or not, their whole life has changed. That’s where this motif comes from. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they’ve already seen this, and that’s a staying power you can’t buy. But you can buy Windows Vista.”
Whether the title works out or not, Dobbs is feeling the pressure of following up his band’s debut.
“When you have another album coming out you can’t go down,” he says. “You have to go lateral or up so I’m really nervous.”
“Quality is quality, though,” Powers says. “I think quality song-wise is all that really matters.”
“It feels like with Matt there’s an opportunity to go back to basics in that mature way the original band couldn’t do and didn’t understand what that was,” Dobbs says. One is beginning to get the feeling that he wouldn’t feel the pressure if the community wasn’t building him up.
“We had boyish dreams of being great and everyone said ‘you’re doing great.’ Okay, I’ve met my dream. Do I get to be a rockstar and just ride the coattails? Or do I use this as a vessel to experience life somehow? Being popular because your music in your hometown is, it feels really nice. After a while, I don’t wanna say it bored me, but that sort of sentimentality did.
“Over the weekend my ego was huge,” the songwriter continues. “I went to a loft party and Jesse Warkentin (Mahogany Frog) is like, building me up in front of this (Perfect 10 type) model woman, saying ‘Dave plays so good,’ and I’m sitting there going ‘I wouldn’t be in this if it wasn’t for you. There’s no way you’re allowed to say these things when I’m around. Say them when I’m not around because I don’t believe you.’
“So with people like Matt it’s easier to put that shit aside and share this music with way more than just your friends. But once this material drops, everyone in Winnipeg is gonna know exactly what I’m thinking and they’re gonna leverage that in some way the next time we hang out.”
NOTE! CHANGE OF VENUE - Catch the Vampires EP release show with The Party Dress and The Zags at Winnipeg's favourite underground venue Dead Lobster on Saturday, May 31 @ 10pm. Admission is $8. Email email@example.com for directions + info.
Published in Volume 68, Number 26 of The Uniter (May 7, 2014)