According to a recent press release: “VANGOUGH is a three-piece, American progressive metal band. Their eclectic brand of songwriting straddles the line between the familiar and the volatile – a temperamental cocktail that invites both heavy metal fans and those seeking refuge from the beaten path. With an ever-growing catalog of acclaimed releases under their belt, VANGOUGH continue to captivate their fanbase with the unexpected.” With the release date of their latest release Warpaint a little over a week away, we were able to grab Clay Withrow to give us a little insight into the disc and more with 10 Quick Ones…
1. Tell us a little about your latest release. What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through? Are there any hidden nuggets the band put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?
We started writing for Warpaint right after returning from our first North American tour opening for the prog metal band Pain of Salvation in 2014. But because of our obligation to release a Kickstarter-backed live album of our show from ProgPower USA that year, we didn’t properly started recording until late 2015. I’d describe the vibe on Warpaint as a chemically unstable cocktail of bravado, recklessness, timidity, brashness, exhaustion, resentment, restraint, insecurity and crippling anxieties. A Frankenstein monster that juxtaposes the familiar with the tantalizing abyss of the unknown. In other words, simply captivating. We’re already getting a lot of great reviews so that’s relieving but I won’t be satisfied until every single person on earth has heard it.
2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?
I’m sure my story is shared by thousands of other aspiring musicians but for me it became real when I first hear and watched Metallica’s Live Binge & Purge album. Well, it was a combination of that and the black album documentary on VHS that put me over the edge. That’s when I made the terrible decision to try to be a professional musician. What was I thinking? Goddamn Fortunately, I was already a very creative kid and slowly music would transform into an outlet for that creative expression.
3. Who would be your main five musical influences?
Like mentioned before, Metallica was my biggest rock and metal influence that opened the door to many others. Besides them, I’d say it would range from Pantera and Pain of Salvation to Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and video game soundtracks. I say video game soundtracks because I was constantly listening to music from my favorite games growing up like the Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and Super Metroid. In fact, I got into a lot of prog metal bands like Dream Theater because some of their songs reminded me of Castlevania music. I even called into the radio station one afternoon to ask the DJ what was that song that just sounded like a Castlevania soundtrack and of course he was like “WTF?” but told me it was Dream Theater’s live album.
4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be?
That’s a good question and haven’t really put much thought into it before. I think I would love to collaborate with the vocalist from Leprous, which is a band I’ve recently been getting into. Love his voice and love their arrangements. I would also LOVE to collaborate with this retro new wave band called Carpenter Brut. That’s a style I music I listen to a lot but obviously haven’t had a chance to test the waters with my own writing. Also, two other bands called Gunship and The Midnight. You guys shoot me an email if you’re in need of any rough edges.
5. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before?
Well, I’d wager a guess that we don’t sound like your favorite band nor do we comfortably fall into the typical tropes of your favorite genre. But we do create something unique that you probably never thought you wanted until now. Think of a John Carpenter soundtrack that got re-imagined by a thrash metal band after that band sold out in the 90s and went all grunge-y (including the flannel shirts and apathetic gaze) yet still held onto some of their more progressive influences when a song required an extended instrumental section to separate the second chorus from the final chorus so they’re not too close together.
6. What’s the best thing about being a musician?
I love arranging and songwriting. Collaborating with the other guys in Vangough as we starting writing for a new album is probably one of my favorite things about being a creative individual. It’s a really energizing experience to jam and brainstorm on riffs, arrangements or themes in an attempt to create something from nothing. That process is so rejuvenating and provides an outlet for my creative expression. I also like being on tour and not having to worry about anything other than playing music. Even though we’ve only been on two fairly short North American tours, those were both very positive experiences for me.
7. When the band are all hanging out together, who cooks; who gets the drinks in; and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?
Thankfully nobody cooks. I’m not even sure if they can cook because all they ever buy is fast food when we hang out. When we’re hanging in hotels or on the bus it seems we always end up getting some cheap red wine, usually Yellow Tail. I think it’s kind of a tradition at this point. Jeren is always the first one to bust out the acoustic guitar since I’m not one for public displays of playing. He’s always playing the prettiest stuff, which usually leads to me asking him to “play that again.” Then a new Vangough song is born.
8. If you weren’t a musician, what would be your dream job?
I’d definitely be in video production or some similar creative field. I produce and edit all of our lyric and music videos and love conveying story through visual narrative. I spend a lot of time using stuff like Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro at both my day job and with Vangough. But I’d also be into branding and creative packaging as I also create all of our promotional materials and printed customer-facing merch like CD booklets, t-shirts, logos, etc using stuff like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.
9. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over”?
Man, I would love to “do over” more situations than I can count on two hands. For me the entire existence of Vangough has been a learning experience. I think going as far back as our second album Kingdom of Ruin, I’d definitely axe four songs from that one and shorten one of the longer tracks. I was just so dead-set on getting as much content onto that album as I could and wouldn’t take advice from anyone suggesting that we save a few of the songs for the next album. I would have left off all of the tonally inconsistent songs that were never intended and would have kept the album dark as fuck. I think Warpaint helps set the record straight in that regard. Gets right to the point and stays on message.
10. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?
I’ve thought about this before and I’d want to be part of Metallica’s Master of Puppets session. At that point in their career they were fucking mean as shit and this razor-sharp machine. I’d love to see what it was like for them to take their recorded demos and bring them to life and what their process of revision looked like. That’s a record that makes me think of a very specific time in my life. I was pretty young but I remember even listening to it in my mom’s car, how it was cloudy outside, how we stopped to talk to someone we knew while in the parking lot. It just floods my mind with so many important moments in my life and it was the album that made me want to be super precise on rhythm guitar.
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