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Dynamic Building Rock
by: Dave Cromwell - April 26, 2013


Brooklyn's Vassals released their first full length "In My Dreams I Am A Sailor" this past fall. Stand out tracks like "Informers" utilize sparse bass guitar patterns and tom tom driven beats, allowing for a change to clearly understand the vocals. Singing about "ghosts" by way of their "father," the song builds from quiet levels to a bombastic finish. Another track we like, "Dark Circles" initially moves things into further solemn ground, before (again) rising to a dramatic sonic peak. There are references to "dead little stars" that "used to burn so bright." "Tambourines" presents itself as a start-to-finish rave up rocker, and finding the album title embedded within these lyrics positions it as a signature track. Album closer "The River" makes effective use of bended guitar notes to create a sonic image of water in motion.

Is it your feeling that a power emerges from a certain form of songwriting? That a dynamic build within a song has far more emotional impact that to simply be loud from the beginning all the way through?

We're obviously into dynamically building songs, but we're wary of doing it every time. It's probably most appropriate when the lyrics are also intensifying, then it's more prosody than cheap trick. "Informers" starts off describing a child reading under a blanket with a flashlight, some subtext from the book unknowingly instilled in their mind. Then it jumps to them as an adult, the same impressions full on distorting their view and creating danger. To represent the idea gestating, we decided to build the arrangement from minimal to extreme.

Are the "dark circles" of that titled track a poetic reference to the black-hole in space that a dead star becomes, as it applies to one's own personal emotional loss?

Honestly, we were playing around with words. If you think of it as a character called Dark Circles, it's this funny repetition of "dark Dark Circles circles the block...". There's some star-gazing they're wandering around, staring at the night sky, kind of comparing the infinite blackness to some empty feeling that shouldn't be there.

How often do you have the sort of nautical dreams depicted in the song "Tambourines," and are there any plans to act on them? Do you see the dreamworld as anything more than our subconscious minds simply making up stories for us?

Haha, there are some sea dreams. Isn't the open ocean terrifying? The line is "in my dreams, I'm a sailor / I'm a captain captive to the sea / oh, to be a tornado / shaking cities like tambourines". It's trying to relay some vulnerability while wanting to be wild. The song was written during a whirlwind cross-country trip that seems like a dissipating dream in memories. We're fascinated with the effect dreams have on our perception of reality, and the blurry line between the two.

Your closing track dips into the time honored tradition of the river as metaphor for life as it flows by. There are more than a few clever lyrical turns, such as an amusing way to incorporate the much overused musical genre classification word "shoegaze."" The sonic explosion that consists of the final two minutes and spoken word sample that concludes the track (and album) could make one curious about its overall message. What would you like listeners to take away from the experience when hearing this track? What is its intended message?

The River is our love letter to 90's guitar rock. We wanted the ending to feel like a cliff dive, all of the guitars like wind rushing past your ears, and when the whole thing sinks into reverb you're submerged. Glad you caught that shoegaze thing. In short, it's a story of a tough workday for a fragile girl ("oh the boss can be so mean"). She hits a bar and stays for one too many, now she's walking down 11th avenue, alone, trying to grab a taxi back to Brooklyn. On her right is the Hudson. The water's dark, mysterious stoicism inspires her, in a good or bad way: guess that's up to you. The woman on the recording is a found reel-to-reel. It was a tape in the mail between her and a family member, chatting about grandchildren and stuff. We just had to use it somehow.

When creating new material, how do you develop the songwriting? Is it mostly the work of one person, or a collaborative process among the band members?

Shay does most of the songwriting solo, usually presenting the songs to the band as little lofi bedroom recordings. From there we dismantle and reassemble the songs, finding the appropriate weight and tone for each. Though the lyrics and original concept are done by one member, we all have a large part in the final product.

Do you feel that the growing trend of licensed online streaming music services is helping in part to compensate musicians for their creative works, in this the download era?

Two weeks ago, we received an electronic payment of $23.32 for our music being streamed online. Hooray!

"We're fascinated with the effect dreams have on our perception of reality, and the blurry line between the two."

"In My Dreams I Am A Sailor"

what it is

quiet/loud guitar rock building in tension