PLAGUE VENDOR: THERE’S A GHOST HERE
photography by debi del grande
Plague Vendor’s debut Free To Eat was a time capsule: recorded in 2008, it became their Epitaph debut in 2014, thanks probably to its undiminished intensity. But now they’re about to release Bloodsweat, the clearest documentation yet of the wonderful and frightening things that Plague Vendor can do. If this was a movie, it’d be great: a spaghetti western gunslinger quite possibly risen from the grave, set loose in a Cormac McCarthy-meets-Stephen King world of ghosts and vendettas, where crime is art and the law is always a step behind death. (Call it Plague Vendor, Kill … If You Live, Shoot!) It’s outlaw punk recklessness (Cramps, Nick Cave, Iggy when he’s especially theatrical and of course Australia’s X) and the merciless instrumentation that comes from studying Black Flag as much as studying Can. And live, it’s just shy of what you might call an exorcism, with singer Brandon Blaine committed to go where the spirit moves him. Blaine and drummer Luke Perine meet in their hometown Whittier, where they can’t walk ten feet without someone running up to give them a handshake or a hug. They perform today, Mar. 24, at Amoeba and Bloodsweat is available tomorrow. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
The last song on Free To Eat is ‘Neophron Percnopterus,’ which is of course the Egyptian vulture, which I read up on and found that they’re famous for two things: using tools and eating shit. And I thought to myself … ‘Those vultures have a lot in common with us people.’
Brandon Blaine (vocals): Exactly. Exactly.
Luke Perine (drums/synth): The album was called Free To Eat.
Brandon Blaine: You’ve figured it out!
I’m sure everyone bothers you about Richard Nixon since you’re from Whittier, but did you ever go visit the grave of Cramps’ guitarist Bryan Gregory up at Rose Hills?
Luke Perine: Just Eazy-E. He’s buried next to my grandfather. We rep Whittier hard. Every other band from Whittier says, ‘We’re from L.A.’
Brandon Blaine: We have everything we want here at home. A squad of friends, people who do zines … everything. What do I need to go to L.A. for? We go to L.A. to see shows.
Luke Perine: [Before we started] nothing was happening. Just bummer boring whatever. We used to be 18-19 and we’d hope on the freeway and go to the Echo or Smell or whatever. And then we were like, ‘Fuck that shit—we’ll just do it here.’ It was just dope! And it’s over now.
Brandon Blaine: Fenix 5-4 was the resurgence of there being anything here. [The owner] let us do anything we wanted there. He was like, ‘Who are you? What can I do to take you under my wing?’ He’d never seen a band like that. We’d paint all over things, drink tons of beer—
Drink tons of juice?
Brandon Blaine: I did!
Why did you want to build a scene at home? Why wasn’t it enough to just be going to the shows that were already there?
Luke Perine: We were just so critical—little critical smart-ass teenagers. If we didn’t actually do it ourselves, we’d just be talking shit. So we had something to prove to ourselves. Our first show ever was Chain Reaction.
Brandon Blaine: We didn’t tell anybody.
Luke Perine: Cuz it’s such a small community. You know how annoying Facebook and emails are. ‘Hey, come out to this!’ We were like, ‘Fuck this. We’ll start a band and not tell anybody.’ And we went and played Chain Reaction. It was horrible!
Brandon Blaine: It was like Andy Kaufman!
Luke Perine: My bass drum broke, and Jay [Rogers] our guitarist flipped out on the sound guy and threw a couch across the room.
Brandon Blaine: They did this thing at Chain where they’d bolt the bass drum to the floor and I picked it up not knowing that and I broke it, and then I started banging the kick drum and talking shit on people in there. People that night said, ‘These guys are assholes … but their music is really good.’
Luke Perine: That was a different band. We’ve learned a lot of shit. We’ve been on the road with Bad Religion and Black Lips.
What were the first rules of Plague Vendor? The things you talked about during your first ten minutes?
Brandon Blaine: I wanted to be a blues band—Black Keys meets Blood Brothers meets White Stripes. Jay hates the blues! He just hates the simplicity and how boring it is—that’s me quoting him!
Luke Perine: He barely found out the two of us were doing this interview, so he asked me if I could rep for him. So I wanna take a moment to say some dope shit. He started the band with us to not have to come up with the first riff. He wanted to be in a band where we’d have the bassline and drums and everything ready to go … and then have the mojo Brandon’s got. And he could just walk up. He still gets mad and psycho. He wants to say he can walk up and just start playing guitar, but he still takes control and writes songs.
Brandon Blaine: Michael [Perez] didn’t really play bass a lot. We loved Mike cuz he didn’t really know how to play, but he came up with really distinct simple bass lines. The little bit Mike provided was enough for Jay to rip and be Jay.
You recorded your first album Free To Eat in 2008, but it didn’t come out until 2014. And now it’s 2016 and Bloodsweat is out, but Brandon was saying you’re already working on a third album. How far ahead are you? Is there a Plague Vendor album due in 2018 I should know about?
Brandon Blaine: Every person has to hear this story! We recorded Free To Eat in 2008 in Burbank. We wanted to record. We did it in a day. Epitaph finally was convinced and wanted to put it out in 2014. ‘Let us introduce you to the world with Free To Eat.’ We had half of Bloodsweat already written. And side note—we recorded at least 20 songs in the studio for Bloodsweat and only picked 11 cuz they fit perfectly with each other.
You just threw out the others?
Brandon Blaine: Yeah! Wipe ‘em out. Like a movie. Scenes had to work with each other. ‘This is more Monty Python than it is Goodfellas.’ None of the songs we X-ed out will be on the new record. There’s a couple new songs in the mix but we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m happy with what we’ve come up with so far. It’s still gonna be very dark. We play one of the new songs live. Right now it’s called ‘The New Song’ or ‘Nothing’s Wrong.’ But that’s a temporary title.
At the very final second of Bloodsweat, the band suddenly stops and Brandon growls ‘Romance!’ If this is a movie, why is that the ending?
Luke Perine: That’s a good song to end with. You have songs you wanna talk about and show to everyone, and then dope blues-kinda-sad songs—songs you listen to when no one else is around.
Brandon Blaine: You can hear why. It doesn’t fit in the middle, doesn’t fit in the beginning—but it’s not an ender.
‘To be continued?’
Brandon Blaine: That’s how Free To Eat was. Every movie starts out great and fun—us having a blast writing, recording in a day. Bloodsweat was a thing we wrote for a while. All of a sudden it takes a long time to come out. A lot of bullshit goes into it. Now we’re working on the third record—cuz we want to. Brett threw a BBQ for us and said, ‘Just be prolific. I put you ahead of the curve. Just do it.’
Luke Perine: I think it could go a little faster—the pace we write songs could be moving faster.
Do you write like thirty songs and then edit them down? Or just work on ten songs until they’re each perfect?
Luke Perine: We go in like, ‘OK, we got one good bass part, one good drum part, one good guitar part …’ We could write the whole song and be 45 minutes in and then go, ‘Fuck the song!’ And we’ll never hear it again. It has to be all dope. All the best.
Brandon Blaine: If I fall in love with a lyric, I’ll fight for the song. Lately, I’ll fall in love with them and they’re down: ‘OK, if you like it, we’ll do it.’ We’re still learning how to write songs together. It’s not a fight, but it’s not a big democracy like, ‘OK, we’ll do it.’ Everyone asks us, ‘How did this happen?’ It just happened! We’re fucking friends and we write music. It’s that simple. How do you hang out with your friends? When we started this thing in a black Ford Focus in the parking lot of the Carl’s Jr on Imperial—in 2005—I had a vision! ‘Luke and I are always gonna be in his bedroom jerking each other off!’ No—we built a tumblr and were like, ‘We’re gonna do things the artistic way—an artistic format.’ Jay would come in sometimes like, ‘What are you guys doing in here?’ ‘Trust me—we know what we’re doing.’ Everything is a painting, everything is a movie. We reached without having to reach—we put a hand out and whoever wanted to slap it got a high five. We just work together on art. He has one vision, I have one, we slap it together and it make this cool shit. He’s the English major, I’m the drop-out.
Did he steal knowledge from his classes and give it to you?
Luke Perine: I would never take any credit away from you with lyrics.
Brandon Blaine: You nurtured me! He did, though—he didn’t have to do that. ‘Dude, just do what you want.’ I thought if Luke was down with me then who wouldn’t be?
What books started this band?
Brandon Blaine: Bob Dylan—Chronicles. We were really into Bob Dylan. I obviously loved the way he physically presented himself. I like his references and the music that inspired him. I love how deeply … people older than me have no idea of his deep roots! ‘Oh, I love Dylan!’ but they don’t know shit about Blind Willie McTell, Woody Guthrie. I read that book. So many styles.
Luke Perine: [And Dylan’s] Tarantula. Honestly the real shit that started it—Dylan, the Cramps … and somewhere Kanye and Refused?
All those people are scholars of their genres. They know history very well.
Brandon Blaine: And I love hip-hop—I love Ghostface and Bob Dylan!
Luke Perine: And Jay’s guitar playing is really inspired by electronic dance music. Like looping. It’s all about if we think something is just wack, it’s out. It doesn’t matter if we worked really hard or ‘Oh, we got the coolest person to record guitar…’ It’s the power of saying ‘No!’ and ‘Fuck that shit!’ That’s key. A good way to think about how people connect over music is to say, ‘That’s fucking lame.’ Sadly, that’s one of the ways people bond. Like you’re in a bar and someone walks in—‘Oh, that guy’s a fucking idiot.’ And they connect on it. That’s how we’re connected on music. People connect on stuff they hate—it’s sad, in a way!
Brandon Blaine: We like what we like.
Luke Perine: We could write a full song, have it ready to go, have everybody ready to put it out and then say, ‘Fuck that!’
Brandon Blaine: The fact that L.A. RECORD is talking to us or that we played at Amoeba is huge for us. It proves the point we’ve been saying since 2008. We’re from Whittier—we don’t need to say we’re from L.A. to play Amoeba Hollywood or get a tour with Refused or an article in L.A. RECORD. It’s a complete blueprint for doing what you do. It’s gonna take longer, but it’s gonna take longer organically and you’ll have more humility in the end. You don’t have to suck anyone’s dick or post pictures on Instagram all day. Our manager said, ‘You could blow up tomorrow, but you’re not gonna know what to do with it. Let’s watch this go organically.’ Now I get it. Especially with Bloodsweat. We’ve been waiting so long for the songs to come out. I’m glad it took as long as it did.
There’s a gunslinger Western vibe all over this album. What about that era—or that genre—makes so much sense to you?