VUM’s latest Cryptocrystalline, a minimal yet lush set of electronic rock that’s a breakthrough in terms of both sound and vision. Together with drummer Scott Spaulding, they work to combine slinky metallic guitar riffs, vintage electronic sounds and slowly unfolding melodies—sometimes wistful, often menacing. We talked about the band’s grown-up sounds and grown-up priorities in their living room while a Pharaoh Sanders album played on the turntable. Cryptocrystalline is out now digitally and comes out on vinyl on May 3. Portions of the proceeds will benefit the Malala Fund. This interview by Chris Kissel. " /> L.A. Record


April 28th, 2016 | Interviews

CB: One thing that I’ve seen change since I got involved in the underground music scene is the way the internet has changed the dissemination of ‘secret’ information. It used to be that you had a list of where the shows were going to be, and this whole music scene of word of mouth and human interaction. Now everybody knows everything instantly, which is a real change of the aesthetic. The aesthetic was secrecy, or obscurity. It used to be social in a real way, and it was community based and scene based in a way that as really human and personal.
That’s interesting. I’ve never lived in a musical environment where I didn’t find out about small shows from Facebook invites.
JP: You used to have to drive by a flyer on a telephone pole.
CB: Growing up in Dana Point, I used to have to drive to Huntington Beach to a record store to find a flyer or find this girl Mariko who put together a list of all the shows. When you got to the show you had to stand around not knowing anybody and feeling awkward because everyone was intimidating. Now you just find out from Facebook and show up and everyone is looking at their phones in the in-between time. There’s no more chance for secrecy or awkwardness or intimidation. The scene is much friendlier now. The scene used to be tough.
JP: And I used to walk two miles in the snow, uphill both ways.
CB: [laughs.] It’s not necessarily bad. It means people know what’s going on. That’s good.
It definitely means there used to be more exclusivity, which made things more special, more tight knit.
CB: But it also means you had to have human interaction. The music is a way of making a constituency of people. The people who made up the music scene were people who were physically present in a space around ideas. I think that was part of what made the 90s music scene more politicized. There was a lot of content in those scenes that was political content, which you don’t really see in the scene anymore—at least, I don’t, when I go to shows. Part of that had to do with the social structure and the way ideas were passed around, and how they were able to make constituencies around it. So that’s been a big change, but that being said, a lot of the people I’ve known in music since I started in the 90s are still out there playing in bands in Los Angeles. The thing about L.A. is there are many, many different scenes—not one cohesive thing.
It’s funny to me that pressing your own 7″ used to be a middle finger and now it’s like … artisanal.
JP: Absolutely. It’s also just pragmatic. It’s what you have to do. Do you want people to have your music, or not? Do you want it to just be a streaming mp3, or do you want it to be touched?
And it used to be that making those records was the only way people would hear your music. Maybe ‘indie’ artists now have less invested in independence as a political idea because doing it requires so much less effort.
CB: Everyone has a Soundcloud page.
I could go home after this interview and record an album and upload it to Bandcamp before dinner.
JP: I don’t think it’s—not to use simplistic and moral terms—but I don’t think it’s all bad or all good either. There are benefits to the unsigned musician and huge benefits to being able to publish your music at any time. But of course there are drawbacks, too. People feel like they no longer need to support the people who are making music, and I wouldn’t say that’s true of everyone. We have a really solid crowd of supporters—in particular vinyl buyers—that are still doing it. And then people that out of the blue will actually pay for music, even though they don’t have to. We’re very grateful and find it very endearing that people are willing to do that.
Just out of the kindness of their hearts.
JP: [laughs.] Out of the kindness of their hearts.
Did you know Henry Rollins at all before he started talking up the band? The fact that he frequently plays VUM on his show on KCRW has definitely helped your profile.
JP: No, not at all. You know, there are not many celebrities who I would be excited about getting attention from, but he is totally one of them. I have huge respect for him. I love his show, we’re both fans, and one day Chris said, ‘You should send him a CD.’ and I thought, ‘Yeah right, that’ll be a waste.’ And we sent it to him and he actually listened to it. When I saw his email in my inbox, I almost died. ‘Jennifer, period. Hey, period.’ He actually writes like that. One of my first forays into music buying was buying Slip It In on cassette. He’s been supporting us for years. He’s literally one of the only people on the radio anywhere playing us, and we just can’t believe how much support he’s offered.
CB: We always send him our music, and he’s always really helpful and supportive.
JP: He’s great—he’s super encouraging and has a lot of great insight. And he’s brought us fans from all over the world—we get vinyl buys from the U.S., Europe, and Australia from people telling us they heard us on Henry Rollins’ show.
CB: I like that his show is also not genre based. He plays music from all over the spectrum, which is how we approach our music. We’re really happy to be a part of what he puts together.
JP: We could have never imagined that it would turn out this well, or go on this long.


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