As I walk down a residential street in Astoria, Queens I can hear shouts in the distance. The elevated N rumbling above is loud, but from far away, I can just barely make out voices. An argument is taking place between father and son. “Fuckin’ git off your ass for once and git a fuckin’ job, why dontcha? Fuckin’ go on a jog you worthless piece of shit, god knows you need it!”
The man receiving these shouts happens to be none other than my own interviewee, Randy Vandal, of the punk-thrash band, Vulture Shit. Vandal mutters a greeting as he stumbles out of his house. He lights a cigarette and shivers in his coat, under which he is wearing his signature two-sizes-two-small t-shirt and gym shorts combo. He pulls out a flask, takes a swig and offers it to me. I take a swallow, trying to be cool, but my nerves are obvious; this guy is clearly harder than me.
I truly feel like the boy from Almost Famous, following around a character who still has yet to size up whether or not I’m “rock ‘n’ roll” enough for him, contemplating whether he’s going to have to put on a show for me or if he’s actually going to get a chance to show his true colors. Vandal hocks a loogie as we cross the street to the the dive bar where we’ll be meeting his band mates, and I prepare for an interview that will either shake me loose or build me up.
What an ideal world it would be if every punk band were like this.
In reality, the dive bar was actually a diner in Park Slope where Vulture Shit and I ate burgers and fries and had a meaningful conversation about playing music in Brooklyn, the origins of Vulture Shit and the ideas that arise with the band’s highly topical music.
Vulture Shit has successfully painted themselves as characters, both on the internet and in person. Their performances are absolute madness: Randy Vandal throws tantrums on stage about dealing with the mundanities of the modern American household, including, but not limited to, oppressive fathers and door-to-door knife salesmen. Their ferociously heavy brand of short-and-to-the-point punk thrashers is a satirical protest of the “system,” the white collar man and punk rock all at the same time. One might be able to draw parallels to the 1980’s Maryland-based punk band No Trend, who actively resisted and taunted their pretentious hardcore-punk followers, calling them out as “conformists within their own scene.” Vulture Shit is, after all, a band that has released mouse pads with their first album, and floppy disks containing a bonus track with their second.
Through this lens, Vulture Shit has turned their band into an elaborate performance project, making a commentary on how easy it is to appear as someone you’re not in this day and age. Because in fact, Randy Vandal is a moniker for a really funny, intelligent, politically conscious guy who chooses to make some fun out of the horrors of normalcy. He’s backed by two hardcore cronies who are actually similarly smart dudes, disguised under twin names: drummer Mike, an editor for the Paris Review, and bassist Mike, who works for an IT company.
As Vulture Shit highlights the dangers of the mundane, a very interesting comment on internet culture and the ability to “rebrand” arises, because let’s be honest, the internet and social media is the ultimate tool for projection. I set out to discover the truth. The kind of shit that they’re probably kicking themselves for telling me, because now I get to dissect the conceptualism behind the Vulture Shit “brand” and why it makes what their music all the more fun to enjoy. Thus, I present to you, the rebranding of Vulture Shit.
How did you guys meet? What’s the origin behind Vulture Shit?
Randy Vandal: These two have been playing together since they grew up together in Maryland. I had a previous band called Red vs. Black that had been on some tours with their band, The Purple Cocks, so we knew each other that way. There was a massive building fire and we [Mike and I] both stopped, and he recognized me and was like ‘are you the singer from Red Vs. Black?’ and I was like ‘yeah’… so Vulture Shit literally began at a burning building.
Mike (drums): We met at an NYC Household Special Waste Drop-Off Site in Bensonhurst. We were all dumping car batteries on the same day—it was just such a funny coincidence.
How did your past musical ventures inform Vulture Shit? Can you describe the process of getting to where you are now?
Mike (drums): Mike and I grew up playing in jazz and funk acts and jam bands…your classic rock and blues oriented stuff. You know, strut your stuff, cock of the walk sort of bullshit. We eventually grew fed up with that and decided to see if we could go somewhere without a guitar. Which meant being loud and [playing] shorter songs.
Mike (bass): We didn’t have the skill set to make that happen on our own. We ended up writing these kind of novelty rock songs. It wasn’t until we met Randy, and brought him on not just as our singer but as a ‘spiritual guide’, when we started to learn how to write these songs.
RV: Some basic hardcore tricks: Faster, more repetitive…that’s about it.
Mike (drums): Randy would bring a whip to practice and flog us. “FASTER, FASTER YOU KNAVES!”
What’s the song writing process like?
Mike (bass): Some songs start with a simple line. On a lot of the earlier songs we’d start with a sentence and just jam it out, try yelling it and see what worked.
Mike (drums): We’re all trying to be pretty well versed in the pop game. So we rely a lot on verse, chorus, bridge structure. We try to write pretty conventional songs and then fuck ’em up.
RV: I steal from Dead Kennedys all the time, and all this 70’s hardcore. There’s this band The Wasps that I take a lot from… the beat to one of our heaviest songs comes straight out of a Miguel song.
Mike (drums): One time after a show somebody told me “I feel like your songs are just a quest to see how many different drum beats you can play in one song.” And that’s kind of true, otherwise it’s just going to get boring to people. When we’re playing these songs we don’t have as large a dynamic range as you would if you’re playing something more conventional. Which is why our songs are so short, if a song is sitting more than at a minute forty then it usually feels too long. If we’re playing a given part 8 times, we ask ourselves ‘why aren’t we playing it 4 times? What’s so special about this part that people need to hear it for twice as long? Usually nothing.’
Mike (bass): A lot of it is just what we think sounds good when we’re alone in our little box in one of these mass studio rehearsal spaces that’s got chains of rehearsal boxes, so there’s like seven bands playing around us. We just think: ‘what is more loud and fun than that?’
Mike (drums): We’re about efficiency. We’re Consumer Report‘s No. 1-rated efficiency band; more value for your money.
Mike (bass): By the time someone can decide whether or not they like the song or not it should be over.
RV: If they don’t like it? Not a problem, it’s over.
We love all of our data points equally: they’re our fans, and it’s a deep honor to watch them spend money on us.
Where do all the domestic scenes and imagery come from?
RV: The basic premise of the band is that men are gross and horrible; everything sort of comes from that.
Mike (drums): Also that life is always contriving ways to turn otherwise loving people into animals.
RV: It’s a very punk lyrical project. A lot of the songs are basically stories that try to reveal the underlying dissonance and the horror of life… in a fundamental way it’s really stupid, but that’s important…there’s politics to it, but it’s not always consciously political.
Mike (drums): It’s something about the sinister in the mundane. The idea of dinner time, it’s just so dumb. Everyone has some reason that they are suffering through things, so we’re trying to tap into these very morbid undertones.
Mike (bass): I have this job where I have to go in and out of hundreds of people’s homes, and I really get a snapshot of what their family life is. What their kids are like. Maybe they’re home, maybe they’re not home, but you know, I’m like looking at all the objects in their house and I get a picture of what kind of family they are. Are they happy, are they sad? Most of the time they’re sad, and most of the time they have lots of money, it doesn’t make any sense.
Mike (drums): I go in and out of hundreds of people’s homes and we just write songs about them.
Now I’m not crazy into hardcore punk, but it’s the live show and the satirical nature that drew me in to Vulture Shit. Why do you think a square like me could get into your music?
Mike (drums): If our music has any appeal, I think it’s because we try to make it accessible while ensuring that it will never reach a certain level of mainstream viability—and that can do a lot to keep it special for people. The very notion of ‘classic rock’ saddens me, because rock music in its heyday, like jazz before it, was a reaction against a kind of homogeneity that had crept into popular music. The formation of the classic-rock canon has defanged that music. The same songs that used to strike fear into the hearts of parents and teachers are now being used to sell cars. This happens in every genre, but there’s something to be said for trying to make music that will never, ever appear in a Levi’s commercial.
RV: In a lot of ways guitar music is over. Rock is just done. But like many things, it persists. The only way you can have fun is to play with it. I mean whatever, take it seriously, but like everything in our society, in all of the cultural fields, rock music is especially structured to circulate money through bars and out of scenes and so on. But it relieves the pressure. There’s almost no ‘avant grade’ in rock so everyone can be more playful generically. We’ve been through a decade now of just rock music regurgitating itself, but it does recenter the live experience to some degree, mostly because no one’s got the money to make an album.
Mike (bass): I remember when Randy joined, Mike and I didn’t really have a background in more traditional punk. And we were writing songs that were cool, and they were coming out good, but we had this one little moment where we thought ‘should we listen to more punk? Or is that going to sway us to fall back.’ So we went in blind, said ‘lets just go in swinging’ and see what sticks.
Well, our music is aurally designed to appeal to certain key demographics—namely, the most lucrative markets for recording artists and entertainers. When we write our songs, we ask ourselves a lot of questions, but the most important question is, Are upper-middle-class listeners ages 12 to 25 going to feel compelled to spend ninety-nine cents for this on iTunes? We don’t discriminate between squares and true punks, because every listener, in the end, reduces to a series of data points, the most relevant of which is disposable income. We love all of our data points equally: they’re our fans, and it’s a deep honor to watch them spend money on us.