Q&A with Tan Vampires
by Leslie Fowle (English/journalism), published January 29th 2014
The East Coast was well represented Friday night at T.T. the Bear’s Place with a lineup that included Kid Mountain from Boston/Providence, Sun Club from Baltimore, Bent Shapes from Boston and Tan Vampires from New Hampshire.
The overall high energy of the show was brought down—in a good way—when six-piece Tan Vampires graced the stage with their unique brand of folk-y indie rock. Before that, however, Tastemakers sat down with some of the members of the band to talk about their latest work, New England pride and sad clowns. (Tan Vampires’ latest EP, Ephemera, came out August, 2013).
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): So let’s talk about your latest EP, Ephemera. Why did you call it Ephemera? Surely you don’t want the songs to be ephemeral, I would hope. It’s a good word, though.
Jake Mehrmann (JM): I think there are multiple reasons. The songs on that EP are actually all pretty much old songs. A lot of them are older than the songs that are on the first record. We all felt like we wanted to record them, and we all thought that they kind of work together sort of aesthetically. They were also sort of cast off from the first record, in that it seems they were the left-behind bits. Also, I think that the songs were kind of related in lyrical content—they have to do with the fleeting quality of relationships and that sort of thing.
TMM: How is the record different than For Physical Fitness [Tan Vampires' first record]?
JM: Well, you can’t really pump iron to it as well. [laughs] A lot of the songs on the EP are the songs that initially were written by me as songs that I would play solo before the band got together. So I think that they serve as a consequence of the way that I wrote them and conceived them. They feel a little more like in a folk vein, or maybe an Americana kind of thing, where they can be stripped down to just a guitar and vocals—in a way that if someone saw them on For Physical Fitness they might not work as well. And certainly some of the new material that we’re working on was recorded in the same way.
TMM: I have to say I love that trumpet. Who plays that?
JM: Chris, who’s not in the room.
Nick Phaneuf (NP): I mean that’s a big difference on the EP. There are way more horns than there are on the first record. I think that is partly because when Jake wrote those tunes he was recording by himself, and Jake plays saxophone, although he doesn’t really want anyone to know. So on this self-released thing that he did all by himself, there were all these horn parts that he did on it, and when we were first putting together a band to play those tunes, having a horn player to cover the other melodies made sense. And then we just decided to be a rock band with a trumpet player, and put him on everything.
JM: It also helps that he [Chris] is an exceptional multi-instrumentalist as well.
TMM: So in “Into the West” you guys sing about being restless living on the East coast. Are these true feelings?
JM: When I wrote that song, definitely. I had a number of friends that moved out to Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. It just seemed like all these people I had grown up with and loved, and were important to me becoming the person that I am—their personalities helped shape my personality—were all just flying away one by one. But they were all kind of ending up in the same places, and I briefly considered moving away. But, it just never felt right for me. I don’t know, I’m a New Hampshire kid. I really am. But things have changed a lot. Where I live—in Portsmouth—it’s still rapidly changing in like, really dramatic ways, and sometimes in pretty upsetting ways. Like, it’s really becoming a place for people with a lot of money, and all the artists and blue collar people who are living in the town—maybe living where the people with money wanted to be—are being pushed out. So, there’s certainly some internal conflict that I feel being there. But, I really feel deeply rooted there.
NP: Yeah, of course. I mean, we live in a place where there used to be hardware stores—now there are shoe stores. But I know that Jim [drummer] and I are profoundly East coast kids. I’ve traveled around a fair bit, and I have no interest in being on the West coast.
TMM: On that note, I have this ongoing Spotify playlist called “Songs About New England That Don’t Suck.” Do you guys have any additions to that?
NP: Oh yeah, if you don’t have any Dan Blakeslee on there yet, then you should. He’s a Somerville guy, but he’s from southern Maine. He’s got a tune called “Somerville Line,” that, you know, is about Boston—and it’s a great song. Probably most of his songs are about something to do with New England.
TMM: I have another Spotify playlist called “Songs About Vampires for People Who Hate Twilight,” and you guys are on there. Not that you sing about vampires, but, you know, close enough.
JM: I mean, the band name was around before any of that stuff, and I kind of stubbornly refused to change it when it became trendy.
TMM: I was going to ask you where the name came from.
JM: We’re ridiculous people, and most of our conversations are spent just free-associating things together. I really don’t have a clear memory of where the name came from, but I’m sure it was from some silly conversation.
NP: I’m sure you don’t want to hear some of our other joke bands.
TMM: Actually, I do.
JM: So, when we tour—and we’re all in a van together—I have this miniature guitar, and we all pass it around, and all improvise silly songs. They’re all just terrible. We’d probably be incarcerated for them.
NP: We have a name for the band in that context. We call it the “Jean-Claude Van Band.”
JM: Some of those songs have been the impetus for some of the newer Tan Vampires [songs].
NP: Specifically one song, which is now three or four different songs.
JM: Yeah, one of those ridiculous songs has inspired a handful of new Tan Vampires songs.
TMM: What is the original song?
NP: Oh, you’re never going to find out. No way.
JM: Well, actually, I think we can tell her the title of the song. It’s called “Clown Burial Ground,” and it’s about a clown burial ground.
NP: It’s about a clown! Who died! And he’s probably buried somewhere. It’s amazing how many songs came from one joke song.
TMM: I’m going to look for some “Clown Burial Ground” Easter eggs in your next album.
NP: Yeah, if the next album cover has a clown—you’ll know why.