photos by Chad Syme
review and interview by Leigh Bezezekoff
Tacoma-based baroque poppers Mono In VCF create a dense mood as singer Kim Miller’s haunting vocals give life to guitarist Hunter Lea’s dark lyrics. The result is a stylistic sound that treats the listener to sweeping synth overtures as well as subtle nuances. The project began with Lea and bassist Jordan Luckman as the two experimented with various recording techniques including discreet panning which gives the album the elaborate space associated with 60’s psychedelica. With musical influences as varied as Terry Jacks (Seasons in the Sun, The Poppy Family), Lee Hazelwood, Phil Spector, and 60’s Philadelphia soul group The Delfonics, Mono In VCF is a homage to these artists as well as to the equipment and techniques they employed create their music. In fact, Lea and Luckman were so enthralled with Canadian singer/producer Terry Jacks, they looked him up in the phone book and started a friendship with their soon-to-be mentor who even contributed vocals and a song to their debut album.
As sometimes happens with live broadcasts, Mono In VCF was the first victim of technical difficulties. Shortly before going on air, Hunter Lea’s amp was giving out a little more distortion than is desired. A different amp and a brief soundcheck later, the set went off without a hitch. The first track started with pulsing, cinematic synths atop a subtle bass-driven melody. All the while, Kim Miller’s girl-next-door vocals ebbed and flowed with understated emotion. Each track swelled with organ and piano lines, filling the tiny space with psychedelic key taps and bright, airy guitar strums. For their third track, the band debuted a brand new song with Miller and Lea sharing the microphone. Drummer Jason Falk utilized some maracas and Miller added some bells towards the end. The added percussive elements were a good match for their already stellar sound. The next track, a darker, moodier piece, brought Miller’s vocals down almost to a whisper. Together with talk of knives and death, the song brouht the band into an entirely different realm, bringing to mind early Portishead. From there on out, the instrumentals reached for the sky and never looked back. Lea occasionally used the head of his guitar to press keys on his organ, multi-tasking to say the least. In the end, the audience was spoiled with more than a handful of tracks, giving more than a preview of what can be expected when they play the Sky Church tonight @ 6:30PM.
KEXP: Hunter and Jordan, you guys have worked together for quiet some time, how did you guys meet?
Hunter: We meet in high school actually. In Journalism class.
Jordan: We both really liked The Beatles and just kind of hit it off. Hunter was playing in bands with a different friend of his and we kept working together. Hunter really wanted me to do music and play with him.
Hunter: He started with keyboards then moved to bass.
Jordan: It just worked out.
Hunter: We met Charles our first singer and kind of got like half of the vision of where we’re at now from him-the dark lush side of things. We both already liked the melancholy stuff, but with Charles it was kind of re-defined and once we parted ways with him we incorporated the 60’s cinematic orchestral sound. We found Kim’s vocals interesting in that kind of combination.
KEXP: How did you find Kim?
Kim: Craig’s List.
KEXP: What drew you to the project?
Kim: It sounded interesting…..
Hunter: It was a “Casual Encounters” kind of thing. No strings attached…..
Kim: No, I remember that the whole first part of the ad was talking about a male singer and at the very bottom there was a little sentence that said: “If you’re female and you think you fit these qualities also apply”
Jordan: Really? I said that?
Kim: Yes. I actually replied to him twice before he got back to me.
Jordan: No way…
Hunter: So he’s a flaky misogynist?
Kim: It’s true. I could probably find the email somewhere….
KEXP: So you guys are also influenced by [Canadian singer] Terry Jacks of the Poppy Family Singers and he actually contributed to your album. How did that come about?
Hunter: I was introduced to Terry Jacks and the Poppy Family by a friend on a mixed CD and I just loved the two tracks I heard so much I went and found the albums. When I had those, I couldn’t believe they weren’t on CD. It’s like psychedelic Beatles meets Everly Brothers but with tons of sitars and synths. It didn’t make sense that it wasn’t huge-they were just really great pop songs. We just got an idea to call Terry Jacks up to find him. We found the Canadian White Pages online and just called him out of the blue. He’s awesome, just really cool….we asked to meet him. He’s like “Well, I’m not really worth it. I guess if you’re going to be up here we can go to lunch or something. I’m not really worth coming up here though.”
Jordan: So we get up there and he’s watching the NBA Playoffs.
Hunter: Then we went and go Korean barbeque with him and after played him our songs. He actually didn’t like our music. And he didn’t like the vocals. He didn’t like the songs. He wasn’t into it. He did like our enthusiasm and he liked us.
Jordan: He didn’t deter us.
Hunter: It didn’t deter us. We then worked on the music for like six months on songs and wrote a bunch of new stuff. We were trying to play stuff we did with Charles and make Kim’s vocals work.
Jordan: It just wasn’t the right fit.
Hunter: We were trying to hold onto our old band instead of reinvent it. So we took six months and listened to a bunch of 60’s psychedelic pop records and worked at our house on songs. Then we sent him a CD to his house.
Jordan: Right before we were going to do our album.
Hunter: We said “Terry, we’d love to have you to work with us.” We didn’t hear back from him for like three weeks. Then out of the blue when we were in the studio we got a call from him.
Jordan: He said “I got your CD! It was such a hassle.” He told me that he had to go to his PO Box like three times and he finally got it. “And I love it. I don’t know what happened…the singer sounds fantastic.”
Kim: He thought I was a different singer actually.
Hunter: Yeah, and he said “the songs are so much better and the recordings are great. I’d love to help you guys any way I can. I really like this stuff.” We were blown away because we respect Terry and his music so much. And it was awesome to have him want to play on our record. So he came down and sang and insisted on having fish n’ chips at Ivar’s.
KEXP: The quintessential Seattle experience…
Jordan: Yeah really….
KEXP: You guys played a couple of new songs for us today. And there was one that was pretty Lee and Nancy sounding….is that a sign of things to come?
Jordan: It’s already been happening.
Hunter: Well, we’re kind of working on our next album. It kind of sounds like orchestral….folky…hip hop.
Kim: Making us even harder to categorize…..
KEXP: I’ve heard rumors that you might be joined onstage later tonight by a special guest? Are you at liberty to divulge?
Hunter: We’ll divulge. We’re actually going to sing a song from a Lee and Nancy record and we got our friend and fellow Lee Hazelwood fanatic Mark Pickerel to come and sing Lee’s part. He actually knew Lee Hazelwood so it’s like a direct connection. He’s a disciple like we are and he has that lonely boxcar baritone that Lee Hazelwood sound. We’re excited to play with him.
KEXP: What song are you playing?
Hunter: Some Velvet Morning.
KEXP: I look forward to that.
Hunter: Us too.