Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Morning Show host John Richards, is “Who’s Asking” by Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band available on their self-titled debut from Dead Oceans.
It’s not often a band can build a following and even a nationwide buzz before they even hit the stage or release a full-length album. Venerated music sites like Spin Magazine and Stereogum were calling Mt. St Helens Vietnam Band a “hot band to watch” based on homemade YouTube parodies and a solid EP release of fun rock/pop tunes. On top of that, their debut album was recorded by a big name producer and picked up on a Secretly Canadian affiliate. Not bad, but rest assured their success has everything to do with the music.
I got the opportunity to speak with MSHVB’s Benjamin Verdoes (In Praise of Folly) about the band which it turns out is more than just a Molly Moon’s ice cream flavor.
How did you guys come up with the band name?
Marshall came up with our band name when he was 11. After a series of misfires he blurted it out. I remember we were driving down the road when he said it, and I said, “Okay, that works.”
Was it exciting to work with [producer] Scott Colburn (Animal Collective, Arcade Fire)? How did that come about?
Actually, I think I heard of/met Scott through KEXP (he sometimes does sound for in-studios) and through a few local bands that I knew. Scott is a self-proclaimed “wizard” of recording. I think he is right. His approach to recording was helpful for the record. He is laid-back and calm, but he also gets super excited about trying new things.
You’re well-known for the unique ways you’ve promoted the band so far, how do you come up with these crazy schemes? What are some of your favorite rejected ideas?
The band itself was born out of a crazy idea: playing with my 10 year-old brother. It was a natural progression from that first step. One of my rejected ideas was having a winter extravaganza show last December. It would have probably bankrupted us.
Were you nervous after all these for lack of a better term “stunts” generated such a buzz before your first performance?
Not really. I think there was a real paradigm shift for me once we started doing things with this band. I realized that there are no rules. Most of the “stunts” were kind of accidents. We thought it was fun at that time. We were writing serious music and working hard, so it didn’t bother us to take non-traditional steps. Certainly there has been a natural progression away from our early attempts at promotion, but I am glad we did it the way we did. Several bands, including the Beatles, made weird videos and did strange things for a while. There is a lot of experimentation involved in developing a band. At least I feel like there should be.
Are you excited to hit the road with Japandroids?
Yes! They are great, and nice people.
How do you put your songs together? Is there a primary songwriter or do you guys work pretty collaboratively?
Generally I bring in a skeleton of a song and everybody puts flesh on the bones. There is a great deal of editing that takes place collaboratively. Matthew and I wrote a few songs together for this current album. Our next record will have some songs written by Jared.
Tell me about “Who’s Asking.” What’s the inspiration for this song?
“Who’s Asking” is about a series of misinterpreted gestures between two people. One person is trying to escape the affection of the other by giving signs of disinterest, but the plan essentially backfires. I have had experiences where it seemed the things I used to communicate disinterest ended up being the very things that the other person took as signs of mutual interest.
You can catch MSHVB at Bumbershoot on September 6th before they embark on a North American tour with BC’s Japandroids. For a complete list of dates, check out their MySpace page. In the meantime, here’s their video for “Cheer for Fate”: