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Interview

Two Members Of Death/Doom Band Vulgaari Discuss Their Self-Titled Debut

Zack Kinsey and Brent Hedtke are the masterminds behind the death/doom project Vulgaari. Starting out as a personal project that eventually found its way onto Bandcamp, the duo worked on collecting enough songs to put together a self-titled album late last year.

Both of them bring their own musical tastes to the band, and that makes for some fascinating dynamics at play. Hedtke’s lead work has a bluesy twist that clashes with Kinsey’s harsh background, and the harmonies the two guitarists engage in are never dull.

I had a chance to speak to both members of Vulgaari about the songwriting process for their first album and making the perfect set list for a live show.

How did this project come together?

Zack Kinsey: The way it started was that I was playing in a band with Brent and a few of our other buddies, starting in 2005, called Bastard Saint. I’m a tattooer - that’s what I do for a living - and I started working at a new shop around 2006. I started getting busier and I didn’t have time to dedicate multiple nights a week to playing in a band and playing shows. As the band was getting busier, so was I. I found myself being the guy that had to shorten practices and being a bummer.

I decided to let them find somebody to replace me, who had more time to dedicate to it. When I did that, I wasn’t going to just stop playing music. So I started writing and recording my own stuff at home for my own sanity. Not to do anything with it, but just for the hell of it. I’m not a lead guitar player, I know that, so as I was writing this stuff, I asked Brent, who was the lead guitarist for Bastard Saint, to lay some leads over the top of the stuff that I was writing. Like I said, just for us, and not for anybody to necessarily hear it. After doing a couple of songs, Brent convinced me to put it up on Facebook and Bandcamp. It snowballed from there.

Did you have any hesitations when the decision came about to do this?

Zack Kinsey: Oh yeah, totally. I thought everybody was going to hate it, and that I was going to get made fun of by everybody who knows me. I know every artist or musician is hyper critical of everything they do, but I think everything I do sucks all the time. I thought everybody was going to fucking hate it. I thought my friends were going to be like, ‘Dude, quit playing music.’ I’ve never been the primary songwriter in any of the bands I’ve been in. I’ve always thrown my two cents in, and been in the background adding a little bit here and there. Being the primary songwriter, I was super nervous.

At what point did you realize, ‘Hey, I could make something out of this and put a full album up?’

Brent Hedtke: I think it was late 2011 and Zack had came to me and said, ‘If I wanted to actually do this as a live act, would you want to help me put it together?’ I was like, ‘Tell me what you need.’ We didn’t start playing as a band until last summer.

Zack Kinsey: When we found the right people to do it, it was pretty obvious it was the right way to go. The dudes that are in the band are very good. I wrote all this shit, except for Brent’s lead parts and solos, and I’m the worst musician in the band (laughs). The guys that we are playing with are insane, so it’s an honor for me to be playing with these guys.

Did it flow a little bit better to have just you two guys working on the self-titled album, instead of having four or five guys around working on the songs?

Brent Hedtke: I think it was the combination of Zack not knowing what he wanted to do and me not really having a background in metal, per say. We didn’t really have an end game. I would play something and ask Zack, ‘Do you like that?’ and he would say ‘Yeah. Do something else now.’ It was a weird meshing of styles, but having just us two voices in the project was easier than having five guys involved. What it ended up being was just a weird meshing of all the shit that Zack and I like.

What kind of influences did each of you bring into the sound?

Zack Kinsey: That’s hard to say, because we both like stuff that’s really across the board. We’re both heavily influenced by ‘70s psychedelic, early metal like Sabbath and Pentagram. As far as modern stuff, that’s where we tend to split. One of my favorite bands is Crowbar. I think they are fucking awesome, so that’s where I get a lot of influences as far as the slow, groaning riffs I write. I didn’t hear Pallbearer until after I wrote this stuff, but I would say that they are one of the bands I listen to a lot now. It’s kind of weird I heard them after, because it’s got a similar kind of appeal.

Brent Hedtke: I like the Ellie Goulding record. Swear to God. It’s awesome. No, I have more of a blues/rock based background. I like a lot of the doomier stuff I hear, but I’m like when you play rap music for your grandpa...I can’t really discern the differences between doom and black metal. It’s a grey area for me, but Zack sits me down and explains things to me like an adult (laughs). As far as guitar playing goes, it’s been Slash, Jerry Cantrell, shit like that.

Zack Kinsey: See, things like that are why I like Brent’s playing and I wanted him to play on this. I didn’t want to just do a typical doom record. I wanted to have this whole other lead guitar element to it that you don’t hear in doom. I wanted Brent, who doesn’t play typical doom metal stuff, to lay his stuff on top of it without me telling him what to do.

Guitar harmonies are prevalent throughout the album, including the intro to “Match.” How important are these harmonies to the music as a whole?

Zack Kinsey: It’s huge. One of the things that made me decide that Brent was the guy that I wanted to play on this was that in Bastard Saint, which is more straightforward down-style Southern metal, he and Charlie Johnson, the other guitar player, did a lot of guitar harmonies. Brent was always the one who wrote the harmonies, so I wanted him to do this because I knew that he understood harmonies and how they worked.

Brent Hedtke: It’s just about adding layers and depth. What we were doing with that song particularly was slowly starting with a root in a minor third, then adding a fifth, then adding a higher root, and letting it slowly build and build. I’ve been into overplaying, like a ‘70s jam band. Zack gave me the freedom to do that. A lot of the times, people would be like, ‘Okay, that’s enough,’ but we put in like 10 or 12 guitar tracks in each song.

Zack Kinsey: I told Brent, ‘This song is a chance to pretty much masturbate your guitar. Go over the top.’ This was essentially just us having fun and doing what came out naturally. We weren’t trying to make it sound like anything. I felt like what I was writing was a good contrast to the type of guitar playing Brent naturally does. I felt like it would mesh well.

It seemed like there was a lot of room and space on the album for the guitars to breathe, especially in the second half. The second half of the album has a few seven minute songs in succession, back-to-back. Was that track listing intentional?

Zack Kinsey: There was a lot of thought put into the track listing, but it wasn’t as much about the lengths of the songs as it was about the feel of them. I wanted it to have a certain feel throughout. I wanted it to build up and drop back down and build up again, and with the two songs at the end, I wanted it to soothe you out of it, as weird as that sounds. I didn’t want it to thrash until the end and then just stop. I wanted it to cool off at the end. There was a lot of thought that was put into it, but it wasn’t about the lengths of the songs, but the feel of each song.

Brent Hedtke: There’s an absolute art form to it that I think a lot of people overlook. People don’t want to listen to albums as a whole anymore because of that. Songs are shuffled and people only listen to the first four or five songs. I think that’s because people forget that there is an actual process for layering songs and creating moods. The way Zack put it together, it’s got a full circle feel to it, which I think that’s why people have told us they listen to the album in one sitting, all the time. It’s something you can put on while you smoke dope or fuck or draw or something. It’s easy to have it as a journey, as opposed to a bunch of songs that are wankery.

Zack Kinsey: I like albums that are put together as albums. I don’t listen to a song and skip to the next song. I like to put on a whole album, so I try to think of it in terms of, ‘If someone was listening to this whole thing, how would I take them on a journey?’ I didn’t want it to be a song, then a stop, then a song, then a stop. When you see a band live, I like when a band puts thought into their set. I like a set that takes you on a journey.

What kind of journey or atmosphere do you want the set list to one of your shows create?

Zack Kinsey: Well, some of the songs have a little bit of a different feel when we are playing them live than they do on the album. We are trying to create the same idea, where initially, you want to grab the person that’s listening. You don’t want to play something that starts out real mellow, because a lot of times, that’s when they’ll get a beer and go to the other side of the venue or you lose them. You have to start out with something, in my opinion, that’s got a good riff, that’s going to catch them right off the bat.

Brent Hedtke: Like making a mix tape.

Zack Kinsey: I like to have the general feel to the whole thing, but the main difference is that I like to end a bit more harshly with the live set. Instead of easing people out of the set, I just like to end it. When you go from song to song, and a lot of times, having transitions from song to song, you don’t give people a chance to clap or whatever. So I like to end the set, so that if people want to clap, we give them the opportunity.

Brent Hedtke: If people know that you’re a longer form doom-style band, they are more forgiving of the lengthier songs. People that don’t know you, the first time seeing you, there’s only so much wankery they are going to take before they tune out. So you have to trim the fat of the live version of stuff, but it’s still going to be five/six/seven minute songs, but without the noise and excessive playing, which I don’t think there is such a thing, but Zack told me there is (laughs).

Is this album the best representation of the band up to this point in time, or is it just the beginning of something greater in the future?

Zack Kinsey: I don’t know, hard to say.

Brent Hedtke: Hopefully, it’s the second one. I think the better representation of the band is always the live version. Just because it’s just us two on this record, I feel like it’s two different things. A lot of the songs that are heavy or soft on the record sound different live, just because of the group of dudes we’re playing with. As far as the best representation of it, I’m probably the last person to ask about that. I can’t really judge it. I’m so used to hearing certain versions of song that I can’t tell which one is better. Short answer, I have no fucking idea.

Do you see this going forward as a full-band project, or do you see yourselves working as a duo in the studio?

Zack Kinsey: I’m fine with recording the same way we did before.

Brent Hedtke: If we do involve everybody, it’ll be as the same way it was brought to me. They’ll be skeletons of songs, and just let the dudes in the band figure out what parts they want to play a certain way. I think it’ll always be Zack presenting outlines to me, and I’ll be doing the texturing and layering. That just feels natural at this point.

Zack Kinsey: If we did something as a full band in the studio, I think it would be a side project with another name. When we record another Vulgaari album...when we recorded this first one, I had 80 songs that were in various stages of completion. So I’ve already started recording the next one. I plan on doing it the same way, but if we recorded something with the other three guys that we play live with...without even trying, it would have a totally different feel because there are three other influences on the recording process. That would end up a totally different project with a different name, even though it’s the same three guys we play with live. The next Vulgaari album, I plan on just doing Brent and I again.

Looking back at this album, what’s the one thing you’re most proud of?

Zack Kinsey: I think I’m proud that people actually like it, because I never expected that.

Brent Hedtke: The thing that’s most pleasing to me is that it actually fucking
exists. Zack sent me an mp3, I put some shit down, I sent it back to him, and we worked on it together. The fact that it’s gone from two dudes jamming out in the basement to a record that’s out there to the whole world is pretty fucking cool. Musically, I can’t pick one moment. I would feel like a jackass if I said, ‘Well, my guitar sounds sweet here.’ The project existing as a whole is what’s cool to me.

Zack Kinsey: That is what’s weird about it. This was recorded in my basement. I have a studio in my basement and most of it was recorded at three in the morning. When I couldn’t sleep and I had an idea in my mind, I would go down there and start playing riffs. It would end up being six in the morning, and it would start getting light out, and I would have a song almost completed. A couple of days later, Brent would come over and make it cool. Like Brent said, the fact that it even exists is cool. I never expected anybody to like it. Every single person that likes it on Facebook or downloads it from the Bandcamp or buys a CD, I’m fucking stoked.

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