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Interview: Jennie Vicious (of The Vicious Guns)

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For the past few years, America has set it sights on Britain for the latest musical trends. But Canada has much to offer as well. Toronto’s VICIOUS GUNS, in particular, is a diamond in the proverbial rough.

Fusing the sounds of punk and pop, Jennie and Richey Vicious, along with Ana DeVee, have traveled extensively to promote their self-titled and self-produced EP. This past May, the independent outfit enjoyed a five-day stint at SXSW [South by Southwest] in Austin, Texas, in preparation for a full North American tour, which will run through August. [The complete tour schedule has been appended at the end of this feature.]

Right before the band’s departure to Austin, Jennie Vicious managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on guerrilla marketing, networking, and her guide to healthy living on the road.

I really enjoyed your show at Europa! You opened your set with “End Of The World,” And I instantly fell in love with the track. I am interested in learning more about the inspiration behind the song’s lyrics. What specific details do you remember from the songwriting process?

With “End Of The World,” I think, the most important thing about that song is the lyrics. I was watching a heck of a lot of American news, at the time, when I wrote that: CNN, FOX News. Taking it with a grain of salt, of course. And observing media manipulation, and comparing that to how you feel about a relationship which is trapped in your own life. And then, I just started thinking about the world, and how it’s a microcosm of your own, more personal problems compared to the problems of the world, on the whole. So that’s what that song’s about. This song, and every song, for me, kind of takes on its own life and my process tend to always be different. Sometimes I’ll have a riff, and it will start off that. Sometimes I program the beat.

Do you generally open your shows with that song? And if you do, is there a particular reason why?

We do. We have generally opened with that song. I always just felt that song is a really good opener. It’s poppy. It’s also kind of dancey. It’s almost like a blend of all of our music, in one, so it kind of hints at what’s to come.

Looking at your winter/spring tour schedule, I see that you are criss-crossing the United States, with dates in Philadelphia, Chicago, and a 5-day stint in Austin for SXSW. When you spend a lot of time on the road, how do you keep your energy levels high and your spirits motivated, especially when you have a large number of late-night performances?

Well, [Richey and I] are pretty healthy. We do as much yoga as we can, on the road, be it finding a class to go to—which is also a nice opportunity to take a good shower—or just with some floor space. And my big thing is not to eat anything at gas stations. No matter how tempting it is, hold off and go to a grocery store. Get really healthy, like power bars, fruits, vegetables. We’re actually making salad, right now. It sounds so not rock ‘n roll, but it’s diet and exercise. Otherwise, you’re going to be a mess. You’re going to be tired all the time. You won’t be able to sing. Back when I’ve toured in previous bands, I wasn’t always sticking to this regime; but I definitely learned. I learned a lot.

Well, some things you just have to learn the hard way. But the important thing is that you learned, right? [laughing]

Yeah, it’s super, super important to treat your body well. Otherwise, how are you going to perform? You know, there’s a part of rock ‘n roll that will have you drunken and falling around. But, you can put that out there, and seem out of control, but really be in control.

That is true.

You know what I mean? Like if that’s what you want to put out there, you can put it out there. I can get crazy and fall around the stage and still be completely sober. And yoga. It gives you such balance. Like, I play a jazz bass, and it’s really heavy. And I can rock that thing in 5-inch heels. I thank yoga for that! [laughing]

So, I guess a word of advice to all the future rockers of America: be sure to take yoga classes! [laughing]

Yes! [laughing] Yoga! [laughing continues]

I am sure life on the road is not always glamorous. Do you have any interesting or unforgettable road trip incidents?

Oh, my God! I almost drew a blank because there’s been so many crazy things that have happened on tour; from like barroom brawls to…oh, my gosh! One time, on tour in Canada, we actually hit a moose. Oh, yeah. And it totaled our van. Luckily, no one was hurt. So, yeah, it’s dangerous! [laughing] You’re taking a risk going out there—you’re traveling so much—via from the elements of nature or drunken patrons of the bar you’re playing at, who want to target you for whatever reason. There’s all sorts of crazy stuff that does happen. I’ve been broken into five times. Like, I don’t know if that’s my karma, or what. But, have insurance. That’s another tip from me. Have your gear insured. You never, never know. Always take your gear inside, out of your cars, no matter how tired you are at the end of the night. Never leave anything in the van! But there’s wonderful stories, too. Amazing people that we meet, just randomly. We stayed at so many great places, you know, from tiny, little apartments to a beautiful ski chalet in Lake Tahoe. You never know. What every night—you’d roll into the venue—and we crash with people. And you just don’t know where you’re going to end up. So it’s always a surprise, and I love that about the road.

So, how do you go about developing those type of relationships? Do rockers have a secret underground network? [laughing] Or do you start from scratch?

It’s give and take, you know, because I’ve put up bands in Toronto, over and over again. And you get something back with karma. You get what you give. So, I’ve always been extremely welcoming to bands that I’ve met. And it just comes back to you out there. It’s really a wonderful thing. And as far as building your network goes, you have to start from ground zero. You have to just build it up. Go out once and do a few test runs—perhaps five dates around your hometown. And start from there. Then, when you go back, those people will come back, and they’ll bring friends. And then extend the territory you’re going to cover. It’s kind of daunting, at first, but you have to start somewhere.

I had a chance to visit your Tumblr blog.

Oh, really?! [laughing] Sometimes I should censor myself! [laughing continues] At one point I was like, I’m making myself so vulnerable, like just talking about everything I feel! [laughing]

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, and I did not dig for dirt! [laughing]

That’s okay. I put it out there in the first place, so it’s fair game.

There was one interesting passage, where you were talking about your last tour and talking about the feelings you had upon your return home. You eluded to the fact that you woke up and you did not know where you were. In fact, the word “home” was written with quotation marks. Going off of that, in what place are you most at home? And how do you make home on the road? Do you ever get homesick?

Well, for instance, right now, I’m sitting in Manassas, Virginia at Richey’s grandmother’s old house. She passed away about six months ago, but her house is still here. So, I never met her, and it’s wonderful. We came in here and instantly felt like home. This is a special example. But, like I mentioned, you meet people who make you feel at home, so many times, over and over again. And, as long as I’m out here, doing what I love, it doesn’t matter where I am. Home can be the car to me. I don’t need anything. Like, I have cats at home, and yes, I miss them. But I know they’re cared for. Wherever music takes me is absolutely my home. To me, it sounds so cheesy; but, it’s absolutely true.

And when you return to your physical home in Toronto, what’s the first thing that you usually do?

I eat my favorite meal. Toronto’s amazing. It’s really multicultural, and the food there is phenomenal. Absolutely amazing. So when I get home, I usually have a roti from this place called Gandhi’s, and it’s super spicy and super, super good. I’m usually starving by the time I get home. I’ll eat that in bed, with my cats. That’s what I do. And my cats like Indian food, too. I shared some Indian food with my cats.

And since we are talking about food, I also saw on the website that the two of you are actually vegan. Was this a conscious decision that the two of you made together?

Yeah. I was a vegetarian for 17 years. As soon as I could stand up for myself and decide what I was going to eat, I became a vegetarian. I always wanted to be vegan. And I have a personal interest in holistic nutrition. About a year ago, Richey’s father was diagnosed with basically terminal esophageal cancer. So, we needed to prescribe him a natural diet, and we did that. Basically, food is either good for you, and it has healing benefits, or it’s bad for you, and it’s detrimental to your health. We went to his house and we threw away all his junk food. And he’s eating broccoli and asparagus and carrots—super foods, basically. And he was given only a couple of months to live. And it’s been over a year now. I mean, he’s gone back to work, all due to a vegan diet. So that’s what prompted us. We thought, if we’re doing this for him, we need to do it for ourselves, too. It was all a matter of cutting out some dairy. And I feel great. I feel wonderful. And it’s for all sorts of reasons. Primarily, health. Environmentally, it’s a really wonderful thing to do, as well, because if you feed North America’s diet for meats and burgers, you basically could feed all the starving people who are in the world. Like the grains that go to the livestock and the cattle, you could actually feed the third world thousands of times over. If you think of it like that, it gives you some perspective. It’s something that you can do. I feel like I do my part for the environment, for humanity, and for my own personal health. You can’t go wrong! [laughing]

For one show—and I am not sure if this was just a one-shot incident—I saw that you served the audience vegan cupcakes. What other kind of marketing tactics do you use to promote your shows? I am sure you could give some tips to a few up-and-coming artists.

Oh, wow. It’s crazy, these days. You should give me some pointers on what to do! [laughing] It used to be as simple as sending out a poster. And that could draw a crowd. But people seem to be having a little bit of attention deficit these days. The Internet is invaluable for promotions. We reach out to other bands. We do our own promotions. We look at every date we’re playing and we study that market. We contact even like vintage stores—record stores are a typical place to go—but clothing stores are often more than willing to put up your posters. And we reach out to the local businesses, and give them a shot, and say, “Hey, we’re playing.” And a lot of them get behind you and they’ll support you. So that’s kind of something a little bit different to do, on your own. But don’t rely on anybody else to do your promotions! If you do, work with somebody, and do it in conjunction with them. You have to put your own efforts forth—the creative part is one thing, but, it’s a hustle, right? It’s marketing and promotions. It’s awareness. You have to make people aware that you’re playing. Otherwise, how are there going to be people at your show?

When did you realize that you needed to master the “business” side of the “music business”?

From my very first show, when I was 19 years old. I grew up as a huge music fan. I read rock biographies. I went to concerts. I’ve studied it like since I was six or seven years old. Michael Jackson was my first concert – the Victory Tour in 1984. Am I dating myself? [laughing]

Maybe… [laughing]

But from that young of an age, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And watching all the documentaries I could and reading all the books I could, I was well aware that it was a “business” like everything else. So, you have to treat it as such. The creative part is so gratifying. But I feel that there’s no such thing as a successful, lazy artist. It’s easy to play. It’s easy to jam and write. It’s fun. It’s wonderful. It’s a beautiful thing. But there’s the other end of it, you know, that’s kind of a grind and not as instantly gratifying. So, luckily, I came into it with that knowledge.

Collectively, you and Richey are known as “The Vicious Guns.” What insight can you give me on the origins of the name?

I make a lot of clothes and I do a lot of silk screening. And I had a gun print that I used over and over again. And people loved it. I know this is going to sound crazy, but it was all because of that silkscreen print that I had. I literally thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if I could make a band name that had something guns?” So the “Vicious Guns” just came to me. I mean, we make a joke. We’re like Sid Vicious and Guns ‘n Roses. It’s like classic. It’s punk rock imagery to the fullest. We don’t sound super-duper punk, but my roots and influences go back to ‘70s punk. It’s cool, too, because the name really conjures up interesting conversations with people. “So, are you pro gun? Anti gun?” All sorts of things. With the name, I think people assume the music’s going to be a lot heavier. “Oh, the Vicious Guns! That’s going to be crazy!” So it’s like an omen of surprise, too, when you hear us. Our music’s intense and dynamic, but it’s not necessarily what you might assume, if you make an assumption about it, based on the name. There’s a surprise element there! [laughing]

Since your life as an independent artist is pretty much a do-it-yourself affair, what beauty do you find in the struggles of being an independent artist?

What beauty do I find in it? Doing exactly what you want. Calling your own shots. Even if you’re on a major label and you have a team of people working for you, you’re independently doing your own thing. It’s your art. It’s your music. It’s what you want to do. You know, I think all human beings are intrinsically creative, no matter what. Maybe they buried it deep down inside, some person with a typical 9 to 5 job, and they come home at the end of the day. I truly, truly believe that all of us have something to say, something to express. I mean, we just do. So, for me to be able to do that—there’s the beauty. I recognized that young, and I decided to pursue it. So, I’m very grateful. It’s a wonderful thing.

For more information on The Vicious Guns, visit the group’s MySpace page.

North American Tour
Date — City — Venue
04/17 — Lexington, Kentucky — CD Central
04/19 — Gallatin, Tennessee — Sun Beach Club
04/23 — Lafayette, Indiana — The Skylight
04/24 — Detroit, Michigan — Donovan’s
04/30 — Fayetteville, North Carolina — Via 216
05/01 — Chattanooga, Tennessee — T-Roy’s
05/23 — Nashville, Tennessee — The Basement
06/02 — Cincinnati, Ohio — Northside Tavern
06/09 — New York City, New York — Trash Bar
06/10 — New York City, New York — The National Underground
06/11 — New York City, New York — Bushwick Music Studios
06/12 — New Haven, Connecticut — Amity Teen Center
06/14 — Arlington, Virginia — The Galaxy Hut
06/15 — Thomas, West Virginia — The Purple Fiddle
06/17 — Danbury, Connecticut — City Ale House
06/22 — Detroit, Michigan — Pj’s Lagerhouse
06/23 — Indianapolis, Indiana — The Vollrath
06/26 — La Crosse, Wisconsin — The Warehouse
06/27 — Iowa City, Iowa — Gabe’s
06/28 — Minneapolis, Minnesota — Acadia
06/29 — Ames, Iowa — Ames Progressive
06/30 — Lincoln, Nebraska — The Bourbon Theatre
07/01 — Denver, Colorado — Sidekick’s
07/02 — Pocatello, Idaho — The Icon
07/03 — Seattle, Washington — The Mars Bar
07/06 — Stockton, California — Plea For Peace Center
07/07 — Monterey, California — Jose’s Lounge Underground
07/08 — Atascadero, California — Last Stage West
07/12 — Los Angeles, California — The Cat Club
07/14 — San Diego, California — The Soda Bar
07/15 — Roswell, New Mexico — The Unity Center
07/16 — Las Cruces, New Mexico — Equinox
07/17 — Denton, Texas — The Boiler Room
07/25 — Wilmington, North Carolina — Bottega Bar & Gallery
07/28 — Nashville, Tennessee — The Muse
07/30 — Beaufort, South Carolina — The House Of Tunes Music Hall
07/31 — Charlotte, North Carolina — Snug Harbor
08/01 — Asheville, North Carolina — Bobo Gallery
08/06 — Miami, Florida — Bardot

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About Clayton Perry