Milwaukee-based alt-pop band Vinyl Theatre is no stranger to life on the road. Following the release of their delightfully energetic and synth-tastic 2014 debut album, Electrogram, they toured with acts like Twenty One Pilots, Smallpools, and Magic Man. Currently the band is traveling around the U.S. with fellow Fueled By Ramen labelmates Against the Current as part of the Gravity World Tour.
I had the opportunity to catch up over the phone with Vinyl Theatre’s lead singer, Keegan Calmes, who shared how the band’s fall tour is going so far, the inspiration behind their current single, “Breaking Up My Bones,” and the importance and pressure of social media.
Just to kick things off, I found Electrogram to be a really fun listen.
Thank you, I appreciate it. We actually took quite a few older songs and new songs and kind of put them together–it’s what Electrogram is. It’s a bit of a compilation, really.
Being that the album is pretty high energy, while working on these songs, did you keep in mind how they would translate to your live show?
Yeah, I think we almost always have [that] in mind. A lot of the times they’re written because … we’re just a high energy group of guys. When we get on stage, it’s hard to contain. The high energy songs kind of represent who we are, so we always have it in mind when we write.
You guys are on tour with Against the Current. How did that kind of come together?
They’re labelmates of ours now, so when they got picked up, they booked this tour and offered us this spot and immediately we’re like, alright, this is perfect. Let’s jump on and so far, it’s been great. It’s only been four or five days, but it’s been really good.
How have the audiences been so far?
Actually they’re very new to us. A lot of times we’ll tour – we toured with Twenty One Pilots, we went out with Magic Man and Small Pools, both separate tours and The Mowgli’s after that. And all those tours, it was a lot of the same indie rock fan base. And we hit a lot of the same cities, and it wasn’t redundant at all, don’t get me wrong, it was just kind of close to the same market. And we’ve been hitting these markets with Against the Current, and it’s a very different fan base. It’s been fantastic for us; they’ve been really really accepting. And some of the shows really exceeded our expectations, and so it’s been really good.
What has been your favorite song to perform during this latest tour?
Well, “Breaking Up My Bones” is the single we’re running with right now, but I love “Gold.” I think “Gold,” for us, goes the extra mile, both lyrically and instrumentally. It’s so hard, because I love all the songs. I’m just way too biased. “Breaking Up My Bones” is a crowd pleaser, so it’s hard to say no to that.
Speaking of your current single, can you talk a little about the inspiration behind “Breaking Up My Bones”?
Actually, we haven’t really openly talked about it too much. But it’s just about over saturation in local markets for bands and then on the radio. “You’ve got a funny way of hanging around/A thief in the modern age of rhythm and sound” – it’s funny how sounds in songs and messages have a way of sticking around. A lot of the time choruses and melodies are just ripped off and stolen. … It’s kind of just our statement against it, I guess. We haven’t really talked that openly about it before, but I guess I’ve just hit the wall recently where I’m just really tired of people blatantly ripping off other songs. It’s kind of annoying. But yeah, that’s what the song’s about.
You mentioned touring with Twenty One Pilots. What did you learn from being out on the road with them?
One thing we’ve definitely learned from them is how to treat people. Not that we were jerks, ‘cause we weren’t, but just the way that they carry themselves and they treat their crew and they treat their fans. I think that was the biggest lesson we learned was just how to, I don’t know, just how to be a touring band and how to treat people. Because they said that they had, in a couple instances, toured with bands or groups or had shows with bands that didn’t really treat them right and maybe fans weren’t treated right and they hold themselves to a higher standard, and I think we do too.
So we took that from them and I guess performance-wise, they’re so mesmerizing that we definitely rethought a few things in our set. We’ve done a lot of recreating ourselves, because [Twenty One Pilots are] so unique in this industry. You need to stand out and do certain things, but you have to do it with taste and class, and they do it perfectly.
One of the bands that you guys have talked about being influenced by are The Killers, and I was wondering which one of their songs has influenced you the most in your songwriting?
Just one song? I’ll tell you what, it’s a hard one, because I’m so dedicated, I love them so much. … So maybe I’d say “All These Things That I’ve Done” would be the top song, ’cause we wrote a song called “Shine On,” and there’s a lyric in that song that goes “I want to shine on in the hearts of man” in “All These Things That I’ve Done.” So I’d probably say that that song is most influential. But just that record, Sam’s Town, and Hot Fuss – those two records are just above and beyond good.
How did you guys decide on the name Vinyl Theatre?
Well, the vinyl aspect, which is ironic – we don’t have a vinyl out – we haven’t had a chance to print one, but once we do, I think it will finally come full circle and we’ll feel complete. But the vinyl aspect of us was just that gravitational pull of a band that makes you want to buy one – makes you want to buy a vinyl record.
Those bands to me are The Killers, bands like Local Natives, to me, at least … and that really close bond we just want to have that with our fans. And it’s not about like the bond of, “Oh, I want you to buy our vinyl.” We don’t even have a vinyl. What we want is you to have that same connection with us – just that you feel so close to them that you want them on vinyl, you want them on the highest quality [that] you can hear them. And Theatre is just [that] we’re very high energy and theatrical, so I guess that plays into it. We just wanted something that with two words could just convey who we are.
Social media has been big for you guys, as far as building your fan base and signing with Fueled By Ramen. How important does that impact continue to be as you and your bandmates move forward in your career?
It’s really important and it’s frustrating, at the same time. It’s the easiest way to connect with your fans, it definitely is, but there’s a lot of pressure. There’s pressure from, you know, management, and this and that, just to always stay connected and to respond to everything. … But [with] social media, we’re trying to put out quality content for people to see and there’s a lot of pressure to put out sub-par media, really, to be honest. Just to keep up with the amount of noise out there.
And that’s another frustrating thing to us, why just put out some junk for people to see when it’s not something you put your heart into or your time into? Recently, we’ve really been stepping up the kind of quality media we have to put out and responding to fans in more unique ways. I don’t know, it’s a double-edged sword, social media.
Following this tour, what’s next for Vinyl Theatre?
Well, we are working on a new record. Whether or not we can record one, we don’t know. We’re working on a new record, we have a lot of new songs, a ton of new material. We’ve probably written 30-40 new songs that we love. But, you know, records don’t always include 30-40 new songs. [laughs] So right now, we’re kind of picking what we like and just working on that. And as soon [as we] know whether we’re going to put out another single or a record, we’re gonna probably plan out a tour in spring or summer here.
Vinyl Theatre recently announced that they’ll be hitting the road next year with Finish Ticket for Live Nation’s Ones to Watch tour. For more information, please visit vinyltheatre.com.
Upcoming fall 2015 tour dates with Against the Current
11.07 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues – Voodoo Room
11.08 – Scottsdale, AZ – Pub Rock
11.10 – Houston, TX – Walters
11.11 – Dallas, TX – House of Blues – Cambridge Room
11.13 – Nashville, TN – Rocketown
11.14 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade – Purgatory
11.15 – Orlando, FL – The Social
11.17 – Vienna, VA – Jammin Java
11.19 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
11.20 – New York, NY – Marlin Room @ Webster Hall
11.21 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
Photos courtesy of Fueled By Ramen.
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