Written by Kasey Caminiti
Selling out the iconic Bowery Ballroom in one of the biggest music meccas in the world, New York City, is no easy feat. For the three-piece band VHS Collection, they sold it out just a few short weeks after releasing their newest single “Wide Awake.”
The unsigned band consists of three best friends, James Bohanon, Conor Cook, and Nils Vanderlip. The guys spent the first two weeks of 2017 in a London studio with legendary producer Chris Zane (Passion Pit, St. Lucia, Friendly Fires) recording “Wide Awake” and will be going back in a couple of weeks to make the rest of their highly anticipated debut album. “We’re about four tracks deep in a 12-track album. It’ll come out at the end of this summer,” lead vocalist James Bohanon said.
The band was formed just a few short years ago. “We could barely fill the Rockwood and Bowery Electric in New York City at first. We played Mercury Lounge and mostly filled it up and then came back a few months later and completely sold it out. It was awesome validation,” keyboardist Nils Vanderlip says of their journey so far.
VHS Collection sat down with DuJour to discuss their most memorable performances (good and bad) and their surprising music choices.
What has been your most memorable show so far?
Nils: Last year we played Lollapalooza 2016 at noon, the earliest set time. We were the only show at that time so everyone who was at the festival ended up making their way to our stage. It was pretty cool.
James: What about selling out Bowery Ballroom? That was pretty sweet.
Conor: What about when I fell off the stage at a show in D.C.? I had been getting some shit for not having more of a stage presence by the guys. So, during the show, I went to stand on a speaker for a guitar solo. I had new sneakers on and I did a full-on barrel roll off the stage. There was a crowd of girls and they all moved out of the way so I could fall. I was still plugged in so I had to keep playing!
James: For a minute, I saw him on the speaker, totally shredding, and I was so proud. I turn back around and I see him on his back, still shredding! I had no idea he fell at all; I thought he was trying to one-up me on stage!
Tell me a little about your creative process.
Connor: It’s always a little different. Usually we all write independently at first. We’ll come up with ideas for lyrics, sounds and melodies and then we reconvene at this house in Milbrook, New York. Hunker down for four or five days. We pass around our ideas and talk about them and figure out which are the best ideas.
James: Basically we spend four or five days with man sweat, dip, dogs, barbecues and spend ten hours a day tossing around our ideas.
How would you describe your sound?
James: A little dark, fun, dancey and silly. We’re able to filter a pop-nuance through the VHS sound but we have a good combination between dark vocals, synth and guitar. I think our sound is interesting and dark and weird.
Conor: There’s a lot going on in our music, for better or worse.
How have the songs been translating into live performances?
Conor: We spend a lot of time figuring out how we are going to play songs live. The music is weird and there’s a lot of production that goes into them. So we work on back-end stuff a lot more than we actually practice playing live.
Nils: The songs we played at the Bowery, we played probably four times.
James: But that’s something we’re working on! Playing live shows is a two-way street. We want the audience to enjoy themselves. We’re getting more comfortable on stage, bringing a certain energy to the shows and working on the way we vibe with each other and the audience.
How did it feel having your song “Lean” featured in Shameless?
James: It was after one of our 12-day sessions, we all watched it and were amped. It was crazy and also super validating. You’re seeing William H. Macy on Shameless and hearing our song playing in the background.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
James: The National, Modest Mouse, The 1975, LCD Soundsystem.
Conor: Miike Snow, MGMT, Phoenix, Flume, and Daft Punk.
Nils: I agree with all that. And Phish.
What is a band or artist that fans would be surprised to hear you listen to?
James: Hamilton. Funny story. Spotify came up with these new feature for artist’s pages “play your favorite new track!” I thought this meant, put what you’ve been listening to on the top of your feed. So I put the Hamilton soundtrack. I started getting calls asking why I was promoting songs from Hamilton on the VHS Collection Spotify page. I didn’t realize.