Thanks to the old adage about how we’re all six degrees of separation from each other, the two founding members, Cori Elliott (rhythm guitar) and Matthew Tunney (lead guitar, backing vocals) of up-and-coming Los Angeles, CA-Based rock trio the Vim Dicta first met at 2009 Coachella Festival. Elliott had recently moved from Austin, TX to the Los Angeles area, and at the time Tunney was the only musician she had met. As she mentions in this Q&A, Elliot had sent Tunney a Facebook message about a year after they had met, asking him if he’d like to jam sometime. Tunney agreed, and the two began recording bits and pieces of songs – a riff there, a sequence here – on a Tascam tape recorder, while in Tunney’s garage.
After writing their first song together, “Teaspoon,” they sent a demo of the track to Elliott’s mentor, and soon-to-be band manager Dan Nash, who according to Elliot was blown away by what they had put together. Realizing that they were on to something, Elliot and Tunney started seriously writing songs and auditioning drummers to help flesh out their sound – and inuring the auditions, it was pretty apparent that the Brooklyn-based (by way of Chicago) Chris Infusino (drums) was the guy they needed as he matched their musicianship and added something to the entire sound.
The relatively young Elliott (22), Tunney (21) and Infusino (28) have been together a little bit over a year, and in that time the band have been ambitious in creating a national presence for themselves as they’ve played over 160 live shows across Southern California, New York, and SXSW. Unlike countless other bands across the country who immediately run to the studio to record material with the hopes of a tour, the members of the Vim Dicta worked on perfecting their live sets which possess elements of prog rock, the blues, jazz and classic rock, and feel much like extended, jam sessions. As you can imagine, bloggers and other critics really responded to their live sets, writing quite a bit of breathless praise, comparing them to the likes of the Dead Weather, Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Mars Volta and even Santana. And after catching one of the band’s live sets at Piano’s not that long ago, I have to admit that the praise from my fellow bloggers and critics is absolutely warranted. For such a relatively young band, their self-assuredness is not only kind of unusual, it makes it hard to believe that they’re actually as young as they say they are. But more importantly, their live sets and live sound is seductive while really pack quite a punch.
Along with their quickly developing reputation for their live shows, the October release of the band’s second EP, Von Tango may well put the band on the national stage as it not only captures their live sound but reveals a couple of things – that although the material makes obvious nods to classic rock, the songwriting manages to be incredibly prog-rock based, if not modern, as it consists of several different movements, held together by hooks and an overarching mood; that although it’s obvious that the songs were actually written and rehearsed, they feel as though they capture three musicians with remarkable simpatico jamming and being blown away by what they’ve just did; and more importantly that their lead vocalist Cori Elliott may well be a star in the making.
In this Q&A I spoke to the members of the Vim Dicta about several things, including their writing process, which interestingly enough does involve quite a bit of jamming and feeling things out until they get to a finished song; and how much legendary bands such as Led Zeppelin, Cream and others have influenced their work, and of course, much more. Check it out below.
WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that it was the only thing you wanted to do?
Cori Elliott: I got into music because my best friend in elementary school told me he wanted to play guitar… I was very competitive, so I told my mom I wanted to learn guitar and began to take lessons. I think I knew I wanted to pursue music as a career about four years ago. Writing folk songs in my bedroom was really just a hobby all through high school. It wasn’t until I met Matt (the other guitar player) and we started writing together and him suggesting that we start a band, that I started to take it seriously. Also, meeting Dan Nash (our manger now) and him mentoring me definitely helped my inspiration for pursuing music.
Matthew Tunney: Always was passionately into whatever music I was into at any stage in my life. I wanted to become a musician after I’d first consciously went to a local rock show here in LA’s (now closed) Knitting Factory on Sunset [Blvd]. Two of the acts that night were particularly close in age to me at the time (12ish ); they were badass guitar players. Leather jackets, skinny black pants, surrounded by people that wanted a piece of them. It was impressive. I quickly made friends… and started competing.
Chris Infusino: My dad was a session/touring drummer back in the day for Barry White, Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, and others…he still had his kit when I started player at the age of 12. I knew it was gonna be my profession 4 years later.
WRH: Who are your influences?
CE: My influences are all over. I love Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Beatles, Doors, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Jack White, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Pixies, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Cocteau Twins, Janis Joplin, Velvet Underground and especially Jeff Buckley..but the list does go on…
MT: I follow the timeline of Rock n Roll. My guitar work is certainly influenced by the likes of Santana, Peter Green & Jimmy Page focused through Omar Rodriguez of The Mars Volta sensibilities. Guitar playing (especially soloing/improvisation) has come relatively easy to me, because as soon as i pick up guitar, that’s what I do! I noodle!
As far as songs and wordsmithing, Almost no help comes from good ol’ Santana. All of the best songs I write seem to come out of a period of me listening to Roy Orbison or the Everly Brothers. My lyrics are simple, poignant and quite “to the point.”
CI: Family & friends first off. John Bonham, Ronnie Vannucci, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, and about 1,000 other musicians, not just drummers either.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
CE: Nine Inch Nails, Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Vampire Weekend, Buena Vista Social Club, St. Vincent.
CI: Kings of Leon, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Captain Geech and the Shrimpshack Shooters.
WRH: How did the band meet? And when did you know that you had to do something together? How did you come up with the band name?
CE: Matt and I met at Coachella in 2009. He was dating my best friend’s sister at the time and we all stayed in the same room. I knew he played guitar and I didn’t know any other musicians at the time because I had moved to LA from Austin and hadn’t met many yet. I Facebook messaged him about a year later to jam and we ended up meeting in his garage and writing licks and bits of songs and recording them on his Tascam 8-track. We wrote this one latin based song called “Teaspoon” and at the time I was in contact with Dan. . .I sent him the track for some feedback and he went crazy over it. That’s when we decided that there might be something there. We found a drummer to jam with us and started rehearsing.
We came up with the band name by putting our personal names in an online anagram. I went through all the words and mixed and matched them. I thought the Vim Dicta sounded strong and sort of had this cryptic, mysterious air to it.
CI: [I] met them in Brooklyn, NY after getting a VERY early call to audition from our amazing manager, Dan Nash. Immediately after jamming with Matt & Cori at their loft. Not sure how the name was chosen.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
CE: Psycho Groove.
CI: Psychogroove with flavors of Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jack White, & Dick Dale.
WRH: The material on the Von Tango EP sonically seems to owe a great debt to jazz, the blues, classic rock and psychedelic rock– I think of Cream (because they were a trio after all), Led Zeppelin and even Soundgarden. How much has that influenced your work and your sound? Has your sound been compared to those bands before?
CE: We love all those genres so yes, they have definitely influenced our sound. A lot of our influences really were the curators of those genres so we appreciate them as much as we can and learn from them. We haven’t really been compared to many bands but people have noticed some of our influences in our music like Led Zeppelin.
CI: [I] think those bands play a fairly substantial role in our music, as we all listen to those bands. Yes it has.
WRH: I’ve obviously played the album a number of times and have seen you live during a set at Piano’s a few months back, and I’m impressed by how self-assured you guys sound both on the EP and live. Generally such self-assuredness comes a bit later for many musicians, making you guys unusual in that respect. Do you ever get that “holy shit, how old are you guys again?”/“no, you can’t be that age?” response from people?
CE: Thank you. Yes, we’ve definitely gotten that a lot. It’s very flattering. But honestly, we’re just focused and write/play what we feel is right to us.
CI: Haha!!! Yeah, there’s usually a fair number of cats that’ll come up to us at most shows with that “Holy Shit/Speechless” look..
WRH: The songs on the EP are complex and have quite a bit going on, and yet they sound like an extended jam session. How do you maintain that balance? And how do you know when you have a finished song?
CE: A lot of the time we think of songs in terms of parts and movements. But for the most part when we write either Matt or I will come up with a part and then show each other and sort of jam on it for a bit. A lot of the time I’ll sing gibberish over it until I come up with a melody I like and then listen to it over and over until I come up with lyrics. Some times we’ll bring each other finished parts and then just embellish. It depends on the song… we want to do what’s right for the song. To be honest, we just don’t think about it that much . . if it feels good, we keep the part.
CI: [A] balanced diet of Wheaties, and “The Force”. When we all look at each other after the 20th time of playing it, laugh, and play it another 20 times.
WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?
CE: Do what comes natural to you. Don’t try and change yourself because you think that will help you get more attention. Think outside the box, especially when it comes to getting yourself out there. The live show is very important..play out as much as possible, it’s a big part of growth and experience. Don’t give up!
CI: Best of luck…you get back what you put in, and DON’T GET DISCOURAGED!
WRH: Where do you see yourself in oh five or ten years?
CE: I see us with a strong, loyal fan base. We’ve put out a few albums that people dig, we’re touring and playing really wild places all over the world and our company we’ve started, PsychoGroove Media, is going strong.
CI: Hopefully the right side of the green grass, playing drums in the best fucking rock band on the planet.