Meeting up with VASCO DA GAMA proved two things to me; firstly, that their music is just as vibrant as they are, and secondly – perhaps most importantly – that their hearts are fully invested in what they’re doing.
These four mavericks pit themselves against the ‘realm of the ever-same’ by creating razor-sharp musical conundrums through abrasive instrumentation. There is no romance-drenched story that details their beginnings, merely them just being in the right place at the right time and spotting an eye for talent. It’s quite fitting really, considering how down-to-earth these guys are; “to begin with, directly and indirectly, we all knew each other and knew that we were good at what we do” states John Crawford (vocals), “it was all a really natural process” agrees John Still (bass).
Vasco’s music recounts the visceral eclectics of The Mars Volta, whilst smoothing the edges with groove-indulged hooks, “I wanted to start a band like The Dismemberment Plan and Faroquet” confirms Chris Lynn (guitar). They are an act who strive for the unconventional; just as soon as a melody starts to get predictable, their music slaps you back into obscurity courtesy of a jilted rhythm or howling vocal line. In a genre where the guitar riff is king, they bring to the forefront the powers of unpredictability by utilising rhythm instruments like drums as if they were on the same level. “I learnt a lot from Latin-American drumming and try to involve that as much as possible”, states David Kelly (drums). This Latin element of within their music is integral, not only to their song writing, but to their entire identity, as they inject cultural stimuli into a style of music that is notoriously impermeable to deviation.
Various sub-genres have been banded about regarding their style; post-hardcore, alt-prog, but most prominently is the phrase math-rock, a term that for all of its allure, isn’t the most accurate of definitions. John C harmonises this statement by saying, “genre classifications are always refining, and because there are a few more people playing math-rock, it’s almost become a dirty word.” The main problem with this classification is its connotations; “it implies that your thinking with your head but I much prefer the idea that you’re not trying to think” states Chris, “math-rock suggests that it’s very calculated and contrived, which is the opposite for our music,” agrees John C.
That’s not to say that they’re against this sentiment, just that the boundaries that are applied to genres are often misleading; “even if everyone is pigeonholing it, at least there’s several different pigeonholes being thrown around” comments John S, “we try to come up with new genre names, but have had no success as of yet.”, just as soon as these words are uttered, Chris suggests; “Latin spaz-math?”.
Like all intricate music, familiarity is key to its understanding, the more you listen to Vasco’s complex melodies, the more they make sense, as the supposedly fragmented elements come together to take one synchronised form. This theory of ‘learning to like’ is essential to their sound, “it’s funny what you can make catchy in your head, even with familiarity you’d expect the opposite result” expresses David, “we take something that we hear straight at first and slowly chip away at it, adding little kinds of weirdness all the time.”
How they have managed to remain such an underground phenomenon I will never understand, but with an EP as imminent as another tabloid phone scandal, I would be astounded if they didn’t get the attention that they quite obviously deserve.
Unfortunately, this time of evolution has turned into a juncture, as they are soon to lose their bassist, John, to Holland. Some bands would react in a negative or defensive manner when approached with this subject, for Vasco it is quite the opposite; “it couldn’t have happened at a better time, we’ve just recorded something that is a really good reflection of the past year and half’s work on the songs and gigs. I feel that it reflects the positive process; ‘the Still-era’” says David. John C. concludes by declaring, “It would have been a record of the past, but this gives it a bit more poignancy. It bookends it quite nicely.”