ARTS

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May 9, 2008

VHS or Beta pauses from tour, enters rock world with Comets

[img id="80586" align="alignleft"] VHS or Beta, the Louisville, KY band known for its soaring rock, dance punk, and French house–inspired albums Le Funk and Night Fire, recently released a disc called Bring on the Comets that integrates those elements into a more straightforward rock sound. Although the band is currently in the middle of a grueling spring tour with stops everywhere from Omaha to Buenos Aires, I was able to catch up with Craig Pfunder, the lead guitarist and vocalist for the band. We talked about the new album, the future of the music industry, and government misuse of religion.

Sierra Sterling: How’s the tour going so far?

Craig Pfunder: It’s good, but it’s grueling. We’re really cramming in a lot of shows in a short amount of time. We just got done doing 18 shows in 20 days. It’s good, but it’s tough sometimes. The drives are really long in America.

SS: Your sound seemed to change a lot on Bring on the Comets, from dance-electronica to more straightforward rock. Why did you decide to change directions like this?

CP: I don’t think it was that drastic of a change, but rather an obvious evolution of sound. Judging how different Night on Fire was from Le Funk, the change on Comets wasn’t that surprising. When I listen to Comets, I can still hear the dance elements of VHS or Beta. For us it was a real obvious change—we didn’t want to do a Night on Fire II.

SS: How have fans reacted to the new sound?

CP: The shows are bigger than they have ever been in terms of turnout. I think there’s an element of the fan base that’s into the darker, edgier part of Night on Fire, and they might be a little unhappy with the sound on Comets. But it’s just a record, and we’ll put out more records. If a fan is going to be like, “screw them,” I don’t think that’s appropriate.

SS: Comets streamed on MySpace for a while before it was released. This seems more and more common. The New Pornographers and Rilo Kiley did it, and some bands are releasing their albums online first, like Radiohead. Do you think this is the direction music is headed?

CP: I think what people are trying to do is create some kind of viral awareness of their music and offer an early preview. More and more, the record leaks anyway, so it’s going to stop being special for people to release stuff online. We weren’t really that excited about it, and we didn’t think we were doing anything special. I have a suspicion that it’s becoming less and less special for music listeners. I’m pretty negative about my predictions for the future of the music industry: Like, people think stealing is okay. We need to rediscover the inherent value of music. Until then it’s going to be different and hard.

SS: Despite the change in direction on your latest album, some of the tracks are still so dance-able. Do you want them to be used in remixes?

CP: We already have a 12-inch remix for “Burn It All Down,” there are three mixes on there by a credible producer, and some remixes for “Can’t Believe A Single Word.” We’ve always been a band into 12” vinyl dance remixes. We wanted to do a remix project where people could download samples; we’re working on getting the stems for that. Even fans can get an opportunity to remix.

SS: “Burn It All Down” has really upbeat instrumentation, but it seems pretty heavy, lyrically. Lyrics aren’t something you’ve always used, so is there a special meaning behind these lyrics?

CP: Lyrics should be something the listener has the first crack at interpreting. “Burn It All Down” is a pretty obvious song about the misuse of religion by government, but we’re not pointing fingers at any one person.

SS: Will VHS or Beta stay on the rock path or take another new direction?

CP: We’re going to try to let it happen to us instead of forcing it. Part of the enjoyment of music is the practice of creating it and seeing how it happens. I don’t want it to feel forced.

SS: Anything else you’d like to say?

CP: We’re excited to play Chicago. It’s the last stop on our tour, and we’re gonna make it a good one.

You can see VHS or Beta in its element May 10 at the Empty Bottle. (1035 North Western Avenue,+21)