The Vacant Lots Q&A – Interview – 2015

Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen create their own brand of Psych Rock. By combining neo-psych, drone, post-punk, shoegaze, and a whole host of electronic psychedelic trickery, the minimalistic layered sound is an enthralling mix. Their all-encompassing live show hypnotizes – producing powerful lyrics, raw riffs and motoric beats that you can’t shake away. I spoke to the American duo before their show at The Joker to find out more about The Vacant Lots.
Where are you from?
[Brian] We originated from Burlington, Vermont in the States. And we are now living in Boston.
How did you both meet?
[Brian] In 2009 we met through the local music scene, and from there we spent about a year demoing, building our sound and writing music. It wasn’t till 2010 when we started to do shows, going on tour with Spectrum in the United States. We put out our first single in 2011, ‘Confusion’, with Mexican Summer (label) and just recently we have bought out our début album with Sonic Cathedral.
How much were you influenced by where you grew up?
[Brian] When we both started, there was this art collective called Tik Tik who would put on events, screen print custom posters for acts and also book a lot of out of town musicians. We got to play with Women (now Viet Cong) through them which was great, they really connected a lot of groups in Burlington. We then moved away out of Burlington toward the East coast to Boston, New York and Montreal.
[Jared] It wasn’t so much the music scene in Burlington, it was the amount of space in that city that allowed us to work. No one would ever bother you. Our influences mostly come from outside sources like literature, film, and music.
What are your main musical influences?
[Jared] Early 50s rock’n’roll; Bo Diddly, Little Richard, Steven J Hawkins. I really love Native American music, the drumming in particular has really influenced the style of guitar playing I have been working on. Some of those patterns are very simple but also very powerful and I have been trying to work that into my guitar playing. Staple influences are Suicide, Velvet Underground, as well as some elcetronic stuff like New Order, Kraftwark.
[Brian] I definitely lean to more electronic sounds. From an 80s neo-wave scene to New York with groups like ESG, the stuff LCD Soundsystem has been mirroring. I love that kind of stuff – it’s very much like the Blues in a sense that it is stripped down to almost nothing happening, nothing changes but it is still compelling.
Anything specific literature and film wise?
 [Jared] I particularly like films of Ingmar Bergman, Robert E Pearson and In literature I Tony O’Niel, Jerry Stall. A lot of the lyrics are inspired by cinematic or literacy influences. It’s amazing what you can find through these different art forms – then funnelling it all through this one medium of rock’n’roll.
What made you start making music?
[Brian] It was when we first met that we realised that was the direction we wanted to go. I entered it in a way a lot of people do, in the school band playing percussion as well as being in the orchestra, learning the classical side of things. When we started playing, I was on a drum kit and then moved towards adding a lot of electronic elements. For me, there was never that point where I thought this (being a band) was it and will work. The first time we ever met, Jared come over to mine with someone to jam, a day or so around my 15th birthday. It was immediate – I probably still have the email were he responded back about how the chemistry was really good between us, but not so much the other person. For a while we tried lots of different options to get another person in, either on guitar or bass, but it was always so clear cut that the two of us worked really well.
[Jared] There was this point on this first jam where I waited for this other guy to turn his back, I looked at Brian and we ended it there. I came back the next day and it was instantaneous, the chemistry was just there, on a really intuitive level where we didn’t have to speak much and songs kept coming out. From there we have been a very collaborative song writing team, working in the limitations of what two people can do with sound. We reduced everything to the fewest elements possible to create the most maximum sound we could.
[Brian] We may have lots of different influences, one of the most important things for us was our vision of creating music and our own sound, pushing each other to go further. We are still doing it to this day – we have just finished recording our second album a few weeks ago in New York City with Ted Young (Rolling Stones, Kurt Vile, Moby, Sonic Youth), who also worked on the first album (Departure), and it’s really pushing the music further.
How do you find the recording process?
 [Jared] With the most recent record, it was definitely more efficient. With the previous album we had rough outlines of what we were going to do, and a lot of the time spent was trying to figure out what we going to add and will it work. You do have to leave a certain amount of the time to experimentation, as a lot of the best things come from just tuning things on and it just worked in a spur-of-the-moment sort of way. With this record, especially on the electronic side, I was able to program and get it exactly the way I wanted it. Obviously guitar, vocals, some auxiliary and solos where done after as we hadn’t worked them out yet, but most days we would start and DI [digitally input] in the stuff we had already perfected outside of the studio – which was reassuring in that way as we had that foundation and we could spend more time getting the other bits how we wanted them.
Is there going to be a release soon?
 [Jared] Just recently, Sonic Cathedral have put out this 7” with an Alan Vega (Suicide) remix of ‘6AM’ and an Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre/The Warlocks) remix of ‘Never Satisfied’. Hopefully we will be putting out another EP a few months down the road with some of the new material.
What has been a musical eye-opener?
[Jared] I was 15/16, not starting to play the guitar till 18 – music had always produced a powerful effect on me, but I was watching a TV programme and Iggy & The Stooges came on and my whole fucking life changed. I remember going to The Wiz in New Jersey and buying Raw Power, it was almost excessive how much I listened to it. I had never heard anything like that. I would say you have to go through a lot of bullshit and shitty music to get to the stuff you love.
[Brian] I remember seeing The Cramps footage when they were playing in a mental hospital and thinking “Man, that is some shit!”, completely switched my perception.
[Jared] Brian is classically trained percussionist, but also the best drummer I have ever seen. Having that basis to work from really helped shape the music, especially in the collaborative process. He also has an engineering background, and makes our own effect pedals and a lot of the gear we use.
[Brian] I have a set up at my place now were I make pedals and little synths – from a cost stand point as well as an experimental one. A lot of the people who make these as a hobby share how to do it online. A quick google search and you can find archives of people perfectly documenting the schematics, drilling templates, screen print designs, everything –to the point where they have almost made it for you, you just got to buy the supplies. In creating new sounds, there are so many possibilities. You can take a familiar circuit like the Jimi Hendrix overdrive pedal, you can move things around so easily and get some completely different sounds with very little effort.
[Jared] I’ll say to Brian that I have just tested this Fender Champ and that I really love the tone. He’s like just give me two weeks. Which is mental!
What are you future plans?
[Jared] We will finish this tour around the UK and Europe, then complete the second record and get that out soon. We have some shows with The Hookworms in the States along the East coast, but we’ll manly focus on the record. Then the cycle continues.