Breaking: Viet Cong
Matt Flegel discusses the band's beginnings with last year's "Cassette", avoiding the post-punk pigeonhole, and the deconstructed bleakness of their new self-titled record.
MEMBERS: Daniel Christiansen (guitar), Matt Flegel (vocals, bass), Scott Munro (guitar, keys), and Mike Wallace (drums)
FROM: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: the rhythm section of Women—the best semi-heralded indie-rock band of the past decade—plus a one-time touring member of Chad VanGaalen’s mobile menagerie
NOW: a near-perfect, self-titled debut LP, recorded in a rural Ontario barn-turned-studio with Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh, out January 20 on Jagjaguwar
In the dead of summer, Viet Cong’s “debut,” a tour-only collection of songs assembled on the fly (and appropriately deemed “Cassette”, scare quotes and all, as if it knew it was a piecemeal creature birthed simply to see if it could survive), found wide release with Brooklyn label Mexican Summer. Part Bauhaus cover, part Talking Heads homage, and all lo-fi pastiche, “Cassette” clearly took up the mantle of whatever it was that Women—the band Viet Cong’s founding members emerged from—were doing to and for the idea of indie rock before dissolving in 2012.
Less than six months later, Viet Cong has finished an official, self-titled debut, and it’s an opaque beast, slab-solid and flecked with more menace than its predecessor. Matt Flegel, who with former bandmate Mike Wallace concocted Viet Cong in the wake of Women, describes the short but stark progression between records: “We touched on some of the bleaker elements on “Cassette”, but that was literally just a shit-mix of songs, basically us trying to figure out what we wanted to sound like…[Viet Cong] is definitely more cohesive.”
“It’s long and it’s drawn-out, but it’s bleak and…rewarding. Everything leads you somewhere.”
If you’ve been following along with Flegel and Wallace since Women, that progression into thicker gloom isn’t such a revelation. As their previous band pushed down broken avenues of deconstructed rock, bleakness seemed to creep in more and more. One couldn’t be blamed for assuming that darkness is now a modus operandi of theirs, especially since Women’s end coincided with the tragic death of their friend and creative cohort, guitarist Christopher Reimer.
To be sure, Viet Cong is a pummeling deluge of brooding, gut-driven guitar rock, but Flegel is far from a dreary guy.
“Subconsciously, lyrically, a lot of it has to do with death?” he poses to no one in particular. “But it’s more of an outlet…a good vehicle to be able to toss those emotions, get them out of your system so you can walk around with a smile on your face.”
Influenced as much by William Gibson as ’70s German rock, Viet Cong is bent more on relentless transformation than fitting into a prescribed lineage. “We get ‘post-punk’ a lot. I mean, I’m okay with that because it’s such a vague term. I guess it is a genre in a way, but you can’t compare PiL to Swell Maps, you know? I like things to get super hypnotic. I like playing the same thing over and over until it starts to shape-shift in your ears. A lot of it is influenced by German music from the ’70s. Very Kraut-y…which I think is racist, actually. Speaking of genre names: ‘Krautrock’—probably the most racist one.”
In turn, Flegel’s band is one that, as it actively mutates, sounds unstuck in time, never content to rest in one defining characteristic. Even describing the record feels practically futile for the songwriter: “It’s long and it’s drawn-out, but it’s bleak and…rewarding. Everything leads you somewhere. It’s dark. It’s a night-driver.”
Fair enough. Viet Cong is, in so many words, about the journey, not the destination. FL