This year, we are lining up some amazingly diverse, talented and exciting artists for our In Depth with the Artist series, and to kick it off, we are psyched to introduce VTG.
Known for his killer live performances, and beautiful blend of rock, electro and pop, VTG (Lawrence) has been hard at work the past few years on his latest album, Dance Floor Game while DJing and performing all over the west coast and Japan.
In the interview, hear how he got started (very late!) in music, how sheer force of will can replace, if not supplement, innate talent, how his music has evolved into Dance Floor Game‘s pounding futuristic electro-rock feel that puts him in the top of ‘amazing bands you haven’t heard of…yet’, and of course, his simple advice he has for musicians of all types.
Junkyard Arts: how did the VTG revolution begin? have you always considered yourself a musician or was there a pivotal time when you said “I’m going to do this.”
Lawrence: VTG started as a backlash to working with other musicians. I couldn’t handle putting my sweat into a band and having it fall apart because of other people’s bullshit. I know that I can rely on myself – that’s all I need – and that’s why you won’t see any other permanent figures in the band anytime soon. Beyond that, the music is so personal, it’s difficult to find someone that understands me and shares the same sentiments.
You by VTG
As far as a pivotal moment… I relive it every time I hear music that hits me emotionally. I’m feeling it right now listening to Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence and Shake the Disease.
JYA: where did you get your musical training from and how has that affected you now that you are years past school and into your career?
L: Growing up, I was never musically trained. I started playing guitar late, around fifteen and did the punk band thing into my twenties. Through a very long string of seemingly unrelated occurrences, I ended up getting the opportunity to apply to the Berklee College of Music. So – I lied through my teeth on my application… I had a friend write a letter saying they had been my music teacher for years and that it would be in Berklee’s interested to accept me.
JYA: hahaha I feel like I should preface that statement by saying “Junkyard Arts does not endorce cheating to get ahead…unless it works and noone gets hurt” – but I guess that isn’t much of a deterrent.
L: I still don’t know how, but I got in. Shortly thereafter, I took my entrance exams and scored all zeros if I remember correctly. But, they already had my money and I was in…following that, I just worked my ass off. Seven to nine classes a semester, days with little to no sleep in the music production studios and a furious hatred for ear training and conducting homework.
I learned a lot at Berklee and I’m really proud to have gone through that experience, but I’m not the type of musician that sits down and oozes melodies. Ever song I write is a product of sheer force of will. It’s not talent, it’s the ability to lock myself in a room and say, “I’m not leaving until this is done – and it’s perfect.” That’s how I write, it sucks and it’s rewarding at the same time.
JYA: It’s interesting to hear someone say that sheer force of will and practice got you this far – its refreshing really. We are so used to hearing people say that they have a ‘gift’, or that they’ve been doing such and such since they were a child. Good to hear you can get ahead just by not giving up.
Can you give me an idea as to how you start the song writing process? is it the lyrics first, then music? the opposite? neither?
L: I almost always produce the music first. Then come the lyrics. I have a little black book full of poems and lyrics that I carry with me and after I’ve got a song idea I sit and thumb through it seeing if I’ve got any matches. Sometimes, the song itself has such a strong feeling already, that I pen up lyrics on the spot. Every once in a while I write something and nothing seems to fit with it, so I’ll just release it as an instrumental. “Electro Angel” was like that off the upcoming album. Songs are about conveying emotion and most of the time lyrics are part of the package, but occasionally they just get in the way.
JYA: Your songs have become more and more layered with harmonizing vocals and levels of beats that are more complex than your previous work. how long does it take you to compose a song and is it very structured and purposeful or is your process more fluid and relaxed?
L: It takes me anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to take a song from idea to completion, most falling into the four to eight month range. I usually record a quick idea in a few days and then I let it sit for a while. Usually the vocal harmonies come at the end of the recording process and often times, are the last layer of the finished song. Overall, the process is very fluid, though not necessarily relaxed.
JYA: You’ve been super busy DJing shows throughout San Fran – do you often play your own stuff, is it all original or are you mixing instrumentals with current music?
L: My DJ sets are all over the place! Lately, I’ve been working a lot with my other band, “Dancefloor Executives”, and our sets are very hard Electro House with lots of “oh! I know that song… what’s it called?” moments mixed in as well as originals. VTG sets often contain snippets of new tracks that I’m working on. It’s a great way to see if the song is worth finishing or trashing. For the VTG sets specifically, I gravitate towards a more moody experience. Think Portishead mixed with The Prodigy and you’ll get the idea. I’m really digging some of the remixes of Dave Gahan’s songs, hard and moody.
Goodbye (Forever Remix)by VTG
JYA: how is your stage show for VTG different than your DJing – and do you think you will continue the DJ work once Dance Floor Game takes off like it is anticipated to do?
L: The VTG live act is a straight up Rock n’ Roll show with an electronic element to it. I sing and perform with a live band, live drummer, guitarist, etc… I’m really into both and I think I’ll let the fans tell me what they’d like to see more, but I anticipate a few live shows in 2011 and possibly a small West Coast tour.
JYA: where did the idea for Dance Floor Game come from? why the name? and what kind of promotion can we see from this latest album? any shows we can put on the calendar?
L: Dance Floor Game is actually a concept album revolving around what I think music might sound like in the five to ten year period ahead of us. It’s definitely got a dark twist to it and floats around the theme of societal degradation and hedonism. There’s a lot of sarcasm and role-playing in terms of the personality of the “singer” in each song. I often write from different points of view and that’s really apparent in Dance Floor Game. The track “12 Steps to Relapse” is a great example. The album name itself is something I came up with to describe what I see happening at dance clubs. It describes the interplay between a girl and a guy and the sexuality, success, and failure that sometimes follows. It’s very predatory. That’s how I’d describe the album, predatory and animalistic. Towards the end of January I’ll start to premiere songs on some of my favorite online radio shows. Sign up for the mailing list and I’ll keep you up to date! Shows should be coming later in the year.
JYA: Your influences, early on seemed pretty clear, but Dance Floor Game has taken on a new direction that is far more recognizable as VTG than anyone else. Who would you say is inspiring you lately? and what caused this major shift in your musical styling?
L: Dance Floor Game is actually a return to my roots, dance music, specifically. The last EP, Love is Letting Go, was a very targeted process. I wanted to get into an uncomfortable genre (rock) and see what I could do with it. I wanted a pop oriented rock album, that was my goal and I think I met it. I laugh when I read reviews and there are so many references to INXS and Nine Inch Nails for that particular release… and then I smile, because that’s exactly what I was going for.
Following that release, I had gotten heavily into dance music again. I was listening to The Prodigy, IAMX, Dave Gahan, Moonbootica and a bunch of obscure remixers and I got the old itch again – hard dance music – dirty, sweaty, dark, club shit. So I took “that” sound, whatever it is that makes up VTG and I wrapped it up in something new, a mix between what I’ve been listening to now and where I see music going, five to ten years from now. There’s an underlying futuristic theme to the album and I think it comes through it you listen closely.
JYA: How do you view the state of pop and electronic music today?
L: That’s a loaded question… From an artist perspective, I think it’s very transitional and I wonder how can I make a living off of this? Can I at all? The Internet has opening the door to so much awesome new music, but in the same breath, people are so inundated with music nowadays, that I think maybe it’s lost some of it’s worth. Growing up, discovering a new band was such an amazing experience, one that was life changing. Now, I discovery one everyday, and often I’m so overloaded, I don’t give it a proper chance.
From a listening perspective, I’m sick of the insincerity I feel from Hip Hop and Indie Rock and I’m sick of lazy producers pumping out the same old shit. I’m hungry for something new and something that makes me feel. Whatever it is, just make it honest and we can take it from there. Electronic music is really the one main genre that isn’t quite as stagnant as the rest. I think we’ll continue to see more interesting things coming out of that corner in the future.
JYA: Any advice for budding musicians out there?
L: Don’t try and emulate your favorite bands. Take what you feel from their music and create something “you”.
JYA: sounds good to me. Let’s boogie on outta here…
And now for the not-so-same questions we always ask!
what equipment do you use regularly?
Ableton Live, Access Virus TI, Vengeance Sound Producer Suite, CLA Waves Plugins, Distortion FX, Mesa Boogie Amps, Shure Microphones and countless VST instruments and effects.
your favorite song to listen to for inspiration?
IAMX – Your Joy Is My Low, Dave Gahan – Saw Something, Nine Inch Nails – Kinda I Want To
bands you listen to other than your own?
The Prodigy – Anything, Michael Woods – Anything, IAMX, Coil
favorite place to travel to?