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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Name Blame

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday June 25, 07:03 pm
Supposedly controversial moniker aside, Viet Cong rocks


Friday 26

Bess Gardens (7 pm)

Amigos (10:30 pm)

In the most polite of terms, Viet Cong’s publicist tells me I’m not allowed to ask about the Calgary band’s supposedly controversial name. The band was hit hard in the music press after being kicked off a bill at Oberlin College in Ohio, having to go back on their heels to defend themselves in a rigged game. Now, the publicist tells me, he just tries to get them to stay off the Internet.

Having to avoid the subject doesn’t bother me at all — because to be honest, I thought it was a stupid thing for people to attack. The name is obviously meant to be ironic, alongside other monikers in rock history that come from a dark place, like Joy Division, The New Pornographers, or Dead Kennedys. Even Steely Dan was named after the vibrator from William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch.

There are far better things to talk to Viet Cong about — like their latest album, which has been garnering universal praise and has them on a whirlwind tour to keep the momentum going.

In fact, when I catch up with Scott “Monty” Monroe, he’s restringing a guitar in a parking lot in Connecticut. I congratulate him on making the Polaris Music Prize longlist, which came out the day before our interview.

I’ve kind of been off the Internet for a little bit, but I just saw that and I was pretty stoked,” he says. “I’ve always liked the Polaris Prize. I think they’re doing a good thing… I’m happy to get on the longlist. I hope we get on the shortlist. I played the gala once with Chad VanGaalen and it was super fun. We got in a food fight with Patrick Watson’s band and got so drunk on vodka. Grey Goose, I think.”

The album in question is a self-titled, 7-song feast, building on the sounds and momentum they had with their first release, Cassette. Most writers focus on how bleak and gloomy the music is, which is true, but there’s also an undercurrent of pop music sensibility underneath that balances their sound. It’s never overexposed, but it provides a ray of light through dissonant clouds.

If we have a pop song, and we’re jamming and one of us gets bored with it, then we’ll talk about why we’re bored with it,” says Monroe of the band’s process. “Then we’ll try to figure out something more interesting.”

The lyrics have also been cited as being particularly forlorn, which again, may be sort of true, but I tell Monroe that I also hear humour and irony in them.

You’re definitely not out to lunch,” he assures me. “I think it’s ‘cause you’re Canadian though. Nobody else gets it, I don’t think. It’s like, if you can’t laugh at a situation you’re in, then things are probably really bad.”

The song “March of Progress” deals with themes of consumerism and relationships, one being a metaphor for the other, and a comment on the wasteful way we treat both. I tell Monroe that I rail on about things like consumerism all the time, but that in the end, as I stock up on things like books or records, my hypocrisy knows no bounds.

I’m like any other reasonably conscientious person too,” he laughs. “I, like, try to do things when I can, but it’s not really like… I’m not like some eco-crusader. Like, we fly everywhere. Not everywhere, but a lot, as far as a job goes. Which is horrible for the environment.

On the bleaker side of that though, I truly believe that things gotta get a lot worse before they’re gonna get better. I don’t think anybody’s gonna do anything until things are actually… until there’s actually a city on the coast that’s completely gone and we have like 20 million refugees from something crazy, and then, that’s when action, probably too late, will be taken. Maybe being a worse human right now is actually being a better human in the long run.”

Monroe is being funny — but also sincere at the same time, which seems to be the pattern that’s emerging. Viet Cong’s live presence carries this equilibrium of light and dark as well. While the band takes the music seriously, they try not to take themselves so seriously at a show, stepping into light between-song banter and goofing off by doing things like playing a Jimi Hendrix-style Happy Birthday for someone in the audience. While the music may have themes and construction that could bum someone out, the crowds at the shows seem more energized than anything.

Everybody seems to be having a good time,” Monroe says. “This is the first band I’ve been in where there’s been a mosh pit at most of the shows. I’ve been in some punk bands and stuff, but not where there’s been people thrashing around and getting kind of crazy. In this band, we’ve had a pretty consistently rowdy crowd. I hope they’re having fun.”

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