“Jake and I were hanging out at a bar we frequent, and we went out to have a smoke,” explains Just Like Vinyl vocalist/guitarist Thomas Erak of his band’s name. “We got into a debate over band names, and a homeless man at a nearby bus stop turned around declaring, ‘You guys want a band name?! Just Like Vinyl – ‘cause music was better when it was on vinyl!’ We turned to each other – both kind of digging the man’s suggestion – but by the time we could turn around to thank him he was nowhere to be found. No bus went by, nothing. We still believe he was actually an angel in disguise sent from the rock gods to name our band.”
An unorthodox way to name a band for sure, but Just Like Vinyl are a different kind of group. From the origins of the band name to the recording of their latest album, Black Mass [August 28, Superball Music], things rarely go according to plan. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
By the time Erak’s iconic, post-hardcore band The Fall Of Troy disbanded in 2010, they had released four studio albums, two EPs, toured with numerous bands including The Deftones and Coheed And Cambria, and even released a song on Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock – and many people wondered what Erak would do next. Never one to rest on his laurels, he quickly set about refocusing his musical vision and assembling a new group of musicians who would share his creative goals. Co-founding the band with Jake Carden [The Filthy None], Just Like Vinyl got right to work. “I had known that The Fall Of Troy would be coming to an end, so I started playing with Jake and the other guys,” states Erak, “it was very refreshing to be playing with new people making new music.” Just Like Vinyl then rounded out the line-up with friends from the local Seattle scene, bassist Henry Batts and drummer Jay Beaman.
Despite Erak returning to his role as vocalist and guitarist, Just Like Vinyl bears little musical resemblance to The Fall Of Troy. While not shying away from complex riffs or blistering guitar solos, Just Like Vinyl refuses to be defined by the guitar pyrotechnics that drove The Fall Of Troy and instead relies on cohesive group songwriting, with Erak and Carden bringing in the basic ideas and all four members fleshing out the songs in the studio together. The band incorporates diverse influences such as Nirvana, Queens Of The Stone Age, Led Zeppelin, Faith No More, At The Drive-In and Metallica to create a sound wholly their own. “We love all kinds of music,” muses Carden, “I will incorporate any of my skills or background to find what I think each individual song is asking for.”
The band’s first recordings resulted in an eclectic, self-titled release in 2010. On Just Like Vinyl, the band seemed eager to explore a variety of styles and moods, from the Jeff Buckley-influenced soul of “Big Words,” to the whimsical indie sound of “The Circulatory System,” to the prog rock leanings on “Death Of The Sheep.” “The first record was more of a studio experiment,” says Carden, “we hadn't even necessarily planned to release a full-length album – half of the material was written on the spot and recorded instantly.”
On Just Like Vinyl’s soon to be released Black Mass, Erak and Carden and company have streamlined their delivery to a volatile yet melodic slab of hard rock with an irreverent ethos. “A black mass is a mock Catholic mass,” claims Erak. “We aren’t Satanists by any means, but I think the idea of mocking something like that carries through to our record, whether that be people, music, politics, or ourselves. We don’t have a problem laughing at ourselves in order to create something new and innovative.” Despite their desire to be provocative and flippant, Just Like Vinyl were careful not to trap themselves lyrically on the album. “I don’t think we have a ‘theme’ as much as just a kind of ‘feeling’ or ‘vibe,’” says Erak. The development of this vibe manifested itself on Black Mass in some unique production choices.
Just Like Vinyl opted to produce Black Mass themselves, creating an album that represents their combined creative ideas and theirs alone, refreshing in an era of when most scenes seem to be dominated by a handful of “producers.” Erak states that Just Like Vinyl wanted an environment that allowed for “freedom and the personal intuition to make things as organic as possible between us four.”
While Just Like Vinyl featured several softer numbers, Black Mass has the band temporarily shelving their tender side for a consistently aggressive sound. Songs like “Sucks to be You,” “First Born” and “Pressure/Release” display crunching, angular riffs coated with scathing vocals that transition seamlessly from melodic clean sections to agonized screams. Other songs, such as “Hours and Whiskey Sours” and “Lucky Stars,” allow Erak to organically incorporate elements of guitar wizardry behind soaring chorus melodies that instantly hook the listener. “I think we're always gonna be evolving as a band, but with this record we wanted to explore our more aggressive side,” waxes Erak.
Black Mass has Just Like Vinyl excited about the future of their live shows, as well, with touring planned through the end of 2012 and most of 2013. Erak is well aware of the reputation that The Fall Of Troy had obtained for their live shows, but he offers the caveat that Just Like Vinyl is a different band. “It’s a whole new adventure. I really would like to see our shows get to the rowdiness point that The Fall Of Troy shows were known for, and I think this record will definitely help us get there.”
Embracing their aggressive new album, their energetic live shows and an intriguing future, the iconoclasts offer a rather conventional recipe for their motivation. “I would definitely say Just Like Vinyl is the most exciting and serious band I’ve been involved with,” states Carden. “We’re stoked to be part of a brotherhood where everyone has the same goal and everyone is willing to put in the work and sacrifice necessary to achieve it. Anyone who has been in a band can tell you how rare that is.”