There was a time when all the real music occurred in Brooklyn—the capital of obscure post-industrial buildings, low rent and cool sneakers. It seems that there are three kinds of alternative music groups on the New York scene today—Brooklyn bands who made it, sold their souls (and beats) to the Moloch of music corporations and moved to the East Village, Brooklyn bands who languished in dim Park Slope bars because they suck, and bands who have refused to allow success to affect their music. And more and more frequently, the third category of bands have been driven out of an increasingly expensive Brooklyn and into the cheaper borough of Queens. Thus far, The Vanguard fall into the latter category. This eclectic Astoria-based combo (two Eastern Europeans, an Argentinean and a Virginian-cum-Brooklynite) classify themselves as pop / indie / alternative, and distilled through the mechanics of computerized technology; but, as the drummer Luke Rovner laments, compartmentalizing music kills the aura.
There are not many bands that willingly assume the pop-music label; most prefer to be considered indie. And as soon as they weave in a trace of electro (in addition to old-school instruments), they’re christened “experimental.” Only the real insiders know it’s not so simple. The Vanguard draw from everything from The Beatles to Kanye West, and they don’t care about labels, whether it’s jeans, MySpace or music moguls. That policy includes their latest EP.
“So many bands are about clothing, or style, or the lifestyle,” says Rovner. “When you’re going to the studio with people it should be music that matters, not what you’re wearing. You know that expression: jack of all trades, master of none? Excel at something. There is so many bands that you go to see, and you can tell they spent so much more time putting their hair in the right place than practicing their instruments.”
Rovner looks skeptical saying this. He’s wearing a t-shirt and capri pants.
“Obviously you can look at me and tell that fashion’s not my thing,” he laughs. “But then again, I’m a drummer, so I can hide behind the percussion.”
Rovner has been playing since high school with several bands, and after a failed tour with one of them (for which he almost quit school) he found Rasko Ristic (bass & piano) and David Zawadzki (guitar), and, as Rovner says, “it wasn’t an audition, it was just like meeting some really good friends.”
While I’m talking to Rovner, Ristic brags about how badly he needs a haircut (but it’s evident he hardly needs one). At 12-year-old Ristic emigrated from Belgrade to the States, where he met Zawadzki (fellow first-generation Pole) in junior high.
“Actually in the gym, playing basketball,” Ristic remembers. “I remember he had a Led Zeppelin shirt. And long hair. He looked bad with long hair. We started jamming. David told me to play bass. At first I didn’t want to; I didn’t know how. We became friends and we went to the same high school, where we got the idea that we want to have a band. We got into all this hip-hop stuff and computer stuff. And we found Luke. Craigslist—it works. I love craigslist.”
That gang named themselves the Vanguard, and began playing shows. Meanwhile, Aaron Barr moved to NYC with dreams of music in his head. He met the trio, signed on to be the lead singer, and seven days later the boys performed their first show together at Bar Sputnik in Brooklyn.
Since that first show, the Vanguard have carried on with a democratic work ethic: everybody writes songs and anyone can add something.
“Somebody has a piece, something that’s a hook. And we jam it up,” says Ristic.
“And when we have pieces,” adds Rovner, “we record them, mix them, master them and eventually come up with a song. For example, when playing one song, the rhythm reminded me of Rio de Janeiro. So the song is called Rio.”
Three years, dozens of shows, and several local hit songs later, this U2- and Radiohead-inspired band reminded us that pop is not a synonym of kitsch. They hit a major draw at the Universal Motown ROCK NYC showcase on 4.11.2008 and put together an EP that comes out this Saturday.
“We're definitely excited and proud of it,” says Barr. “We have lots of cool things going on to coincide with the release – the party, shows all over the east coast, new video directed by Patryk Rebisz, and we have been getting a great response and support.”
Two days ago the guys all went to see Coldplay at Madison Square Garden. Now they’re brewing their EP release soiree in a riverside loft in Long Island City. The party is completely open (since, as the boys say, “the more the merrier”) and will feature a short music set.
It seems that the balance is shifting north, from Brooklyn to Queens, as creative people are populating the old warehouses in Astoria. Hopefully the wave will bring the quality sounds, leaving trucker hats and suspenders behind.
Come celebrate with The Vanguard on Saturday, 6/28 the release of our EP @ Loft 2A in Long Island City, NYC. Festivities begin at 8.
Loft 2A, 50-17 5th St. LIC, NY 11101
To hear more from The Vanguard, check out www.thevanguardband.com.