Interview with VHS: Out of the Garish Lights of Reno and under the Creative Umbrella in Seattle By Ryan Nichols

May 19, 2016


Talent and energy aren’t always part of the package with all bands, but when it is, liking them is easy. VHS is dialed into both those qualities. They’ve put in more than their fair share of the work between their musical abilities, record label, touring, and songwriting. I’ve seen these boys play in a handful of other great bands over the years and put in one hundred percent every time. I was immediately hooked when I first heard the song “Behind the Wall” and have yet to be disappointed. VHS has an addictive quality to their music that’s part post-punk, with traces of psychedelia, angst, and a nervous groove. We recently popped a few beers and chatted about everything from how the band came to be to Lake Tahoe’s mysteries and the steamier sections of video stores, just before their show in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Band members:
Guitar, vocals
Chris: Bass
Morgan: Guitar
Gavin: Drums

Ryan: So, Chris, have you ever been to David Coverdale’s (Whitesnake) house?

Chris: Oh, yeah, man. David Coverdale has a house up in Lake Tahoe. My dad’s a general contractor and did some work for him. I think he remodeled a room. So David Coverdale had us over one night and we were able to play in his pool. I almost drowned. I got stuck under this inflatable raft and I didn’t know how to swim really well, so his daughter had to pull me out from underneath it. It was freaky. And then he cooked us hot dogs.

Gavin: Wait, is David Coverdale the singer of Deep Purple?

Chris: Whitesnake. But, yeah, he did sing for Deep Purple on an album. I don’t know which one.

Ryan: Jawsh, I heard you worked at a VHS video store in Reno called Bradley Video.

Jawsh: Yeah, Bradley Video was a great video store. I think it went out of business in 2001, and I only worked there for about a year. It had really big horror movie, foreign movie, and cult movie sections—a lot of crazy stuff as far as selection in Reno goes. It also had the biggest pornography section, which pretty much kept that place in business. The porno customers were really odd and loyal.

Morgan: Who was the one guy you told me about? …your steamy section, like soft core porn area?

Jawsh: Ah, the steamy section. It was funny because the steamy section wasn’t hardcore porn. It wasn’t in the porno room—it was right outside the room. There was this dude I went to high school with who was too afraid to go in the porn section, so he would rent steamy movies. He was a funny kid. I think he was slow or whatever, but he had a car and worked at Wal-Mart. There was this one particular weekend where he finally worked up the courage to go into the adult room and rent a real porn. He was like, “Yeah, I’m just gonna get a real one today because, like, you know, I can [everyone laughs].”

Ryan: Did you get a bunch of VHS tapes from there?

Jawsh: I got a lot of videos from there.

Morgan: Is that where all the Lander House VHSs were from?

Jawsh: I ended up with hundreds of their movies.

Ryan: Do you collect them?

Jawsh: I collected them at the time, kind of. But now that VHS has been gone long enough, it’s become a retro thing. Even before that I was never up to date on technology and I just had a VHS player. I didn’t get a DVD player when everyone else did. Then they got cheaper and cheaper, so I’d grab them all the time from thrift stores.

Ryan: I feel like VHS is one of those formats that you can still find rad gems on. Like they’re not gonna release some kooky ‘80s movie on DVD for the five people who wanna own it. Vinyl was that way for a long time too, before everyone started reissuing everything.

Morgan: Like Funky Monks, the Red Hot Chili Peppers documentary. It’s only on VHS.

Jawsh: That’s how I started buying movies on VHS. I just wanted a copy of The Lost Dragon when I was a teenager. That’s what got me started on this idea. I was like, I’m just gonna recreate my movie watching experience from childhood.

Ryan: Do you have a favorite?

Jawsh: Probably The Lost Dragon, but I really like Every Which Way but Loose and AnyWhich Way You Can.Those were movies that my dad and I watched when I was little, so those were a couple of my favorite ones.

Ryan: What is a PyramidLake water baby?

Chris: An urban legend.

Jawsh: I always heard that Jacques Cousteau said, “Pyramid is not fit for man.”

Chris: And he also said that the world isn’t ready to know what’s at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. People think there are giant fish down there—these garden graveyards and people with cement shoes from the mafia—and that the corpses are super preserved because of how cold it is down there.

Ryan: Down in PyramidLake?

Chris: Down in Lake Tahoe.

Ryan: Reno is between PyramidLake and Lake Tahoe, right?

Chris: Yeah, they’re connected by the TruckeeRiver.

Morgan: There have been bodies thrown into Tahoe that have shown up in Pyramid. It’s weird. There’s some other way to get to Pyramid from Tahoe, just by the size of the objects that have been found.

Chris: There’s fish in PyramidLake that are only found there and in Africa.

Morgan: There’s also a naturally formed pyramid in the lake.

Chris: Which you can’t go to because it’s on sacred Indian land.

Ryan: Aside from all the creepy surroundings, is there anything you guys miss about Reno?

Jawsh: There are so many things I miss about Reno: cheap rent, easy living. It’s the type of place where you can have a really nice house, only work thirty hours a week, and have a basement to yourself for band practice. It’s just a really easy place to live.

Chris: I miss everything about it. I miss the climate, especially. I miss the community.

Morgan: We were talking about that earlier. Reno has a really unique social scene. It’s big enough so where there are cool people doing all these creative things like art and music, but small enough so where everyone knows everyone. You can go to any bar and see sixty people you know. I don’t know any other place like that.

Ryan: So it has that high school reunion all year-round vibe?

Jawsh: Yeah, but it’s easy to hit a wall in Reno, too, because there’s only so much you can do. For whatever reason, it seems really hard to get out of, even though it is close to the Bay Area—and even Portland or Los Angeles as far as music stuff goes. I love it. It’s home and I didn’t feel like I wanted to leave; I felt like I had to leave.

Morgan: I didn’t even move there until I was sixteen, but anytime someone asks me where I’m from I say Reno.

Chris: You’ll never go to a city where there are more people who have a tattoo of that city and people that aren’t even from there have them, too.

Ryan: But you guys did make your way out. All of you ended up in Seattle. How did that happen?

Chris: Well, I moved up first about five years ago to start playing in Big Eyes when they moved from New York to Seattle. I’ve just been there ever since. Then Jawsh followed a little bit after that.

Jawsh: Almost two years ago. I just moved out to start playing in Criminal Code more.

Ryan: So you guys didn’t have plans to form a band.

Jawsh: Yeah, Big Eyes was winding down at the same time Criminal Code had just come back from a U.S. tour. Then we did a pretty big European tour. Criminal Code was taking a rest for a little bit and we weren’t writing songs as much, so Chris and I started playing some songs and recording together. Eventually Morgan moved up and we had our friend Parker playing bass for a little bit. At our first three shows we had three different people playing guitar.

Chris: After Big Eyes I was thinking about moving down to Portland, but then I talked to Morgan. He was on his way out of there, so it just made sense to stay. Plus, there are a lot of opportunities in Seattle. I had a good job that I still have now.

Ryan: Is there a scene in Seattle right now?

Jawsh: Yeah, there’s a good one… there’s probably lots of them.

Chris: Our buddy CJ, who was the original drummer for Big Eyes, lives up there and does Daswasup Gig. He books nonstop. He probably booked a hundred shows this last year. There’s the Black Lodge, Office Space. There are a couple of cool DIY spots.

Ryan: I know from my own experiences of going out to Reno and playing shows that there’s a scene there. Is Seattle like that or is it different in some ways?

Jawsh: Well, there’s a lot more going on in Seattle It might be harder to get to know a rad band, but there are a lot of great bands there. There are also a lot of bands that we haven’t even heard. It’s a big city and everyone plays music there. There’s nothing unique about playing in a band up there.

Chris: There’s so much going on at all times. There’s KEXP, tons of record labels, and so many venues. There’s no shortage of live music.

Gavin: Seattle’s kind of different. Growing up in Bremerton—and I’m sure it’s the same in other places—kids can be starved for all-ages spaces. On the flipside, I feel like Seattle is oversaturated sometimes, but that’s just because it’s this really big community. I feel like it can be hard to get people to come out to every show because there’s so many constantly.

Jawsh: I still feel like I haven’t been to a show that wasn’t pretty packed out. Even on a weeknight it’s still good. They’re never poorly attended. Even at a bad show there would be at least fifty people there.

Morgan: That is something I’ve noticed just from doing sound up there. The crappiest show at a weird bar on a Wednesday night won’t feel awkward at all with the amount of people that are there.

Ryan: Is there a good mix of bands to play with?

Chris: There are a lot of good ones in Seattle right now that are getting some decent notoriety and putting out cool records. It’s an exciting place to be right now, I think.

Morgan: I really like Dream Decay. It’s our buddy Justin’s band and he’s the guy who did the art for our LP that’s coming out.

Chris: Private Room is another good band. It’s pretty much the new Walls.

Gavin: I like Pearl Jam [everyone laughs].

Ryan: How did the label Casino Trash get started? Are you guys all participating in it?

Chris: Well, Jawsh and I started it, but Morgan is definitely involved, too, with all the recording, mastering, and audio work. We started it just to put out VHS tapes. That was the whole plan: we’ll just put out a bunch of tapes. We were already working on material and asked ourselves, “Do we find a label or do we just release it ourselves?” As soon as we did that and we were in production for the first tape, we were watching this band Freak Vibe from Seattle that we really dug a lot. We asked them if we could do a tape for them. That was our second tape and it just snowballed really quickly. Within the first year we did eight different tapes and the first VHS 7”. Next we have a single coming out for The Shivas and that will be our twelfth release in under two years.

Ryan: Do you make the tapes yourself?

Chris: No, I get them sent out because I like them to look nice once they’re printed. I take a lot of pride in it and care about how they look and sound.

Jawsh: Casino Trash is quality.

Chris: Tapes are just so easy. The overhead is low, the turnaround time is low, and you can print any number of them and have them in a month. Most of the bands on Casino Trash have already broken up, so if we had to wait six months to get a release, that would be terrible. I wouldn’t ever recommend having us put out a band’s tape, because that will just break up your band.

Morgan: The cool thing about that, though, is documenting something that wouldn’t be documented otherwise. Like Health Problems and The Tracers, which was one of my favorite Seattle bands ever seen.

Jawsh: They only played for like six months or something.

Morgan: Yeah, and then they broke up. I feel like no one would have heard that recording otherwise. Same thing with Spitting Image and Teal.

Ryan: Is the name a nod to Reno?

Chris: That’s all Jawsh.

Jawsh: I did not put a lot of thought into that. I have like, a million fake band names.

Chris: Well, it’s a song, right?

Jawsh: Yeah, actually I wrote a song called “VHS” while Over Vert was on tour. I did a batch of songs by myself on my 8-track and one of them was called “VHS.” I just have a bunch of old pretend bands I did while I was recording stuff.

Ryan: So the name of the band and the label came from these songs, not from your video collection.

Jawsh: I think I marked some of my tapes VHS, or put Violent Human System or Vultures And Hungry Spirits. I don’t know. There wasn’t a lot of thought that went into it. Actually, I have a hard time with that. I feel like that vibe of doing something by yourself for yourself has a different context than putting it out there and sharing it. VHS seemed like this cool thing to do by myself, but now there’s this weird VHS revival with all these people collecting tapes. There’s also a million bands called VHS. But, yeah, it’s not a clever name [Everyone laughs].

Ryan: So you guys put out all these tapes and 7”s yourselves, and now your LP is coming out on Suicide Squeeze. How did that all come about?

Jawsh: We have a friend that works at the label.

Chris: Well, I met David—who runs it—a few years back through our friend Jen. Jen works there, also tours with us, and helps out the band a lot. We did some demos just because we’re always recording stuff in our practice space. I gave them out to a few friends, Jen being one of them. She asked if it would be okay if she showed them to David, which I was fine with. He came to a show a little after that and talked to us. He was interested in doing an LP.

Ryan: Would you have just put it out yourselves if that didn’t come up?

Chris: That was the plan, but it just came up so we went with it.

Ryan: I don’t totally know the label beyond a few releases, but they’re from Seattle, right?

Jawsh: He’s been doing it for about twenty years. I think his first release was the Modest Mouse/764-HERO split.

Morgan: It’s a really eclectic mix of bands. A lot of them from Seattle, a lot of them not. Gavin and I are stoked because he put out an Elliott Smith single.

Jawsh: He put out my favorite Elliott Smith song.

Chris: This is the first time any of us have ever been in this position, getting to work with a record label.

Ryan: What’s the worst press you guys have received?

Jawsh: I think generally the whole post-punk tag is pretty lazy.

Ryan: So no one’s said that you guys sound like Bush or anything?

Chris: Not yet, but I look forward to it.

Gavin: It’s that same thing where someone tells you, “Oh, hey, you look a lot like this person.” Everyone used to always be like, “You look a lot like Frankie Muniz” (Malcolm in the Middle) and I’d be like, “Uhhhh” [everyone laughs].

Ryan: When you have a long drive ahead of you, what record do you listen to?

Jawsh: I think one of my favorite driving records is Raging Full On by Firehose. I love that record.

Chris: Every Tom Petty record. I’d probably start with Damn the Torpedoes.

Gavin: Jawsh and these guys, recently turned me on to that Marquee Moon album by Television. I’ve been in love with that one.

Morgan: We listened to Figure 8 today, the Elliott Smith record, and I had a spiritual experience in the backseat.

Chris: We try and keep it regional, too. Rolling into L.A. and listen to L.A. bands, or roll into San Francisco and listen to San Francisco bands.

Ryan: Before the show to get hyped?

Jawsh: Oh dude, we never get hyped.

Morgan: I definitely play guitar before every show. I was watching this video of Dimebag Darrell before a Pantera show and he was like, “Never play one of your riffs, man. You gotta give that the feel.”

Gavin: I usually pace around and then change into shorts.

Chris: I just always have to pee.

Ryan: What about comedy albums or something aside from music to break it up?

Morgan: We listened Maria Bamford and Hannibal Buress on the last tour. We listen to podcasts every now and then like, 99% Invisible, which is an architecture and design thing. And what was the movie one?

Chris: Oh, I Was There Too. Actually, we haven’t done it on a tour yet, but we probably will listen to the Game of Thrones audio book. Morgan and I were listening to it on a road trip recently and that was fun. The fist book is around forty-eight hours long. We’d need a long U.S. tour to finish it.