2014 Artist Survey: Wampire

Eric Phipps on Ferguson, the Ice Bucket Challenge, Mark Kozelek vs. The War on Drugs, and His Favorite Music Video as a Child

Dec 17, 2014 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 12th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2014. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2014 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2014 print and digital issues for answers from alt-J, Camera Obscura, Chromeo, The Dears, Death From Above 1979, Deerhoof, The Drums, The Flaming Lips, Glass Animals, Hookworms, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, Ought, Owen Pallett, The Rosebuds, Strand of Oaks, Teleman, Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs, Warpaint, Woman's Hour, Wye Oak, Zola Jesus, and others.

Here are some answers from Eric Phipps of Wampire.

Top 10 Albums of 2014

1. Mac DeMarco: Salad Days
2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata
3. Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire For No Witness
4. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
5. Ariel Pink: pom pom
6. Foxygen: ...And Star Power
7. Linkin Park: The Hunting Party
8. Linkin Park: The Hunting Party
9. Linkin Park: The Hunting Party
10. U2's Songs of Innocence and Robin Thicke's Paula played at the same time

What was the highlight of 2014 for either you personally or for the band? 

For me, I honestly think that it was that point when we hit Brooklyn after working on new demos at home (in Portland) earlier in the year. We had begun writing in January and ended up getting to New York by April. It was here that I felt the culmination of 2013's effort, which we put in through touring constantly and experiencing weird shit. Returning to write a new album made so much sense at a certain point. It was a high point when I realized that there was a reason to write a second record. You always want to write a fresh record, that never goes away, but the excitement of getting out on tour again with new songs and a new record was a huge inspiration.

What was the low point of 2014 for you? 

Robin Williams, bro. 

What are your hopes and plans for 2015?

We want to play festivals all summer, we want to start writing a new record, we want to tour Japan, we want to keep having fun. Keep on rockin' in the free world, as they say.

U2's new album was downloaded for free into millions of users' iTunes accounts without their permission. Was it a wonderful gift to music fans or an invasive action that devalues music? Also, which artist, other than you, deserves to have their album automatically downloaded to half a billion people more than U2?

I think U2 was so lame for doing this. It totally sucks, and I think it certainly devalues music. I wish someone crazy like Gary Wilson had done this first! Outsiders only, please.

Did you take part in the ice bucket challenge? If not, why not? Grimes declined due to animal testing issues, was the grief she got for that deserved?

I did not take part in the ice bucket challenge. I didn't really find myself around anyone who did, and I guess that is why I never even had to form an opinion on the challenge. I think Grimes has every right to decide whatever she wants about animal testing. Sticking to your ethics is a good character trait. Also, though, the challenge did generate hundreds of millions of dollars for ALS. Pretty impressive!

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri opened up a new national dialogue on police shootings and racism in America. Do you think anything will actually change because of it?

It is so frustrating to live in a country where people still divide over race. The response of the militarized police force and the National Guard reminded me of Kent State or the race riots in the 1960s. This is not the America we grew up thinking it was. You would think that in 238 years of our nation's existence we would have been able to realize national ideals. Why can't we protect our citizens without shutting down neighborhoods and driving militarized vehicles through grieving communities? A strict curfew was enforced by shutting off streetlights and conducting constant military surveillance over the area. The response was absurd. If Katrina was an under-reaction on part of our government, Ferguson was a perverse over-reaction by local law enforcement and the National Guard. Sadly, I don't think much will change.

What's your craziest theory for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight?

I think they actually may have hit a wormhole. Maybe they disintegrated as they passed through a crack in the fabric of space and time, or maybe they are alive in a distant parallel world. It is so crazy that there is either a secret that is being kept or it is something else totally mysterious and inexplicable. How can it be?

Mark Kozelek was criticized in 2014 for insulting his audience (calling them "hillbillies" for talking during his set) and for making fun of The War on Drugs when their sound bled over to the stage he was playing. What responsibility do performers have to be respectful of their audiences and fellow bands?

I don't know the music of Mark Kozelek, but I think he sounds like an ass. Beyond him clearly being an ass, The War on Drugs is a pretty rad band and reached out to Kozelek after he offered to make an album with them or something, right? I don't really care what happened, but Kozelek seems like the kind of person who doesn't know when to just stop and change their course. He likes to make a fool of himself, maybe, I don't know. I think that it's important to be responsible for the way you present yourself in front of an audience and other bands. I think that it's in poor taste to diss on other bands in the manner that Kozelek did. You can hate them in private, sir! There is just no reason for that kinda shit. 

"Weird Al" Yankovic was back in a big way this year. If he were to lampoon any one of your songs, which one would you want it to be? What would the "Weird Al" version's lyrics be about? 

Aw yeah, man! I saw one of his recent videos and thought it was pretty good. I was never a huge fan, but he managed to remain pretty relevant and I admire his constant creativity. I'd want him to reinvent "Wizard Staff." I think he is pretty funny, despite the fact that I often find humorous songs to be slightly abrasive.

Which common criticism of your music do you most agree with?

I'd say that I agree that our overall vibe could be perceived as a form of musical prankster kitsch. I think critics are looking towards this youthful and naive touch that seems to bubble out of the band like it were a shaken bottle of champagne, and they must hate it, you know? I get it. I think it's funny, though, because I have no clue why or how this happened. It's a fair criticism, I just think we became this strange image on accident over the last couple years. If you think we are pranksters, though, you can play along if you like. 

What's the most uplifting or heartwarming fan interaction you've ever had?

I can't really think of one interaction in particular that was especially uplifting, but there have been many times where I have felt overwhelmed with appreciation towards fans who come out to shows from distant places. Some people have taken a special five to eight hour trip to be there, and it's almost like they are working as hard as we are or something. These kinds of people really impress me. Making a good show happen depends on these kinds of people and it always warms my heart to hear somebody say that they crossed state lines or national borders to come see us play. Thanks, dudes!

What's the topic no one asks you about in interviews that you wish they would? Conversely, if you could get journalists to stop asking you one question, which would it be?

I wouldn't mind if people stopped asking about the origins of the band or band name. It's wild to say, but I'd rather be talking about what is going on right now for uswhat we are all thinking, or what we want out of our music. I find that telling a story over and over is mindnumbing and makes an interview boringthat's just me. I think as a reader, I would rather get a feel for how such and such artist is feeling, or how they view the world. I think the artist's perspective is far more important to the artist's story, but you know how people seek out details. They always want to know all the juice. Is there another way for journalists to get what they need? It seems that many interviews are uninspired and indistinguishable. They all practically say nothing about the artist, and they often include false information anyway. I like talking to journalists who love what they do and have a creative drive to make the interview interesting.

Who from your youth (such as a former bully, an unrequited love) do you most hope pays attention to the fact that you're now a successful musician?

Former teachers, for sure. I had great teachers and some terrible teachers, and they are the reason I'm here. I will sometimes think of that teacher who would kick me out of class or be rude and condescending, and I laugh. They showed me exactly the way I never wanted to act. The good teachers, however, taught me that good art and music is life-affirming. Some of these teachers gave me the kick I needed to lift me out of my slumber. I'm not only talking about school, but also just in life. We are always reacting to others and learning; teachers are everywhere.

What was your favorite music video as a child?

MC Hammer, "U Can't Touch This." Hands down. I made my mom buy me pants that looked the same and didn't change them for who knows how long while I "practiced" my dance moves in front of the TV. I remember just wanting to be MC Hammer so bad.

What was your first concert experience like (who did you see and who did you go with)?

Oh man! I saw The Steve Miller Band in the '90s at Waterfront Park in Portland for my first memorable show. I think I was 10 or 11. My dad took me there. It's so funny in retrospect, because I was starting to feel nauseous from a smell lingering in the air, and then my dad leaned over and said, "Do you smell that? That's marijuana, son." It was a real Rock 'n' Roll 101, I guess!

In 2024, as part of the Mars One program, four people might be sent to Mars with no hope of ever returning to Earth. Are they completely crazy or brave? Would you ever consider such a thing?

These people are NUTS! I mean on one hand, that is totally rad and commendable that they would set out on a journey like this and leave the world behind. It's pretty romantic to think that this world could be as little and meaningless to these adventurous individuals that they could be comfortable with essentially dissolving into distant space and time. As the world ages, and even perhaps ceases to exist, these people may be setting up a brave new society on a gigantic "Super Mojave" fireball. 

What do you hope life will be like in 100 years?

Ideally speaking, I'd love it if the entire world population was working towards achieving some sort of transcendental future reality. It would be amazing if we averted all the possibilities for destruction and chaos, and instead, turned our attention to establishing a more equitable and just society. The universe is built on chaos... I know what you are thinking, but I don't think this dream will ever become reality while everyone is chasing their own perfect material world. Creating our own personal meaning to reality could end up raising the bar on our ethics and social conscience in the 21st century. Maybe the knowledge held by the aliens, who clearly helped build the pyramids of Giza, will become clear to us within the next 100 years. Or, we could actually just be a hopeless mess of souls, merely eating, shitting, and destroying everything (everywhere) through the next 100 years. 

More and more big artists are putting out surprise albums (Thom Yorke, Beyoncé, U2) with little to no advance warning. Does this make it harder for more medium- sized artists to compete, ones who abide by more traditional announcement, promotion, and release patterns?

That is a super interesting concept, really. The sudden album seems to be a way to avoid the constant questions regarding the artist's current output while releasing some new shit free from the pressure of media speculation. I can't be certain, but I don't think this has much of an effect on the medium-level artists. The bigger acts out there are able to pull this move because of their preeminent status as the most popular act at the moment. These people (most of them) have probably worked incredibly hard to get where they are and they deserve to release a "secret" album with no warning. Bands that have to follow the traditional route of announcement, promotion, release, and constant tour have to do so because they aren't "there" yet. The traditional route is only 100 percent necessary in order to even conceive of the surprise album route, and the struggle is always something to be proud of. I think that the medium-level artists tend to slowly dwindle because of the many other complications in the music business. The medium-level band must always be patient and determined, but the ones that lack these traits don't even get off the ground. 

If you were stuck in a Groundhog Day type situation where the day repeated and no matter what you woke up in the same place each morning, how would you take advantage of the situation?

If I had to experience eternal recurrence, I would try to make it worthwhile. I would not waste any time to start laughing at the good and bad elements of everything. Every interaction and every happening would be the same every day, but that doesn't mean you have to live the same every day. Still, it would probably make me lose my mind. It would be a fun and entertaining way to get to know those around you, though! Trying to trick fate and play pranks on people would be the first choice. Maybe the best part would be finding the best spots to hang for each minute of the day. By the third day, you would at least know where not to go if you want to have a good time!

This summer saw record low U.S. album sales, best illustrated by Robin Thicke's huge flop of an album, Paula. Does this concern you?

I don't care about Robin Thicke and it doesn't surprise me that record sales are down in the U.S. The U.S. market doesn't seem to desire the experience of sitting down and listening to full albums anymore. We are way too impatient. I love just sitting through a whole album of my favorite bands, and I feel like this might be a dying characteristic among young music fans. Everybody wants the hot new single, and they can listen anywhere for free usually. It is a changing market. I don't know what it means for the industry. We need a new approach, but I'm clueless. We need our rock 'n' roll Messiah!

Which TV theme song would you most like to cover?

Knight Rider.

Will humanity ever get its act together and stop fighting pointless wars and ruining the environment or will it take something drastic like the threat of an alien invasion to unite us?

Nope. But the aliens might save us all.

www.wampiremusic.com

 



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