Colin Johnson, ex-Vampire Hand, talks to Gimme Noise

Colin Johnson, ex-Vampire Hand, talks to Gimme Noise

Colin Johnson reclines at left with Vampire Hands.

Colin Johnson is at the Town Talk, talking about the process of securing a second guitarist to tour with his currently singular project Capricorn Vertical Slum (or "Slums"--Johnson isn't quite sure yet).

"If anyone reads this," he says, "I'm taking applications. I don't drive, I'm never sober cab, I treat you like horseshit. I'll pay you, but I'll charge you for every mistake, and there's always mistakes, and conveniently, it's the same amount of money that I would have paid you."

It'd be a shit deal if Johnson's new music wasn't so immediately engaging.

Vampire Hands performing at the Turf Club. Johnson is furthest right.

For fans who fell ass over teakettle for Vampire Hands, last week's Hexagon bar show was Capricorn Vertical Slums' grand opening. Backed by looped percussion that Johnson recorded in his Missoula basement, Johnson's guitar playing was a freaked solidity--familiar chords deranged by furious playing and a judiciously tuned effects pedal. One can hear Vampire Hands creeping around Capricorn Vertical Slums like a squatter, but this is a whole new house. The music still swells like a waxing acid bender, but it's not quite as kaleidoscopic as before, which means you can explore Johnson's rock and pop sensibilities without getting completely turned around.

But ask Johnson about the theme of the new material, or even the origin of the name. We double dog dare you.

"I've always been into astrology," he told us when we mustered up the courage, "and the symbol of the goat. The sea goat. An early version of the Capricorn. Representing the Tigris and the Euphrates. Babylon and Ninevah. The sea goat being this creature of duality." He pauses and takes a suck of his Budweiser. "R Kelly, David Bowie, and Elvis Presley all share the same birthday," he concludes.

Inscrutable to the last. Luckily, the music speaks for itself.

Early this autumn, Johnson parted ways with Vampire Hands, the rock band he helped hoist to the top of the Twin Cities pile and which put him around the country on tours with indie superstars like Wavves, and relocated to Missoula, Montana to study writing and change his life by any means necessary. Even for talented musicians in industrious bands, as Johnson was in Vampire Hands, internal stagnation is a killer.

"I became so exceedingly negative about human interaction," says Johnson. "I couldn't relate to people on human levels, and I kept wanting to increasingly make music that fit into this cultural spot."

Poof. Up and vacated, bound for the land of snowy mountains and no open container laws.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Johnson's midstream switcheroo is proving to be his most industrious musical chapter. Initially called Secret Language (which he rejected for being too stuffy), Capricorn Vertical Slums has swiftly infiltrated the startlingly vibrant Missoula music scene. He's planning an east coast tour over labor day, which he anticipates will weigh in at 10 shows (with a Minneapolis stop, he promises), and after rigoroously recording his experiments, he anticipates a record won't be too far from that.


Colin Johnson contemplates infinity.
Colin Johnson contemplates infinity.

Often, it's hard to separate a frontman from his previous band. Just ask Paul Stanley and Sammy Hagar (Mr. Johnson: please do not infer any insults from those comparisons). But Johnson's new material is a toned refinement of the structures he forged in his previous bands, and it's an act geared for mobility and speed.

"When I have an idea," he says, "I immediately get this block, and it has to be just so. That makes it hard to collaborate. Working solo, I could tour in a Greyhound on a month pass. I could do an empire Builder tour on Amtrak."

Vampire Hands fiends--the band, with Johnson, will be performing with Birthday Suits and Blind Shake. Stay tuned to Gimme Noise for more news on Capricorn Vertical Slums--Johnson pledges at least one more local show before shipping back out to Missoula.

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