Two separate intoxicated, wild-eyed men interrupt Vampire Hands vocalist and keyboard player Colin Johnson while he is talking about his new record outside the Hexagon Bar in south Minneapolis, and each time he replies politely to the interrupter before picking up exactly where he left off in his rant about the value of vinyl recordings.
"I think that vinyl demands a certain level of attentiveness from the listener," Johnson says without missing a beat, as one of the drunks sings the wrong words to a Grateful Dead tune behind him. His fellow band members stifle giggles and try to focus on the matter at hand. "With vinyl, there's a physical attachment to it," Johnson continues, "where you have to go up to it and you have to place the needle on the record, and the side ends and you can either take it off or you can flip it over and start again. There's a lot of real-time engagement in it, which I think is super vital to actually enjoying music."
Johnson and his bandmates agree that they prefer the vinyl format above other mediums, which is why we are deep into a conversation on the merits of the LP and why, this week, Vampire Hands will release their haunting and gorgeous new album, Hannah in the Mansion, in a limited run of 200 handmade vinyl records.
A different but equally drunk man dangles over the railing of the smoking patio and begs Johnson for a cigarette. He smiles, apologizes, and turns back to the table. "I'm a person who likes to eat in silence," he says, and his bandmates laugh at the non sequitur. "I am. I don't like going to restaurants and hearing music. I like that music is this special thing, it's this very ritualistic thing for me."
One of the three less-talkative members of the band (which includes bass player and singer Chris Beirden, guitarist Chris Rose, and drummer Alex Rose) chimes in. "When you record an album, you want people to sit and pay attention to it," says Beirden. "Which never happens. So vinyl helps that notion. You put it on, you pay attention to it."
"There's something old-timey and whimsical about the idea of how, halfway through the album, you've gotta get up and actually make the decision to flip it over and listen to the rest of it," Alex agrees.
With the albums still being pressed, a digital copy was submitted for review, and the lo-fi nature of the recording seems to ache and pinch under the compression of the mp3 format. The breathy, layered vocal melodies, echoing guitars, and '60s psych-pop riffs demand a turntable—preferably one attached to massive, high-quality speaker stacks. And with this vinyl-only release from St. Ives (a DIY subsidiary of Secretly Canadian that has produced similar limited-run LPs by the likes of Animal Collective and the Microphones), Vampire Hands are ensuring that their music will be enjoyed exactly the way they intended.
Much like the vinyl format, which blossomed in the '60s and '70s and has regained popularity among a new generation of music fans, the Vampire Hands record marries vintage sounds with a more forward-thinking, modern edge. Much of the instrumentation was recorded live in one session using PZM microphones, which are typically used to record conferences and conversations. The old microphones seem to cover each of the songs in a layer of grime, while Beirden and Johnson's note-perfect, near-angelic vocal melodies are buried low in the mix, as if they are merely additional instruments in Vampire Hands' increasingly complex and sophisticated sound.
The promising tracks on Hannah in the Mansion paint a bright future for this prominent local band, but in truth the four members are finding themselves at a crossroads.
"I'm moving to Missoula, Montana," explains Johnson, who expects to leave town within the month. "I'm going to go to a very peaceful place and focus on my writing."
"We're going to go ahead as a three-piece," says Chris Rose. "And Colin will be on recordings and tours and stuff. I don't see things slowing down for us, as far as that's concerned. It's kind of an experiment." He pauses, glancing toward Johnson. "We made a pact in the van on our second tour that if anyone dies, you gotta keep going. No replacements."
"The only people that I would marry are these three guys," Johnson says, smiling warmly.
"And the road," cracks Alex.
"Yes," Johnson deadpans. "I'm married to the road."
VAMPIRE HANDS will play an LP-release party with Wrong Crowd and Velvet Davenport on FRIDAY, AUGUST 14, at the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486