“Welcome back, yeah it’s been a while since we had it out,” Erik Appelwick sings on the Vicious Vicious song “The Crooked Lines,” one of the best tracks on his first new album in five years. And though he’s singing to a lover in that song, he’s also inviting the listener back into a world that still pulses with some of the familiar elements of the Tapes ‘n Tapes bass player’s soul-influenced style, but has otherwise been entirely re-landscaped by collaborations with Martin Dosh and James Buckley on record and back-up singer Katy Morley (Gayngs) live.
There has always been something a little fantastical about Appelwick’s compositions, but on his new record, simply titled Vicious Vicious, the hints of psychedelia and experimentation are paired with an undercurrent of melancholy. Think the Flaming Lips crossed with James Blake; even the more upbeat songs like “Hangin On” open up into rich layers of major-key melodies yet pulse with an undeniable restlessness and sense of sadness and longing.
Whereas Vicious Vicious’s previous albums Don’t Look So Surprised and Parade were presented in a smirking pseudo-seriousness, Vicious Vicious takes a turn toward a more cerebral and more earnest form of expression.
“I started writing songs for this record specifically as long ago as summer of 2006, which is even technically before we released Parade,” Appelwick remembers. “So over the course of those five-ish years, I’d written probably upwards of around 30 songs. When I ended up having James [Buckley] and Martin [Dosh] come along to play, I kind of threw a mountain of music at them and said, hey, take this mountain and make it into a smaller mountain. What they said is that there was two albums, really. One was kind of old Vicious Vicious, where there was a lot of the soul and sort of white–blue-eyed soul is what they call it, and then there was a lot of other stuff. So the stuff they selected is maybe a little more left of where Vicious Vicious was before.”
Appelwick says the real impetus for hunkering down and making the record was a period last summer when he found himself home between Tapes ‘n Tapes tours, relationships, and paychecks. “As much as it sucks to be broke, it’s also a really great thing to making music,” he scoffs. “I was like a man possessed. I didn’t have anything else to do besides just play music.”
With such a long pause between Vicious Vicious releases–Appelwick shelved his own band once Tapes ‘n Tapes started gaining national popularity, and didn’t find the time to return to it fully until Tapes songwriter Josh Grier put the band on hiatus to spend some time on his own side project–it seems natural that the music would have evolved. But Vicious Vicious seems like the product of an entirely new band.
I ask Appelwick if the new group contemplated changing their name as well as their aesthetic. “We did,” he says. “James really wanted to call it Erik Appelwick. And we could have done the whole change the band name, and do the whole Best New Bands swing for the fences, too, but it was like, well, if anyone still cares about Vicious Vicious then they maybe would like this. I guess it would seem equally as weird to change the band name as it would to keep it the same.”
On another one of Vicious Vicious‘s standout tracks, “Hangin On,” Appelwick pleads that “Mystery is everything / Don’t read between the lines,” and it’s another poignant lyric that seems to speak to his overall persona as much as it does to the song’s subject matter (a relationship in its last gasps). Though his songwriting for this record is clearly of a more personal nature, Appelwick is hesitant to divulge too many details about his lyrical content.
“Much like people go to therapists to exorcise their demons or have somebody to talk to, I just write music, and kind of let my thoughts work themselves out in that process,” he explains. When I ask him if writing from a more personal place makes it challenging to perform the new songs live, he shakes his head. “The whole idea of shedding a purple tear on stage? No. At the moment that it was really important for me to write that, but by the time that gets recorded, mixed, mastered, released, and then you’re playing shows and stuff like that, it’s not really that personal anymore.”
To further describe the process, he offers an analogy: “Say, if Bono has his heart broken in 2007, then by the time that album is out in 2009 or whatever, after all the promo, he’s probably not still crying about it.” He smiles, then cracks himself up. “Or else maybe he’s just a big sissy, I’m not really sure.”
Vicious Vicious perform an album-release show with Dan Mariska and the Boys Choir on Saturday, February 11, at the 7th St. Entry. Listen to their entire in-studio performance here, and see more photos of them performing in the studio below by Nate Ryan/MPR.