Vanity: Drink Beer to This Oi! Rock Masterpiece
A couple of punks that listen to the 4-Skins, Templars, and Slapshot wrote the best Oi! album you've heard in years.
Photo By Alex McTigue
Vanity’s Vain in Life has been wearing down a lot of record needles since its release late last year. This two-person recording project turned full live band came out of nowhere, and delivered something new and exciting and catchy as hell.
This album is almost indescribably good. It’s an emotional and pissed off rock record at its core, with a firm foundation in oi! Evan Radigan and Colman Durkee have played in punk and hardcore bands like The Rival Mob, Nuclear Spring and CREEM, and their punk chops cannot be denied on this record. But as the mastermind duo behind Vanity describe it, they have one foot in oi! punk anthems and one foot in “primitive rock ‘n’ roll played fast and aggressively.” And as they insist, it is more than anything music to drink beer to.
We recently drank a few rounds of pilsners at a pub in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and discussed skinhead culture, bands being “naughty,” getting pigeon-holed, and your family’s effect on your musical output.
Noisey: What's your name and what do you play recorded and live?
Colman: I'm Colman, I play guitar and bass on some recordings.
Evan: I'm Evan, I do vocals out of necessity. I've done some guitar, some bass, some drums.
What does Vanity mean?
Evan: I was thinking about this today actually. It's funny, I'm not gonna front like that wasn't a bit of a throwaway. I liked the way it sounded. I'm sure there are a million bands out there called Vanity, and we're all not acknowledging one another's presence. This is the only one that matters. It just seemed vaguely fitting in its own way. We are more likely to indulge whatever the fuck appeals to the two of us. Which may or may not have anything to do with punk or where we started. Especially with what we're working on these days. It's very vain, it's very fitting, and it's a true fucking vanity project. Better now that it's not just the two of us, but we're still the two assholes leading the ship.
Colman: We can spread the blame a little more.
Would you like to introduce your band mates too?
Evan: Of course. We have Ben Charles Trogdon [of Ivy, Weird TV] on the drums. Brian Crozier [of Survival, Pox] on the rhythm guitar. And Mike Gorup [of Warthog, Ajax] on the bass guitar.
Is there anything good or bad you would like to say about them?
Colman: I only have good things to say. We threw together a live lineup in a not a terribly long amount of time, in order to play a single gig. And everyone really pulled through and exhibited excellent musicianship. Considering we've only had two full band practices or something like that.
Evan: First and foremost too, me and Colman doing the band, or whatever recordings we've done, that wasn't from some asshole-ish tendency, like we wanted to just be me and him. That was because we couldn't get people interested. So I give those dudes ample credit for wanting to do it in the first place. It wasn't some exclusive shit. We couldn't get together a lineup. We were getting impatient. So we wanted to go ahead and record shit.
And you guys played one show a while back before the second show you played, which is your current live lineup.
Colman: We should acknowledge Rich Perusi [The Dedication, Sex Positions].
Evan: More than acknowledge. Rich Perusi is a wonderful guy. It was me, Colman, Mike Gorup on bass, Rich Perusi on drums. One show. It was fucking awful. Because the material we were working with was god awful. Rich moved to Denmark and Gorup was in Ithaca teaching college. We were going to try to have at least Gorup record with us, but we had been working on a bunch of songs just the two of us jamming, and he was like "why don't you just record it? And I'll step in whenever it becomes live again." Man of his word, he did. Me and Colman dicked around in the most dicking around sense of the word. We had some practices. We did a little promo tape or whatever. But a lot of it was the two of us like, shitty fucking college dorm room kids with guitars, like “oh I'm gonna show you this thing,” and that's how we made Vain in Life [ed. released in the US on cult blog punk label Katorga Works and on Euro oi! and streetpunk label Rebellion Records on that side of the pond].
So as much as you guys are gonna sit here and say it's all garbage, it's obviously a pretty fucking good record. What sort of response have you gotten, and how have you received that response?
Colman: I think the response has been positive. For me it's been mostly amazement the entire time. Starting with immediately after we finished the record. I think Evan and I were both amazed that we had just done it, having never really played the songs even. And a degree of surprise for me that it's been received so well.
Evan: Huge. And it's not some fake humble shit. We wanted to do a band with one foot in oi! and one foot in rock ‘n’ roll. In New York or wherever else, I didn't feel that was going on. So it was pleasing ourselves. This was the kind of record that I wanted to hear. So that's what we wanted to make. And the fact that anybody gave a shit about it is amazing to me. Because on paper it should be horrible. I like that band Crown Court out of England a lot, I think they're doing maybe a kind of similar thing. They're maybe a bit more stripped down than what we're doing. There's a bit of a re-interest in oi! bands, and incorporating an oi! or a skinhead thing into hardcore and into some other stuff.
Colman: The main thing that surprised me about the record after I heard it for the first time, because we truly hadn't heard the songs until after we had recorded them, was how rocking they sounded. But this is not the way people who are interested in oi! now go. People who are interested in oi! now blend it with some kind of hardcore, whether it's a vocal thing or more up-tempo thing or something.
How long have you been into oi! and what are your favorite oi! bands?
Colman: I was introduced to The Templars in high school because a friend of a friend used to bully me in biology class. He'd make fun of my hair and slap me around a bit. But he introduced me to Templars.
Evan: Similarly, in high school, I have a fucking brother who was more involved in music, a lot of music subculture that I've ever gotten involved in started that way for me. The 4-Skins were probably and still are my favorite oi! band. I think one of the finest practitioners. Because they were fucking musically on point, and they were aggressive as fuck. There's a bunch of sloppy ass goddamn oi! bands that suck shit, and maybe they're appealing for that reason, but to me 4-Skins were always the gold standard.
Colman: And they used a piano too.
Evan: That's a fact. And they were innovative. They weren't just all a bunch of fucking skinheads. Which is another thing I like to think I've taken from that. I'm not a fucking skinhead. We love that genre, always have.
Photo By Reed Dunlea
What are your thoughts on skinheads in general?
Evan: I'll say this. I know a lot of them. I have known a lot of them. As much as I know a lot of punks. A lot of them to me, I respect it, but I can't help but see it as dress-up. There's a point in your life where that subgenre's gone. I don't know. I can't help but feel a little weirded out about it. People are still strictly adhering to that shit. Incorporate it into your lifestyle, incorporate it into your look. I don't know man. By the books fucking skinheads, I'm not gonna buy it for a number of reasons. Either you're trying too hard or you haven't evolved fully as a human being. You gotta be a very ignorant ass person, and with skinheads, there's some baggage to being a very ignorant ass person.
Colman: The light version of Evan's criticism I think is being cynical in the 21st century, every subcultural manifestation no matter what it is, is basically an image culture. And then there's this other scarier piece about skinhead in particular that's like, what are the values at its core?
Evan, what is your relationship with your brother [Brendan Radigan of The Rival Mob] like?
Evan: With few minor differences, I'd say we're interchangeable. We have the same sense of humor, we talk the same way, we have the same outlook. There are very few differences.
Colman: Give yourself some more credit. Not to disparage your brother, but you're your own person.
Evan: Yeah, I guess. It's funny. This is going to sound very fucking corny, but he's one of my closest friends. We see eye to eye on nearly everything. And it's funnier still, I played in a band with him for a while, in The Rival Mob, and we had a great relationship and everything, we obviously still do. But we never talk about music. Like our own bands. I'll hear that shit in passing but it's not what we talk about.
Colman, what's your family like?
Colman: Oh god. I think we all similarly share a sense of humor. I have a brother who's also into punk. My parents are kind of hippie types. My dad is losing his mind. He lives in a kind of Autistic shell. Hard line religious but also kind of a hippie.
Evan: You dad's a musician though.
Colman: Both my parents really flooded me and my brother's lives with music since we were very young. We would spend hours on the floor in front of the record player trading songs growing up. My dad is an incredible acoustic guitarist. He's outstanding. For better for worse, the apple falls not far from the tree, and he's mostly into Celtic traditional music, and he tours to this day with a really reputable Celtic piper named Paddy Keenan, who was in a pretty famous traditional band called The Bothy Band. He's a really exceptional musician, he still writes his own stuff, he's always at home recording. Every time I go home we always end up picking up and playing together. That influence ends up bleeding into a lot of what I write now, including Vanity material.
What are your thoughts on being compared to Skrewdriver?
Colman: I don't buy it.
Evan: I get it, I think it's dumb, I'm bored of it, but I get why people say it. I get it because we're doing a band with one foot in rock ‘n’ roll, one foot in oi!, and who are the most famous practitioners of that? The most infamous practitioners of that I should say. It's fucking Skrewdriver. It's funny, because none of this was ever conscious, but I think musically it's not there but a lot of people get it from my vocals.
Colman: I think that's basically it. Because musically it's really not the same beast at all. Aside from a few hammer-ons. But what band in rock ‘n’ roll hasn't done that?
Evan: So ultimately there's a big fucking thing. People wanna be naughty. They wanna trot it out. If people wanna trot out with us so be it, it's just gonna make us...
Colman: Do weirder shit.
Evan: Do weirder shit. It's gonna make us more interested in doing something else. Which we already are.
Colman: At its worst, I don't like the idea that people would be getting off on the notion that there's a contemporary band that sounds vaguely like a naughty band.
Evan: To some extent, it sucks that if you're gonna do an oi!-ish rock ‘n’ roll band that that's the go-to reference. It shouldn't be that way. I'm not gonna say that we're blazing a path of new enlightenment or anything, because that's not the case either, but I like blending the two. I fucking know that The Templars cut a load of shit from that route. It sucks, if you do the two it's a comparison you're gonna get. We'll keep doing our thing and keep leading people away from that.
Colman: I think that's what's gonna happen.
Evan: It sucks in general that you're doing a band, and then you get pigeon-holed like, "this is what they're doing. This is blah blah blah worship." You don't wanna be pigeon-holed into sounding like some goddamn band.
Colman: There's two elements. The first is that I don't like the notion that maybe people would think about listening to my band because it's associated rightly or wrongly with a racist act. But then there's the other component which is the way that people kind of validate or confirm new punk or punk related bands now is by saying, "oh they sound like such and such." Which is just boring. It's not a good way to consume music. Absolutely not.
Evan: One man's opinion here, but I feel like that's what fucking everyone is doing. Take this and this and this. And you get this end result. It's like a fucking algebra equation. You get this end result. It's fucking boring.
Colman: And usually not true.
Evan: There's a bunch of bands that are constantly aping certain things. When you look at a message board and you see that goddamn "FFO" thing [ed. for fans of], you’re putting it right out there from the get go. "We're trying to reel in people. You're into this? And you're into this? Listen to my fucking band."
Colman: I think it's a huge problem for music. Part of what you're asking people to buy into is whatever associations people have with some band. Which usually is a nostalgia trip of one form or another. It just doesn't bring anything new.
Evan: I really don't think you should be doing a band unless you can hear what's out there, and think, "okay that's cool, but this is what I'd do differently." And actively pursue that. If you're not doing that, fuck you. We don't need another goddamn band. Don't get me wrong, if you hit me in the right spot, like if you're doing Slapshot perfect, I'm probably gonna bite. I love Slapshot.
Colman: That's my favorite oi! band.
Evan: Likewise. But at the end of the day you're doing a glorified cover band. If you're gonna do anything that's unique, you gotta think about what would I bring to the table, what would I do differently? And you really gotta do something for yourself. Which is what Vanity is.
When I listen to your record, it makes me feel pretty emotional, and nostalgic not in the way that we've been talking about it in terms of bands, but nostalgic for drinking with my friends. Especially since you heard the record for the first time once it was recorded, do you get any sort of visceral responses when you first heard it? Or now?
Evan: Yeah. What I'm trying to do with Vanity, is it should be drinking music. It's fucking beer drinking music. Drinking is my goddamn favorite activity. It's the only activity that matters. It makes everything in life better including your own death as a result of drinking. What are you gonna do if you don't drink? Have a kid? That's dumb. The kid can't even drink. With rock ‘n’ roll, it can be such a cliché, and with oi!, it can be such a cliché, and if you mix the two you've got a double cliché. But I wanted music that... fuck. There's a lot of anger there. At other people. At myself. I wanted music that you could drink and have a good time to in an aggressive way.
Colman: Maybe even shed a tear in an aggressive way.
Evan: I'm not shedding a tear. I'm not fucking having that.
Colman: At the risk of embarrassing you Evan, when I did hear that record for the first time, I was surprised at how beautiful some of the parts are because I wasn't expecting that. And the same is true for my songs. There's this other quality that I think was channeled, at least for the first time for me in writing music. Because for the most part I've been in just hardcore punk bands. So the range of emotion that got captured in that record was more diverse than I would have expected. Though certainly the anger is there. In all of the songs in one form or another.
Evan: That's the thing. If we're doing a style that's not strictly a slave to aggressive punk angry shit, we wanted some shades of gray. I wanted something not so black and white.
What are you singing about and who are you singing to?
Evan: It's funny to put forth this hard man image, and square it against me being basically a fucking white-collar guy in goddamn 2015, or at the time 2014, Brooklyn. It's not the same world. So a lot of it is internalized. Some of it's projected. I'll write a dumb song about shit that pissed me off about other people.
Colman: Which is important.
Evan: Which is important of course. That rings true. A lot of it is shit that I see in myself that pissed me off that I'm never going to come around to correcting it. And I'm going to keep fucking ignoring it.
What sort of things?
Evan: Anxiety issues.
Colman: Black and white thinking.
Evan: Not facing things directly. Pushing things off in the dumb sense and in the actual life importance sense. Maybe it's a year removed from writing the lyrics, but there's a pretty throwaway song called "Face It" on the B-side of that record that can sum up any number of things in my life that I will brush off. And if I actually do face it it'll make me fucking crumple as a human being. Evaporate into dust.
What's next for Vanity?
Colman: We've got a bunch of an LP written.
Evan: I think we've got an entire LP written. We're both very excited about it, at least the preliminary stages. It's going to be fucking awesome to record as a full band instead of just us two assholes.
Evan: Even if it's not at the song-writing level, in terms of how it's being played, it's being vetted a little bit. Which is good. Admittedly I'm not gonna say it's not informed by punk, because of course it is, that's our background, that's where we come from. But nothing about it is going to directly be punk. It's gonna be a rock album.
Colman: Perhaps to the chagrin of our band mates.
Evan: Perhaps to the chagrin of fucking everybody. Half of the songs are going to be electric and fast and that sort of thing. And half of them are going to be acoustic. I want some saxophone on it at the least. I want some piano over-dubbing. I want straight-up session musicians on a song or two. That's what we wanna do. That's Vanity in a nutshell. I don't know if anyone's gonna give a shit. We didn't think anybody would give a shit about Vain In Life. Maybe they'll follow us with this stupid thing, maybe they won't. But it's gonna be exactly what the fuck we wanna do. I think it's gonna sound like a hell of a good record. I'm excited as shit. My thing is, and I firmly fucking stand by this, if we're doing a rock ‘n’ roll type record, anyone who has attempted that in the last 20-odd years who hasn't come from sort of subcultural background: pile of shit. It sucks that it's become a cliché. If you go back further, if you listen to a band like Rose Tattoo, that's primitive rock ‘n’ roll played fast and aggressively. And we're doing the same thing here. It's gonna have that punk aggression. I might not be growling like a goddamn asshole anymore, I might be singing a little more melodically, but it'll have that same feel. It's gonna have all the same vibe. Even the acoustic stuff. That's influenced by a lot of what we like. We listen to a lot of Grateful Dead, a lot of 70's folk music. But it's gonna have the same bent. It's gonna be curious. It won't sound like anything else out there. That's important to us, but at the end of the day we're doing it for us. Fuck it. Listen if you want. If you don't, fuck you.
Reed Dunlea is on Twitter and has heard it all before.