Interview: VulGarrity’s Shawn Garrity on the sounds of ‘Afterlife’, the School of Rock, and staying looped into the Providence scene
It’s one thing for a musician to loop a guitar riff once in a while so they can add a cool touch to a song, but it’s another thing when a duo loops together a classic rock set up of drums, keys, guitars, and bass all at the same time to create a full on audio assault. Enter Providence rock act VulGarrity, consisting of talented siblings Shawn and Tracy Garrity who always have a knack for bringing innovative music to the ears of many. The duo will be celebrating the release of their fourth studio album Afterlife at Firehouse 13 this Saturday as part of the third Midday Release Show, a multiple album release escapade organized by local label and booking organization Midday Records.
Shawn and I had a chat recently about the underlying themes in the group’s music, teaching kids how to play at the School of Rock’s Seekonk branch, the changes in the Providence music scene since Vulgarrity’s inception in 2008, and the sudden rise of looping among musicians.
Rob Duguay: With VulGarrity’s past few releases there have always been these underlying themes that are being explored. 2013’s Funkeology is about aliens from the future coming to you and Tracy on a quest to save rock music in a very Mad Max inspired fashion while 2010’s Dance 2 The Grave has a lot to do with Halloween and horror films. Afterlife seems to go along with the theme of death, so what made the both of you want to go this route with the new album?
Shawn Garrity: It wasn’t really a preconceived notion, it just kind of happened that way. A lot of our material is inspired by horror movies and similar things so it just presented itself that way to us and it’s just kind of what came out. It wasn’t like we went into it thinking “Ok, we need to write another album about death”, it just always seems to be the direction our material goes in.
Pretty much you’re just writing songs about what you’re into and what you’re influenced by.
Along with playing music, you also teach it as the Musical Director of the School Of Rock’s Seekonk branch. What do you enjoy the most about teaching these kids how to play?
The biggest payoff for me is seeing the kids prepare for a performance, continuously get better and better and just blow people away while they’re performing and it’s all happening. It seems to be the way it works when we do live shows and stuff like that, everyone is always amazed that the kids are so talented for their age. Seeing that happen and being a part of it is so awarding and awesome. It doesn’t feel like work for me, it’s just an amazing experience that I get to have. I feel very lucky to be able to do it.
I’ve been to a few School Of Rock shows myself and I can attest to how talented the students are, they always manage to put on a fantastic performance and they’ve always wowed people. Since starting VulGarrity with Tracy back in 2008, so much has changed in the Providence music scene. At the time the band started out, Providence was still trying to reestablish a musical identity. A few years later, the folk scene took off and the noise scene made a bit of a comeback. Now the city has become a big nucleus of various types and styles of rock music; in your opinion, what has changed the most in Providence’s music scene over the past seven years?
Oh gosh, that’s a pretty good question. That’s tough to answer because so many things have seemed to change one way and back again. I will say that it does feel more like a community than it did before. The Providence music scene has always been kind of cliquey and with VulGarrity being what we are we never fit in to any of the cliques so we always kind of felt on the outside. Everyone is pretty much cool with each other and it seems like more musicians go to each other’s performances now than they did before and seem to be more open to doing more shows together and just hanging out together in general. There seems to be more of a sense of community maybe because of the fact the music industry has changed so much that musicians feel like they have to stick together in order to make any sort of traction, which is true. I absolutely feel like that dynamic has definitely changed since we started the band back in 2008.
I can see what you mean with more musicians hanging out with each other and going to each other’s shows, hanging out and having a drink or whatever it is. One trademark of VulGarrity’s style has always been the looping of the guitar, keys, drums and bass to create a very rhythmic sound. When you and Tracy started doing it you both were ahead of your time. People would first go see VulGarrity play and they would be astounded at how the band would meld these sounds together to make something really cool happen while no one else was really doing anything like that. Nowadays, regardless of genre you’ll always see at least one musician using a loop pedal. What do you think of more musicians making the loop pedal a part of their sound now?
I think it’s cool, people are exploring different things in different ways of filling out the sonic landscape so to speak and loop pedals definitely work for that. Over the years we’ve had numerous musicians come up to us and say “You guys have inspired me to do different things by using a loop pedal and I use it because I saw you guys using it and it was cool.” I feel grateful to be part of that whole change in whatever little way that we have been and I think it’s awesome that people are using it in different ways now. I still haven’t seen anyone use it the way that we do as far as looping multiple instruments and then playing over them but I’m sure that there’s got to be someone out there that does it.
There’s bound to be an act that’s either in the Midwest, the West Coast or down South that’s doing it and we just don’t know who they are yet. What are VulGarrity’s plans after the release show on Saturday? Does the band have anymore shows on the way? Any music videos we should expect?
We do have several shows lined up through the end of the year, we’ll probably do some sort of Northeast tour. There’s one music video in the works for “Flight Simulator” off of Afterlife and we’re also in talks with the producer of VulGarrity: The Series to do a second season.
VULGARRITY + HWUEVO + NATE COZZOLINO & THE LOST ARTS + GLOBAL CRASH + FROM BELOW :: Saturday, July 25 at Firehouse 13, 41 Central St. in Providence, Rhode Island :: 8 p.m., all ages, cover TBA :: More information