BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #6: Bulletproof Vests

Memphis garage/power pop/soul musos know where to
find the best chicken salad.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

The BLURT staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids Best Kept Secret”: it’s Memphis
outfit the Bulletproof Vests. Take a little bit of garage, a whole lotta power
pop, touches of Beach Boys vocal harmonies, sprinkle in some twang, some soul –
pure Memphis, in other words.

 

The music city’s in the quintet’s genes, in other words (and
in their jeans as well), and based upon the evidence of the Bulletproof Vests’
debut album Attack!, they couldn’t
fake it if they tried. From “To The Moon,” which righteously marries Big Star
to T. Rex, through the anthemic pop/soul (think erstwhile Memphians the
Reigning Sound) of both “Magic Wand” and “Down in Yer Pocket,” and all the way
to the unreconstructed Nuggets-worthy,
raveup of “Queenie in Trouble” that’ll have you hittin’ the nighttime avenues,
ready to rumble – these guys got the
stuff.

 

The band: brothers Jake and Toby Vest, on guitars and vox;
Greg Faison, on drums; Dirk Kitterlin, on keyboards; and Brandon Robertson, on
bass. With a collective resume that includes the likes of Antenna Shoes, Jump
Back Jake, Snowglobe, The Third Man, and even a one-off with the late producer
Jim Dickinson called the Trashed Romeos, those Memphis roots are consistently on display. Jake
and Toby also operate their own studio, High/Low Recording and have been
diligently documenting the Memphis
indie-rock underground in between working on their own projects.

 

You can hear tracks from Attack! at both the band’s MySpace page and their official download site – it was
originally self-released earlier this year in a super-limited run, but it’s
slated to have a full national release very soon via local label Electric Room
Records. Meanwhile, totally smitten by what we’ve heard to date, we contacted
the band to get the scoop on where they came from, where they’re going, and
everything we need to know about their home town. A big salute to the band from BLURT and Sonicbids.

 

***

 

BLURT: Where did all
the members come from – previous bands, etc. – and when and how did the
Bulletproof Vests form?

 

JAKE VEST: Toby and I were in the midst of mixing a record
for our first band, The Third Man, when we got a call from a friend offering
the Third Man a gig at the legendary Hi Tone Cafe.  Sadly, some of the members of the band had
scheduling conflicts – one had chest waxing appointment, another had to wash
his hair – so we couldn’t commit to the gig as The Third Man.  Toby looked at me and said, “Why don’t we
just write 15 songs and get some folks together and bash through it.” I
immediately wrote our song “Magic Wand,” and the idea of another band
was born.

 

We toyed with names – Deathcopter, Vietnamicon, Grammar
Napkin, Wizard Tears, etcetera – and while drunk on a plane, we decided to
include our namesake and call it The Bulletproof Vests. Through the passing of
time and the shifting of the solar plexus we put together a band that included
Brandon Robertson, of Snowglobe, Coach & Four, Jump Back Jake, and Antenna
Shoes, on bass; Greg Faison, of Antique Curtains and Jump Back Jake, on drums; and
Dirk Kitterlin, a member of The Third Man, on keyboard instruments.

 

TOBY VEST: Let me also say that one of the main reasons for
starting The BPV was to have a creative outlet that was miles away from what
we’d done before. The excitement of expanding our creative palette really fed
into the way the songs came about and the way the record sounds. That, and the
fact that we were tired of jumping up and down on effects pedals in The Third
Man, so something a little more natural was a welcome change.

 

 

I’m also told that
some of you were in a band called the Trashed Romeos with Jim Dickinson and
Greg Roberson – what was the deal with that?

 

JAKE: We were lucky enough to spend a couple afternoons with
Jim Dickinson at Zebra Ranch throwing around song ideas, jamming on stuff, and
listening to great stories.  We took the
demo tapes, picked the best songs, and cut them at our studio, High/Low
Recording.  After that, we went back to
Zebra Ranch and Jim played piano and organ like a madman all over it. I mean,
he NAILED that shit to the wall! In that short time, Jim Dickinson taught us
more than we would ever be able to thank him for.  He is and will always be an important
influence to us musically and beyond.

 

TOBY:  We’ll forever
be grateful to Greg Roberson for introducing us to Jim and facilitating the
project and to Jim for welcoming us into his world. 

 

 

Tell me a little
about the album Attack! and how it
came together.

 

JAKE:  I guess the
best way to explain the album is to look at the cover.  Our friend Mary Carmack created the collage
that we used.  I relate intensely to her
work for many reasons, one being that her collages are just like our band. She
uses classic images in concert with her own creations to make something
completely new and exciting.  That was
our goal with this record.  When I saw her
piece that we used for the cover, it just made so much sense.  We wanted this record to be a full out
attack. So we just dropped those words on top of it and called it a day.  Hopefully, she’ll let us continue to butcher
her work in the future. 

 

Musically, the album is the result of us learning to be a
band.  And at the time of recording our
lineup was different.  Our friend/Third
Man bandmate Preston Todd was on drums, and he contributed greatly to the
writing and singing of the vocal harmonies. So you have songs where Faison
would be on drums AND bass, Preston would be
singing, I’d play 2 acoustic guitars and an electric, etc. etc.  All these odd little pieces surprisingly
ended up as a somewhat cohesive album. It was loose and fun and still is.

 

TOBY: The recording of the record was pretty much a club
house kind of situation. Jake or I would come in with a song and we’d cut a
track and start to build on top of it. There were no sessions, per se, for the record;
it just kind of came together by working as much as possible over the course of
maybe a 6 months or so. It was fun and relaxed. We had the songs done for a
while and were introduced to Adam Hill, who works at Ardent, by Greg Roberson
and he did a great job turning our ramshackle recording into a listenable
album. We pressed a small run, maybe 100 discs, and sold them at shows this
summer. We are going to officially release it on local label Electric Room
Records this fall. Then world domination can commence.

 

 

Memphis has a
schizophrenic reputation: it’s one of our most legendary music towns, yet
numerous musicians have told me that it’s a damn hard place for an indie rock
band to make a go of it. Is that true?

 

JAKE: I don’t think I understand the question, really.  It’s not hard at all to be a band in Memphis. You find some
dudes, or dudettes, you like and you play music and have fun doing it.  Sure, if you bring expectations into the
equation, then eventually you’ll get disappointed by something like a low
turnout or the 1,000 copies of your record you still have stored in your house.  The way I see it, this is the EASIEST town to
make a go of it.  Not only do you have a
huge wealth of musicians to work with, but you also have venues that support
their bands and an audience that is hungry for live music.  I challenge anyone who disagrees to an arm
wrestling contest. 

 

TOBY: I think one of the biggest obstacles in this city is
the audience for live music because this town doesn’t tolerate bullshit. Either
you believe in what you are doing or you don’t and the audience in Memphis can tell. And if
you don’t, then why the hell are you doing this anyway.

 

 

What are some of the
best kept secrets in Memphis
– from bands to venues to vices – we should know about when planning our
vacations to your fair city?

 

JAKE: I’d say musically its Richard James & the Special
Riders. Richard and his wife Anne Schorr make up the core of the band, and they
are incredible.  The live show is not to
be missed.  The Hi Tone Cafe has the
finest pizza, Payne’s BBQ has the best barbecue, the Lamplighter has the best
patty melt, the shows at the Buccaneer Lounge are always insane and out of
control (in a great way), and Alex Threet is the greatest bar regular you will
ever meet.

 

TOBY: Jeffrey James and The Haul is another band that stands
out to me – great songs, great dudes, and fun for all. I might also say that
what is going on at our studio space, High/Low Recording, is a pretty well kept
secret. Over the last year we have recorded Jeffrey James and The Haul, Antique
Curtains, two Richard James and the Special Riders records, Chinamen, New Mary
Jane (featuring Dave Shouse and Scott Taylor of the Grifters), and Holly Cole,
as well as all the stuff we are personally involved in – The BPV, The Third
Man, Trashed Romeos, and Kid Polio. Our hope is to make it easy and comfortable
for our friends to make records in a relaxed environment.

 

 

I hear a lot of
styles and influences in your sound, but I wanted to know, if YOU were
encountering the Bulletproof Vests for the first time, what would your reaction
be?

 

JAKE: My reaction would be as follows: “What a bunch of
drunk fools up there lookin like they’re having the time of their lives playing
music with each other. And shouldn’t that drummer lose some weight?”

 

TOBY: “What’s with the tights?? Is that a statue or a
keyboard player/wp-content/photos”  Or simply,
“Bitchin’.”

 

 

Biggest successes to
date? Biggest failures? Plans for the immediate future?

 

JAKE: For me, our
biggest success has been that our friends keep coming out to our shows and
having fun.  Our biggest failure is when
we ran over that possum in Pittsburgh
last summer while on tour.  All I’m gonna
say about the future is that we are recording our 2nd record and where we’re
going, we wont need roads.

 

TOBY: I concur.

 

 

 Anything else we should know about the band, the city, life, love or
the pursuit of happiness?

 

TOBY: “Never get less than twelve hours sleep; never
play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get
involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to
that, and everything else is cream cheese.”

 

JAKE: Our mom makes the best chicken salad you will ever
taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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