weekly updated blog for Oi! – punk – ska – reggae
After a decent debute album in 2008, The Void Union recently presented a highly impressive second full-length. The band mixes early reggae with traditional ska and a small touch of jazz with a soulful sound. All questions answered by Alex (guitar) and Rich (trumpet).
january 2012 – band website
Can you shortly introduce the band and the members?
Alex: We are Rich Graiko (Trumpet), Thaddeus Riley Merritt (Electric and Upright Bass), Anant Pradhan (Saxophone), and myself (Alex Stern) on guitar. We all sing, and we’ve worked with a rotating cast of drummers over the past year.
Why did you came up with the name Void Union? Where does the bandname stands for?
Rich: The name was sort of a brainstormed place holder that ended up sticking. We knew we didn’t really want to go the route of some pun on ‘ska’ or something with ‘-lites’ in the name, so we just started spitballing ideas one day. We came up with the concept of union as in labor union as well as being symbolic of our unity as musicians. We are all players first and foremost and we prided ourselves on being sort of blue collar working cats. In fact the band was originally put together because we didn’t want to stop playing when we had breaks from touring with Westbound Train – and those were the days when Westbound Train was doing over two hundred dates per year.
We meant Void as in no individual face, you know? Like no ego, just a bunch of pieces of one larger musicological nerd puzzle. In fact, I think the concept of being the band with no lead singer lead to a lot of our current recording/production concepts. There was also a tinge of the eastern concept of the great void, of which we have no choice but to be united within because it literally means everything. No matter how different we feel from other people, we’re all living together on this planet, united in the void. Maybe not the most ska-centric concepts, but they really represented where we were coming from.
Recently you released your second album ‘Higher Guns’. Are you satisfied with it and how are the reactions so far?
Alex: I’m satisfied with it; It sort of turned into a ‘Void Union Presents…’ type of record, rather than a traditional album. We acted as curators/ writers/ producers/ executives for large array of guest musicians. We were initially very hesitant about heading in this direction, because its an easy way to drive the whole thing off of a cliff. Somehow, we reigned it all in, and even managed to make something of a statement. From the reactions so far, I think its a success!
The album was also on issued on vinyl. Are you happy with this and are any of you vinyl collecters?
Alex: Couldn’t be happier about that. It was fun to mess with the alternate track listing too; The CD is what we thought was the best sequence of a particular group of 13 tunes, whereas the Vinyl is simple: Side A has 5 instrumentals, Side B has 5 vocal cuts. I don’t personally collect vinyl, because the Ipod really meshes with my frantic need for instant gratification. My brother is a vinyl nut, though, and I gave him my test pressing.
Last summer you toured through Europe. Was this your first foreign tour? Is there much difference in the crowd’s response in the US and Europe?
Alex: That was our second tour of Europe. Thad and Rich had been over there several times, but, the two VU tours are my only experience playing in Europe. We actually haven’t played a note in the US in over a year; we’re going to play some shows this June, but frankly, the American music scene is in peril. Distances between cities are long, gas is expensive, and clubs (with some notable exceptions) tend to treat bands like dirt. The audiences, promoters and venue staff in foreign countries understand that we have put in several thousand hours to play this music correctly, and they show appreciation in kind. Also, the coffee in the USA is really terrible.
For lots of reggae lovers their music is more a sort of nostalgia thing, which is mainly restricted to collecting 7″ singles from the 60ies and 70ies. Has this any negative influence on you as a new and young band?
Alex: Our set is pretty balanced between originals and covers, so, we’re able to please folks who want to stay in their comfort zone, as well as those who want to hear some songwriting chops. There will always be die-hard skeptics who won’t willingly accept that American suburban nerds can do the material justice, but, they are usually convinced before the first encore.
The band’s music is inspired by a wide range of styles which go way further than just early reggae. I hear influences from a wide range of styles including jazz music. To what sort of music do the members listen besides reggae? Does your non-reggea influences on your music help you to reach a wider audiance?
Alex: I listen to a lot of British pop; Elvis Costello, The Jam, The Smiths, XTC, etc. I don’t think that those influences necessarily seep into the blueprint of our actual music, but, I think it does affect the way I personally approach the act of being in a band. All of the groups I love have individual members that developed an identity of their very own, yet still stayed within the parameters that kept them from upstaging their group. I’ve learned a lot from that, and I think it has helped us make the transition from a very entertaining bar band, into a traveling show that can kill in any environment.
Do you have any closing comments?
Alex: To our fans, friends, and collaborators (old and new); Be patient with us. A lot of bands take a “shotgun blast” approach that leaves them overexposed and unhappy. We prefer to wield a sniper rifle. We’re a band that is not afraid to sit home and wait things out, but, rest assured, we will be back!
Thanks for the interview, Paul!