"There's no bathroom or running water here," fast-talking drummer Christian Newby explains. From the looks of it, one of their fellow tenants had an all-night practice session at which they ingested serious amounts of fluid, so the band members, uh, did what they had to do. On the floor is a scrap of paper with a cryptic explanation of how and when the bottles will eventually be discarded. Leaving a note is the polite thing to do in such situations, apparently.
No one seems bothered, though. Tonight is VCR's record release party at Alley Katz, promoting its full-length debut "Power Destiny," issued on the Los Angeles-based imprint SideOneDummy Records. VCR's members just finished a final tune-up practice before the gig, and now they're intently discussing their upcoming six-week tour.
The jaunt will take them all over North Dakota, the Pacific Northwest, California and back again through Texas with shows ranging from one-offs in crowded basements to a gig at Los Angeles' Knitting Factory, opening for legendary punk nihilists The Dwarves.
VCR's lead singer Chad Middleton booked everything himself, with the aid of online networking sites like MySpace.com. They hope this DIY approach will lead to better shows. "The clubs on our last tour were doing our label a favor putting us on a bill," says Steve Smith, a large man with a head of dreadlocks and the classically calm demeanor of a bassist. "So sometimes we'd wind up clearing out a room that was expecting something different."
Subverting expectations is something VCR does with regularity. Its three-keyboard lineup suggests a kinship with new wave revivalists trendy in indie rock, but its approach is closer in spirit to punk. Middleton's half-screamed bellow brings to mind Joe Strummer's cadence in the Clash, and the rhythms are simultaneously loose and aggressive. "Terms like 'punk' have become a lazy definition for people," keyboardist and backup singer Mya Anitai says. "We're basically just a rock band."
Parked outside is VCR's olive-green Ford van, loaded with gear for tonight's show. The vehicle represents a significant goal for the band. "We're going to try and get it paid off," says Anitai, whose practical sensibility led to her handling band finances. "We're so broke, and ... the only way we can get out of this situation is to tour all the time."
Tired of caravanning in small cars, VCR bought the van last year prior to the national tour that garnered the group its first exposure outside Richmond. It's rugged and spacious, but it didn't come cheap. "We're in up to our necks now," Middleton says. "We want to push the band as far as it can go."
That's the feeling here. The members are young (all between 24 and 26), and this is their first big push a chance to see how far VCR can go. Some members want the band to be their life (Middleton, in everything, is the most gung-ho: "I would stay on tour permanently if the band was into it," he says). Others are not so sure. One thing certain is that they've come a long way since they met through friends when they were students at Virginia Commonwealth University.
There have been sacrifices along the way. Touring, involving a month and a half off, makes the job situation difficult to manage. Keyboardist Casey Tomlin, quiet during the group discussion, has the most entrenched career. He's a physicist working at VCU, so summers off are doable.
Middleton is a dishwasher at a local restaurant, a job that allows for time off as long as he can find a replacement. And if he can't, well, there's always another dishwashing job. Smith, who writes most of the band's music, was granted a leave of absence from his job at Richmond Camera.
Anitai got her waitress shifts at Mama 'Zu covered, while Newby was forced to quit his restaurant job for the tour. For the time being, his job title is "drummer."
When VCR takes the stage later that night and opens with the anthemic "On Its Way Out" from "Power Destiny," the band is in its element. Middleton dives into the crowd and runs back to the sound booth with wireless microphone in hand, never missing a note. Two six-foot-tall cardboard iPod replicas, which Middleton spent the prior week building, are tossed into the crowd and destroyed, but not before a few fans get a chance to ride them, supported by the hands of the young audience.
Newby is a barely contained coil of fury behind the kit, hitting each beat as loud as possible while never wasting a motion. An inner tube flying around the space is thrown onstage, knocking over Anitai's keyboard and microphone, but her smile never wavers. The musicians are clearly having a blast, doing what they love to do. And at this moment, the sacrifices crummy jobs, debt, lack of indoor plumbing seem pretty minor indeed. S
VCR's tour ends July 16 in Danville. For more info go to www.scaredofvcr.com.