Together, singer/guitarist Peter Hanks and multi instrumentalist/producer Jordan Evans are Murder Vibes. They agreed to an interview at the Summit Avenue Sun Liquor, the dimly lighted, sleekly furnished baby brother of the larger bar and distillery on Pike Street. Jordan is running a bit late, so Peter and I kill time by discussing a musician we both appreciate deeply: Marilyn Manson.
We talk about the infamous shock rocker’s deep influence on our younger selves, our favorite songs (He loves "Coma White" and "The Dope show") and the tragic reality that his concert at The Showbox this month had been sold out for months.
At first listen, Manson’s influence on Murder Vibes is not terribly obvious. Their arrangements and vocal delivery is more akin to Depeche Mode mixed with Nick Cave. But there is a gothic theatricality to their music that gives their exhaustively self-produced debut album incredible depth and magnetism. It’s far more accessible and pop-oriented than anything Manson has released, but Jordan and Peter’s project is undeniably ominous, lyrically and musically.
Over the course of the interview, it became clear these two have a crystal clear vision. Both know exactly what type of kind of music they want to craft, and spent several years making sure this first release is an uncompromising execution of that ideal sound.
I’m interested in Seattle musicians’ opinions on the Seattle music scene. Could you tell me about some local bands that you find interesting and why?
Peter: I’ve seen Pillar Point live maybe 38 f***in times. I really like Scott [Reitherman] He writes killer melodies, accessible melodies and big choruses. I’m big into that. And Lena [Simon], who also played in Pillar Point, her band Kairos is a little more experimental.
Jordan: I’ve seen Tacocat eight times. And I like Navvi… they just released their EP. They’re an electronic duo where [Kristin Henry] does a lot of vocals, but both have electronic stuff going on… they bring cool visuals to every show.
Peter: She has really pretty, ghostly vocals.
City Arts added your name to a list of successful duo groups from the area. What are the perks and disadvantages to having a smaller band?
Peter: There’s less of a committee. Fewer people means more decisions made faster. If only two people bring their set of skills to the table, it’s really easy to delegate into ‘This is what you do, and this is what you do.’ … It’s also really hard to find five people with a similar set of influences, who want to make a similar kind of music.
Jordan: It’s easier to pick a direction, and not have that direction get watered down. I feel like it’s easier to do what’s right for the song with two people. If you have three guitar players, they’re all going to want a part in every song … if there’s a drummer in the band, you automatically put drums in almost every song. Since we don’t have one, if a song doesn’t call for it, we’ll just let the air into it … but as far as performing, that’s when you start hitting limitations. We do have a live drummer that we’ve been playing with for a long time.
So you usually play with a live band?
Peter: Oh yea, always. It would be impossible not to. The album is mostly live recordings. Live guitars, analog synths. So live we want to make it like rock and roll, as organic as possible.
Jordan: In the future we want to have more live members. It’s fun to change the music a little bit live too.
So where and when was this album recorded?
Jordan: It was recorded all in my apartment, and we started maybe two years ago last November ... the track listing is kind of the order we recorded it, except for “Come for me,” which was actually recorded last, and is first on the album. You can kind of hear where the music went through the album.
That’s quite a while
Peter: A lot of the time was us wanting to release it right. We wanted to have a release show… we needed a publicist, and that all takes a F***load of time… We’re sort of perfectionists on everything, so we really picked through it. We put on all our favorite albums, and asked ourselves, ‘Does this compare?’ and if the sound quality wasn’t right, we had to go back…
We looked at who mastered Muse’s “Absolution” and Garbage’s “Version 2.0.” It was actually the same dude in L.A. Howie Wineberg. So we talked to him. Then we looked up Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible,” which was mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road studios. That’s who we ended up going with.
Jordan: He basically mastered every single from the early 2000s. [chuckles] Not the whole album, just the song that became the hit. Most people don’t care about mastering, or what it actually does, which is fine, but a lot of modern songs are so compressed — the volumes are all so jacked up so loud — that there’s no space for changes in dynamics.
Peter: So when you hear it in your car, it’s compressed into a little tiny brick, so it explodes out of your speakers to catch your ear. If you played our tracks next to that they’d be lower in volume. But if you turn those [compressed] tracks up, the layers get all distorted, and you can’t hear the individual sounds.
Jordan: We had a lot of more ambient stuff that we wanted to crescendo in a nicer way.
Peter: On the back of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” album, it says — and I’m paraphrasing here — ‘this is meant to be played at maximum volume.’ You can’t do that with a lot of modern records, or it sounds like s***
I’m interested in hearing a little more about the songwriting process. how do you two collaborate to make this happen?
Peter: The way the apartment is set up, we have the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon in the living room on the right. That is a computer with Ableton set up on it, a few midi controllers, a rack of synthesizers, an actual piano and some guitar amps, all in the living room. If you turn the lights off it’s just an orange glow of 9000 buttons lit up. And then my vocal mic in the middle of the room with no soundproofing at all. [laughs]
Jordan: It would have taken less time to record it in a studio, but having gone through the whole process, there’s no need for us to ever make an album in a studio. The lack of time pressure is great. We still have deadlines, but fake ones that we made ourselves.
Peter: It’s hilarious, looking back. We should have had a full-length [music] video a year and a half ago.
So there was a lack of financial pressure doing it this way?
Peter: When you’re in the studio you’ve paid to be there, you’ve scheduled an engineer and are paying them per hour … that rushes the songwriting process.
Jordan: Especially when you’re making a super layered and multi-tracked album. We’re not two guitar players, a bass player and a drummer, where we can jam it out in a practice space and then go record. For us, there’s no real difference between writing and recording … I think that’s why a lot more people are doing it this way. It’s way more efficient and you learn more by making it.
What’s the Murder Vibes origin story?
Peter: [Jordan] worked for my older brother, and I came to Seattle in ’08 or ’09 playing an entirely different kind of music — more like Chris Isaak or Roy Orbison — and I was looking for someone to play with. [My brother] said, ‘ I think I know someone who plays piano.’ I went over to Jordan’s one day, and found out that he didn’t own a piano, but knew how to play basically every other instrument.
So why did you move out here?
Peter: The kind of music I wanted to play is not happening in Southern Massachusetts. If you want to play folk music or blues or straight-up rock and roll, that’s great. If you want to play dark electronic music, there’s no scene for it.
What do you do when you’re not working on Murder Vibes?
Peter: Right now I’m building a fence in Madison, then I’m going to build a fence in Wallingford. Before that I was building a house in West Seattle. But the whole time I’m doing those things I’m trying to write songs for Murder Vibes.
Jordan: I design stuff. Like industrial and interaction design. I actually still work for [Peter’s] older brother.
It helps having the band’s number one fan as your boss. It’s a golden ticket to say, ‘I need to go on a three-week tour.’
Listening to the album, I feel a lot of earnestness, melancholy, and even desperation. Can you talk about where this is coming from? What themes are you trying to explore?
Who is this?: The theme of “Right One” is basically someone saying, ‘I will be f***ing terrible for you. There’s no way this won’t end awfully, but I’m in! Are you in?’ I thought I might write a whole album about that.
“Oceans” was written while I was having a panic attack … I was in my bedroom writing lyrics, sweating and shivering. We recorded it the next day, and I was still having a panic attack.
Could you tell me about the thematic origins of a couple more songs?
Peter: We wanted the album to have themes, and I think a lot of them are in “Not Alone Tonight.” The refrain of the song is “I believe in desperation” and the final one is “I believe in humiliation.” Desperation runs through the whole thing from start to finish. The last song, “Silly Life” is kind of the relenting on the album … In my head, the picture I get [from that song] is walking down the street at 2 a.m. with no one around.
What’s your one-year plan for Murder Vibes?
Jordan: Playing a lot of shows and getting our stuff out as far and wide as possible.
Peter: There’s Sasquatch coming up in May for us too. We definitely have a list of priorities. We want to do a music video for “Not Alone Tonight,” we want to do a national radio campaign — probably based on that song — and we’re looking for [a record label that is] on board with Murder Vibes that’s willing to give it a proper release. We don’t want to just start recording a new album and give up on this one.