Mark Palgy of VHS or Beta : Q&A

<img src="" alt=" " />VHS or Beta bassist Mark Palgy sat down for a drink and a chance to talk to QRO....

Mark Palgy of VHS or Beta : Q&AVHS or Beta bassist Mark Palgy sat down for a drink and a chance to talk to QRO.  In the chat, he discussed their current U.S. tour, playing Bogotá, going to play Argentina and Australia (not to mention DJing in Bangkok…), making their latest, Bring on the Comets (QRO review), in Asheville, North Carolina, how fellow Louisville natives My Morning Jacket found them a new guitarist, music videos, why it’s tough to play old stuff (but they want to), defying expectations, puke following them from St. Louis to Knoxville, and more…

QRO: How has this current tour been going?

Mark Palgy: So far, so good.  We’re happy to be doing the northeast – New York, Boston, Philly; it’s always a really good time.  We like we’ve done those places some many times that it’s pretty much guaranteed good time.

QRO: How does it compare with your last tour, October-December of last year?

MP: It’s hard to say, ‘cause we just started.  We’ll see.  I hope it at least will be as good, if not better.

New York always freaks me out, I don’t know why.  It’s so edgy here.  Hometown, Louisville shows, and New York shows, always get…  ‘Cause New York, it’s like press, and people, and friends you haven’t seen, and then home, it’s like friends, family, and people.  So it’s hard to relax; I always think something horrible is going to happen on-stage.  All the bloggers are gonna say we suck, our career’s over, and it’s back to waiting tables.

QRO: You’re going to all four corners of the country, like a 360° – is this your longest U.S. tour to-date?

MP: Generally, it takes about a month to get around the U.S.  This is actually about five-and-a-half weeks, so it’s longer than most.  Generally, a U.S. tour is about three or four weeks long.

We did a leg in Canada, and we’re doing like a week in Florida.  We used to go to Florida a lot, I don’t know why we haven’t, but this time we’re going to Florida, so it added an extra week or so.

QRO: Are you worried about touring ‘burnout’ by the end?

MP: No.  The only thing is, we’re still in a van, and it’s tough to sometimes have a good attitude about jumping in the van for nine, ten hours at a time, sometimes.  But, aside from the actual, physical travel, we love playing every night.

QRO: You just played Bogotá, Columbia.  How was that?

MP: Amazing, absolutely amazing.

I think, in the United States, we’re really spoiled, ‘cause we can see a band any night of the week.  So-and-so is buzzing, ‘Oh, well, shit – they’re playing next Thursday.  Let’s go see them.’  Bogotá, I don’t think it’s the same.  They view a band coming in from out of the country as really special.

They treat concerts I think, like Americans used to treat concerts, in like the eighties and nineties.  It’s a big deal.

I’m not trying to ‘talk shit about America’ – I’m part of the spoiled population I’m talking about.  Down there, it’s still special, really special to them.  It just makes you feel good.  People here are really jaded.

QRO: Was that part of a larger, Latin American tour, or just a one-off thing?

MP: It was a one-off.

We did a festival in Bogotá about two-and-a-half years ago [Rock al parque], played in front of like 80,000 people.  It just went really well, we kept getting e-mails from Columbian kids, ‘Come back!  Come back!’  Finally, it just so happened that these promoters wanted us to come back down and just do our own show.

I think that somebody from Argentina heard about the show, I think it went over so well that the other countries are coming on board now.  We just got confirmed to play Argentina.  Buenos Aires in like, May.  We’re really, really happy about that.

We’d like to do a proper South American tour.  There aren’t that many places to play, from what I understand: Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Lima, and like, Santiago.  It’s not like you can just go into any country and play.  But you can go down for a couple of weeks and have a good, solid tour.

QRO: On your last tour, you played Mexico City…

MP: We actually went back and played Guadalajara, which was amazing, and now we’re going back to Mexico City, we’re going to Baja, and I think, now, Monterrey, maybe.

We’re sticking with Latin America for a little while right now, which is a dream come true for me.  I think they’re the most gracious fans.  It’s a really special thing being down there.  Music, they’re really passionate about it.

Of course, there’s always hipsters and whatever, wherever you go.  And it’s funny, ‘cause I think that, the way that press can go, people anywhere now can read something snarky and adopt that attitude, if they want.  But I think, as a whole, Latin America and South America are in this optimistic bubble, when it comes to music.

QRO: You’re going to be playing Coachella (QRO Festival Guide) later this month.  Do you do anything differently when you play outdoors?

MP: Cross our fingers and hope that it sounds okay?…

Normally, festivals, they don’t give you much time.  Unless you’re the headliner, you
don’t soundcheck.  They kind of ‘throw you out into the fire’, just sink or swim.  We’ve never done Coachella, so we’ll find out.

We don’t normally do anything different, outdoors.  Sometimes it’s nice, but sometimes it’s a little disappointing, because I like having lights and stuff.  But they’re just so much fun, anyway.  The outdoor festivals are fun.  Feels good to play outside, feels cool.

QRO: You toured for two-and-a-half years after the release of Night on Fire.  Will you be touring as long now, after Comets?

MP: We’ll see, we’ll see.  If the demand is there, we’ll tour.  If the offers stop coming in, then it’s sort of a sign, ‘Hey, time for a new record.’

QRO: Was that why you toured so long before?

MP: Touring kind of becomes a ‘snowball’.  Like, you’ll be on one tour, ‘What are we going to do when we get home?’  Then it’s like, ‘Oh, so-and-so wants us to go on tour with them…’  And then it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s looking like Europe is knocking on the door,’ so we’ll be going to Europe.  And it just kind of keeps escalating…

In 2005, we ended up going to Europe five times.  So this time, it seems like more South America, Mexico, that are keeping us on the road.

QRO: How was did making Bring on the Comets differ from making your first LP, Night on Fire?

MP: [Singer/guitarist] Craig [Pfunder] took the driver’s seat, as far as songwriting.

We used to be really all about collaboration, group collaboration, all at the same time, simultaneous.  And now, I think we’re more like any other band: the songwriter gives the song to the other band members, and they interpret it, and try to put their take on it.

He would write a sketch of a song, and we’d talk about it, ‘I think it should go this way, or this way.’  We had our own little set-ups in our apartments at home, computer kinda things, where we could take the files and play piano over top of something, or keyboard, or…

It was collaborative more in of an ‘isolated’ way, if that makes any sense.  And I think that’s sort of how it should be.  I think, at times with our past records, there’s been sort of a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ thing.  This felt more natural, it felt more like everybody knew their place, what you should be doing.  It felt better.

QRO: Do you think that contributed to more of a ‘rock’ sound on this record, compare to previous stuff?

MP: I don’t think so.  I think that, each record we’ve done, has become more and more rock.  Le Funk was really disco, and then people were like, ‘Oh, you’re… ‘electro-Clash’ or whatever’ for Night on Fire; we’re like, ‘Actually, we think Night on Fire is really rock.’  We always felt like, big guitars.  Everything we do is big guitars.

Some people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, it’s so different and weird,’ and some people are like, ‘Oh, it’s a perfectly natural progression.’  To me, it seems like a perfectly natural progression too.

We try to do something different on every record.  It was time in our careers to strip everything down, not over-decorate stuff.  Focus on what makes a good song, and highlight…

It was sort of like, when you’re in a bar and there’s a jukebox with all these awesome rock songs you forgot about.  That’s kind of like what we were going for.  ‘Yeah, forgot about this cool little awesome seventies song; it’s only two minutes long, but we all forgot about it.  But it’s this great rock song.’

QRO: How was working with Brandon Mason (Secret Machines, David Bowie)?

MP: Amazing.  He’s absolutely the sweetest person, first and foremost, and then he’s an incredibly hard worker.

He’s a really, really good motivator.  There comes a time when a producer could be like, ‘Hey, I really believe in you, I believe in the song,’ but has to, there’s a time when no one can blow smoke up your ass anymore.  ‘You sucked at that.  That take sucked.  What’s wrong with you?’  Or, ‘You can do so much better than that.’

With the drums, and bass, and the guitars, and the vocals, it was a give and take of trust.  We knew we liked the person, but we didn’t know how much we trusted him.  And then, by the end of it, if he said something was off, or weird, or we could do better, we were like, ‘Alright, let’s go it again.’

QRO: Is that why you went to Asheville, NC to record?

MP: We did Night on Fire in New York, and we thought about, ‘Okay, where are we going to record, New York or L.A.?’  It’s always a toss-up.

We were actually talking to another producer, before we met Brandon, and he found Echo Mountain.  He was from England, and he was really enamored by the fact this place was North Carolina, in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains, in this small, little town.  It didn’t work out with him, but we showed it to Brandon, and he was like, ‘Let’s do it!’

QRO: Did you like working in another small town, not New York or L.A.?

MP: We’re easily distracted, and New York has lots of distractions.

With Night on Fire, the schedule was so insane; we literally tracked everything, all the basics, in fourteen days.  That’s insane; no one does that.

It got to the point where we had three days off, between tracking and mixing.  It was actually really fun, because we were in New York, and what better place to be to let off some steam?  But at the same time…

This place, in North Carolina, we had our own house, we had our own van.  The house was a mile away from the studio.  We actually had this great, wonderful woman who did our catering.  She cooked us dinner every night.  We ate amazing food.  It was really pretty.  I got up early and went running.  We were sort of in an environment that was laid-back, yet we had the work ethic.

It was really cool.  I look back on it, and it was really cool.

QRO: Do you know why Mark [Guidry, drums] switched to playing on a full drum kit for Comets?

MP: It was something we’d talked about for a long time.

We used to have all these ‘rules’: ‘We’re disco’ ‘We’re dance’ ‘We can’t do this…’  We started talking about having drums, real drums, we were really sticking to our guns, ‘No, we do these electronic drums!  That’s what makes us who we are.’

Then, less and less of that.  ‘You know what: we’re only setting ourselves up.’  We were becoming our own worst enemy.  We had real drums on a couple of the first recordings we did that no one knows about.  It seems like a natural progression.

We did the electronic drum kit thing forever.  Now it’s like, ‘Why set up another barrier for yourself?’

QRO: Night on Fire was your first full-length LP.  Did you all feel any extra pressure to avoid any ‘sophomore slump’ with your second LP?

MP: Yeah, but I think that the way that record sales are going, I don’t think it’s possible…  I don’t think Night on Fire was one of those records that was like, ‘They’re The Killers, and they sold five million records – oh my God, they’re having a sophomore slump: they only sold a million!’

I think we’re one of those bands that, we sell to our fans, and hopefully it just keep it going.  I think we’re gonna make a lot of records.  I don’t think, looking back on the second one, we’re gonna be, ‘Oh, it was a slump.’

QRO: Do you have any material that’s been written since Comets?

MP: No.  Craig and I have done a couple remixes, but we haven’t written anything as a band.  I’m actually to the point now where that sounds like a lot of fun.  First, we were so glad we were done with the record, ready to tour and stuff.  Now, it’s like, ‘Alright, we’ve been touring for a while, it’s not as fun.  Let’s write some new ones.’

QRO: When do you make the remixes?

MP: It’s really hard.  You just sort of have to make yourself do it, if you’re at home.  Just whenever you have a break.  If you have a week off, sleep for a couple of days, and then just try and get some work done.

QRO: Where did you guys find [new guitarist] Mike McGill?

MP: Through our friend in My Morning Jacket.  They’re from Louisville.

My Morning Jacket’s keyboard player lives in L.A.  He knew we were looking for somebody – we actually had tries out, and they went really bad.  We got a text from Bo [Koster] one night, and all it said was, “Hey man, I found the dude for you.”  And we were like, “Awesome.”

My Morning Jacket actually went through the same thing.  They lost two members; they had to replace two members.  So, it felt really awesome that they – members that they hired found us a member.  So, he lives in L.A., and it turns out he knows a lot of the people we knew.  It’s just a small world.

He’s totally happy on the road.  He’s a great guy.  He fit right in, really quickly.

QRO: How was making the video for “Can’t Believe A Single Word”?

MP: Hot.  It was at Vasquez Rocks, like forty-five minutes east of L.A., in the desert.  It was one of those things where we’re in L.A., made the mistake of hanging out really late, having to be in the desert in seven in the morning.

I know it sounds so sissy, but literally doing the same thing over and over again, sucks.  And when it’s like 100°, and you’re on forty-five minutes of sleep, and you’re really hung over, it’s really, really bad.  But we look back on it like it was fun.

QRO: Was it hard, finding ‘female versions of yourselves’ for the video?

MP: It was bizarre, because the director was like, ‘Alright, I found a double for everybody,’ and we’re like, ‘Okay?…’  So we just showed up, and they showed up, and we were like, ‘Hey…’

I liked the girl that played me a lot.  She was really nice.  She was a yoga instructor with like three kids.  I was like, “Wow…”

QRO: How is the “Bring on the Comets” music video contest going?

MP: I don’t know.  We announced it right before we left.  I assume that somebody else is taking care of it.

I think a fan is a great person to do a video.  If a fan loved the song, they’ll probably put a lot of heart and soul into it.  And even if it’s not ‘super-budget’, it’s really endearing somebody would take the time to do it.

I think it will be hard to come down with a winner.  I know that everyone’s going to work really hard on it, to try.

VHS or Beta playing “Bring on the Comets” live @ Highline Ballroom, New York, NY:

Also see them playing “Alive” and “Fall Down Lightly”

QRO: Why did you make the ‘making of the album’ video for Comets on the website?

MP: We thought it would be interesting to document something.  Here we are, in the middle of nowhere, and we’ve got all this cool stuff at our fingertips.

He wasn’t really there that much of the time.  He came to Louisville for a couple days and just filmed some stuff, and he was in the studio for a total of three days out of thirty-five days.  So it wasn’t so intrusive, or anything.  It’s nice to look back on it and see.  I thought he did a nice job.

QRO: Who’s the best poker player?

MP: Craig, Craig is.  He takes it really seriously; he’s really good.  He’s read the most books.

QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?

MP: We just started playing “Solid Gold” again, off Le Funk, this instrumental, really disco-y song.  It was really fun to learn that again, ‘cause we hadn’t played it in years.  That was really fun.

VHS or Beta playing “Solid Gold” live @ Blender Theater at Gramercy, New York, NY:

From the new record, “Can’t Believe A Single Word” is really fun.  They’re all fun.  They’re all really fun.

QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, don’t like to play live, or just don’t play anymore?

MP: Our biggest problem is the fact that Mike lives in L.A. and we live in Louisville, so it’s really hard to rehearse the older stuff.

We want to do a lot of the older stuff, because people are always, ‘Play “Forever”!’, and we’re like, ‘We want to, but we just… can’t.’

That’s the only issue we have, because it’s expensive to fly someone out just to rehearse a song, and then fly them home, and then your touring a week later?…  We always say we’re gonna try to pick ‘em out at soundcheck, but we just never do it.  It’s just too hard.

QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?

MP: Bogotá, obviously.

The first couple of times we played Kansas City, we played for literally nobody, and last tour, we drove from Denver to Kansas City, it’s like a ten-hour drive, and Kansas City was so insanely off the hook.  It was like, ‘When did this happen?!?’  ‘Cause literally, we played Kansas City three times in our career, and it was like, playing for bartenders.

Denver got really good – Denver got amazing.  Chicago…  We are like a five-hour drive from Chicago, and back in the day, when we were really first starting, it was like a ‘big deal’ to drive to Chicago to play a show.  We had friends who were in bands up there, and they’d always give us good spots, in front of people, and then we’d go by ourselves and be nobody.  Literally, nobody.

We did Lollapalooza in Chicago, and I think that really started something for us in Chicago, because the last three times we’ve played in Chicago, it’s been sold-out, crazy, insane, great turn-outs.

QRO: Is it hard, being from a relatively smaller town, as opposed to New York bands having a New York fan base?

MP: I think the reason why we do okay in New York is because we’re not from here.  I think people are like, ‘You’re from Kentucky?’  I think that’s how people got interested in the first place.

I’m glad we’re not just another New York band.  I think, now, it’s kind of cliché, almost.  I think there’s a backlash in the press, against New York bands.  The Strokes, Interpol – they’re all great bands, but I think, for a minute, it was like, ‘Alright, enough!’

I predict a big, huge resurgence in Southern bands.  Southern rock bands like My Morning Jacket.  I predict that that’s going to be, not the ‘next big thing’, but I just think they’re going to get their due here.

QRO: Do you ever get the reaction, ‘electronic bands aren’t from Louisville’, or ‘you guys don’t look like electronic bands’?

MP: We’ve always had comments on how we don’t look like we’re from Louisville, we don’t look like we play disco, we don’t look like we play rock, and so…

Craig sings in a certain way, and he’s Asian.  I think people who don’t know much about us are a little pleased, or taken aback by that.

First of all, people look at us like we’re aliens, because we’re playing disco in 2000, before The Rapture, before all of that stuff.  And then there’s a couple of Asians on stage [also Chea Beckley, keyboards], from Kentucky.  We’ve always considered ourselves aliens, ‘cause we don’t fit in anywhere.

QRO: Are there any places that you haven’t been to, which you want to?

MP: We’re going to Australia.  We’ve never been there.  I actually went with a friend, when I was really young, but, as a band, we’re going there for the first time.

Craig and I are DJing in Bangkok, which is so awesome.

I’d like to get to like Greece and places like that, Eastern Europe, Prague.  Where else?  Maybe South Africa or something?  I don’t know if bands even play there.  I just hear it’s really beautiful down there.  I’d still like to see every South American country.

QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?

MP: I tell this story about the last time we were in St. Louis.  We pulled into this club, and we were running late, and it was hot, and we were all starving, and we had to get through soundcheck at a certain time.  It was a club where, you played in the basement, and there was a restaurant on top.  Really nice club, great sound.

We were like, so hungry.  I think we had to skip breakfast, because we were running late.  We were all grouchy, and hungry, and hot.  We finally go upstairs, sit down, and they’re like, ‘The food’s on us, the restaurant, we got it.’  We’re like, ‘Awesome!’

We all order, and I realize, my hands are really filthy, because I’ve been moving equipment and stuff.  So I go into the restroom to wash my hands, and as I’m washing my hands, the door just flies open, and I hear this ‘Ugh, ugh…’

And I turn around, and there’s this kid, already puking.  It’s like coming out of his mouth.  I’m trying to think, a) I want to get my back towards him, and I want to get in a stall.  So I’m going away from him – That’s what you do, right, if someone’s?…

So I go into the stall like this [crouching away, covering head], and I hear, “Ugggh” – hot vomit hits my arm.  Not a drop; I’m talking like… whatever a ‘unit of vomit’ is, on your arm.

And I’m like, “What the?!?”  I went away from him!  He had every opportunity to puke in the sink, a urinal, anywhere.  It was almost like he followed me; it was almost like he wanted to.

I just remember being so horrified and pissed.  I felt really, like, violated?  I mean: it’s vomit!  Vomit – from a total stranger!  You know like, if you’re friend’s drunk, and he pukes on you, that sucks, but it’s your buddy, or your girlfriend.  This was like a sixteen-year-old kid.  I remember looking like, “What are you doing?!?”  “Ooh, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it…”  And I almost slipped on it on the way out…  It was fucking horrible.

That’s the tour story I tell.

And, two nights later, we were in Knoxville, and someone puked on our merch.  So it was this weird tour – puke was following us.

VHS or Beta playing “Fall Down Lightly” live @ Blender Theater at Gramercy, New York, NY:

Also see them playing “Alive” and “Night on Fire”

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