By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Vasudeva.
Imagine a snowball rolling down a snow laden hill. As the core of ice gathers speed it also accumulates layer after newfound layer of whatever happens to stick. By the time the ball reaches the bottom, the object that started out small and seemingly insignificant has transformed into something much larger.
The snowy scenario is an apt metaphor for Vasudeva’s songwriting process. The New Jersey four-piece instrumental rock outfit released their first full-length album, Life in Cycles, which they’ve been touring behind for close to a year now. The songs are labyrinthine, twisting explorations of melody–often featuring an intricate latticework of guitar harmonies that weave in and out of tightly knit webs.
“Someone will bring a riff to the table, and we’ll all start building on it,” guitar player Corey Mastrangelo tells BTR. “By the time the song emerges it might sound completely transformed from where it began.”
Some songs come out instantaneously while others can take as long as six months to fully form. One common denominator remains, however: don’t call them a jam band. While the songs allow freedom of interpretation for the musicians in a live setting (choosing sound effects and textures to match the mood of the night, as Mastrangelo puts it), that doesn’t mean that they emanate elements of free-form improvisation.
Structure is an essential value for Vasudeva, as the musicians would not be able to construct their cornucopia of sound without careful premeditation. It’s easy for audiences to hear a song in a live setting, discover an interloping riff, and interpret it as a moment of sheer spontaneity. However, these seemingly magical moments take time, and attributing the style to improv is selling them short.
It takes a real sense of intimacy and an inherent chemistry to concoct songs with their range of depth, a refined skill that comes naturally for the members of Vasudeva. The band mates grew up together in Bernardsville, NJ, and have stayed best friends for years. They’ve been playing together since 2008, when guitar player Grant Mayer started teaching Mastrangelo musical essentials such as how to hold a pick.
“It completely enhances the chemistry,” says Mastrangelo. “It’s great because it’s a chemistry that’s naturally there from being such good friends.”
The importance of the band mates’ camaraderie became especially apparent when they found themselves cooped up in a van for nine-hour stretches of driving through the countryside of Europe. The offer to tour the continent came up unexpectedly from a friend Kevin Dye, whose band Gates headlined shows with Vasudeva in the past. Dye discovered the group by chance at a Brooklyn show and immediately knew he had to get them on board.
Reception in Europe was particularly heartening for Vasudeva, especially because they were used to performing in insular environments at American house parties and small concerts. What they found waiting for them–besides bizarre and beautiful new venues–was an audience that would go out to see a show even if they had never heard of the bands that were playing.
“In the states, a lot of people will look at a show flyer and end up turning away because they don’t recognize any of the names,” says Mastrangelo. “But in Europe people actually go out to see shows because they want to discover new music.”
Vasudeva is well worth the discovery. The band crafts a unique instrumental sound that doesn’t need vocals to captivate listeners. There’s no typical verse-chorus-verse structure to the songwriting because, well, there is nothing typical about the band.
Although people try to pigeonhole this musical group with genres and other qualifying distinctions, Vasudeva eschews classification as easily as their songs shed conventional form. They’re “post-rock” but without the grand cinematic overtones. They’re “math-rock” but lack its native turbulence. They’re “prog” but less stuffed with heady ambition.
At their heart, Vasudeva makes music meant for dancing. It sounds like stargazing with guitars while the constellations keep the beat.
“I think that’s the biggest difference between us and most post-rock bands,” states Mastrangelo. “We make people move.”
To hear the rest of the Vasudeva interview, check out the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.
Find your own way to interpret Vasudeva by clicking here.