Conversations with Vs Colour
Joe Bates is getting his hair braided as he sits on a chair in the green room of the club his band Vs Colour is playing tonight. He may or may not have already eaten some mushrooms. Alex, the band’s guitarist, is smiling genially and sipping off a bottle of tequila. Across the room, the band’s drummer, Ivan, looks lost in thought. Wolf, the bassist, is nowhere to be found. We’re talking about the beginnings of Vs Colour. (Later, Alex will write me a detailed origin story, which is reprinted below.)
“I met Alex at a juice bar,” Bates is saying. “We would talk about hip hop and R&B a lot. I didn’t know a whole lot of people who knew as much as Alex did about hip hop. He’s like an encyclopedia, but not just on the basics, like style, but also on the deeper concepts. So then we’d have these amazing conversations and we found out that we both played guitar. So we played guitar together and it was the gayest moment of my life. I would’ve probably had sex with Alex had he let me, but we just started playing in a band instead.”
“I was completely like 'fuck' when I first heard and played along with Joe's voice,” Alex says. “He uses his voice similarly to the way I use a guitar, at least to my understanding of it, and there's a direct connection to feeling and vulnerability that he connects to.”
Bates readily admits that his band’s name Vs Colour is “fucking weird” and “kinda lame on my part, being from Los Angeles and spelling our name like we’re from England” but that it, “sets a precedent for what Vs Colour is: subjective interpretations of whatever.”
I ask the band, whose music is the most booty-shaking-sex-glam to come out of LA since early Chili Pepper shit, if there’s an intersection for them between spirituality and sexuality.
Bates (hair almost finished braided, smoking a joint): “For me, sexuality is an appreciation of feeling good about yourself and feeling sexy and being able to throw yourself out there in a confident way. Because you feel good about yourself, you allow music to come through you in a translucent way and let that be the thing. Spirituality is intertwined. There’s the idea that 8 notes exist in an octave and those notes exist before you ever play the song, there’s an element that makes you surrender to the concept that the music can be yours and you are a part of this thing.”
Alex adds, “For me, sexuality is a way to express my soul. Not to say that it’s like fucking, because there are other ways your vulnerability can be felt without necessarily identifying that feeling as being sexual, but still coming from that place, if that makes sense. In a way, if you can agree that your feelings and vulnerability are an extension of your spirit and humanity, and I know for me that feeling sexual and excited makes me feel more at one with the spirits and all the energies on earth, affected by the universe, to create and write and play and perform the way I do, then I would say any person’s sexuality gives them an excitement and strength to do what they do as the moments have them and channel those feelings.”
Bates was raised with religion. “I went to Northwest Bible School, in Seattle, right out of high school. I lasted about a week before I realized that I didn’t want to go into so much debt. And going into that whole Bible world…I’m so glad I didn’t go do that. At the time I thought I was supposed to (go to Bible college); my dad was a minister and my mom was the music pastor. But around my senior year of high school I started smoking pot, my parents kicked me out of my house, (my whole family life) went to shit, which was a good thing. Leaving religion, in a way, you have to die to your ego. And you have to deal with guilt and your family and shit. But I chose music and doing a bunch of drugs and thats cool."
Bates continues after a mammoth drag: “My whole thing with religion in general is that you're taught that the world works a certain way, you’re taught about heaven and hell, but there’s no life experience to (help you) grasp these concepts, you’re just following someone else’s ideas. But you don’t really know shit. Your experiences are what define you, anyways, so if your whole fucking life is living inside of this box, than, to me, its one of the most shallow ways to exist. Plus I just don’t think you should ever be in a position to tell other people how to think, how to feel, how they need to be. That’s just insane to me to think that you have the answers. With God and the Bible and shit, I never really gave a shit whether or not they existed, even when I was a kid. I remember my mom and my dad telling me this idea really mattered, so because they told me it mattered, I thought it mattered, but it wasn’t something i came to grips with myself. But once I realized how much I liked smoking pot, and how much I don’t give a shit about anything but what i want to do, it made me feel like life’s cool.”
The conversation turns to drugs.
“Drugs is my favorite topic to talk about,” Bates says. “Drugs are awesome. Mushrooms, acid, everything’s awesome. Probably not heroin. I’ve done heroin a couple of times and all that happened is that I got sick. Psychedelics I’m all about. The first time you do ‘em, they change your view of the world. It’s like you didn’t know this whole world could exist. You experience a completely separate emotional ride. When you trip your mind out, (your trip) is pretty much all you have. You have to surrender to the intense feelings that you have and it makes you have to face insecurities that you have. In music, it’s amazing. There’s no other way to be more honest with yourself. You have to surrender to loving yourself and when you do you realize the world is amazing and is giving you, like, a big hug. Creatively, it opens you up, gets your self out of the way of the creative process.”
Alex, who’s currently changing into a little Bo Peep white and blue dress, says, “I started drinking and smoking pot around 14 and where those were fun and certainly a way to break from what I knew at the time as normalcy. I really didn't like school or the environment I was in when I was 15, I took pills and started taking mushrooms and acid and there was opium around at the time too. It was important to me to have these experiences because as a musician I loved a lot of music that I was aware of having been created by people who had had experiences; not that I wanted theirs, I just wanted my own and I thought it would open me up to getting closer to understanding in a general sense.”
Ivan adds in a soft, even voice, “Using psychotropic drugs has opened my mind to perspectives other than my own first impulse. I'm not sure who I would be without these experiences, but I can say I reference many trips as landmarks in my personal development. I feel that I am more open minded, caring, and patient as a result of these experiences. Psychotropic drugs don’t just intersect with my creativity, I would say that they are inseparable. How I see the world is how i see myself is how i see my art.”
Joe Bates puts a capper on the issue: “Psychedelic drugs: I encourage anyone to do them. And if they want to do them with me, I will do them with you. You just have to buy ‘em. And I will help anyone along the way of that journey of trying to find themselves, because that shit is the real shit to me and is the best thing ever.”
I tell them i’m often curious what creative types think of Los Angeles. Without hesitation, Bates says emphatically, “I fucking love LA. I had this idea that i hated LA before I moved here. Why I wanted to move to somewhere that I thought I hated, maybe I’m a self-deprecating asshole or something. But the amazing thing about LA is that it’s so huge. I had this concept that people in LA would be like these West Hollywood type people—which, don’t get me wrong, I love West Hollywood-type people because they’re so fucking insane—they’re just different types of people than me. When you move here, you have to figure out a way to either hate it or love it, so I started just appreciating all kinds of people, the most insane people I’d ever seen in my life. It makes you feel like the world is a lot bigger than you thought and you have to accept people for who they are.”
Ivan says, “I am very happy in LA. Most of my family and close friends are here. I don't plan on moving any time soon.”
If you had to live somewhere else?
Bates: “New Orleans.”
Ivan: “If i had to choose another place to live, I would probably choose New York. I like the US and I like cities. Always something to do.”
“I dunno if I could live in New York,” Bates murmurs, more to himself than anyone, then says, “well, maybe I could.”
What was the last thing that inspired these dudes? Ivan says, “Watching Hex Horizontal trip out on their noise machines last Monday was pretty fucking sick.”
Agreeing, Alex continues, “I feel a really inspired energy in the air right now. I've felt it for a while now. The past few years have been interesting and all of a sudden in the present moment I'm just thinking about all of our friends an they're all in love with what they're doing, all of them working and creating fucking amazing music. I see a lot of my friends exploring themselves and pushing their own limitations and that has had a profound effect on me over the years and it inspires me to go deep and explore myself and to me the four of us in Vs Colour are sharing an experience of growth and expression and sooner than later we'll get to hear what that sounds like.”
Catch Vs Colour Wednesday at Harvard and Stone with The Past Haunts and Night of Joy.
How Vs Colour Came To Be, by Alex Belmonte:
Joe and Jaysun (of Facial) started Vs Colour together about 4 years ago and started playing shows as a two piece; then Kurt Allen joined on drums while he was also in Voxhaul Broadcast and the three of them carried on for sometime and that's around the time I met Joe while working at the juice bar on Sunset in Silver Lake. We just connected right away and jammed within days of meeting. I had already met Kurt through friends and Joe introduced me to Jaysun at a Soviet Red show, but hadn't seen them play together. Joe sent me his demos and I started writing parts and maybe re-arranging slightly and adding weirdness that he seemed to appreciate so he asked me to come jam with the others and after that jam, which at that point Kurt had left, and Jaysun was in James Supercave, Andy from Supercave was playing drums and they both quit after that jam. Then Joe met Goose, who was also in a band with his brothers called the Webb Brothers and their drummer was Flo who was also in Obliterations; we started playing shows and finishing up songs and our tenure with Flo was always known to be temporary since he is a working drummer and Obliterations tours a lot, so when he left we had a couple of one off replacements (Joe Zizzo from Visitors being one) and then Kurt came back for a stretch and that went well until he injured his hand. Ivan and I had seen each other around at Warpaint shows but had finally officially met and talked at a Supercave show at the Echo (I had many friends telling me I had to meet this guy) and we were close pretty quickly too and just jamming together all the time and writing ideas and being music nerds and telling jokes and just becoming friends and we were going to do something together we knew that, so I just asked him to fill in and he did and it felt so good that first show and he sort of just stayed. There was a particular show in the spring at the Fairbanks house, where I think we just accepted that he was actually in the band. We played a lot after that and made our record that summer of 2014 with Ivan on drums and recording it, but things weren't all flowing between us all and we decided to part ways with Goose in January. We got asked to open for Warpaint in February 2015 and we didn't have a bass player. Jaysun had just left Supercave, so he was our natural choice and it felt great to play that show, however he wasn't interested in joining full time and wanted to concentrate on Facial and his own music and so we were without a bass player again. I also play in a band called the Jew cocks and we played a show about 2013 with this band Lightnin' Woodcock at Down n Out and I met Wolf outside before their show, he was 16 at the time, but he's really an old soul and spirit, we got on almost as it was with Joe and Ivan, talked about bands we loved and talked about jamming sometime. After Jaysun decided not to rejoin the band, we just tried to press on and look around, we wanted to release the record, but Goose wouldn't let us with his playing on it, so I asked Wolf to come in and learn and rewrite some bass parts and it was great, so we asked him to join and that was a little over a year ago and here we are!