By: Hunter Funk
When Vampyre suggest meeting me for our interview at a local Goodwill I’m a little dubious. But watching the local trio thrash their way through their exhilarating brand of noise-punk live, it’s clear they know how to have a good time. That afternoon finds us all browsing through aisles of used sports gear and absurd paperback fantasy novels with names like Demons Don’t Dream. Bassist Zachary Ingram tugs a battered copy of Black Beauty off the shelf (“Ah, the premiere horse movie of the '90s”). I catch Brandon Brooker thumbing through Stephen King’s It. “We’re pretty big horror fans,” the front man admits, though that’s already evidenced by the portrait of H.P. Lovecraft inked on his left forearm. Earlier he’d mentioned John William Polidori’s 1819 short story The Vampyre as partial inspiration for the band name. “In the past couple years I’ve gotten into weird fiction from the early 1900s, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Algernon Blackwood… it’s really influenced my lyrics.”
Down another row, Ingram stumbles across a deck of what appear to be self-help tarot cards covered in mermaids and dolphins. “This is every Tumblr user’s dream,” he jokes. He and drummer Bryan Davis hail from Lubbock, Brooker from Denton. All speak fondly of the Dallas suburb’s music scene, which birthed talented bands from Parquet Courts to Power Trip, but lament the closure of many venues there. Vampyre appeared virtually fully-formed in Austin a little over a year ago – I recall catching one of their first shows at Monkey Wrench Books last December – but really began to rise locally with the release of two EPs during the summer, one eponymous and one titled Death Dream Kingdom. The band originally fielded ideas to release two more EPs before the year’s end and compile them into one collective release, but Ingram says that’s been scrapped in favor of focusing on an album-length statement,“We’re gonna take a couple of songs from our first EP and write a lot more.”
Producer Ian Rundell, described by the band as “just a really easy dude to be around,” has played a crucial part in helping them discover their sound. “Considering he works at Beerland, he knows what loud bands do,” Ingram explains. Between all four of them, he says, “We’ve grown as friends, really, and that makes music easier to make.” As do their shared musical interests: the band spends several minutes throwing out names of favorites like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Converge, Death From Above 1979, and, oddly, Alkaline Trio. “We all have Alkaline Trio tattoos,” says Ingram. “I just like that there’s a pop punk band out there that sings about the devil.”
To their credit, Vampyre’s own lyrics aren’t exactly a cakewalk – the first song they wrote as a band boasted one-liners like “the promised land is a pile of shit,” and they’ve explored some darker lyrical avenues in their subsequent work. Though a self-professed nihilist, Brooker admits, “I’ve actually been working on this new thing where I try to write positive lyrics but with darker undertones… kind of an exercise to make me feel better. Mostly personally, I’m trying not to just bite my own tail and just keep saying the same stuff, like ‘Oh, I’m depressed, the world sucks’ – I want to maybe spark a little bit of a flame in the darkness, cuz I’m starting to get sick of feeling that way, so I don’t want other people to feel that way either. Misery always needs company, you know, but now it’s like, let’s move forward and live our dreams and not just lay in bed all day.”
"Misery always needs company, you know, but now it’s like, let’s move forward and live our dreams and not just lay in bed all day.”
The band consistently draws perhaps the largest crowd for every bill they play in part due to their ferocious and kinetic stage presence. With his band mates raising hell behind him, Brooker prowls the floor, leaps into the air, and swoons into the crowd in a graceful sort of calculated chaos. “We’ve always really dug bands that go all out,” says Ingram. “We also just really like our own music,” adds Brooker. “We like to play, and we like to have fun.”
Despite the limited palette of just drums, bass, and vocals, the trio manage to make more than enough noise live. “We don’t like having silence on stage ever. If there’s a part where we need to take a rest, Zach will throw a loop on so I can take a break and walk around for a second,” explains Davis. “You start getting shaky if you don’t take a lap around the drum kit… that’s how I drop sticks.”
As far as augmenting their skeletal sound with additional players in the future, Ingram says, “I’m not gonna put a definite on anything with this band, but there’s gonna be a bunch of people playing on [the album] who I really respect that I’ve always wanted to be on our album.”
For a band barely a year old, Vampyre is doing remarkably well. While not yet a fully self-sufficient venture, Ingram says it’s getting close. “We definitely got enough to go to the studio for a comfortable amount of days and Bryan and I don’t have to get tired mentally and physically.” Besides their main band, Zach and Bryan also play in Resent, and Brooker drums for Mangrave, on top of all three working restaurant gigs to pay the bills. “All of our jobs are really cool with us going on tour for two weeks,” says Davis. The band recently embarked on such a tour with fellow Austinites Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes. Tales from the road include getting too inebriated and opening the door of their van while moving, everyone waking up sick in Philadelphia, and playing Hexagon Bar in Minneapolis with a bizarre dual-drumset band named MURF. “Minneapolis is a cool city,” says Ingram. “I think they’re all just cold and practice a lot.”
“We also just really like our own music. We like to play, and we like to have fun.”
Of all that’s happened to Vampyre over the past year, they cite one of the weirdest, or worst, experiences as playing a house show in Brooker’s hometown. “My hair got tangled in Zach’s [bass] head stock. That was probably the most awkward thing ever – I was headbanging and my hair got caught and I had to literally, mid-song, rip my hair out. The next day he opened his guitar case and there was just a ball of my hair.”
“That show really stressed me out, too,” sighs Ingram. “I got drunk and went to Applebee’s. Twice. I went once and brought Darren [from Basketball Shorts] back with me. I was like, ‘Dude, this Applebee’s down the street is going off.’ That’s how bad I wanted to get out of that house show.” Despite their rowdiness and sheer volume live, says Davis, “We’ve never shut down a house show. Knock on wood.” All three members promptly do so, on the wooden surface of an ancient projector machine.
By this point, we’ve made a full circle back to the front of the thrift store. Ingram ends up purchasing a raincoat with tiny sheep buttons, while Brooker settles on a murky skeleton-themed snow globe for his fiancée. Davis, who seems less talkative and more elusive than his compatriots, has vanished completely, presumably having slipped outside for a cigarette. I have to laugh at how well this encapsulates their dynamic as a unit: mischievous restless energy, a healthy sense of the macabre, and just the right air of mystery. It’s a solid recipe for success, and hopefully the coming year sees Vampyre channeling these qualities into an even more fully-realized evolution of their art.