Black Vatican is Andy Roche andy Owen Gardner. They blend hypnotic scuzzy guitar with old drum machine beats and reverby vocals. Andy was nice enough to give us some insight into his music and art in the interview below.
s.o.t.r.-Who are some of you influences musically?
B.V.-Neither of us has been consistently into any one music, like
fanatically, while BV has been together. Both of us grew up on folk
music. Essentially that’s the first music I learned to play, just
little folk revival novelty songs, usually funny ones, and I’d play
them for my parents and their friends when I was in elementary school.
I listened to a lot music on the radio and I was crazy for the show
Afropop Worldwide. Towards the end of high school I got really into
Faust IV and Pere Ubu’s Dub Housing, still my favorite LPs. I just
listened to those discs over and over. The internet wasn’t the
internet yet, so I just played the same records over and over. This
sort of rock thing is probably clearest on our tape Zed Omega. The
split we did with True Primes on Locust Music is much more electronic
and I think better integrates a sort of damp darkness. While it
clearly relates to stuff like Suicide or Cluster, when I think of the
feelings on the split LP, I think of things like laying sleepless in
my bed as a teenager, listening to Varese on the radio, just sort of
abstract dread, with a summer cross breeze between the windows.
Today, we both keep our ears stretched wide. I listen to a few things
all the time, lots of minimalist composer music, kraut and industrial
music, and garage rock. The real big influence on this record has
been Collette Magny, the french jazz singer. Her record Repression is
maybe the best LP I’ve heard in years. It’s so huge. She basically
takes the world on with 4 barrels of leftism. Her voice on that
record is the yelp of Alan Vega elaborated into a language.
The new LP we’ll put out on Locust later this Spring is called Oceanic
Feelin’ and it sort of feels like Magny, but it doesn’t sound like
her. She tore things apart and there was a mix of power and panic in
her voice as she did it. We were both really interested in Jung and
Zizek, two writers with not too much in common, actually, while we
wrote this thing. Basically interested in the Real and how it could be
spoken about in something as evasive as music. There’s a lot of
sci-fi sort of talk on this new one, but I hope people read it like
Houllebecq’s sci-fi, just always aware that every wild fantasy is also
really base and physical.
s.o.t.r.-Tell us about your ‘tools of the trade’, what kind of drum machine, effects pedals, etc. do you use?
B.V.-When I play guitar, it’s a cheap Dearmond I bought when I was 18.
Owen has a similar make, but he’s stripped it and refretted it to
allow some huge expansion in the tones he can play. The drums are
whatever we have, which is usually old roto toms and a broken dijembe.
I use an Oberheim DX drum machine, I’ve had it since 96 and it will
never quit. We use a bass synth pedal, bass wahs, phasers and various
s.o.t.r.- Can you describe your separate roles a as duo performing and recording as Black Vatican?
B.V.-Anymore, the set up live is usually I sing and run electronics and
Owen plays guitar. On record, it’s pretty similar, although there are
usually more instruments around and Owen is likely to play a keyboard.
These roles really developed after I moved to Chicago and into an
apartment, basically the end of us as a rock band.
s.o.t.r.-Andy, can you tell us about the DVD “Andy Roche: Radical Witness of Iowa“? Also, what was it like to perform in France?
B.V.-I work in visual art. The DVD came from videos I made for a solo show
at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Gallery 400. The videos were
posted online and Remi Lafitte from Atelier Ciseaux in Paris saw them
and contacted me. We decided to work together. The videos on there
are basically connected to this larger project to understand what an
aesthetics based on engaged anarchist politics might look like. As
far as that mission goes, the videos on the disc are probably even
more obscure in their approach. Essentially, they sort of work like
weird documentaries about Iowa, and here I present it as a place full
of weird hills, catholic mystery and dread, and leftist angst.
Clearly, this is viewed through my glass, and is not really Iowa.
The shows in France were great. I played all the shows as an opener
for Pocahaunted and Sun Araw. With a couple exceptions, most people
had no idea who I was. Since I thought the audience would expect an
evening of fried psych, I decided to only travel with a drum machine
and effects and to play as if I was in the “chill out tent”. I really
love soul vocals on club songs, so I tried that out, sort of. There’s
a real culture of consensus in underground music. The strangest part
about it is that everyone seems to agree on what is weird, fried,
exploratory, “rad”, etc. It felt good to travel alone and sort of
All of the venues were great. I loved playing Angers at the squat
there, L’Enticelle. This was probably the highlight. The people
there were lovely, fun and had some politics (imagine that!). If I
went back to my journals, we could probably spend all of this time
talking about that evening. As far as I’m concerned, this place
should be where anyone from the US should want to play if they want
the real thing. What can I say? It was a real joy to travel there
and play. I’m not too cool to be nonchalant about it. The whole time
I kept thinking, “pay attention, this is about as good as this stuff
Sun Araw was fantastic. Cameron and William can really play!
s.o.t.r.- Whats up with The Secret Monks? Is this group still together? I love the videos of you guys playing live back in Jan.09′
B.V.-I think I need to check the date I put on that video. The show posted
on the Myspace was from 2002, but maybe it said something different on
the site. Secret Monks was a band I played in during college. When I
was a freshman, I went to see a Half-Japanese concert at Gabe’s in
Iowa City. It was a conversion experience. Sometime during the show
I decided I needed to start a band that played like they did, really
free and fun. My buddy Jon Roberts and I started Secret Monks as a
home recording project. After two years there were maybe 30-40 songs.
We’d record everything on tape, and Jon knew someone with a CD
We’d play shows on occasion. One of the best was a show with Harvey
Sid Fischer that was a real rager. We also did a week tour of
southern Iowa and northern Missouri. I really recommend touring that
way, like just playing every possible place in a tiny area. You end
up sort of living there for a little while. You become the talk of
the hills. One was in some guy’s living room in a house on a country
road. He only invited his girlfriend and her friend. During our jam,
he asked us to stop because it was bedtime. It was like 10pm.
Towards the end of the band Owen joined. The video you saw was maybe
the first and last show with him in the group. The Secret Monks ended
because everybody moved. We had several groups like the Secret Monks
before we started Black Vatican: Lady Bulldogs, Come Doves, Troll
Blasters, the Magi, Young Priest, etc.
s.o.t.r.-What is the music scene like in Iowa? What bands do you like localy?
B.V.-Well… Neither of us still lives in Iowa fulltime. We started
there, but I’ve lived in Chicago and Owen has lived in Baltimore for
years now. In Iowa the groups I love are Wet Hair, Bob Bucko, Leslie
and the Lys. The scene? There wasn’t one when I lived there and it
was great not having one. This is usually an unpopular point of view
in underground music, but I don’t like the scene or its double,
“community”. I don’t know what people mean by this stuff. These
scenes are usually little more than social conspiracies. If by scene
people mean something social that kind of fills up your life and your
calendar, sure. However, the music scene as the site where we find
meaning? I’ve never wanted to be good at living somewhere, never
wanted to run someplace. For a generation so interested in
dematerializing everything via the web, why aren’t we more interested
in transcendence? I have my friends. I have my life.
Iowa is heaven and I miss the Mississippi.
Check out Andy Roche’s visual art here.