May 2006:

No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn

By the time they returned from tour, Vietnam was ready to get the hell out of Selinsgrove – particularly because the storefront where they flopped just prior to moving had a couple of open bedrooms. So they loaded up the truck and moved to South Williamsburg. One of their roommates, Will Lemon, who you may recognize from Devendra Banhart’s live show or his song “Will’s My Friend,” or perhaps as the StareMaster champion of New York, is also the freak folk Herbie Mann and has his own group Moon and Moon with Ivan. So a good chunk of the band’s live shows in the last year or so have included cameos by Mr. Lemon’s echo-drenched flute. By this point the guys bunked together two to a room, shared the same clothes, and had the communal living thing down to a science.

The only problem with the new digs was that the old tenants hadn’t paid their electricity bill for some time, to the tune of a couple of thousand dollars. The electricity remained off for a couple of months during that hot summer. The band made due with an old cassette recorder, some thrift shop tapes, some candlelight, and a door opened to the sidewalk. Vietnam’s open-door policy made them, by default, the hipster ambassadors to the locals in one of the last sections of the neighborhood that isn’t yet 100% gentrified. Sometimes I’d come to the door and kids from the block would be crowded around the door checking out the music inside. Another time I found a local senior citizen teaching the guys Puerto Rican folk songs on the acoustic guitar. Soon they had constant around the clock visitors and humid candle-lit impromptu parties nightly.

Mickey Madden

Farmer Dave

Vietnam leaves Brooklyn for California

Michael William in the studio

Earlier that year Mickey Madden from the pop group Maroon 5 offered to finance a full-length Vietnam record. The plan was to begin preproduction in New York with Madden and Farmer Dave of the Beachwood Sparks. By the time the two arrived in July, the power was already off and, with the exception of a little time spent at practice spaces, most of the record was worked out with acoustic guitars in the living room during one of the hottest NYC summers on record. In August Madden flew them to Los Angeles for a month of recording with Farmer Dave as their producer. An odd mix of talents including Jenny Lewis, Future Pigeon, Paz Lenchantin, and Jesse Carmichael of Maroon 5 all dropped in to lay down tracks. Due to a mixture of financial, logistical, and legal issues, the LP wasn’t mixed until last month.

The band is currently in negotiation with a large New York indie label for the release of the final product. In the meantime they’re putting out a series of three limited-edition twelve-inch EP’s with their friends at The Social Registry. The EP’s will each include a track from the L.A. session and couple more recorded by the producer of The Concrete is Always Grayer On The Other Side Of The Street, Matt Boynton. They’re also slated to do a couple of seven-inches with cover songs for my label. Do the math - despite their slim current output, including their epic self-titled debut LP, Vietnam expects to have six new releases floating around by the end of the year.

Until then, the band is once again saving money – but for the first time they’re not moving away to do so – remaining busy with a variety of projects. In the last year Vietnam has played regularly - including a residency at Scenic and openers for Jenny Lewis, Fiery Furnaces, Nikki Sudden, Gris Gris, and other friends. The boys’ve also been supplementing their income with modeling gigs, including two separate shoots for Italian Vogue. They composed the score for a performance piece staged at Bard earlier this month. And, as I write, their friend and occasional collaborator, Texas legend Gibby Haynes, is at their house making fantastic and freaky sounds for a TV show theme they were commissioned to record.

After five years of hard labor, Vietnam has an unmistakable sound, a solid lineup, and some serious full-length recording in the bag...

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© New York Night Train , 2006