Eric Phipps of Wampire on why a live band is more exciting than a guy on stage with a laptop
Wampire is a five-piece whose music doesn't seem fixed to a particular musical period, especially the current era. If anything, the band's gently swirling, swaying melodies are buoyed almost imperceptibly by a distinct if informal structure that keeps the music from wandering completely where it will. It's almost like psychedelic rock if it was also inspired in part by mid-'80s Kiwi rock and the lurid yet organic moods of Rolling Stones records from the late '70s.
The outfit began in 2007 when childhood friends Eric Phipps and Rocky Tinder reconnected in Portland, Oregon, near where they both had grown up. We recently had a chance to speak with Phipps about the band's shift in sound from an earlier, electronic dance configuration to what it's doing now, and how a live band is more exciting than watching someone on stage with just a laptop.
Westword: When you started playing together, what inspired you to go and do a band?
Eric Phipps: I just think that for us it was a fascination, first off, with punk rock. We were into the Ramones and Bad Religion, even. Pop punk, too. It was just like a young, juvenile interest in loud music and guitars. Rocky actually played trumpet in the middle-school band, and I was playing saxophone.
I picked up a bass and Rocky started playing guitar, and we taught ourselves a bunch of songs. We'd sit around and play guitars, and eventually we started a band with one of Rocky's neighbors, and that band went for a little bit and fizzled out. That was at the point where we were done with high school and doing our own thing.
We started this band in 2007 because a friend just wanted some music for a party, and we were like, "We don't have any songs yet, but we want to do that." We had some songs, but they were more kind of like ideas -- but we finalized them in about a week and played this party, and it was just set that we had a band.
What kind of stuff were you playing at that time? Was it that more kind of pop-punk thing?
We weren't going for that when Wampire first started. At that point we had progressed to be into a different kind of music. I never stuck to one kind of music, and I don't think Rocky did, either. We both liked the Strokes when we were teenagers, and we grew up with folk, '60s and '70s classics and Motown -- all that stuff. Gradually we ended up doing a kind of electronic, lo-fi dance thing when we were getting ready for that party.
We thought it would be nice to have some beats and a drum machine. We did that for a couple of years, but with this last album in this last year, we really shifted our sound because our interests just changed. We're already looking for the next interest we have, which is turning into whatever we're doing now. I don't know what else to say about it other than it's just live, and we have very few elements of computer music anymore.
You played with Foxygen this past March at Larimer Lounge?
Yeah, that was with Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
When you played that show, it sounded like garage rock at first, but as the set progressed, it was not really easily classifiable. It was kind of like psychedelic rock. What interests got you into making that sort of thing?
For live we do kind of want a sort of loud, psychedelic feel but at the same time we try to make it as structured as we can while keeping it exciting. I think it comes out of an interest in early '66 Rolling Stones and the breakout of psychedelia and what was happening there. For me the 13th Floor Elevators are a huge inspiration for guitar sounds and guitar anything, really.
I like the way they played their guitars. It sounds like they were really talented and like they were fucking up left and right and that's part of that sound. We're inspired by that era of music because it was so exciting. It was all about the new beat and the new loud guitar, which wasn't restrained. That's the energy we try to bring to the shows.
At the same time we use some synths that are more '80s style. We're trying to blend a couple of sonic interests that we have. We love David Bowie and a lot of that weirder, fancier 70s and 80s music. Hall & Oates. We go for whatever feels right, I think.
The name Wampire, how did that come about?
It's kind of like a random name. We get asked about that in interviews and people learning about the band. It spawned from that early genesis of the band in 2007. I was coming back from Germany, which was a big part of my life, the pronunciation of Wampire comes from the mispronunciation of vampire by a lot of my German friends.
It was really funny to me. I speak German, and I'm not that great at German, either, and I would be respectful, and I would say, "You say vampire." And they would be like, "Yeah, yeah, wampire." I would be like, "Okay, just keep doing it. It's cool." It just kind of stuck.
There's a press photo that looks like soft lighting. Did you have input into it?
That's our friend Robbie Augspurger. He's an excellent portrait maker. He does a lot of different work but we knew he could capture the Glamour Shots from the '70s or '80s perfectly. He's done a bunch of photos for us in the past and he's a great dude.
We approached him about doing some Glamour Shots, and he was really into the idea and we got together for a couple of hours one day and put it together. That's actually what Ruban [Nielson] from Unknown Mortal Orchestra used to render for the album art. He took it and made it into something totally different. Then we have the Glamour Shots unaffected.
It looks like one of those high school pictures pieces.
Right. We totally wanted it to be like a year book photo or something like that.
Are you a multi-instrumentalist these days considering your history as a musician?
I play guitar in this. I started with bass back in the day. Me and Rocky play guitar and we have a bass player, a drummer and a synth player.
You used beats in the earlier incarnation of the band. Some people would stick to what they've done. Why did you want to go with a marked shift in what you were doing with your music?
Honestly, I think it was hearing other bands play. The more that I heard other bands with their live energy and loud drums and dynamics that change, it made me realize, and it made Rocky realize as well, in seeing these bands that we love, that's what people want to see, obviously.
When I go to a show I really don't want to see a computer up on the stage. It's not very exciting. Nothing against the computer particularly, but I got bored of doing that as a musician. I wanted to feel like we could have a beat that could change and dynamics that could change. We could get really quiet and we could get really loud.
That and listening to a lot of classic rock and roll. Rocky really loves the Clash and the Strokes. We both love, as I said, early Rolling Stones and even mid '70s and early '80s Rolling Stones. It's so good. It's a different thing but they adapted really well. We like Link Wray. I also like the rebellious guitar era, when rock was really fresh and it was more about pure rebellion, whatever that meant.
Yeah, at that time it was a pretty new thing, and no one had codified it and established sub-genres as yet.
Oh yeah. It was kind of a big influence for us.