VOICES UNDERWATER – interview by Peter Soyer
Someone sinking to the bottom in the deep end of the pool would never be heard screaming for help. The sound doesn’t carry, the screams are absorbed, and no one notices. Voices underwater, if you’re close enough to hear them, come out jumbled. The words form into a ball as soon as they leave the mouth and brush by the ear, but never enter it. It’s as if the mass of sound is too much for the ear to take and the water distorts it, disassembles it, and moves it along.
The guys of Voices Underwater, however, are not trying to drown anyone or make an impenetrable mass of sound. Their music is just as strong as that mass, though. The organic, liquidy sound of VU (pronounced voo, like boo) combines the heart of indie with the mind of techno. I use the word “techno” lightly though. I don’t want anyone thinking VU is the indie version of the “uhh tis uhh tis uhh tis” of techno. VU surfaced in Denver in 2001 and have been finding their voice, their group and their audience ever since. I managed to find Ben Devoss (guitar) and talk to him about the band, Denver, the best movie of the summer and how he got his bike back.
How is the music scene in Denver?
The last year there has been a few bands making an impact. Of course, my answer is a little biased based on what I think is genuine music versus the fluff. However, as far as “a scene”, it’s hit or miss. Some shows, it’s like “Where did all these people come from?”, and others are like, “Where is everyone?” That happened when we opened for the Delgados. Maybe a 100 people showed up that night. Here’s this band on stage killing it and no one’s there to enjoy the sounds. It’s perplexing.
Any inspiration for your music coming out of Denver?
I would have to say no to that question. There are very few bands here that we’re truly interested in and would play on the stereo at home. However, if you mean just as a city, of course. One can’t help but be influenced in day-to-day life. I always try to pay attention to what’s happening, you know, stay stimulated and write about it.
Any specific examples of the Denver environment that influence?
I would say, public transportation is always a great place to get feedback on society. I just got a free transit card, so I’ve been wearing it out lately. Also, I’ve been riding my bike around a lot the last four months and that is another great way to take it all in. OK, story time. My bike got stolen about six weeks ago and yesterday my parents were in town visiting. I’m driving their dope minivan through my neighborhood. We’re at the stoplight and I’m like, “That’s my bike.” It was like Kramer in UHF. “My Biiiiike.” I threw the car in park and jumped out at the light and stopped this cat. It turns out he acquired it through the grapevine and thought he was entitled to it. Things got heated up and I thought it could go to blows and I hate violence and would have probably lost, but the cops showed up and intervened. Long story short, I got my bike back. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. My pops had my back.
What books have you found the most inspirational? What movies?
I just watched a film on racism that has stuck with me for a week. It’s called “The Color of Fear.” Everyone should see this film. Books, right now I’m reading “Slaughter House Five” and I’m still waiting to get “Lullaby” by Chuck Palahnuik from Chris. It’s hard to name one book that says it all, they all have a certain effect.
How did you come up for the art on the last album? The different angles of the octopus fit perfectly.
I’m glad you liked it. My good friend Randall Statler did that from his home in Seattle. He also did our website that shadows the same theme. We pretty much said, “Do what you want and we’ll see if we like it.” It came out great. We tweaked a few things, but overall it was his creation. I saw the octopus this summer when I was in Seattle and the thing
can fit in the palm of your hand.
How has your infancy as a band been? Do you feel that VU can grow into a long road?
The beginning stages were slow. Just finding the right people to play with musically and personally can be difficult. I think once Bill came on the scene with Chris and I we just clicked. We’re all best friends and really enjoy playing together. Unfortunately, Bill moved to Houston last month to pursue higher education. So, we’re back in the trenches trying to find the right match. Good drummers are hard to come by. As far as Voices Underwater on the long road, sure. Playing music is just something we do, almost involuntarily. Chris and I and our new guitarist Ian, who replaced Mackenzie, are keeping busy writing, and feel like we can only come back better than before, or else we would be the equivalent of a cover band.
How have your shows been?
SXSW was our best and worst show wrapped into one. You have a certain amount of time and a schedule to keep. Unfortunately, we had trouble getting the keyboards to work. They eventually did and the audience applauded, very inviting like. Then in the middle of our last song all the lights went out in the place, but our instruments were still working. I realized how much I look at my fingers at this time. We survived and it actually turned out to be a nice aesthetic to our set, despite we had no idea what was happening. Pitch black.
When naming the band Voices Underwater, were you going for the idea of a sound that is lost in a liquid mass no matter how hard you yell? Like a dense, liquidy mass that envelopes the ear?
We don’t have a sound that we are truly going for, but your description is vivid. I think VU will always be evolving. We aren’t trying to make it and that gives us the freedom to do just what we want to do.