Chicago – Back in 2014, Best New Bands had the privilege of getting to know an up and coming band from Milwaukee by the name of Vinyl Theatre. VT was then a four-piece, comprised of Keegan Calmes (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Senner (keyboard), Nick Cesarz (drums), and Josh Pottier (bass), and had recently signed with Fueled By Ramen. On the day of our interview, Vinyl Theatre was releasing the debut full-length, Electrogram. Vinyl Theatre was also in the midst of the Quiet is Violent Tour with Twenty One Pilots and Misterwives, helping VT amass quite the fan following. Flash forward to 2016: Vinyl Theatre is now a trio – Josh Pottier recently left the band due to health issues – and co-headlining a Live Nation Ones To Watch Tour with Finish Ticket. Best New Bands caught up with Keegan Calmes to discuss recording new music, fan art, and Making A Murderer.
Keegan, I chatted with you back in 2014, while you were on the road with Twenty One Pilots. That seems like ages ago!
That was one of the first interviews we did!
What have you guys been up to since then?
Basically, [we’ve been] constantly on the road and working on new music the whole time. We’re playing some new music on tour! The last year’s just been really crazy, moving around and playing as many shows as possible. We’ve had a lot of special opportunities to play with huge bands, some festivals, and a couple of arena shows. It’s been awesome!
You have been on the road pretty much 24/7, but I did see you were in a studio recently. You’ve been recording! I assume Vinyl Theatre is working on a sophomore album?
We’re hoping to get new music out this year, but we’re not sure exactly what the plan is. It’s been quite a process. Lots of new songs, lots of demos. We’ve probably written thirty to forty new songs. We’re trying to find the best ones for the next record. With Electrogram, it was a bit more of a culmination of all the songs we had written [up to that point], but now we’re doing something that shifts to the mold of one album and feels very cohesive.
Have you been recording in Wisconsin again or somewhere else?
Yeah, we’ve just been in Wisconsin. We’re looking at a couple of producers to work on the next record with, to record with and take advice from. That’s where we’re at right now.
I feel like Wisconsin is a state that often gets ignored by most Americans and the media. But lately it’s been getting a lot of attention thanks to the Netflix documentary series Making A Murderer. Have you watched the show? What are your thoughts?
I think people in Wisconsin were aware of it before everybody else. Everybody here had already watched it. The hype was huge here. Then three weeks later it hit the rest of the world. I had a knowledge about it, but it wasn’t super mainstream here until the documentary came out. It was like, “Oh my God, it’s about somebody from Wisconsin! Everybody watch it immediately!” It’s the small city mentality of a small state, I guess; we all want to know what’s going on. So yeah, I watched it right away.
Guilty or not guilty?
Oh man, I don’t know. I hope that new evidence is introduced. I think at this point, [Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey] were pretty railroaded by the system and the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Department.
I read a legal team from Chicago is taking their cases, so we’ll see what happens. Aside from Making A Murderer, I also recently watched Vinyl Theatre’s music video for “Gold,” which was released in December. It’s intense, like Oliver! meets The Hunger Games. Who came up with the concept?
[Chris Senner] and I had been talking about it for awhile. Then the ideology behind it just grew and grew… we wanted to make it so it could be taken in several different ways. I don’t want to pinpoint exactly what we personally think of the video or what the meaning is. People have taken a lot from it. I’ve gotten a lot of messages about it. People have outlined this whole conspiracy of what it’s about, like “It’s about the record label. They kept fighting you, conforming you, and you’re trying to break free.” I love the speculation. [laughs] I’m big on those dystopian novels like 1984 and movies like A Clockwork Orange and The Hunger Games. I really took from that the whole mentality of being controlled in a dystopian society, where things get so convoluted and out of hand, that you lose your individuality, and how important it is to have your own self worth and to understand what that is, like in the book Anthem by Ayn Rand, where people lose the ability to read. [In the book] leaders tell everyone what the “real” history of the world is. The idea of “self” and “you” and “I” are gone. Everyone says “we.” It’s always “we” are going to do this. There’s no individuality. How can you not feel that way these days, especially with social media? Individuality is all we concentrate on these days, but at the same time, it’s so diluted.
Surely everyone will take away something different when watching the video. I thought you were saying we’ve become slaves to consumerism, but it’s interesting to hear what inspired the video. Vinyl Theatre is co-headlining a Live Nation Ones To Watch Tour with Finish Ticket, What are you most looking forward to on this tour?
I already know we get along with them, so it’s going to be fun. Before some tours, we don’t even know the other band, and we have to contact them. We’ve already met them, so I’m just looking forward to being out [on tour] again. This is really going to be the last time we tour exclusively on Electrogram, I think. I think. I’m not positive, but I think we’re going to give it one last “hurrah.” We’re going to give these songs everything we’ve got. We’ve been working out an intense light show, and we’ve got some other really good treats for everybody this tour.
Well, my favorite artist is Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers. He’s the guy I look to the most when I think of the craft of song-writing and exactly what I want to do. One of our long-time fans, who is pretty much our friend, her name is Gabi, she makes me these paintings that are fantastic. She’s an amazing artist! Brandon Flowers or lyrics to his songs with her own artistic interpretation… I’ve gotten two of those now. They’re hanging up in my basement where I keep all the stuff I record with and all my guitars. It’s a nice inspiration!
During our first interview, I asked about some of your favorite vinyl scores. Have you picked up any great records recently?
One of my favorite recent records is by the band Bad Suns. They have one of the best records out right now. Not to mention, Catfish and the Bottlemen. I always say it, Catfish and the Bottlemen are going to be one of the most iconic bands of our era!
Catfish and the Bottlemen rocks, but so does Vinyl Theatre! VT and Finish Ticket are now on tour. A full list of dates can be found on the Vinyl Theatre Facebook page. Electrogram is available for purchase on iTunes.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.