Vermouth is a band from Los Angeles whose album RetroFuture Pop Exotica will be released this week. By phone Justine Kragen and Steve McDonald discuss the band's history, shows and the perfect cocktail to accompany their music.
RetroFuture pop exotica. Break that down for me.
Steve McDonald: We were just looking for a description. People always ask you what kind of music you play. I just took words I thought described us and put them together.
Justine Kragen: Steve came up with that and it kind of stuck as a way to describe ourselves. Normally when we say that to someone, they're just confused. After they hear us, they say it makes sense.
Do you think it's because a lot of people don't know what exotica is?
SM: Not really. The people that don't know what it is don't bother to say. Those that know kind of give you a nod and a wink like "I know what exotica is."
Do you catch any flack from exotica traditionalists?
SM: It's never happened. The people we meet are happy to see someone doing something with it although we're not straight exotica 100 percent of the time. The people that like it are supportive of it and they're glad to see that it's still around somehow.
JK: The pop is really an important descriptor of it. Exotica comes in at the end and it is an influence. We've spent a lot of time listening to Esquivel, Martin Denny, Yma Sumac, Henry Mancini and Les Baxter. We like exotica a lot. We met as music students. We were very interested in orchestration and classical music, but we also had different musical backgrounds. Exotica was the place where we merged influences.
Had you ever played anything like this before this project?
SM: You mean in another band or orchestra? No. Not really. We're both classical guitar players and we both have a BA in music. Along the way, we played traditional Latin American music. Also we played gamelan. So, it wouldn't be exotica, but it might be music that people find exotic. The cross-breeding of all those influences, plus our pop influences...this is sort of the place where it all came together for the two of us.
Give me the pitch to go to one of your shows.
JK: Every song is different. We haven't set out to make every song different, but it's just the creative process we've had together. We never wanted to be constrained by a particular genre. We just kind of wrote songs and put them together. What's really fun is that you never know what you're going to get. It all still has a cohesive flavor that's our own style. We put on a good show. We have a really good band of four girls and three guys. We've been getting into doing choreography and we always dress up. It's a unique experience.
SM: We try to get the audience into it by doing monkey calls and bird calls. We want people to find their inner jungle. It's funny. People especially in L.A. can be stoic when they go to see a band perform, but we ask them to make monkey and bird sounds. At first they're wary, but then they get into and they're all smiles. Getting them to make these sounds takes them somewhere else.
What is the perfect cocktail accompaniment to your music?
SM: It has to be a martini. We're not purists. It doesn't have to be a straight gin martini. It could be a Cosmopolitan if that's what you like. Recently, I was in Hawai'i and I was listening to some surf music. I was looking out at the water and I was drinking a punch with rum and guava juice. I'm not ordinarily a big rum guy, but as I was sitting there listening to surf music, I thought "I've just figured it out." So, if you want to enjoy our music with some rum and exotic fruit juice...
I can see how that would be a good cocktail choice for your music.
JK: It should be something classy.
What would you be doing if you weren't making music?
JK: I can't imagine not playing music. It's something I've always done and it's kind of important. For about 11 years, I've had a great career in freelance web development. It's good because I can set my schedule so I can do things like interviews at 10 AM. I did the album artwork for the record. I like designing things like that. We have a song, it's one of my favorite songs. It's not on the album. It's called "Collage." Visual art is a passion so I would probably doing more visual art.
SM: I've wanted to play music all my life. When I went to get my music degree, I figured that would be the thing that would allow me to ride off into the sunset listening to symphonies. It hasn't worked out that way. I'm sure I'd have a job and a way to make money, but I'd be thinking about making music.
Vermouth plays the Bootleg Bar on 12 February. It is a celebration of Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, and the release of Vermouth's CD RetroFuture Pop Exotica. If you are planning to go, you are encouraged to dress in whatever you feel is a good outfit for Mardi Gras or Valentine's Day.