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VoL - Bruce A. Brown feature Part 2

  • 1999 9 Sep
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VoL - Bruce A. Brown feature Part 2



Though long tagged a "critic's darling," for its gritty roots rock and stark, confessional lyrics, {{Vigilantes of Love}} has struggled with both the major mainstream and Christian labels that have released its product over the past ten years. But even after releasing ten albums on seven different labels, band leader Bill Mallonee remains optimistic that VoL is just hitting its creative stride. Part of that optimism is certainly due to Kenny Hutson, the multi-instrumentalist who may be the best on stage foil Mallonee has ever had; bassist Jake Bradley, whose inventive figures lift the music of VoL above the raggedness often associated with alt.country, and drummer Kevin Heuer, whose impeccable taste and timing also distinguishes the band from its peers. In the second part of their conversation, Bruce A. Brown and Mallonee talk about the band's two most recent projects, and discuss what lies in store for the much-loved roots rockers.


BAB: To the Roof of the Sky seemed to be the perfect bridge to Audible Sigh, the album that was to have been your debut for Pioneer. That label could have given you access to both the mainstream and Christian markets. What happened with Audible Sigh?

Bill: We wanted a chance to work with (producer) Buddy Miller and use a better studio, a different drummer, to take things up a notch. We had the budget and the time to look at the songs in detail. It's great making records with someone the caliber of Buddy Miller, and having people like Emmylou Harris sing on them. All of a sudden you hear this song you put together, and you knew it was good, but then you hear these great musicians grab ahold of it and you go, "oh, that's how it's done. That's how great records get made." We gave up creative control to a certain extent. But if you're an apprentice under DaVinci, you don't just pick up a pencil the first day and say, "I'm going to do something just like you." We let Buddy mold us into something that we needed to be.

And then, less than eight weeks after signing our contract, the label went out of business. Initially, we all felt shell-shocked. You can't see over the horizon, but you know God is God. But we got the record back and have been able to shop for a label that is a better fit.

Meanwhile, there's been such a clamor that we released a limited version of the album at Cornerstone. It was just a way of saying "thank you for being such good friends." It would have been easy to say "we're tired, the support's not there." But I love the life, I love Jake and Kenny and Kevin. I think it just gets better.

We may add songs or subtract songs when it gets a wide release. It might be on a label and might still be completely independent.

BAB: Tell me about the mood of Audible Sigh.

Bill: I think it actually has a pop side to it. There are songs that are personally affirming. It's a little less dark than some of the other records. I was just rediscovering my family, the sweetness of life, the fellowship, and the community we've been a part of in Athens. Being thankful for the small things, which in a way, wind up being the only things.

BAB: Tell me about the limited edition import EP, Cross the Big Pond, also known as Free for Good.

Bill: It wasn't even intended to be a record. We had a few days off from a tour of Europe, and a friend with a small studio in the English countryside invited us out for a visit. It was four rainy days of a lot of tea and toast, really. We recorded eight or nine songs and didn't even know what we had until our friend sent us a tape and said, "here's what you guys did. What do you think?" There's some charm in it. I don't think you should stack it up against Audible Sigh, but they're nice good bookends.

BAB: I especially love two lyrics-"Can I play on your playground, and can I go home again if the suit doesn't fit?" and "We gave you all the best of our labors and our trust."

Bill: The first one is about not fitting the criteria that the ccm labels seem to use. We wondered at the time we were doing the VoL compilation for the Christian market, if we were doing the right thing. We play a fair number of gigs that are produced by Christian promoters, but held in neutral settings. I'd say 75% of our fan base is Christians, but they're not generally people who limit themselves to listening to Christian music. They seem to have very broad musical tastes. The industry has to use categories, demographics to market to. But music's not that way.

The second lyric is really more personal. I don't want that song to come across as "we did this and we've been betrayed." But I think everyone has to wrestle with disappointment and look it square in the eye. We Christians have a way of being dishonest with ourselves, of saying, "Praise the Lord. It's all gonna work out fine." And that's true. There's no doubt that at the end of it all, that's true. But there's this huge thing in the middle called human experience. If you live in denial, it definitely shows up in your life in ways that are not healthy. I wrestle with God on that basis. "You're my God and I'm you're creature. How do I deal with this? If I have to be Job for awhile, show me how to do it. There's not a blueprint for it. I'm not wired that way. I'm wired toward self-preservation and self-enhancement, insulating my life. Show me how to bear the cross of Christ in a good way." It's just about asking questions and confessing.

BAB: What keeps you coming back to places like Cornerstone?

Bill: There's a generation of Christian kids who grew up listening some of the more easily marketed bands. I've been encouraged at the younger faces coming out to the shows. They're turning 16, 17, 18 years old and discovering bands like Vigilantes and saying "where have I been for this stuff?" Well, we've been doing this for ten records dive on in. There's plenty to choose from. We feel like we offer solid answers to questions that aren't necessarily shallow.

Check out more about Vigilantes of Love and all their albums at their website: www.coaster.com/VOL