- Van's Warped Tour - Shoreline Amphitheatre - Mt. View, CA - Sun. July 1, 2007
Although the band name might not be a household mention yet, it soon will be if the band has anything to do with it. The Vincent Black Shadow is a band formed from the musical collaboration of vocalist Cassandra Ford, and guitarist Rob Kirkham, who happened to meet in 2000. From there, Rob enlisted the help of his brothers Chris, on bass, and Anthony on drums. Rob felt it more secure to keep it in the family as it were. About the time that the band appeared on the Warped Tour 2007, they had added Mary Ancheta as a touring keyboardist.
It's a bit hard to describe TVBS outright, but imagine rock that is both smooth and luscious while bent on anger and a dark cynicism. The lyrics are biting and memorable, and the vocal delivery is captivating. It can just as easily lull you into a sense of security as induce fear. There is a might that comes from the voice of this diminutive singer. There is a bit of nihilism, attitude, and the sexuality of early Blondie.
We met with Rob and Chris during the Warped Tour 2007 and chatted with them about how the band came to be, the music, Cassie as an EA game tester, and politics.
K2K: You met Cassandra first?
RK: Yeah, we were friends back in... We all grew up in the same town called Tualsin [sic], which is a suburb of Vancouver [B.C.]. So we were all friends. I would run into Cassie, and I knew she could sing. My brothers and I played in another band called Nimvind [sic]. I wanted to move on and do something else. Cassie and I were talking, and she was actually going to Asia to...
K2K: The Universal deal?
RK: The Universal Music deal. So you know the whole schpiel. So basically, when that didn't work out, she came back. We had some songs written already, so right away we got interest. When that happened, we had to play live. So I went to the best source possible, which were my brothers, to play.
K2K: You guys have been playing together in other bands?
CK: Yeah, three bands.
RK: Every band. It's always been the three of us.
K2K: Did you have other singers, or did either of you sing?
CK: Well, like he was telling you, we had a band... our very first band, I was singing and playing guitar, and he was playing bass. Tony was playing drums. Then we just kind of switched it all around, and made two bands. Then Rob and Cassie got that together, and got that deal rolling, so I guess he figured...
RK: When you need people, you've got to look as close to home as you can. In this case, you couldn't get closer.
K2K: How long have you each been playing?
RK: The first time I started, I was 15. I moved from a private school to a public school, and I discovered people who liked punk rock like me. So I bought a bass. The first song I ever learned was Longview by Green Day. I went from there, and got into Primus. So, yeah, I guess it's been 12 years now that I've been playing.
K2K: How old are you?
RK: I'm 27. But I started playing guitar when I was 20 years old. But I'm self-taught. Everything I've done is self-taught. But it's cool that way.
K2K: What about you? What kind of way?
CK: I've been messing around. I'm 14 years old. I've been playing guitar since... yes, I actually am. Yeah, yeah. We've been playing for a while. It was kind of neat when Vincent Black Shadow happened. I had always been playing guitar, and I was always fronting whatever band I was in, so it was neat to come in and play a different instrument, and be on a team, like a player playing in a line-up trying to make the show good.
It gives you a whole different perspective. It's cool because me and Rob both played the instruments more like our old instruments. I think I played bass more like a guitar, and Rob kind of vice versa with the chunky rhythms like a bass, what have you. It makes for a strange sound, because we never would put things in the standard way that you would. Get what I mean? A lot of Robs guitar ideas are extra neat, because they're kind of backwards, upside down things that no one really plays.
K2K: Are you into Lemmy from Motorhead?
CK: I absolutely love Lemmy. He's another guy who plays it like a guitar. Or Jack Cassidy from good old Jefferson Airplane. Those kind of guitary kind of bass players who do a lot of movement. It's rad.
K2K: Cassandra is from the Philippines?
RK: Yes, she was actually born in the Philippines.
K2K: Then she moved to England, lived on the Isle Of Wight, and then moved to Canada.
RK: Yes. She's been all over.
K2K: When did you meet her?
RK: I (singing) met her in the year 2000. In the year 2000.
K2K: The name Vincent Black Shadow refers to a hand-built motorcycle made by Vincent HRD, made in 1948.
RK: Philip Vincent. Yeah.
K2K: Who has the motorcycle interest?
RK: I'll be honest, it never came from that. Originally, Cassie said, You've got to read this author, Hunter S. Thompson. When we were younger. He's the best author. He calls his writing Gonzo Journalism.
K2K: Oh, yeah. You're talking about Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
RK: Yes. The novel, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. She loans it to me. In it he talks about this motorcycle called a Vincent Black Shadow. When I said that, I thought, wow, that would be a really cool band name. So [Cassie] did this really cool artwork for it, to match the title. When I saw it, I thought, This is what we've got to do.
K2K: So none of you guys are actually into motorcycles?
RK: No, no. We're influencing kids to read. What's been neat, is that kids have been showing up with the book to get it signed. So hopefully they've been reading it.
CK: Kids showing up with the novel, Can you sign this? and that's awesome. How cool is that?
K2K: You know what the irony of that is in the book, right?
RK: Is that you drive it so fast that you can't...
K2K: It's about a bike race, like a motorcross race. You would never be able to use that bike, and the year that the race happened, the bike was considered old and archaic. Completely pointless. So the irony of it was that he compared the bike and it's stealthy speed to an F-14, and he would never want to turn.
RK: Yeah, because it went so fast that whoever rode that the fastest speed it could go would never live to tell about it.
K2K: A lot about your bands look fits with the motorcycle though. You dress all in black, and the motorcycle was completely black.
RK: You know what the cool thing is, if you ever looked at Blondie photos... the band was all in black and white, and [Debra Harry] was in color. It's cool, because it's subtle and gives the band a cool look. We're trying to stay away from dressing like most of the bands wearing really tight pants that pull down, and the shaggy hair, and the beard. I seem to see that with every single band.
CK: If I was at home working for a roofing company, I'd probably be wearing that exact same outfit, without taking it off. We aspire to the actual real punk aesthetic, which is... there was a reason you wore all that stuff. It was a statement about what you were about, who you associated with, and what your thoughts were on the way your life works. That's kind of been at a loss. People dress up for specific reasons to be like, I'm going on the Warped Tour. I'm going to get one of those tribal tattoos right around my wrists, and one on the small of my back. And I'm going to wear a shirt that says, Punk As Fuck. because everyone I know has it. And I'll throw it away at the end of the year, then I'll get a different one. Then next year I'll be goth. You know what I mean? We kind of aspire to be yourself, and not be what's interesting to everyone else.
K2K: That mentality of theirs, that you're talking about, comes from Individuality through being just like everyone else. I want to be accepted for myself by dressing just like you, and you.
CK: I want to be me for me. While on this bloating piece of shit through space and time, now's a good time to be yourself.
K2K: I have a few questions about Cassandra. She was a game tester for EA? What kind of games did she test?
RK: In Vancouver, where EA is based, they had mostly sports games. Although she did do Marvel Nemesis: Spiderman...
[Editor's note: Marvel Nemesis: Rise Of The Imperfects]
K2K: Which I heard sucks.
RK: Which she thought was terrible. I remember her phoning me when she was working there. She said, This is the worst game. Spiderman does some breakdance move. It was a bug in the game. What would happen is that they would send it out, she would note the bug and send it to the programmer. He'd be so busy with something else, that he'd just say, Whatever. and they would go and pass it anyway. They passed the game through with so many bugs that the game essentially sucked. It got a game rating of 3 out of 10 in playing ability. She also had X-Box 360s before anyone else did at her work. She was doing a lot of really cool stuff. She was into sports games, like Tiger Woods Golf. I didn't understand how she could do it, because I love video games, but to sit there all day, you get carpal tunnel syndrome.
K2K: So the fact that she is a game player, and fronting a band... Wouldn't that make her especially hot to the new fans.
RK: To a lot of guys. They're like Whoa! Even when she worked [at EA], she was the only girl working there. Not just the only good-looking girl there. Know what I mean. What I like about it, is that Cassie looks good but doesn't flaunt it. You know those girls who wear those girly skirts and act all girly. It's so ridiculous. Hi everybody... Boys!.
K2K: Oh Britney's career is done. Dont worry.
RK: No, I watched Avril Lavigne. It's the same bloody thing.
K2K: You mean the former punk who actually plays pop songs?
RK: It's all lies. It's all lies that plays on kids innocence and naiveté.
K2K: Would you agree that Avril fits the premise of what we were just talking about earlier?
CK: She absolutely does. I'll tell you something, my opinion about the whole girl thing... You tread a fine line... For example, most fans, no matter where you see them or what genre, there's a very specific thing that girl bands are. It's the cheesy thing with all girls tits and ass. People kind of care about the music, but they kind of don't. At least with our thing, I think Cassie actually has some ability and artistic vision. We don't want to sell our goods and ideas short on being passed off as a crappy girl act. I think it's more an act we want people to see and like for what it is. There's definitely a cool part that there's actually a band with a chick that you can take seriously, because there are very few of them.
RK: Plus there are very few guy bands that you can take seriously these days [too].
K2K: What was the story about Universal [Music Group] trying to make [Cassie] into a pop tart?
RK: Oh, it's like any label. It wasn't anything negative on their part. They just got her out there and essentially wanted her to start singing J-Pop style of music [Editor's note: Japanese-Pop]. She tried.
K2K: She would have been dead [career-wise] in about 10 minutes. Isnt that the life-span of those singers in that career?
RK: I don't know. She didn't like it.
K2K: The whole Asian market, especially India, is kind of Here today, gone in an hour. One song and that's it.
K2K: Your sound. It's a little on the No Doubt side.
RK: I don't know. I mean, I won't lie to you. I like No Doubt's album Tragic Kingdom. I thought it was a really well-written album. Then otherwise, No Doubt's not like a huge influence on me. I'm way more influenced by Mike Patton and Faith No More, and influenced by Danzig, and drummers for Megadeth and Avenged Sevenfold. It comes from all over the place.
K2K: Cassie's voice sounds a little bit like Gwen's.
RK: There's nothing wrong with that. They put out a great album.
K2K: Well, No Doubt is certainly better than Gwen's personal career.
RK: And I would agree on that. They put out a great album, so we're not going to shy away from the fact. I would like people to dig a bit deeper, and say before 1994 maybe there were influences beyond. I would go back to the singers from Disney movies and show tunes. That's mainly what Cassie learned to sing on.
K2K: And 1940s stuff. I also see that. I wasn't trying to say that she only sounds like No Doubt.
RK: No, I know.
K2K: Anyone who harmonizes in certain particular ways is going to be called The Beatles, or Alice In Chains. It doesn't matter who you are.
RK: She has more of a nostalgic voice than anyone I can think of in rock n roll.
CK: Girlwise, it's like kind of a nostalgic kind of voice - Gwen Steffani - because she was kind of doing the same kind of thing. I thought Gwen Steffani had a lot of cool ideas. I was the first person to show [the brothers] No Doubt, when I first heard it on midnight radio. I'm not into anything like that usually. When it first came out, it wasn't all about Oh, another fucking girl-pop band., it was like a cool band with a girl singer. I hope that's how people will see Vincent Black Shadow. This is a cool band with a chick singer. Cassie doesn't go up there in the shortest skirt she can find, or the smallest bikini, OK, guys, who's ready to fuck? or anything like that. I'm impressed to be a part of the fact that she's not like that, and wouldn't go over like that.
K2K: Will Cassandra ever do anything by herself, like jazzier style? Or will the band go in that direction?
RK: There will definitely be more styles in the next album. You'll hear a lot of influence. It will sound like us. It won't be the same as the first album. It will have new sounds, it might go in all different directions. As far as Cassie going out on her own, I don't really see that happening. Maybe way down the line. She's not huge into touring, she's not huge into the whole musical business. She loves singing, that's her favorite part. The whole rest of it, the touring and all, she's not a fan of, so I can't see her going out on her own to bring more of that work onto herself. Maybe later on, when we've exhausted The Vincent Black Shadow as an idea. Her and I, especially, have a partnership that works well together.
K2K: This is primarily a band, right?
RK: Oh yeah, it's a band.
K2K: Do you ever worry about it becoming more of a focus on Cassandra?
RK: Well, I'm not. Whether it's her, or a dude or not. Look at Pearl Jam. Whenever they do a photo shoot, they always want to stick Eddie Vedder on the cover, put him on Time Magazine cover. They did the same thing with Sound garden and Chris Corn ell. Whatever bands. What happens is, it's almost an evil that happens - a necessary evil. People want to focus on the lead singer. We just did a cover photo shoot for a magazine in Vancouver. It's a publication. The first thing they said was, We need to have some shots where Cassie's up here, and you guys are here, just to make her... What I'm saying is that people are going to focus on what they want to focus on. To try to fight it just looks ridiculous.
K2K: She is stylish though. You guys have a nice feel all the way around. You have a good look.
CK: It's cool too, because they have her featured as the centerpiece certainly, which is great, and which is whats supposed to happen to a band. But thankfully, there hasn't yet been a thing where a request for press is Cassie in a bikini and the rest of the band can stay home.
RK: Today, for example, we're down here [with you], because we're just as important as she is.
K2K: About the song, Control. The very beginning of the song sounds a lot like Three Little Pigs by Green Jello.
RK: That's funny stuff. That's pretty good. (laughing)
K2K: So you know that already?
CK: Yeah, people have said that. It must have been like that. You gotta think, how many notes in a scale. You know, I'll tell you this, if we were to strum a C chord, and then go to a G chord, and then a C chord, you would never be able to say it sounds like anything, because it sounds like everything.
RK: That's right.
CK: It's just a little thing where you think, Where have I heard that before?. It's just like hearing a girl sing nostalgic, Where have I heard that before?.
RK: Put it this way, I know who I ripped off on that song. The person who I wrote that song with, he wrote the chorus, and I wrote the verse. I know who I ripped off and I ain't going to say.
K2K: Five bucks says you'll say it. (laughs) OK, Metro, [the line] The drugs don't work no more, what does that refer to?
RK: Referring to the fact that the pharmaceutical companies are a billion dollar industry and try to convince you to buy drugs you don't need.
K2K: Ah, politics! Nice. So it's not about a personal issue.
RK: No, no. It's funny because when I was writing that melody, I was just humming some words, You say I'm crazy, I know, but the drugs don't work.... That's how it came about, and Cassie kept it when writing the rest of the lyrics. Almost everyone I meet says, I'm on this med. or on that med, to keep themselves sane. I read this thing about a drug they wanted to pass, and they really wanted to pass it to get it prescribed and make money from it. There's so many people on it. I started thinking, Are all these necessary? So a lot of kids have been writing in, saying, That song means a lot to me, because I have my own issues with that when my parents gave me this drug, and I didn't need it.
K2K: Is the problem the same in Canada as it is here [in the U.S.]?
RK: The advertising, sure. But we get a lot of American TV, and it's ad after ad of, Try Fuck-It-All. It's a great new drug. It'll help you forget your problems. Remember that... Have you ever heard of Kids In The Hall? Brain Candy. That was the whole idea. You take a drug that helps you remember your favorite moment, but then everybody gets stuck in their favorite moment. That's basically what it is. They're trying to medicate the world.
K2K: Bodog Music. How did you get hooked up with them. Does that refer to the fighting circuit, or what else do they do?
RK: Bodog is a lot of stuff. There's Bodog Fight. Bodog Music. Bodog TV. Calvin Ayre, the owner, is trying to really make it a big entertainment corporation. When we got signed on, it was on an indie label in Canada. Do you know Bif Naked? It was her label, called Her Royal Majestys Records. That's who signed us on. As we were beginning to record, they met up with Bodog, who was getting into the music business. So they bought up the label, and then all of the sudden, we had a better everything.
K2K: How long have you been with them?
RK: A year.
K2K: Your music appears in a lot of different mediums. Who does the publishing for you?
RK: That's part of our record deal. Well, with the [film] Feast thing, they approached us. They asked, Do you want to put a song on? Then they said they were going to make it [the song Metro] the lead-off single from the soundtrack too. We said, Great. Let's make it part of the video. That part was really cool. Then [Bodog] put us in Bodog Fight. Its kind of funny to have a song like Don't Go Soft [in that]. Some guy kicking the crap out of someone with (singing) Don't go soft... Bam! You should see the video.
CK: It's like Ultimate Fighting with this guy getting his face pounded in with this nice, 50s style swing music...
K2K: Don't go soft with your love. (laughs) Are you planning any independent tours outside of this Warped Tour? Or is Cassandra not interested in it?
RK: No. It's funny that you say that, because we've already been on the road almost four months before this. Now this is another two months, straight. So for a girl who doesn't like touring, they make her tour a lot. But there is good parts about it, and bad parts about it. In the U.S., I'm afraid it gets boring at times. I like playing to the audiences here. They're great. But a lot of [the country] is just open and vast space, whereas in Europe, it's more closed in, so you're always seeing new stuff, something more exciting.
RK: Yeah. But hey, man, that's part of the reason to get to touring. Hey man, send me somewhere for free. But we hope to get to Europe again, and then I'd really like to record our new record. I don't want to be, Here's another three months of touring. I'd really want to record a new record to give people something new to buy, who already have the first record.
K2K: What did you think about your crowd response today [at the Warped Tour]?
RK: I thought it was OK. It was, like, we had to deal with the barricades. Right before we were supposed to go on, [the security] said, Alright. Everybody move back 50 yards, because we have to move the barricades, because we forgot to before the show started. So half the kids would leave, because they thought they're being booted out. So then we go on.
K2K: So what time frame do you hope to record the new album?
RK: Maybe in October or November we'll start on it.
K2K: Do you have a title [in mind]?
RK: Uh, Chinese Democracy.
K2K: So about ten years later it might come out.
RK: I want to do what The Offspring recently did. They said they were going to call their new album Chinese Democracy and then put it out, because Axl [Rose] was taking so long.
K2K: You should call it Democratic Chinese.
RK: Yeah. (laughs) Or Chinese Democracy: Part II
K2K: Any last words?
RK: Yeah. Go check us out on MySpace at: http://www.myspace.com/tvbs and send us a message, because we write back to everyone who writes to us.
CK: Can't top that, man. That hit it all. Famous last words, Wheres the money you owe me?
And with that, the band was off to their next interview session. I could only wonder how many times that day, they had to endure the same questions over and over. With their songwriting in tact, and professional attitudes towards both the music, and the business, it should be a sure bet that The Vincent Black Shadow should become a household name before too long.
Written by and photos © 2007 Philip Anderson
- Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.