The sweaty noise rock produced by the two piece of Jon Ryan and Eric Peters rumbles with an eerie franticness, two stepping between punk and indie dance rock.
I caught up with the group a few weeks before they're set to open for Cloud Nothings at the Luminary Arts Center on July 16. In this interview, Ryan and Peters chat about tour horror stories, the evolution of their sound and why you should be there front row to catch them with Cloud Nothings.
Matt Stuttler: What's so huge about a Volcanoes show?
Eric Peters: Our amps! (laughs). In the beginning stages of the band we were talking about what we wanted to do. We weren't exactly sure what we wanted to do, but we knew we wanted to make music that was really huge. It's funny you said "huge" because that's exactly our goal, to be huge.
Jon Ryan: It's like our favorite word.
Huge in what way specifically?
JR: Just huge in general. Huge can be used as an adjective, in place of like "awesome" or "rad." You can be like, "This is huge."
EP: But in terms of Volcanoes, there's only two of us. We really had to think of ways to fill out our sound. We were really interested in that wall of sound, which is why a lot of times you'll see Jon just lay a chord out on the keyboard and continue playing bass. That chord will just ring out under everything. Obviously, the loudness contributes to the hugeness of our sound. The heart of our live show is the energy we put into it, and I've noticed that's one of the big things people have noticed.
JR: When we were recording our music video, we had to play in sync with our recording. We kind of realized we play everything 20 BPM [beats per minute] faster when we play live. It just kind of flows naturally that live we play everything faster and more energetic.
EP: I've been told since I was a kid that I have a lot of energy, and I think that really translates on stage. We both just get really pumped up to play our music, and we just have a lot of fun. I think people can tell we're having fun, so that's why they're going to have fun. I recently tweeted from Volcanoes [Twitter] "Can we all please just agree that there is nothing wrong with rocking out really hard." I just feel like with some of the stuff I've been seeing, I feel like some people look down on it now.
What have you seen change since you started the band? How long have you been a band?
JR: A year and a half. We started out with the goal of mixing dubstep and rock into a genre we invented called "dubcore." We started off trying to do this electronic, kind of dirty rock.
EP: But with still some "womps" in there, you know? [Makes dubstep bass drop noises.]
JR: So we started off doing that in our dorm room. We didn't really have a feeling how it would translate on a stage. Then we kind of realized it would be pretty difficult to push that electronic stuff as hard as we wanted to. For electronic sounding music, you need a different sounding drum kit, you know? Like a huge kick drum and stuff that really isn't practical at a small venue.
EP: We just wanted live drums too.
JR: Since then, we realized we really couldn't pull that off the way we wanted to, so we've kind of moved towards more of a straight-forward rock, with a live drum kit. We still have electronic instrumentals, but it's less dubstep inspired. It's more just rock 'n' roll.
You guys trade instruments with each other live. Has that ever caused any complications at shows?
JR: We've been told it kind of disrupts the flow a little bit. Some people feel weird about it for some reason but other people really like it. A lot of people will come up to us afterwards and be like, "That's so cool you guys switch in the middle of the show."
EP: For us, we feel that it creates an interesting dynamic.
JR: This guy who saw us in New York, he saw the first half of our set, which was just drums and bass and he was like, "OK, I feel like I have a handle on these guys. This is just like, this type of music." But then he was like, "Then you guys switched and it changed the whole thing for me. It added a whole new dynamic. You guys are way more diverse." I think it's pretty impressive to a lot of people because we each have our own drumming style and that plays into how it changes the dynamic.
EP: I think we do a pretty good job at meshing our sounds together. I worked quite a while on the bass tones I get from the Korg, on making it still sound like a synth, but not some kind of pop synth.
JR: And I have a synth pedal for my bass. A lot of people listened to our first EP ["Faults"] and they didn't know there was a keyboard. They thought it was all bass, which I thought was awesome.
What have you guys been up to since "Heavy Hands" came out through Afternoon Records?
JR: Playing a lot of shows, being really busy. I graduated from college and spent the whole semester booking our tour. So it was a pretty hectic semester for both of us.
What was that process like?
JR: Booking the tour was me sitting at my computer for hours a day sending hundreds of emails. I wasn't really too stressed about it, but it was the kind of the feeling like if this is going to get done, it'd be me that does it. It was a feeling like I have to do this or our tour will be a disaster. So that, you know, and it was my last semester in college so I had thesis papers and stuff like that. It was a big task for sure.
How'd the tour go?
JR: Really, really well. We heard a lot of horror stories about [how] your first tour's going to suck, you're not going to have any money, you're going to run into car trouble, you're not going to have anywhere to stay. No one's going to be at your shows.
EP: Pretty much we only heard horror stories. I only had one person tell me that their first tour went well.
JR: The first three shows we played were house shows, and that's kind of like our element. We have these huge amps so we can play in people's basements.
EP: That's the reason we have huge amps.
JR: On this tour, meeting people I've never met before and staying at their houses and hanging out with them, I've really realized how hospitable people are, which is really cool. I wasn't expecting to run into that. We just met the nicest people ever.
Did you play with any cool bands?
EP: Yeah, probably one of the coolest bands we played with was a band called Habitat in Richmond, Virginia. They're actually not from Richmond, Virginia, they're from New Orleans.
So they happened to be coming through Richmond the same time you guys were?
EP: Yeah, which is crazy because the two guys that are in that band also play in this other band called High in One Eye, and they're on this collective we have here.
JR: Hi Fi Octopi with Spelling Bee. So we run into these guys and they're like, "Dude, you guys are Volcanoes? We're on this collective with you." I was like, "I have your guy's album in my iTunes!" So we just randomly run into these dudes and they're really good. We had people afterwards tell us that this was the best I've ever seen two touring bands that didn't even know they were going to play with each other mesh with their sound.
Can you tell me a little more about Hi Fi Octopi?
JR: It's run by Joe and Mabel from Spelling Bee [and 88.1 KDHX DJs]. The goal is to have this group of artists that support each other and help with promotion, distribution and booking. It was awesome to see that function on tour. We actually booked our show in New Bedford, Massachusetts through this band that's on this collective.
EP: Joe and Mabel on their last tour took a bunch of CDs from each group [on Hi Fi Octopi] in a big crate and just gave them away for free at all their shows, so whenever we were up in New Bedford, a bunch of people had already listened to our music because they had given our CD out.
That's a really cool idea.
EP: It was so cool. It's really like the whole "DIT is the new DIY." Do it together. I think music will thrive when we start acting more like a community than a bunch of bands playing in the same city. Which I feel St. Louis is definitely becoming more of a community.
JR: And there's no feeling of competition or rivalry.
EP: It's all good vibes.
So, it's interesting that you're a pretty heavy band, but you occasionally play indie rock shows. On the other side of that, you're dancy and you play heavy shows.
JR: We're right in between genres.
EP: We look at what bridges the gap in the culture. We don't really fit into the punk culture. We've played a few straight punk shows. You know like, super punk rock/anarchists shows.
How'd that go for you?
EP: Well! They're into it. Which is why I think we've done as well as we have, because we can mold into different groups. But I think the culture of our band meshes more with the culture of the indie scene. Maybe even more like, that indie/Americana scene sometimes. We sort of have an identity crisis every once in a while. Our sounds don't necessarily fit in with anybody in St. Louis very well, so we have to start looking at the culture, which is why we play a lot more with bands like Bear Hive and Union Tree Review than those punks bands. We like those bands, I've seen them all play. I like watching them. We played with them all at record store at Apop. It's not like we don't want to play with them, maybe it's just us. We're not very punk.
JR: We were on our way to a show, listening to Sufjan Stevens one time, and we were just like I wonder if people know that we listen to this music.
EP: My favorite band is Fleet Foxes.
JR: My favorite band is Radiohead. I always tell people the type of music my band makes doesn't really reflect what my favorite music is at all. The reason I write the music I write is because it's really fun. I just really enjoy writing music that's heavy, dancy and catchy.
How do you write songs?
JR: Eric does primarily keyboard, I do all bass. I'll write something on bass, Eric might write some type of vocal melody, and then we just mesh it. Drums never really come first.
If you could break Volcanoes down into an equation, what would it look like?
JR: Indie rock plus dance divided by metal times distortion = Volcanoes.
EP: An interesting anecdote that hasn't been covered about us, because we just found out, is the owner of our record label Ian Anderson actually thought our name was Vol Canoes. That's what caught his eye first.
JR: I think the subject line in his email broke at Vol and then Canoes was on the next line, so he was like, "Dude, you got to check this band out Vol Canoes" to the other guy at the label, and was like "Yeah, it's funny because it's like Volcanoes but it's Vol Canoes."
EP: He said he didn't know until our first phone conversation that our name was Volcanoes. So, tips for bands. When you're spelling your band name, break it in the middle.
You're opening for Cloud Nothings at the Luminary Arts Center on July 16th. Tell me a little bit about the show.
EP: We were recently in Alternative Press, and a full page of Cloud Nothings was right next to the page we were on, which was a part of the "100 Bands You Need to Know" feature. We were listening to them on tour in the car and it was just a week later we got asked to play with them.
JR: One of the best feelings is knowing that you're the local band that the guy at the venue goes to open for this touring band that you really like. That's honestly been one of my unstated goals, is to be the good go-to local support for bigger shows. Cloud Nothings is a show I would go to, even if I wasn't playing.
EP: So, it's like "How lucky are we to get into a show for free to watch this band, and all we have to do is play some music for a little bit?" Awesome! I can do that. It's always beneficial to be playing in front of bands that are a lot bigger than you.
What can people expect to see at the show from you guys?
JR: If they haven't seen us in a while, we have some new songs that we play.
EP: Some new songs, energy is going to be high. We might bring a camel on stage. I think we're thinking about both riding in on a camel, then slaughtering the camel on stage. We feel that would really speak to the audience.
JR: Metal! And then we're just going to hold up mirrors at the audience's faces, but they might have camel blood on them.
What's coming up for you guys?
JR: We're doing a mini-jaunt with Bo & the Locomotive next month. We're actually headlining this two day long festival in Indianapolis July 20th called Pirad Fest. There's this all-ages show promotion/booking company in Indy called Piradical Productions. The all-ages scene is really big there. There's an all-ages place called the Hoosier Dome. It's pretty cool. We played there in February with So Many Dynamos. Bunch of kids there, loved it, so they asked us to come back and headline the Pirad Fest there. We're also going to be on their compilation. Piradical Productions puts out a compilation CD with all their favorite bands that have played for them in the past year.
Do you have plans for recording?
JR: We're talking about it.
EP: Hopefully, we'll have a single out by the end of the year.
Any other projects you've got in the works?
EP: We filmed a music video for "A Knife in the Dark" at the Triple Rock punk rock venue in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
JR: It's in bullet time.
EP: We used 17 cameras. We worked with Alex Bowes and Andre Durand, both really cool guys. Andre directed the video for "Calgary" by Bon Iver. Really, really talented guys and the video's just going to be awesome. We're really excited. Hopefully, we'll have that out within the next month.
EP: Keep supporting local music!
JR: We're really excited about the momentum behind St. Louis music right now. Being a part of it, honestly, is one of my favorite parts about being in this band. On tour, a lot of bands ask us about the scene in St. Louis, because they don't know.
EP: We just want to encourage people to keep touring. We need bands touring. We need more bands on the road from St. Louis, showing people St. Louis has got chops.
JR: There's a lot of good stuff coming out of St. Louis.
EP: I felt really proud to tell people on tour that we were from St. Louis.
JR: For all the bands who are thinking about going on tour who've heard horror stories, I would say ignore all of them. I would say to bands thinking about going on tour to do it, because it's the best. It's one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life.