Interview: Vitamin X
Anyone who ever saw our performance knows that our shows are very energetic and we give everything. To see people singing along and going crazy in the pit is something that is very rewarding.
Amsterdam’s Vitamin X have been playing their energetic style of furious, high octane hardcore for over twenty years now and are a band that definitely gets better and better as they go on. Their amazing new album Age Of Paranoia is the perfect example of the bands energy and encapsulates the fury of the bands live show. Gavin Brown had a chat with guitarist and songwriter Marc Emmerik to hear all about Age Of Paranoia, how J Mascis came to play on the album, their legendary live shows and the band’s staying power and legacy in the hardcore scene.
E&D: Your new album Age Of Paranoia is out soon, how did the recording of the album go?
Marc: It went really well, and the recording is great just like the songs, but it took us a while to record it because my dad got cancer (and died). Our last two albums were recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini. For this album we wanted to stay closer to home, Amsterdam. Our friend Igor at ARC Studios was an obvious choice because I had recorded there myself with my band Demon Eyes. Igor has drummed in several hardcore punk bands (even Agnostic Front) and now drums in GOLD. He works really fast, is very creative, knows a lot about all kinds of music, and is really relaxed! So it was great to work with him! We recorded the basic tracks live (drums, guitar, bass) in 3 days. Then we did overdubs and vocals, and the mixing. I think in total we were there for 8-10 days.
E&D: What does the album’s title refer to?
Marc: We live in a dangerous time and age, and age of control, confusion and paranoia, More than ever we’re controlled and affected by media, technology, mobile devices, Internet, social networks, governments, political earthquakes, extreme ideologies, climate change, pollution, fake news, etc. For example, the song ‘Modern Man’ is a sarcastic song in which we wonder if our so-called ”progress” isn’t actually ”regress”. It’s about people who are only interested in their phones instead of participating in the world around them.
E&D: Who did the visceral artwork for the record and how did you hook up with them for the albums cover?
Marc: The artwork on our previous albums was done by Baroness’ John Baizley. He was supposed to do this album as well but because of lack of time I contacted Marald. Marald is also from the Netherlands, and I’ve known him for a long time. He did art for bands like Baroness, High On Fire, Kylesa and Wolfbrigade.
E&D: Do you feel that the cover sums up the music of Age Of Paranoia?
Marc: Totally!! I sent artist Marald the lyrics and we went back and forth several times. The art is mainly based on the songs on Age Of Paranoia and the song ‘ Short Circuit’, but they reflect all lyrics as they sort of all deal with the subject of the crazy times we live in. You could say its a concept album haha!
E&D: J Mascis guests on the song ‘Flip Of The Switch’. Are you big fans of Dinosaur Jr and how did he come to guest on the song?
Marc: I’m a big fan of Dinosaur Jr! And as a band we’re also big fans of his band before Dinosaur Jr called Deep Wound. We even have a song about Deep Wound called ‘Herida Profunda’. Anyway, we had this song that had an intro that sounded like Dinosaur Jr. I had already briefly met him a few times, and he also had our album Full Scale Assault, which has John Brannon from Negative Approach singing, and J Mascis is a huge fan of John Brannon. I got in touch with him through some mutual friends, specifically Graham Clise (from Annihilation Time & Lecherous Gaze) who was their roadie and when J Mascis came through Amsterdam on tour he recorded the solo.
E&D: What did he bring to the song?
Marc: Originally he was supposed to do the solo in the intro but when he started he kept on soloing all the way til the end, even over the vocals. So I told him ”J, you only have to do the intro”. He said: “Nah, I’ll just do the whole song and you edit whatever you want”. In the end we kept the whole solo cos it sounded so great! By the way, he played the solo on my Gibson SG!
E&D: Bubba Dupree of Void also guests in the album, on the song ‘Rollercoaster Ride’. Was that a similar situation to J Mascis?
Marc: Yes sort of. The song sounded like a Void song, and we’re big fans of Bubba’s guitar work on the Void recordings. I met him at a Brant Bjork show, he’s the guitarist. So I asked him if he wanted to participate, and he immediately said yes! I had already recorded some solos as an example, and then Bubba said that my solo was already great. Well, I said, nobody can solo like you do, so he did it, and its amazing! He said didn’t play hardcore punk for a long time but his guitar solo is totally old school VOID style!
E&D: Who would you live to guest on a Vitamin X song in the future?
Marc: Haha, a few years ago I wanted Lemmy to be on one of our songs, I actually briefly met him two times. By coincidence I met this guy who sometimes filled in, in Lemmy’s solo project Head Cat. So I got his contact etc but it never worked out. Of course I would like to have Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi as a guest, but I guess that’s impossible haha!
E&D: Did you want to bring the same energy to the album as you do with your live show?
Marc: We always try to do that, and I think we succeeded! It sounds raw but great!
E&D: This is the first album you have released on new label Southern Lord. How are things going on the new label and how did you come to signing with them?
Marc: We’re really happy with Southern Lord. We’ve been contacted by bigger labels in the past, but it sorta never worked out. I’ve known Greg Anderson from Southern Lord for a long time, since the 90’s when he played in Goatsnake together with my friend Guy (who used to live in Amsterdam). Greg saw us perform a few years ago, and he told me once we had new recordings we should send it to him. Thats what I did and he really liked it! He said he loved the unique fusion of old school HC & rock, metal-punk etc. and he thought we push boundaries within a genre that is typically limited.
Southern Lord is perfect for us as the label is bigger, so we get a better distribution and promotion, but they’re still rooted in the underground and very easy to deal with and great people!
E&D: Will Vitamin X be touring when the album is released?
Marc: We will be promoting the album by playing live a lot! Check out our facebook page for the dates!
E&D: Will you be playing at any of the summer festivals too?
Marc: Yes, in the UK we’re playing Chimpy Fest on September 7th to 9th with Doom, Extreme Noise Terror, etc And we’re playing some other fests in Europe as well (next weekend we play a fest in Barcelona).
E&D: Will you be playing much new material when you play live?
Marc: Yes, we’ll be playing around 3-5 new songs in our set.
E&D: I saw Vitamin X play at the Temples Festival a few years ago and the reception was insane. Do you always try and get the audience to go as crazy as possible?
Marc: Yes, that Temples fest show was great! It was a great line-up as well with Wolfbrigade, Neurosis, Doom. We love playing live and as you probably know we’ve toured all around the world. Anyone who ever saw our performance knows that our shows are very energetic and we give everything. To see people singing along and going crazy in the pit is something that is very rewarding. So, we still play as much as our schedules permit, something like a few shows each month.
E&D: What has been the craziest show that Vitamin X have ever played?
Marc: We had several craziest shows. We played in Indonesia Jakarta, and there was no ventilation in the venue, and there were a 1000 people inside, and 500 people outside wanting to get inside. It was so hot that our Brazilian drummer at the time (from Ratos De Porao) almost fainted. We all almost fainted. After the show the promotor told us that a week before, in the same venue, another band played and the singer died because of the heat. Another crazy show was in the jungle/Amazon of Brazil with people swinging in the trees.
E&D: What song do you love playing live the most and why and what song gets the best reaction from the crowd when you play it?
Marc: I like all the songs actually. We used to get the biggest response for our song ‘Bad Trip’ but nowadays our biggest ”hit” is ‘About To Crack’. That song has an amazing animation video, and it has like a million views on youtube, so everybody knows that song!
E&D: Do you still feel the same thrill playing live as you did when you were first started out?
Marc: Yes, I like playing music, it’s much better than watching tv or playing games on your phone!
E&D: Who have Vitamin X enjoyed touring with the most and what made it so memorable?
Marc: In twenty years we have toured with so many bands and a lot of them were cool. Our first US tour in 2001 we toured with Lifes Halt and they were amazing. Last year we toured with Harley Cro Mags through Europe. That was really cool, super nice guys! Harley told us many cool stories of the hardcore scene in New York in the late 70’s/early 80’s.
E&D: And who would you live to tour with in the future?
Marc: We did some shows with Baroness last year, and that was great cos we are friends with them as well. So I would say Baroness! But Harley Cro Mags would be great as well!
E&D: What do you think makes a memorable hardcore show?
Marc: People having fun, stagediving, circle pit, and leaving the show with a smile on their faces!
E&D: What has been the best hardcore show that you have ever witnessed?
Marc: Bad Brains in 1987 at Paradiso. This was when they were still crazy, HR doing backflips! They recorded that show, and it was released as the live LP The Youth Are Getting Restless.
E&D: How did you get into hardcore in the first place?
Marc: I think through squatradio in Amsterdam, they used to play al kinds of hardcore & punk stuff that you could never hear on normal radio shows
E&D: What was the hardcore scene like in Amsterdam when you first starting out?
Marc: In the 80’s the hardcore punk scene in Amsterdam was great, bands like Nitwitz, BGK, No Pigs, etc. There were many squats were bands could play. When Vitamin X started, in 1996/97, a big part of that scene was gone. Thats why we started, to bring back that hardcore punk spirit!
E&D: And what is it like these days, are thee any bands that you recommend for us to check out?
Marc: The scene is cool, although there’s not so many new bands from Amsterdam playing hardcore. But there’s some bands that have links with hardcore punk, Nuclear Devastation, featuring Georgios who sometimes plays with us as 2nd guitarist or fill in. There’s Open Wounds, Marko our singer plays guitar, and they play early 80’s style hardcore, their 1st album will be on Refuse Records later this year. Then I have a new band called Demon Eyes, I play guitar and sing, it’s raw hardrock, Black Sabbath style with a punky edge, hopefully some release later this year. Other cool underground bands from Amsterdam are Death Alley, NEED and Savage Beat.
E&D: What are your favourite punk and hardcore albums of all time?
Marc: Black Flag – My War, Bad Brains – Roir, Discharge, GBH, Minor Threat, Pistols.
E&D: Vitamin X have been a band for over twenty years now, did you ever think that the band would have the longevity it has?
Marc: No, when we started I didn’t have any idea this band would exist longer than 1 or 2 years. And now I’m playing fests like Hellfest in front of 20.000 people, J.Mascis is playing on my album, I’m on Southern Lord. If you would’ve told me twenty years ago my band would be reviewed in Metal Hammer I would not have believed you haha!