Alt-Nation: VulGarrity’s Afterlife

On their 4th release, Afterlife, VulGarrity conjures up another batch of supernatural-themed thrillers. VulGarrity are a brother/sister team composed of Shawn and Tracy (Vul)Garrity that are known for swapping instruments back and forth and being obsessed with horror movies and the supernatural. They even used to have their own web series that delved into skits involving all kinds of paranormal stuff and Santa Claus. For this obsession, some (or one) in the local media have referred to them as the sinister siblings. Afterlife is no different from the cover artwork depicting the sinister siblings in a graveyard dressed as ghosts from another era to the tunes with titles like “Dead Dance,” “Maniac Shuffle,” and the infectious lead single, “Stygian Night.”

VulGarrity are tough to pin down because there are elements of so many different rock formats going on including everything prog-metal to post-punk while still touching on everything from ’80s pop, synth-funk and classic rock riffs while circling the bases. This time around, they expand to include what I think is their first straight out acoustic ballad to the heavens in “Dear God.” It has more of a “We Are the World” feel than the XTC tune of the same name. Things shift fast in VulGarrity’s universe, though. The next tune, “Flight Simulator,” sounds like an ’80s funk recreation center dance floor banger in the vein of Morris Day. I’d love to quote the lyrics, but what I think I hear is usually wrong; Shawn VulGarrity is spitting gold here. “Wait Here for You” has a synth-tinged heavy rock verse before melting into an ’80s pop chorus.  Afterlife goes cover to cover without losing any momentum as the closer, “West Coast Broke,” is so simple and so damn catchy that it is my favorite of the bunch. Not since Tupac has any musician managed to continue to crank out grave rave and roll party classics in the Afterlife.

Records are nice, but the real measure of any band is to experience them live. VulGarrity has earned their stripes there, becoming the first band to win the WXIN and WBRU Rock Hunts against some pretty stiff competition in some of those rounds. VulGarrity is a trip because on one song Shawn will be drumming while controlling a guitar loop pedal that was recorded at the start of the song while Tracy is on bass. Next song, Shawn might move to keyboards while Tracy mans the drums. It makes for different sounds on different songs that keep everything fresh. I asked Shawn VulGarrity a few questions about what is shaking in the VulGarrity universe and also about School of Rock: Seekonk where he is music director. School of Rock is another must-see act. They played the Motif Music Awards not too long ago and the sight of these 15-year-old kids slaying Earth Wind and Fire was mesmerizing!

Marc Clarkin: Afterlife is VulGarrity’s fourth release. Is there anything you tried to do differently on this release?

Shawn VulGarrity: We added an electronic drum pad into the mix while writing/recording this album with the intention of adding it to our live show. It didn’t pan out because we found we were getting all the electronic drum sounds we needed from our keyboard and the drum pad wasn’t adding much, so we took it out of the live show.

MC: VulGarrity songs and photos have always played with a horror/paranormal theme. What are some of the things that influence your songwriting?

SV: Horror movies and novels are a huge influence on a lot of what we do. Even the personal experiences we write about tend to be colored by the horror genre because we grew up fascinated by (maybe even obsessed with) it. It continues to be a large part of our lives.

MC: Does being a two-piece ever affect your songwriting as far as creating something that can be performed live by just the two of you?

SV: Absolutely. All of our songs start out live. We add very little to them in the studio so that our live show is not too far off from the recordings. I imagine our music would be wildly different if we had more people in the band.

MC: How did you get involved in the School of Rock?

SV: I was toying with the idea of opening a school and then I was approached about coming on board as the music director for the School of Rock: Seekonk in September 2012. I took what turned out to be my dream job — a challenging but highly rewarding job. We teach our students songs and then book performances for them at real venues so they get to experience all that goes in to putting on a concert — lights, sound, hair, makeup … the works. They perform on the same stages as some of their heroes and become better musicians in the process.

MC: There are some amazing musicians in School of Rock. What has the experience of mentoring been like?

SV: Being a part of the experience is truly amazing. Many of our students barely say a word when they first sign up, and by the time their first show rolls around they are different people. Spending several months preparing for a performance with your peers changes you, makes you better at your instrument, communication, social interaction, and life in general. I get to see that every day. Words can’t express how awesome it is.

MC: Do you have one favorite moment or moments that stand out as a musician?

SV: Winning the WBRU Rock Hunt, and all of the shows that came as a result of that, was pretty special and probably had a great deal to do with Tracy and I continuing down this road. Playing Foo Fest in 2013 was pretty amazing, too, as it was the biggest audience we’ve performed to thus far.

Midday Records Release features releases and performances by VulGarrity, Latin Metrics, Hwuevo, Nate Cozzolino, Global Crash, and Far Below at Firehouse 13 on July 25.

Marc Clarkin