Volcano Choir: More Than Vernon

A band that’s more than the sum of its parts—one of which happens to be the leader of Bon Iver.

For fans of Grammy-winning indie-acoustic royalty Bon Iver, Volcano Choir’s latest, Repave, is a satisfying listen: Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon’s falsetto vocals are strung consistently enough throughout the album that fans can lose themselves in it. But—and I say this as a feverishly dedicated Bon Iver fan—those who appreciate this band only for its lead vocalist are truly missing a lot of fantastic music.

A mashup of three Wisconsin bands (the other two are All Tiny Creatures and Collections of Colonies of Bees), the seven-member ensemble is a professional collaboration shot though with friendship and mutual respect. “It’s funny how few people realize that about us,” says keyboardist and technical maestro Tom Wincek over the phone from the tour that will end at the Neptune Theatre this Saturday.

Listening to each individual band’s albums—Bees’ Customer and Giving; Creatures’ Harbors; and Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver, Bon Iver—chronologically is like listening separately to the instruments that make up a symphony. They come together on Repave: Bon Iver’s dramatic haunts, Creatures’ bluesy riffs, and Bees’ weird, layered sounds. The results can be dramatic, with pounding percussion and breath-taking pauses; delicate, with acoustic guitars carefully plucking out melodies; and straightforward, loud, in-your-face rock, electric guitars blaring over Vernon’s falsetto cries. As Wincek puts it, “Sometimes all you wanna do is just rock the fuck out and be able to affect people in that way.”

But these musicians don’t make noise for noise’s sake. The slamming rock chords are just as important as any of the blips of sound layered beneath—and there are a lot of blips. “Some tracks literally have as many as 100 audio layers,” explains Wincek, talking about how to translate that sound live. “Each one of them has to come through just a few computers and be orchestrated perfectly.” I ask him if he ever worries about screwing it up. “Jesus, yes,” he says, as I hear him knock on wood.

Wrangling the technical side has always been a challenge for Volcano Choir, whose first album, Unmap, wasn’t performed live until an experimental set of shows in Japan in 2009. “That was really when we realized we wanted to move forward with this,” recalls Wincek. Over the next few years, members Chris Rosenau, Jon Mueller, Daniel Spack, Matthew Skemp, Vernon, and Wincek slowly pieced together the tracks for Repave. (Andy Fitzpatrick joins the lineup for their live shows.) “We let things sit, build them up, and break them down again,” Wincek says. “We could do it faster, but it wouldn’t be for the correct reasons.”

Seattle may be their last stop, but Wincek says this tour certainly won’t be their last. With new songs already in the works, he anticipates Volcano Choir will continue to grow, right along with each member’s individual projects. Ever evolving, always together.

music@seattleweekly.com

VOLCANO CHOIR The Neptune, 1303 N.E. 45th St., 682-1414, stgpresents.org. $21.50 adv./$25 DOS. 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 25.

 
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