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portrait-vietcong

Viet Cong

Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Illustration — Sebastien Plassard

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The Calgary-based band released in a few months only 14 songs of pure roughness and nihilism, haunted by the ideas of death and violence. The breathtaking urgency of these post-punk compositions strongly evokes Bauhaus. The band, and the artistic movement.

Hi guys, how are you?

Matt: We’re good. We went to the Champs-Elysees Christmas market yesterday. It was funny because there was a Canadian stand selling maple syrup and stuff. And they were all dressed with this red  Canadian shirt. And it was the EXACT one I was wearing. 

Musically, is there a competition between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada? What is the Arcade Fire of English-speaking Canada?

If there’s competition, it’s friendly competition. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously. If you get into the French-speaking, it’s a completely different scene. I honestly couldn’t name one French-speaking band from Canada.

In France, we have this guy Peter Peter who is getting bigger and bigger. But he’s more into what we call "variété française", which is the French version for radio pop music…

Matt: Yeah, garbage. (laughs)

Credits : The strong presence of hands in the universe of Viet Cong and the reference to the movie "The Night of the Hunter" were the inspiration for this artwork. The love/hate tattoos on this praying hands evoke the "What is the difference between love and hate? " mantra we can hear on the song March of Progress.

Tell me about Calgary. I’ve never been there. Just read something Scott said about people there. You said "The majority of them are assholes”. It’s not very inviting. 

Scott: (Laughs) It’s like less than a hundred years old. It’s only been here since the 1900s.

Matt: The oil industry there is huge. That’s where all the money is being made in Canada right now. It’s good for the city in certain aspects. But it’s also a lot of rednecks coming from small towns to work basically physical labor jobs and make a million dollars in a couple of years. Over the past few years, it’s grown by 500 000 people or something. It’s exploding with money. 

Why didn’t you do it? You would be millionaires right now! You'd have bought a huge venue and played in it every night.

Matt: The job is so dangerous. People are dying everyday. And you work in places where it’s literally minus 50. You’re on a work camp and it’s just all like racist redneck millionaires in monster trucks. That being said, there are a lot of good bands in Calgary right now. And a lot of nice people too. I’m probably leaving when I get back. Plus, rents have become really expensive. It’s harder and harder to be poor there. We’re at a point where we consider it’s not necessary for us to be all in the same city.

But you’re not just a band. You’re also friends!

Scott: Yeah, there’s that too. We see enough of each other when we’re on tour (laughs).

Last year, I read you did quite a difficult US tour, mostly financed by the records you sold on Bandcamp. 

Matt: It was a very long tour. We weren’t making any money so anything extra we got on Bandcamp put gas in the car and food in our bellies. Plus, we were doing the whole thing in a tiny compact car. It didn’t help. It was a good test to see if all of us get along. There was no murder, so we passed the test.

Credits : I took elements from Continental Shelf's video like the skull or the glass. This illustration is also a reference to the rigid, battered body of the women we can see in that video. While making it, I had Dali's Living Still Life in mind as I think that the idea of that work matched perfectly to the band's universe.

You are now signed to Jagjaguwar. Does it mean that you now sleep in fancy hotels and eating in posh restaurants?

Matt: Not necessarily. Ideally yes, but there’s always going to be a show that no one comes to. You can do very well in certain countries and there are some places where people just don’t know you. But we’ll be doing the circuit regardless.

So globalization is not as efficient as people say!

Scott: It depends. It definitely helps having a record label backing you and doing press for us but it’s not always enough.

I saw you were into 7- tracks records. Why this format especially?

Matt: The 7 songs that are in the album made sense together. We put them back to back and it was the length of an album. I don’t listen to very long albums. I think 40 minutes is the maximum length if you want people to remain focused.

What are the skills you need to start a good indie band?

Scott: Endless patience.

Matt: Yeah, but a lot of great bands have been made by people who don’t necessarily have lot of skill with their instruments. One of my favorite records ever made was the very first Raincoats. Basically, it was 4 girls who hadn’t really played music before, hanging out together and starting a band. Really cool to hear what they came up with because they don’t really know song structure or playing an instrument so they’re exploring very different areas. But I also appreciate when I hear a band who are really good at their instruments. And I’d like to think that we’re one of these bands. We put endless hours into playing music. More time than we have actually.

Tell me about a band of that kind…

(Very long silence, followed by Scott chuckling)

Matt: It’s different these days. I would think about the people who were playing in all the Motown records. They didn’t even know the song at the start of the day and they were involved in the recording of part of the most classic and timeless records ever made. If you can do that, you’re an amazing musician.

Credits : Once again, I dealt with the theme of the mistreated body, pushing it to its extreme oddity. I was inspired by Moholy-Nagy, a major artist of the Bauhaus movement who combined the figurative to the abstract, geometric shapes and figures.

I know there’s been a lot of controversy about your name, even if it’s not a direct reference to the Vietnam War. Yet, I wanted to ask you what was your favorite Vietnam movie? (Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Forrest Gump, Platoon, …) 

Matt: I think above any of my favorite movies ever made, there is Apocalypse Now.

Scott: Yeah, yeah. I think I got to pick that one too, actually. I watched The Deer Hunter in an airplane pretty recently and … it was a little too intense for an airplane. 

Did you listen to the latest album from Julian Casablancas?

Matt: No, we didn’t? What’s the band called? They asked us to tour with them or something…

Julian Casablancas & The Voidz.

Scott: The Voice?

No, The Voidz. I ask you this question because there has been a big debate about it lately. Actually, it often consists in 13 minutes dissonant and heavily arranged tracks and many of his fans are disappointed.

Matt: Okay, we’ve got to listen to it. I guess he must be tired of writing the same thing over and over. I loved the first records of The Strokes, they’re classic.

Scott: Based on what you just said, maybe we should have accepted their offer. (laughs)

Do you think your music is going to receive a better reception in Great Britain because of its early 80’s inspirations (Bauhaus, New Order, …)?

Matt: It’s hard to say. In general, Great Britain embraces that kind of more experimental music. It’s tough to say because I don’t really know what people are listening to these days. I’m sure we’ll get our fair chunk of 50-something guys who are really into The Cure. (laughs)

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