I feel like I could live in Los Angeles for the next fifty years, and the city would still find ways to surprise me. No, I’m not talking about a unexpected carjacking for those of you who picture LA as some urban wasteland. I’m talking about finding amazing music in amazing settings. Like last Thursday night when I was invited to see a band I’d never listened to before at a venue I’d never been to before — that musical “blind date” of sorts turned out to be one such example of how sometimes the best discoveries happen when you aren’t looking for them.
The venue was Harvard and Stone, a relatively new Eastside establishment that mixed whiskey, rust, and nostalgia into the perfect backdrop for the evening’s musical entertainment: The Vim Dicta. This trio (formerly a duo known as The Film Noir) performed an uninhibited set of driving psychedelic rock with frontwoman/guitarist/keyboard player/pseudo-bassist Cori Elliot providing smoky vocals reminiscent of Grace Slick and lead guitarist/backup vocalist/pseudo-bassist Matt Tunney (more on all those slashes in the interview below) contributing wailing guitar solos and unbridled energy. Drummer David Halicky kept the whole thing on track with a steady beat, and just when I would get comfortable in a groove, The Vim Dicta would switch it up. It was never in a jarring way, though — more like a surprise birthday party kind of way. Unexpected, but welcomed.
The sophisticated song structure belied the trio’s age (two of the three members can’t yet legally drink), and combined with their deft musicianship, the group really has nothing standing between themselves and success. A 1:45 spot on 98-7FM’S “Close To Home” Roxy Lot Stage at Sunset Strip Music Festival this Saturday (which will also host Family of the Year and JJAMZ) and a featured song placement in the upcoming Sons of Anarchy premiere September 11th will no doubt bring the band one step closer to that success.
We had a chance to talk with Cori, Matt, and David of The Vim Dicta after their performance at Harvard and Stone, so read on to find out more about the trio’s unusual name, the pros and cons of recording live, and why their guitarists also provide the group’s groovy basslines.
You were originally named The Film Noir. What prompted the change to The Vim Dicta?
Cori: It was a little confusing when fans would try to search for us online ‘cause it’s also a movie genre, and we wanted to be the first thing people saw when they typed our name in.
Matt: We were the ninth thing on the second page of Google.
Cori: It’s a cool name, but it was just confusing.
Why did you choose The Vim Dicta? What’s the meaning behind that name?
Cori: Well, we went through a billion names, and then Dan put our names in an anagram of sorts. I mixed and matched the letters, and I thought The Vim Dicta sounded cool.
Matt: Matt, Cori, David makes The Vim Dicta.
You guys are a three-piece without a bass player, but I notice that you also pull a lot of bass riffs on the guitar through different processors. What made you choose to go that route rather than finding a fourth member or one of you picking up a bass?
Matt: I love the fact that I can make my guitar sound like a bass because inherently all I want to do is play lead guitar all the time. But I can’t do that unless I could loop a bass line under myself. I became particularly interested in octave pedals when Jack White started using his, but he uses them for very screechy type things, not quite bootylicious bass line type stuff.
Cori: It happened pretty naturally. Neither of us had really played bass before, so we were like, “Let’s just play with two guitars for a while.” Originally it was just the two of us writing the songs, and we thought maybe it’d be cool to get octave pedals and do it that way instead of the conventional way.
Do you ever find any complications with not having a bassist? Or is it something that you’ve always just been able to work out?
Cori: It’s hard sometimes, but it keeps us on our game, keeps us more creative.
Matt: Every venue’s different, the way it’s going to sound, the way it’s going to treat our bass. I’ve just discovered that splitting it through a second cabinet is making my sound bigger, and that’s what Cori is eventually going to do too.
David: I think it helps with our dynamics. Everyone tells us we’re a very dynamic band. Without a bass, we’re really free to just do things off the top of our heads, and we like to do that a lot when playing live.
How do you think your songwriting has evolved since you started playing together over a year and a half ago?
Matt: The first couple of tracks were written by just me and Cori, and there’s a distinct feeling that I get when I play them, like they are us when we were just starting. It’s just a statement of where we were at the time. Now we’ve gelled as a band, and we’re building better and better songs. The parts are becoming more thoughtful, and I think I’m getting exponential better as a musician with this band. We all are.
Cori: I think we’re just starting to get our sound, and I think that’s making the songs more adventurous.
How would you describe your own sound?
Matt: Psycho groove.
Cori: That’s a common question amongst fans and music heads, so I just decided to try to come up with a genre. We’re so psychedelic and groovy ‘cause of the bass lines. I think it’s a mash of a lot.
Matt: It’s a violent gumbo stew of a couple of things, which all the coolest and awesomest music is. We’re proud of it.
What is your songwriting process like? I’m assuming it’s a little different depending on the song, but what would be a general idea of how you write?
David: Generally Cori or Matt will come up with something, a lick or just a riff. Then the rest of us will add to it.
Cori: I’ll record it with my iPhone in rehearsals and go back and listen to it a lot to get inspiration for more parts or lyrics. It’s definitely a process.
David: We’ll play a segment for a couple of minutes, one part over and over, maybe changing a few things just to see what we can get out of it, and then she’ll stop and be writing down lyrics while we’re doing it. “All right let’s try this again” — we’ll pick it up, and she’ll try singing over it and then, hopefully, that’s the part.
Cori: We’ll loop a part over and over until I can get a really cool melody or harmony.
Matt: We do it by actually playing it.
David: We’ll spend maybe one night just hashing it out
Matt: Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes it’s surprisingly fast.
Cori: I think the coolest part is that most of the songs come out of that moment of us playing them initially versus us coming back to them — “Here’s another part, here’s another part” — it’s very spontaneous.
You’ve been in the studio recently and you’ve been recording live as opposed to on a track-by-track basis. How do you feel that pushes you as musicians?
Cori: It’s hard. It’s one thing to play the song, but then to get the right feel also is so important. That was definitely the challenge. Some songs would take 15 takes, but some of them would take three takes and we would go with the first one. It’s really interesting to record live like that.
Matt: It’s a different perspective.
Cori: It’s more fun too.
Matt: Plus when you do nine takes of one song over and over and over…
David: The first one’s completely different than the ninth.
Matt: It hearkens back to when musicians actually had to play that shit over and over, before you had computers. Computers are good for some shit, but I think our music, especially at this point, deserves to be raw and deserves to capture us as we are now.
Cori: And it helps you get to know your songs way more than you ever would otherwise.
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