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PREMIERE: energizing garage rock duo VENRAY discuss bright new EP “20/20”

7 mins read

Don’t go into Washington, D.C.’s VENRAY expecting the usual, generic garage rockin’. “20/20“, the newest EP from the power duo delivers smart, but at time riotous rock’n’roll leaning more towards clever alt rock and even classic post hardcore. Since the band’s beginning, VENRAY has been a 100% DIY endeavour, from self-releasing music to booking and promoting shows to designing artwork for album covers and merchandise. Since late 2017, they’ve churned out three EPs and six singles–as well as playing over 50 shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. VENRAY has played in support of national acts such as Le Butcherettes, Uni, The Advertisers, and A Deer A Horse. Today, we are stoked to partener up with independent label split between DC and Austin, TX called Orphan Glove Records, for a special presentation of VENRAY’s work, through a quick interview and special track by track commenetary below.

venray will be performing virtually on the “Back’d Stages” benefit for NIVA #SaveOurStages, December 18th, 8pm EST.

Consisting of four tracks, the music spans a variety of genres from post-punk and power pop, to grunge and indie pop. Lyrically, the EP’s themes address personal issues such as loss of a loved one and dealing with grief, and more global concerns including the degradation of the environment, and the increasing polarization and volatility of the current political situation, specifically in terms of hypocrisy and misinformation campaigns. Nevertheless, the band doesn’t let the bleakness and negativity win, instead opting for resistance and optimism, declaring “we’ll never resign and we refuse to compromise”.

The process of recording the EP originally started in January, but was soon derailed by the pandemic. The band was able to return to finish the record in July, and the engineers were able to use the band who–with only two members–were a perfect test-case for safely re-opening the studio to bands with more members. 

Recorded, produced, and mixed at Tonal Park Studios in Takoma Park, MD by Don Godwin (Priests, Gauche, Too Free), and mastered at Found Soundations in Brooklyn by Jesse Cannon. 

Can you introduce yourselves?

Venray is a surf-grunge/power-duo formed in 2017 in Washington, DC. The band’s members are Tyler Bergin (guitar, bass, vocals) and Christopher Peli (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Their sound has been described as “catchy AF” and “scruffy indie-rock”. They have released three EPs, and six singles, all featuring artwork created by the band.

How did venray start?

We’ve played together in various bands since high school (Tyler on bass and Christopher on drums). Holding down the rhythm section in those years of playing has allowed us to speak in a kind of musical language. We’ve always meshed very well musically, and can almost ‘complete each other’s musical sentences’ in a sense. It’s always been very easy to convey ideas and build on them together. We had some ideas for some poppier, surfier, 60’s inspired songs, and put together our first DIY EP as a way to get our name out there and start playing some shows. We quickly branched out and started playing some heavier, more punk/grunge inspired stuff as well.

What can you tell us about your songs on 20/20?

Let’s go with a full track by track commentary, shall we?

TB: Tyler Bergin / CP: Christopher Peli

Flowers: This is a classic venray-style ripper that opens the EP with a high-energy drum burst, immediately catapulting the song into a fast-paced rhythm with jangly guitars and sing-along vocal melodies. The song addresses lyrical themes of loss and grieving, and how grief is experienced in different ways.

TB: Flowers has a cleaner rhythm guitar with chorus pedal and soaring guitar leads on top reminiscent of 90s alt bands like Dinosaur Jr and the Meat Puppets. The poppy melodies are juxtaposed with melancholy lyrics about loss and grief inspired from personal experience. The instrumental bridge breakdown features a bouncy bassline, hand claps, latin percussion, and tom solo to match the bassline.

CP: I wanted to start the track with an iconic drum fill, somewhat like a classic heavy metal song. It’s not at all the style of the track, but it sets the tone for the EP. We really thought about all four songs as a continuum, not just isolated tracks. They all work together in a specific order and Flowers is a nice opener to set the tone; fast, dynamic and boppin’.

No Place: No Place is about the destruction of the environment by humans, and the monotony of living in a city full of government workers who are behaving more as drones than people.

TB: Musically, No Place takes a simple approach to the verse with one chord alternately strummed and palm muted to create something that sounds more complex than it is. The choruses are straight sing-along power pop reminiscent of something like ‘In The Garage’ from Weezer’s Blue Album. The song breaks down into a bridge that slowly builds until it explodes into wild cowpunk chaos.

CP: Something I wanted to explore with the drum parts on this EP was progressing in drum complexity as the song advances. I also wanted to challenge myself to write a song with an open-handed sticking position. After the punk breakdown, the heavy, fast tom work really sets up the next song for a heavier vibe.

Elephant: The song is about the skeletons everyone has in their closet, and how many people will turn a blind eye and ignore someone else’s shitty behavior because they don’t want their own behavior called out.

TB: While the title was definitely taken from the lyrics, I also like to think of the sound of the big, crunchy guitar and drums as an elephant’s steps as it lumbers along. The crunchy verses break down into a soft, jangly refrain reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ ‘Sloop John B’, merging heavy 90s alt rock with 60s style psych pop. The track eventually descends into a heavy syncopated breakdown and an arena rock ending.

CP: Elephant has just a huge and bombastic drum part and I wanted to have this shifting but in-your-face rhythm part to it. Where it breaks down in the refrains, I was really influenced by the drummer Dan Mayo and some of his work on unusual sized snares. When the whole thing breaks open after the bridge, the drums are channeling something between Abe Cunningham and Keith Moon. Just wanted a big The Who/Rush ending and it’s something we really don’t do very often in our songs, so it was a lot of fun to punctuate a song with a huge ending.

INALIYBI: Musically, it is a sonic roller coaster that begins with a funky, syncopated drum beat and bassline paired with a sparse echoey guitar, that descends into a sing-along indie pop chorus. The song eventually breaks down into a post-punk build-up at the halfway point where it steadily climbs to reach a hang-ten, big wave climax.

TB: The lyrics address the hypocrisy of con men, be they religious or political leaders, who prey on those who blindly follow them with false promises. It was really written with manipulative church leaders and right wing wannabe authoritarians in mind.

CP: This song really started off as an instrumental for a long time and finally got an identity during the last year. It really is an embodiment of the 2020 experience, but it also has a message that transcends the current situations in America. It’s something we will be dealing with for a while.

VenRay band

There are only 2 members of the band. Is there anything special about your recording process?

We recorded ‘20/20’ at Tonal Park in Takoma Park, Maryland just outside of DC. Tyler does pretty much all the parts other than drums, percussion and select backup vocals. The drum recording room at Tonal Park has a killer sound, so we lay down the kit first, with guitar scratch tracks, and build from there. Because you can get into excessive overdubs very quickly, we demo-record every track ourselves before hitting the studio. It helps us stay efficient and know exactly the final sound we want before getting on studio time.

How do you fill out the sound in your live performances?

We don’t use any loop pedals or anything, so it’s really just about coming out loud and fast. We try to pack a lot into our shows with special intros, endings and fun interludes to keep everyone entertained. Tyler uses a Boss VE-20 vocal pedal to fill in the harmonies he does on the recordings. We try to have some pretty good stage banter too. Our sound is much grittier live, and we don’t always get to play every song we wrote live because punk/DIY shows tend not to be very nuanced. We have some slower and softer music we are working on now for a full length LP next year.

With the pandemic closing music venues, how has venray spent the downtime? How do you see your musician peers coping with the lack of venues and shows?

We’ve been engaging fans with “Guess That Song” on our Instagram stories and sending out merch to winners. Also, since we’re a bass and drum duo as well, we’ve been helping some musician friends flesh out their ideas and songwriting. We’ve started a small label–Orphan Glove Records–to produce and release some of the demos for these projects as well. Playing streaming shows has given us a chance to step up video performances and work on our social media presence.

We see a lot of our peers engaging in music-adjacent activities like Zumba classes and giving music lessons on Zoom or Skype. It’s a difficult time but if we know anything, it’s that the music industry refuses to quit!

You were recently invited to be a part of an upcoming virtual music fest; can you tell us about it?

We can’t reveal the details yet because the organizers have not announced a date or anything. We recorded a three song set at The Pocket in DC, which is a venue/studio/practice space that has been feeling the pain from lack of shows. We wanted to do something to benefit Save Our Stages with the virtual fest, and also support an independent venue by recording our set on an actual stage.

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