I recently had the opportunity to interview Vince Scheuerman of Army Of Me. Vince unfortunately lost his voice last week, but graciously agreed to do this interview via email instead. So here it is, an insightful talk with one of DC's most beloved frontmen.
PPJ: For starters, can you tell us your name and your role in the band?
Vince: Hello, I'm Vince Scheuerman, I sing and play guitar.
PPJ: How did Army Of Me begin?
Vince: Long ago, in some dark basement in the District of Columbia, Dennis
Manuel, our drummer and I got together and jammed on 5 songs that I had written. Early on, I was just trying to be as good as Jeff Buckley (which is impossible), whose record "Grace" I listened to at least 3 times a day. Over time though, our sound and voice became our own, as the band matured. We added a bass player, and eventually another guitarist, Brad Tursi. We booked as many shows as we could, we were willing to play anywhere, in basements, back yards, community centers, and gymnasiums.. but we eventually graduated to rock clubs....
PPJ: You were called Cactus Patch before becoming Army Of Me. Were there any musical shifts there, or was it simply a name change?
Vince: Bands are always changing and growing, if not, they are getting stagnant. But when we changed our name, it was really because we couldn't envision ourselves being called Cactus Patch the rest of our lives. We asked ourselves, could you look in the mirror knowing that your band was called Cactus Patch, and take yourself seriously? The answer was no.
PPJ: What bands influenced you growing up?
Vince: Altar Boys, U2, The Alarm, The Levellers, James, Oasis, School of Fish,
Weezer, Sublime, Nirvana, The Beatles, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Green Day, Blur, Counting Crows, to name a few....
PPJ: Are those same artists still strong influences for you today?
Vince: Well, I can never erase what music has formed my musical taste and sensibility. But these days, I'm not listening to those bands like I did when I was younger. Of course, the next time U2 or Rufus Wainwright puts out a record, I'll listen to it and probably get some inspiration out of it. I'm currently looking for my next musical obsession....
PPJ: It's taken Army Of Me quite a few years to find a label home. Why is that?
Vince: It's taken Army of Me quite a few years to figure out who Army of Me is, and for everything to come together the way that it needs to. Looking back, I'm actually glad that our new record - Citizen - is our first nationwide release.
PPJ: What made you want to keep working at this through all that time?
Vince: Somewhere deep down, I always had the belief that we could write amazing songs, or that we had something to say. And all along the way, we had really encouraging people who believed in us and helped us to believe in ourselves.
PPJ: Why did you ultimately choose Doghouse Records?
Vince: Actually Doghouse had been wanting to sign us for a couple of years. So when the time came that we wanted to sign a record deal, we realized that Doghouse was the first one who had expressed interest, and they had continued to pursue us for a long time. We knew they were passionate about our music and that they believed in us, and that was really important to us.
PPJ: Has being from the DC area provided you with any noticeable advantages or disadvantages?
Vince: Being in a real city definitely has its benefits. In DC there is a music scene with a lot of history - bands that we loved growing up like Fugazi and Minor Threat. And there are some really great venues like the Black Cat and the 9:30 club. And when you live in a real city, there are always cool bands and people coming through your town... And DC is set in the midatlantic area where there are several other great cities so near by, like Philly, NYC, Richmond, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, etc. So, it was a great central place to be. We received a lot of support early on from a radio station called WHFS, who put on the big festival called HFStival, that most people from the east coast have heard of. We got to play that several times... Then later on, another radio station, DC 101, gave us a lot of love. On top of all that, there are some really great bands from DC that we are friends with, that make up a cool scene.
One thing about DC that makes it a hard place to be a band is that the city is so transient. People come to DC, but never stay for very long, so it's hard to build a steady, solid home town fanbase. And not very many kids actually grow up in DC, it's more Maryland and Virginia suburbs. But that's ok, because people travel into the city to see shows...
PPJ: Has your approach to writing music changed over the years?
Vince: I've always written what sounded good to me. That sounds really simplistic, but it's really the case. Early on, I was influenced by Jeff Buckley, so I used to try to put 17 jazz chords in each song. But over time, i've simplified my songwriting. there's a fine balance where songs are simple, yet still interesting. That's where I try to live. To me, songs are about communication. You have something that you want to portray, or get across. If a song is too complicated, you start to lose people. But I also can't stand when songs are stupid or cliche... If you can say what you're trying to say in a unique way, that sounds cool, and everyone can understand it at the same time, then you've really accomplished something...
PPJ: How does it feel to finally be able to release a full-length album?
Vince: I'm very excited for people to hear what we've been working on. I love
PPJ: Tell us what went into the recording of Citizen.
Vince: During the summer of 2005, we traveled to Mathews, VA to a little tiny beach house where our producer had a studio set up. There we spent about a week recording demos for the songs Going Through Changes, Still Believe in You, and Perfect. It was these demos that got us our record deal... so in February and March of 2006, we traveled back to the beach house to finish the record. It was quite a process, sifting through all the songs, trying to decide what to record, what not to record. But eventually, we narrowed it down, and spent almost 2 months working on recording these songs. Each song has it's own story, and something unique about it... all in all, it was a great experience.
PPJ: What significance does the title Citizen hold?
Vince: Citizen is about loyalty, devotion, and love. The word comes from a line at the end of the song "Meet You At The Mouth"... where the lyric says, "You're a city on a hillside, in a country far from here. I will go there and be a citizen of you." This is a very human record that deals with change, desire, conversion, struggle, hope, love, and the human condition.
PPJ: How did you choose which of your older songs to include on Citizen?
Vince: Originally, the record was going to be only the last 11 songs we had written - all new songs. But at the last second, we decided to include one older song "Saved Your Life" on the record. It was a song that the guys in the band really like, and they wanted to include it on the record.
PPJ: Will you continue to play any of the other older songs at your shows?
Vince: Just because a song isn't on the current record doesn't mean we can't play it live. And who knows, maybe an older song could end up on a future record...
PPJ: You played at SXSW this year. Had you ever played it before? What was that experience like?
Vince: Yes, SXSW is insanity. There are thousands of band playing at all hours of the day and night. it's very easy to have a good time down there. I ended up having a little too much fun, i think, and trashed my voice. As of now, i'm still trying to get it back!
PPJ: You're also having a residency at The Black Cat. What exactly does that mean?
Vince: Traditionally, a residency is when you play a reoccuring gig at a club. The idea is that you keep going back until people realize that it's an event, and they show up. So, at the Black Cat, we've been playing the last Wednesday of each month - Feb, March, and April. We've got one more to go, the grand finale - April 25.
PPJ: What are your summer tour plans?
Vince: TBD, but we plan to be out on the road in support of our new record - Citizen.
PPJ: Lastly, can you tell us three bands you think we should be listening to?
Vince: The way you phrase that sounds like it's a music vitamin that you
should be taking, haha. sooo, today, you should really catch up on your
Vitamin B - Bob Dylan, Beatles, Beach Boys, Beck, Bjork, Blur, Ben
Folds, and Brendan Benson...
Thanks again to Vince for taking the time to do this interview. Also thanks to Chris Sampson at Red Light Management for arranging everything.
You can preorder Citizen at the Army Of Me online store, or pick it up in stores next Tuesday. You can also read my review of the record in the post directly below this one.