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Book smart and beer soaked: the Viking.

Photo: Joe Putrock

The Wonder Years

Schenectady band the Viking wax philosophical about girls, heavy metal, and Jacques Derrida

By David King

The Viking will tell you their first show wasn’t particularly memorable. But what happened after the gig, in a Cortland hotel room, might make a band eligible for a metal merit badge in debauchery.

“There were 30 people in our room,” explains lead singer Nate Danker, a fellow whose off-the-wall personality, scruffy beard, and bearlike nature make him a slimmer match for Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover, “and we only invited half of them. After about 45 minutes, the lady is like, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ ”

They had been kicked out of their first hotel room after their very first show.

“I think Josh was wearing a pillow diaper,” says bassist Dan Cramer, a polite, businesslike young man with a marketing degree from SUNY Binghamton and a real-person job during the day.

“That was after consuming an extraordinary amount of beer,” says drummer Josh James, an English and philosophy major at Adirondack Community College, sounding slightly embarrassed, slightly delighted.

“And that’s when we knew,” jokes Danker.

Things have changed since the first show—as of late, the Schenectady-based band have become notorious for tearing the hell out of venues across upstate New York with rowdy sets that include rafter-climbing, banana suits, brutality, and out-and-out metal swagger. These are five young, angry, horny young men learning about themselves, their love for music and the kinds of things that can happen when you drink too much—way, way, too much. Or, as Cramer would put it, when you “go on a fucking rager.”

The Viking are at their idyllic suburban practice space in Niskayuna, surrounded by T-shirts they are organizing for their next few gigs. The family of a friend allows them to use the basement of their suburban home as a practice space, and feeds them, as well. James discusses the virtues of Bubblicious gum while contrasting it to the taste of the Fruit Stripe I am currently jawing on.

Bassist Dan Cramer bemoans the tardiness of guitarist Madison Peruzzi. “‘I love the funk.’ That’s all he would tell you if he was here anyway,” Cramer assures me.

Things weren’t always steak and Fruit Stripe for the band. As James tells it, everything started in a trailer in Burnt Hills in the sweltering heat of July 2007, after certain band members were unceremoniously ousted from a pop-punk band. Since then the Viking have steadily built a fan base by promoting themselves on the Internet. But, James says, that kind of promotion led to only a “nominal” crowd at shows. It wasn’t until they paid to record their first album and started printing copious mounds of T-shirts that the buzz started growing.

“People want to be able to sing along with the lyrics,” says Danker. And Cramer says that their wide selection of shirts has paid off, with die-hard fans buying multiple copies of each one they have printed.

Listen to the album, which is available in physical form as well as on iTunes and a number of other reputable online music vendors, and it may strike you as almost hysterical that the band’s chops were forged in the flames of the pop-punk scene. (James and Winchester both played in On the A.M.; Cramer, Winchester and Danker at one time all played in the Renowned Army.)

Most members of the band admit to still being or having previously been die-hard Blink 182 fans. “And that’s on the record,” Danker adds. They list influences as disparate as John Coltrane, Nas and Regina Spektor. Danker also digs the new Passion Pit album, a taste not all his bandmates can support.

The band’s non-metal sensibilities seem to be what links them all together. “We all played in pop-punk bands. We all liked hardcore music and listened to metal all the time, but we never thought to play it,” explains guitarist Jesse Winchester, who studied music business at Schenectady County Community College. Winchester shares Cramer’s businesslike poise but seems to be the man in the group who always has music on his mind. As absurd as the mood in the room can be when the band members get together, they are clearly serious and thoughtful about the music they play.

“Everyone had their own sound,” says Winchester. “Madison comes from a very strong funk background. I play classical music at school, and I like hardcore. Madison has the blues and funk take. I write a lot of the core parts and when Madison gives his take it is totally something different from what I wrote. It’s a different idea all together. But it really meshes.”

Winchester says his experience in punk-ska group Monkey Gone Mad gives him a different take on metal music. “But I think we try to play serious music in the metal genre. I like to think of it as real music in the metal style,” he says.

“As opposed to fake music,” interjects James. Laughter ensues.

And then the air of seriousness lifts just as quickly as it came.

“You could call us progressive, progressive hardcore,” says Winchester. “We definitely have metal elements.”

“Its progcore,” someone says. “Grindpop!” Winchester offers, smiling. Then they throw out more additions to their ever-evolving genre: “”Hyper pop-hip rock!” James adds before shushing himself.

“Fuck labels and constrictions,” says Cramer. And things get serious again—for a moment.

If you need a reference to sort out all of this madness, perhaps the closest comparison would be Every Time I Die. But while the two bands sport similar Southern-style sludgy riffs and hardcore abandon, the Viking are far more technical, displaying the progressive inclinations of a band like Between the Buried and Me, as well as a bit of the art-house-sludge leanings of Daughters. And the Viking are heavier than Every Time I Die have ever dared to be.

Their songs have names like “Bonnie Gets Lyme Disease,” “Human Tuba,” and “Class Action Pant Suit.” Sabbathy sludge gives way to punk speed, followed by sparkly Dream Theater-style solos that collapse into Dillinger Escape Plan-style jazzy hardcore breakdowns that make crowds hit each other.

You can watch the crowds go wild for the band on YouTube. Tickets to their shows are selling, shirts are selling, the album is selling, and the band are scheduled to open for yet another national act, Protest the Hero, on April 30 at Valentine’s. They say they would like to be able to tour as much as possible. They are investing in a van and plan to do a tour of the Northeast this summer. They don’t want to oversaturate the Albany market, and are flirting with what exactly it would take to get themselves a genuine record deal.

But everyone knows what happens to successful Albany metal bands. They break up—sometimes more than once—and everyone in the metal scene waxes nostalgic for them before venturing out to see the new band featuring the ex-lead singer, and the “fans” are just disappointed the new group won’t play covers of the singer’s old band.

The Viking boys claim that is not going to happen for them. Despite their wild live shows and lifestyles, the band say they have their priorities straight.

“The most important thing is that we’ve all known each other for a long time. The petty bullshit does not hinder us. We all just tell each other to shut the fuck up, and it’s over. It’s squashed and it’s never brought up again,” says Winchester.

It is then mentioned that two of the band members are “Eskimo brothers,” a term explained by Urbandictionary.com this way: “When two males acknowledge having been intimate with the same female and remain on good terms, the men are now bonded by having shared the same igloo at one time or another.”

Danker at the moment seems particularly quiet. “How is it that the lead singer has been the quietest guy this entire time?” I wonder out loud. I am assured that Danker would be “ultra chatty” if there were a woman in the room. He’s then scolded by members of the band for being a man-whore. Danker refutes the charges, saying he is no man-slut.

“You’re gonna be somewhere playing a show one day and you are gonna be like, ‘Guys, it hurts when I pee,’ ” scolds James, who insists he is the lamest member of the band, being in a steady relationship; his nights after shows consist of “a couple of beers and Tylenol PM.” James is undeniably the group’s deep thinker.

Then a discussion erupts about which band members have kissed each other. After a few moments it becomes clear that they know they have strayed beyond the material they had wanted to discuss.

Peruzzi has finally arrived, and it is time to rehearse. It’s hot in the cellar practice space, and the band quickly wear themselves out tearing through numbers. The practice set ends and they are drenched in sweat, tired and ready to go home.

They gather again in a living room area next to their practice space. The mood is much calmer than before. Everyone has work or school in the morning. Two of the band’s members work professional jobs during the day. I’m forbidden to mention the name of at least one of them, should the article contain any damning evidence. James is proud to announce that he works at a liquor store.

James begins discussing his excitement about a philosophy class he is taking. Cramer and Madison jump into the conversation. James brings up Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. Dante’s Divine Comedy is briefly discussed, as are Derrida and deconstructionism. It might seem more shocking than the discussion of Eskimo brothers or intraband make-out sessions, but it isn’t.

These are smart young gentleman using metal music to make a statement: It’s the window dressing on their bigger ideas, their angst, anger, philosophy and bond as longtime friends. And besides, it’s a great way to meet girls, get people to show up to buy beer, pay money for shirts and punch each other in a circle pit. The Viking represent, in a lot of ways, the best of what Albany can hope for: bright local students playing weird music that builds a scene. It may all sound crazy and hedonistic—at times it may sound a little bit like a high-school field trip to Hooters—but there is a distinct logic to the Viking, and there is no denying they are living the dream.

The Viking open for Protest the Hero at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) on April 30. Tickets for the 7:30 PM show area $14. For more information, visit valentinesalbany.com or stepup presents.com.


ROUGH MIX

Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

TV PARTY One of the Capital Region’s own got an opportunity to sing on late-night network television last week—and boy, did she ever. One-time Metroland cover subject Erin Harkes happened to be at last Wednesday’s (April 7) taping of NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. That evening’s show was to feature a segment called Battle of the Instant Bands, which would pit two impromptu bands against one another. According to Harkes, “While waiting in the entrance line, a producer scoured the crowd for musicians. I mentioned that I played guitar, but that I thought myself a better singer. He pulled me aside.” After 20 minutes together, Harkes and her new bandmates—dubbed Fallon Angels—played their just-written song, “Free Jimmy,” on the air, and handily beat their competition. “It was a surreal, yet invigorating and visceral experience,” says Harkes.

I’m a Ferguson man myself, so I’ll fess up to not having caught this in real time. But that’s what the Internet is for: See the Fallon Angels strut their stuff at latenightwithjimmyfallon.com. And catch Harkes in person at Savannah’s tomorrow (Friday, April 16) for a happy-hour gig at 6 PM.

FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS So, you might have heard that Wilco are putting on a little festival. And that their Solid Sound Festival is being held not only within driving distance, but just over the hills, at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. And that the three-day fest features music by Wilco and all their members’ side projects (of which there are several), as well as special workshops and installations. You heard about this, right? Wild, man.

This would seem like the cap to a summer that’s seen upstate New York overrun by music festivals, from the recurrent Mountain Jam and Camp Bisco to upstarts like Truck America and The Big Up. But there’s more: A few enterprising young gentlemen have launched the Mountain Man festival, to be held Saturday, July 24 at the Saratoga City Center. The indie-focused event features bands like Islands, Health, and Saratoga’s own Phantogram—but it won’t happen at all without a little support. Check out kickstarter.com for details on how you can help make it a reality.

FUN DRIVE Speaking of Kickstarter, one Albany band’s experience using the site got them onto the pages of The New York Times last week—the business pages, but, still. Alex Muro of Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned was interviewed about his band’s experience with Kickstarter, for an article about the various fan-funding sites available to musicians. Though Muro’s quotes revealed a certain depressing truth about the music industry (if my math is correct, they made less than $90 a show last year), the article did feature a photograph of the band. Which is, as they say, priceless.

END OF AN ERA Alternative-rock station WEQX 102.7 FM said goodbye to operations manager and program director Willobee Carlan last week. Carlan, who was with the station for five years, is off to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he’ll oversee the Shamrock Communications group of stations. That familiar voice you now hear in the afternoons belongs to longtime WEQX’er Jason Irwin; he’ll also take over as the station’s music director, while midday DJ Amber Miller serves as interim program director. Irwin has fronted Glens Falls band Phillips Head for 15 years and is the host of the station’s local-music show EQX-Posure, so this can only mean good things for the Capital Region music scene.

AM RADIO The University at Albany radio station WCDB 90.9 FM celebrates a pretty cool milestone this month: The longest running show in its history, The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz, marks its 25th year on the air. Hosted by Bill McCann, the show ran on Saturday mornings periodically from April 1985 through late 1994, beginning while McCann was still an undergrad at UAlbany; and he’s kept it on weekly ever since. This Saturday (April 17) the show’s anniversary will be celebrated with a free live concert at the Campus Center Assembly Hall, from noon until 9:30 PM. The killer lineup of area performers includes the Lee Shaw Trio, Brian Patneaude Quartet, and Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, to name a few. There’s more on the show at albanyjazz.com.

LEFT OF THE DIAL One last radio note: Metroland’s own Josh Potter will program an hour of music as host of My Exit on WEXT 97.7 FM this Monday (April 19), from 8 to 9 PM. I’d tell you to call and request “Stairway,” but the show is pre-taped.

—John Brodeur

Let us know about local-music news and happenings for inclusion in Rough Mix: E-mail tips and information to tigerpop1@yahoo.com or metroland@metroland.net.



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