While Vancouver’s punk scene has been busying itself with monstrous, noisy releases — White Lung’s frenetic Sorry and Nu Sensae’s blistering Sundowning, both stunning records, were released within the last six months — Vapid has been less-than-quietly plugging away with its snotty, melodic interpretation of the genre. Their 2009 Deranged-released debut, Practically Dead, introduced the world to Vapid’s sound: Led by the sister duo of Katie and Caroline (who requested that we withhold their last names), theirs was an aesthetic that balanced bubblegum with gritty blasts of lunacy.
But that sound, and their female vocals, has led to a common, if lazy comparison — Vapid are frequently called Bikini Kill disciples. Which is cool, except there’s a slight problem: They don’t sound like Kathleen Hanna and co. at all. “Women plus music equals feminism in most people’s minds,” says bassist Caroline. “Which takes us back to riot grrl.”
”I think any band that has more than one girl in it is called a girl band,” adds Katie, Vapid’s lead vocalist. “And any band that has more than one girl in it — and screams from time to time — is called a riot grrl band. It’s narrow-minded, to say the least.”
Actually, when pressed for a comparison, the band doesn’t touch down anywhere close to the riot grrl hotbed of Olympia, Wash. “We might be similar to Dishrags [a seminal Vancouver first-wave punk band who appeared on the seminal Vancouver Complication]. But they wrote better songs and could play better than we can,” adds Steven, the band’s guitarist. “Post-2000s Vancouver punk drew from many punk scenes throughout history — not just the Pacific Northwest, or specifically Vancouver’s, history.”
And he’s right. That post-2000s Vancouver punk scene — loosely, the band’s referring to the community centred around the Emergency Room, a sketchy Vancouver east-end venue — has produced a staggering array of quality music. (Which is excellently documented on Nominal Records 2008 comp titled, predictably, Emergency Room Vol. 1.) On it, you’ll find the early, frantic work of White Lung. The formative rage of Nü Sensae. The noisy, challenging work of Defektors and Mutators. And, of course, there, too, was Vapid, contributing “Sex Stain” and “Die,” two songs which earned them considerable praise from the Maximumrocknroll crowd.
And while most of the those bands have achieved success beyond the black-and-white pages of Maximumrocknoroll — Nü Sensae, for example, are now cutting records on the ever-trendy Suicide Squeeze — Vancouver punk’s success didn’t happen overnight.
“The bands that are still around [from that era] have improved, and are starting to get more exposure now,” says Caroline. “So I guess it seems like the Vancouver thing is just starting, even though it’s not.”
”Truthfully, I think the exciting times [in the city] are over,” adds Katie. “What you’re getting now is the bands that have been doing it for years — and will never give up.”
Vapid, too, might be a band that persists — even if, by their own admission, they’re a slow-moving beast, which, at one point, took a year-long hiatus. But to their credit, its members have remained committed to Vapid’s concept, despite the many changes they’ve seen: Steven, for his part, moved to Calgary and back. (“I couldn’t imagine having winter last until May,” he adds. “It wasn’t the place for me.”) Their drummer, Ben, briefly relocated to New York. Katie, meanwhile, started a short-lived band named Debbie Tiffany with members of the Defektors. All this while, as Caroline adds, “[we weren’t] practising as much as we’d like, and spending way too much time at jobs we don’t love.”
But, they say, they’re back to writing songs — “catchier stuff,” adds Caroline — that Deranged Records has promised to release. When they’re finished, that is.
”We’re the slowest band in the history of the world,” says Katie. “Considering how much we cancel practise for things like hangovers, it’s pretty remarkable how much we’ve come up with. We’re a few songs — a.k.a. an eon — from being ready to record our next record.
“I’m kidding‚ kind of.... But it’s going to be a hit factory. At least that’s what I say to keep Nominal and Deranged interested.”