What's in a Name?
Jul 26, 2013
Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX
Portland's Wampire is a band whose sound is not easy to define. Incorporating elements of '80s synth pop, psychedelic rock, soul, the occasional guitar squall, and even a bit of dance, the band's debut Curiosity plays like a mishmash of styles and genres, sometimes even within the same song. Which led early reviewers to some interesting descriptions.
"The one that made me laugh the hardest recently was 'indie goth horror,'" says Rocky Tinder, who along with Eric Phipps makes up Wampire's songwriting duo. "We never called ourselves a horror band. It just went from some blog being like, 'Wampire has a spooky sound,' to all of a sudden another blog saying, 'Wampire is a goth horror band.' If you listen to the record, there's love songs on it and stuff that sounds like old rock and roll."
One might forgive the confusion with a name sounding like vampire (Wampire is how they've heard Germans pronounce vampire in English) and the band's first single being a spooky-sounding synth anthem titled "The Hearse." But contrary to their eclectic nature these days, Wampire began simplistically enough with childhood friends Tinder and Phipps jamming on punk covers in middle school. The band became a more serious endeavor after the pair moved from the Salem, Oregon suburb of Keizer to Portland after high school and started playing house parties.
After a while of slogging the local scene, a friendship with Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist Jacob Portrait led to Curiosity, an album performed mainly by the duo and produced by Portrait. The band has now grown to a five-piece touring group, with Tinder and Phipps both playing guitar and singing. And although now they find inspiration largely outside of Portland, they acknowledge the artistic landscape of the community so humorously satirized on the popular TV show Portlandia.
"When you walk around Portland, those characters are there," says Tinder. "Like the lesbian feminist that runs the feminist bookstore. That's totally true. There are multiple feminist bookstores. And douchebag kids riding around with their plugged gauged ears. It's bizarre how deep people get into these modes."
One bit of Wampire's Portland history seems to keep rearing its ugly head. Early on in the band's career, when they started playing to indifferent crowds at bars after their stint on the comparatively rowdier house party scene, they had a penchant for taking off their clothes.
"Eric had written this song where live we would both put down our guitars and just sing," says Tinder. "We came up with the idea that we would just take our clothes off and try to freak people out... That song would always be close to the end of our set and we would just strip off and, hell, if there were a couple more songs we would just keep our clothes off. Sometimes I would just take off my pants. It was fun but it just started sucking after a while because apparently we became a shtick band. Now it just haunts us. It's years later and people are like 'This is the band that strips to their skivvies.' It's not the worst thing in the world; it's pretty funny. But it's like, 'No, we're not going to take off our clothes tonight.'"
"'So are you stripping down tonight to your underwear?'" says Phipps in a mock interviewer tone. "'No, no. I'm going to try to just keep playing the music and not worry about taking my pants off.'"
[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July 2013 print issue.]