This article was originally published on KCPR.org.
Hot on the heels of their latest full-length “Exit Weather,” San Luis Obispo’s Bunkers recently gave me the opportunity to virtually pop into one of their practice nights for a brief interview. The fiercely-DIY outfit makes unpredictable and exciting experimental rock that leaps through manipulated loops and unapologetic noise – a discography sure to take you on a sonic odyssey.
As a way of introduction, who is the crew behind Bunkers?
Grivs: I’m Andrew Grivjack. I – for the most part – handle the percussion, but we all kind of jump around.
DSM: I’m DSM [a.k.a. Michael VandenBerg] – I play a bunch of different stuff, but not drums.
Wilder: Matt Wilder. I play mostly guitar, some bass and some synthesizer … and a little bit of drums. We all share the role of vocals but … [pointing to DSM] this one’s kind of the lead singer.
How did the group originally get together, and start writing music?
Wilder: I knew Andrew; we lived together and he met DSM. I’m not really sure how you met…
DSM: — we met at the bar! The band I was in was looking for a drummer and we met Andrew. I found out he was a drummer, so I immediately said, “Oh, we should hang out.” Then [he] joined our band, which grew … Matt joined as well, until it grew into a six-piece folk rock thing.
Wilder: Yeah, this would’ve been back in like 2014, or something like that. Then that band disbanded, and … about 2016 we started playing, just the three of us.
It’s great to meet the band … and I almost hesitate to use that term, because on a lot of your social media, you opt for the term “electric three piece outfit” instead –– could you talk about how Bunkers fits within the larger discussion of genre and rock conventions specifically? There’s a sense of trying to subvert that in some way in a lot of your work.
DSM: We do talk about that, and we sort of go back and forth. At one point we were trying to nail down what we could label ourselves. That was kind of tricky, because we don’t stick to one particular avenue.
I’ve also been reading articles that say that genre is dead and people don’t think about music in that way anymore … or even that genre is applied retroactively. Like, people who are in a thing generally don’t put themselves within a genre, it’s usually referred to after the fact.
Something that feels very ‘visual’ about your work is these connections to cinema. One of those playlists I mentioned is dedicated to film soundtracks that I assume played some part in inspiring the sound of Bunkers. There’s even snippets of sampled dialogue in a few of your songs –– I picked up on “Princess Bride” and what sounds like … a Will Ferrell bit? Could you talk about the role of film in the group, and this appreciation of soundscapes?
[a brief pause for laughs]
Wilder: The Will Ferrell thing … I think I just mentioned that offhand; I was telling a story … [looking at DSM] Then, I believe, later that day you were editing a song, and that just came on?
DSM: Yeah, the Will Ferrell one … It wasn’t the sort of thing where [we were] like, “You know, what this song needs is an SNL sample.” I was editing “All Phosphorus;” I was taking a break, letting my ears cool down, then I switched over to YouTube and the first video it recommended was this SNL skit that Wilder had just been talking about … [where] it’s Will Ferrel as the devil and he’s trying to help Garth Brooks write a hit song. There was so much good stuff in there.
While we were recording, Grivs had [spoken] one of those lines … I listen to the recording and can hear [him] at the very end say [it], and then I switch over to YouTube – I don’t know if YouTube was listening, but it was like, “Yeah that’s the video to recommend.”
Wilder: So it might be in there because the algorithm heard us talking about it.
DSM: — and now we’re feeding it back in, for that infinite algorithmic loop. In a more general sense, I for one am really into film scores. That’s great music to work to. A lot of times it’ll be instrumental, but it’ll still have energy or really interesting stuff going on. That’s why that film score playlist is nine hours long (and there’s still a ton of stuff I keep thinking to put in there).
We try to get away from “Princess Bride” … we’re trying to not sample the whole movie, basically. We don’t want to be that band, but some of [the quotes] are just so great.
The trio goes back and forth confirming how many “Princess Bride” samples they’ve used thus far.
Something else that sticks out is a sense of storytelling –– Bunkers has these fascinating track titles that suggest fantasy, rebellion or sometimes even apocalyptic cataclysm. Is there any kind of narrative thread or maybe motifs that listeners should be watching out for?
Wilder: I think it’s there if you want to find it. There definitely is a lot of apocalyptic stuff there, [and] I don’t think there’s a real narrative … but there’s a mood that we’re consistent with a lot of the time.
DSM: I know some bands where everything they do is part of a unified story or universe that they’ve created. We have not done that yet … we might at some point do a full concept album.
I will say that since a lot of our tracks are instrumental, the name of it could really be anything. There’s no lyrics to pull from, so it’s really the only place we have to say something concrete about it. That’s kind of our opportunity to give you a hint or implant an idea. Or, we’ll just have a cool phrase that really fits the song.
I have to point out ‘I, Thorax’ from their latest, as an illustrative example.
DSM: We’ll [also] have codenames! Some of these tracks on this last album, we were using a codename basically until the day we mixed it. Then it was like, “Okay guys we really need to name this thing.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my introduction to the sound of Bunkers was through your contribution to the SLO Artist’s Coalition over the summer. Your piece “Demonstration” is a clarifying example of the way you play with samples and exciting different takes on song conventions. What role do politics and protest play in your music?
Wilder: Last year was a really big deal for everybody. We had never really gotten too political before [that]. It just felt [like] it would be tone deaf to not lean that direction and make our political beliefs well known … We weren’t really preaching anything, but there’s an idea to it and I think it comes across.
DSM: [It’s] sort of in the vein of protest songs and chants, and stuff that you’ll hear in a march … “What if it was really funky? What if it was a protest you could dance through?” So that [project] was great. Those guys hit us up and we were really happy to be a part of it.
What are some musical influences that’ve been formative in crafting your current sound?
DSM: Each of us has a different musical background, in terms of genres and artists we’ve gravitated towards and followed throughout our lives … which I think is really helpful for us and is part of the reason that we can go off in any direction. Cause, Grivs will listen to a lot of hardcore – a lot of metal … punk and stuff?
Grivs: Sure, sure.
DSM: Like I said, I like a lot of film scores, some industrial…
Wilder: I listen to a lot of guitar music; nowadays a lot of afrobeat … I like classical music too.
Grivs: As far as the direction that we’re headed, I think that it’s a nice melting pot. We all have different interests, and it’s fun to always push the envelope and try new stuff. I can’t even say what’s going to come out on the next album but I’m sure we’ll be doing something weird.
Anything else you want to say to people getting ready to explore your discography?
Grivs: Hopefully we’ll be playing some live music soon! I think a lot of people are looking forward to getting out and hearing music. It’s really important for art and sanity.
DSM: I guess what I’ll say is that we are thoroughly DIY. We don’t outsource anything. We do all our own mixing and mastering, which – anybody with an ear will hear that. [laughs] If you can get past the ‘rough-around-the-edges’ aspect to the recordings themselves, we put our hearts into it … so hopefully it’s rewarding in the listening.
Or at least, [hopefully it’s] something interesting – even if you don’t like it, you will have a reaction. You’ll have a reaction.