| An interview with Shawn and Tracy Garrity, the sibling rock duo that is Vulgarrity |
Which one of you is the older sibling?
Shawn: I’m older, by three years.
When did you guys start playing music?
Tracy: I was fourteen and Shawn was in this cover band. He was like, “You’re gonna sing Alanis Morrissette in my band,” and I said, “No I’m not! I don’t sing!” And then it just ended up like that. We decided when I was eighteen that we were going to stop doing covers because we were tired of playing other people’s music all the time. It was good money, but we knew that we could write our own stuff. So then we were in this band called Frame of Mind. After a few years, that band disbanded we put together this band, Rebecca Nurse. We had different band members through the years. But we really wanted to be able to tour and do some things that some of the band members we were with didn’t want to do.
So we put together Vulgarrity in 2008. I was like, alright, I’m just going to learn how to play drums and bass. I went up to the practice space and I heard him loopinghis guitar and playing drums at the same time. And when I put the bass around me, I knew that was what we were going to do. We wrote a whole album in one month. We put that album together in March, and then we started touring in August.
We played one show at the Living Room, and then we took off. We went around the whole country three times, four times? We went all the way out to California, up the Seattle and back. And we had some tours in between—we’d just go out to Chicago and down as far south as Florida. It was awesome. And now we just came out with our third album in February so we’re trying to tour some of those. It’s crazy.
Do you guys consider yourselves to be from Connecticut or Providence?
S: Providence is the biggest city close to us. So when people ask us we always say we’re from Providence, even though we’re technically from Connecticut. We spend more time in Providence than we do in Connecticut. We’re always here.
When did you first come to Providence?
S: We started doing open mics in 2000.
T: I went to Rhode Island College and he went to University of New Haven. So he would come out here in his last year of college and do open mics here. We just liked it around here. We felt there was a lot of talent and awesome people that we networked with and the next thing you know we were playing at Club Dimensions. Right around the corner. We did some stuff at Century Lounge…which was the Spot at one point. We played all over the place, clubs that aren’t around anymore – Club Hell, Living Room…
S: Safari Lounge…
T: Yeah, Safari Lounge!
I’ve seen a lot of adjectives describing you guys: “new wave, Goth, punk, Halloween horror,” etc. But how would you guys describe your genre? Can you categorize yourself?
S: When people ask us, we just say rock because it kind of just encompasses everything. We somewhat fit into all of those categories that you mentioned, but at the same time we don’t because we don’t really sound like any of the bands we play with. It’s kind of difficult to put shows together and find bands to network with. We have to find bands with open minds that are willing to play with a band that doesn’t sound anything like them. Like this past Saturday, we played a show with an industrial techno band from Egypt in New Hampshire. There was a punk band from New York that played; there was a metal band from New Hampshire that played, and then us. Any time we’re on a show it’s usually a pretty diverse grouping of music.
If you don’t categorize yourself, then from where do you draw your inspiration? Which artists or subject matter influence you?
T: For a long time, it was horror subject matter. Personally, I write more from the heart; Shawn likes to write about horror movies.
S: I’m a huge horror movie buff. That’s where I draw a lot of my inspiration.
Which horror movies?
S: Oh God, there’s so many. My favorites are Evil Dead, Phantasm, Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Stuff like that.
What elements of horror movies draw you in?
S: I think I just like the theatre of it. The special effects, the supernatural elements. I read a lot of books and I don’t know what it is but if it doesn’t have the supernatural element to it, just doesn’t capture my attention.
Is it because it scares you?
S: It doesn’t scare me at all. It’s just that I find it very fascinating. I like the escapism of it.
T: That’s his drug.
So do you use that to inspire your lyrics or your music?
S: Both. Some of the songs on our albums are actually about some of the movies I like. When I’m writing some of the music I’ll picture one of those scenes from a horror movie that I like, and I try to picture what I would have put as a score to that scene.
T: Our latest album is called Funkeology. People think it’s a funk album–but it’s really not. It’s more…I don’t know. I guess it has more elements of dance to it. I don’t know who we were both listening to at the time. It’s weird how we put albums together. We just get together and try to come up with riffs and then we go home, we try to come up with lyrics and vocal melodies to what we just came up with that day or that week. And it just kind of came together like that, with a dance vibe. And Shawn, you can explain that whole thing about Funkeology.
S: It’s obviously a made up word but the idea behind it is just doing what you love as long as it has a positive impact on the world. That’s the broad definition of Funkeology.
Did you coin that term?
S: I have seen it used other places before, but not in this same way. It’s spelled differently too if I remember correctly.
Tracy, you said you ‘write from the heart’. By that, do you mean you draw from personal experience?
T: Yeah, definitely. That’s how I like to write. If something’s bothering me—it could be something I witnessed or watched other people go through—I usually have that in the back of my head. It’s weird, when I get inspired it’s usually three or four o’clock in the morning when I happen to wake up. It’s those weird hours when your mind is kind of shut off and you’re more open to getting your ideas out. That’s the time I’ll write and do journal entries, things like that. But that’s basically what I write about.
For some of our songs that we’ve written together, he comes up with the verse and I’ll come up with the chorus. We’re brother and sister so I get where he’s coming from. And a lot of times he gets where I’m coming from—we’ll finish each other’s sentences! We’re able to write songs together which is cool. We just wrote one…two weeks ago? We put it together in 10 minutes.
It’s interesting that Shawn, you’re drawn towards horror for the theatre, while Tracy writes about things that come from within. Do those play off of each other—that internal experience and the more performative element?
T: Definitely. I mean Shawn, you’ve always been more introverted, and I’ve always been the one that’s more outgoing. So somehow it does work, you know? He’s got more of a business sense to him and I’m the one who’s always out socializing. That’s how it’s always been. It works that way.
Do you clash more often or work together?
T: The majority of the time we work together.
S: If we disagree it’s usually about stupid things. We forget about it in 10 minutes. It’s usually because townies have bought us a few too many whiskey shots.
Speaking of townies: Where’s one of your favorite places to play?
T: Oh God, we’ve got so many now, now that we’ve been everywhere. It’s tough to say for certain, “Oh, we absolutely love this town”, because maybe it just happened to be great the night we were passing through. So I don’t want say we definitely have favorites. But I’d say any show that had people not being pretentious, without their arms folded, where everyone was just having a good time and weren’t looking at us like, ‘impress me” and they were involved in the show. We feed off of that. If everyone is just there to have a good time it’s awesome. Those have been our best shows.
S: Certain cities have that vibe more than others. Like this past Saturday in Manchester, New Hampshire: that was a very cool vibe, everyone really appreciated what we were doing and there was no pretentiousness about it. Columbia, South Carolina was another that was like that. And San Diego has always been really good.
T: San Diego—yeah we like the folks up there. Like Shawn said, places definitely have a vibe.
S: It is what it is. Chicago’s a lot like Boston where people are afraid to show if they like it or not. They’ll just stand there. They could be having the time of their life but they’ll be sitting there deadpan with their arms folded. But then they’ll come up at the end of the show and be like, “Thank you.”
I’ve heard people say that you guys “don’t take yourselves very seriously”. Is that true?
S: Yeah…we both have a really sophomoric sense of humor. And that really leaks into our persona as a band, I guess. Whether we want it to or not.
I can kind of see that in your new music video, “Victorious”. How did you come up with that video game theme?
S: We were fooling around with a couple of ideas for our video and that was one of our first ones. I wasn’t crazy about it because I knew in the back of my head I knew it would take hours and hours of editing. But we just went with the video game idea and it was a lot of editing, but it was worth it because we both grew up playing old school Nintendo. So it was a throwback to that.
T: And people think that it’s really cartoon characters of us–they don’t realize Shawn just edited us down.
S: Yeah, we shot ourselves doing the action portion of it in front of a green screen and just put all the video game stuff in the background.
I’ve seen your costumes. Do you assume different identities at all when you perform?
T: You know, the funny thing about those costumes is that they were designed by someone who had a vision for us of what they thought we should look like on stage. It was really cool because Shawn and I have never ever been the type to market ourselves. We’re kind of humble. We’re not going to get on the Facebook page and brag about ourselves, we’re not gonna keep pushing a video on people. We just figure if people like us, they’ll like us. We’re not that aggressive. So Don actually saw a vision for us and put together these costumes for us. He spent countless hours making these costumes for us. We put them on and we were like “Oh wow, these are awesome!” The issue with these costumes is that we can’t really perform live with them, and if we do, we have to put our guitar straps underneath all of it. There are bullets and feathers coming out of all of it. It’s really cool and we love it but now we’re just toying around with some other looks for us that we can use on stage.
S: Yeah, something that’s functional. The only reason we don’t wear the costumes when we play live is because we move around instruments a lot. We throw the bass around and stuff and in order to take the bass off and throw it, it’s pretty much impossible to do it with those costumes.
T: When you lift your arms up and the bullets are already at your ears. So…you could really hurt yourself. We can’t hug anybody after shows, things like that. But it is cool, visually. To say that that’s totally our vision for ourselves? No, but that was a really cool look for the both of us.
S: It kind of fits in with the theme of the new album too.
If you don’t have a brand for yourself, then do you have a some sort of a mission statement for yourselves? Or a vision for where you guys want to go in the future?
S: I think the Funkeology thing pretty much sums it up. That’s why we came up with that idea in the first place. That’s pretty much how we live our lives. What we want to leave as our mark on society: if we have the ability to do that is basically tell everybody to do what we’re doing – to do what you love as long it’s positive. And if everybody does that the world would be a better place.
What we want to leave as our mark on society… is basically tell everybody to do what you love as long it’s positive.
So is bringing positive energy into society your goal behind the music you make?
T: I would say so. I mean we have this talk all the time. A lot of times you watch a band make it from a specific area, and you watch a lot of other people try to sound like that, be like, “Okay, they made it from the area so we’re gonna try to do the same thing.” And just like Shawn said, that’s one thing I’ve got to say about us – we’ve never sat down and said, “What can we come up with that people will like?” We stopped doing that when we got rid of our band members—Rebecca Nurse—and our manager. We had the same person that was booking a lot of our shows, trying to get us on distribution, trying to get us into some movies. And he did end up getting us on some of the shows on MTV, some of our songs.
But when we decided to do this thing together we were kind of like, “No more listening to anybody!” We wanted to have total control over our work, what we’re booking, where we’re going, what we’re gonna sound like, and it was between the two of us. We had no idea what any of our albums were going to sound like before we tried to make them together. It’s not like we were like, “Alright, let’s try to make this song that sounds more like this,” or “Let’s have our album have more of this,” which I think is what makes us happy.
We still get advice all the time. We get people that are like “Why did you name your band Vulgarrity? It doesn’t really fit the music, or fit who you two are as individuals.” But that’s just what makes it funny and cool to us. Our last name’s Garrity, and naturally it just made sense!
Do you think your music has changed over the course of your three albums?
S: It definitely has. When we were on the first album we only had guitar bass and drums. There were no keys. The second we added keys; on this album we added foot pedal on the keyboard so I can play bass and guitar at the same time. Every album we added more instrumentation and also upped the amount of switching around instruments too. Basically we were trying to challenge ourselves. People like that kind of thing, but most of all it just keeps it interesting for us. Like this new song: we just looped eight or nine vocal tracks and played bass and drums along. We just come up with stuff like that, it keeps us moving forward.
Do you both make music full-time?
T: No, he has two full-time jobs and I have a full-time job plus I’m a makeup artist on the side. The times that we practice now are ten at night. So our days will go from six in the morning to twelve at night, sometimes later, and we’ll do it all again. We try to practice as much as we possibly can because if we don’t, everything we’re trying to do on stage, it shows when we don’t practice. You have to remember that we’re not just playing live–no, we loop. And the first time we loop that’s the rest of the song. If one of us messes up the whole song is gonna sound like that. It’s a lot of pressure. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s funny, sometimes people come up to ask, “So do you guys want a bass player? A drummer?” And we’re like no, this is why we’re doing it: so we can do it ourselves.
So is being completely self-sufficient one of the most important things to you guys?
T: Yes. I remember years ago there we were nervous—are people going to copy this method? But it’s been done before. People point out bands that have done it. But the thing that we do is we switch. Brother and sister first. And then we switch instruments all the time. So we’re not getting bored. And then Shawn definitely has impeccable timing. I can’t see any other musician putting in that amount of effort to have that kind of amazing timing. Someone pointed out over the weekend: “You guys don’t even use in-ear monitors!” But I’m so deaf at this point that I can’t hear it anyways! Sometimes I literally have to look over to his pedal to watch the blinking to keep the time.
What are some of your favorite artists?
T: I change all the time. I love everything. It’s hard to say. Right now I’m on a big Metallica kick and I listen to everything from Boz Scaggs to…anything modern right now? Not so much. Honestly the last band I thought was really awesome, modern-wise, was The Killers. But their second album I really wasn’t crazy about. Oh, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs! Like them alot. But I listen to older 70’s, 80’s, some 60’s. 80’s mostly.
S: I really like the new Daft Punk album. It’s really good. She doesn’t like it.
T: No I’m not that crazy about it. They’re another band where I liked their first few albums and this one I was like, eh. Some of the songs are cool.
Which tracks do you like?
S: I like the two that Pharrell sings. Those are catchy. And I really like “Doin’ it Right”. Those are my three favorites.
T: And I really love No Doubt. But Shawn doesn’t.
That’s so interesting that you don’t have the same music taste.
T: Yeah, well he introduced me to Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails when I was in the sixth, seventh grade and he loved them then. But no. Now, he doesn’t like them.
S: Nah, I’m sick of them.
T: He had his phase. But I still love them.