Feel the vibes
Vatican City Fight Club
The vibraphone isn’t an instrument you usually see with a rock band. But that’s just one of the striking features of Vatican City Fight Club, and the man who controls this unlikely, unwieldily instrument said it jelled with the rest of the band right away.
“I’m lucky in that all the guys in the band are extremely dynamic and talented and sensitive musicians, so it’s easy to play with them,” said Sean Collins. “Everyone keeps track of their sound level so they’re not hitting so hard that you can’t hear it.”
The vibraphone gives VCFC a clear distinction over other Reno bands, not that the band needs any help. Everything about this intriguing band just screams, “We’re different,” in an endearing way. Besides Collins, the band includes David Strawn on bass, Greg Lewis on drums, and Cameron Sax on guitar. Lewis is a busy guy. He and Sax are also in Rob Ford Explorer, while he and Strawn are part of Redfield Clipper.
Those two bands have some similarities with VCFC, but the quartet is its own animal. It resides somewhere between the time-change mayhem of ’90s math rock and more melodic indie rock, with vocals that are spoken softly as much as they are screamed in a punky shout. It can be delicate or disconcerting. A fearlessness to experiment clearly comes from VCFC’s roots in the Jazz and Improvisational Music program at the University of Nevada, Reno. They got together in 2016.
“Dave and Sean are great friends and we all loved each other’s music, and Sean had so much music ready to go, and Cameron and I were already in a band, so it kind of made sense to join forces,” Lewis said.
When it was time to add vocals, the band’s experimental instincts went into action.
“When we first started, it was almost intentionally bad in a way,” Strawn said. “We knew that we weren’t the strongest singers, but we gave it our best.”
“But, if we all sing together in unison really loudly, then maybe …” Lewis added. “And that’s the kind of thing we found works for us. Sometimes the music will drop out and Sean will do some spoken-word poetry, which really draws you in.”
All four members contribute musically, while Collins provides most of the lyrics.
He said he likes to use simple words to describe more complex feelings, such as misunderstandings between people or his own struggles with mental health. “On certain ones, we do have a bit of an absurdist quality to us,” Collins said. “I’ve seen people laugh and people cry sometimes. But, a lot of it plays on that simplicity, that childlike questioning, that I think reveals a deeper question.”
Despite the fact that Collins now lives in San Luis Obispo, VCFC plans to carry on. The group just finished recording nine songs in SLO at the home of Josh Collins, Sean’s brother and an experienced studio engineer. He also plays guitar and sings on the tracks, as does flautist Talia Ortega. The band is still working out whether the new material will be released as singles or as one full album. Either way, the Fight Club is in session for the foreseeable future.
“We could have easily just not continued after Sean moved, but the music was so important to all of us that we didn’t want to say goodbye to it,” Lewis said. “So, we decided to record this album and now we’re slowly booking shows, and it’s still alive.”