On the edges

Vague Choir

Marcus Mayhall, Jason Thomas and Mark Earnest of Vague Choir rock The Alley in Sparks.

Marcus Mayhall, Jason Thomas and Mark Earnest of Vague Choir rock The Alley in Sparks.

Photo/Brad Bynum

Vague Choir plays at Monolith Bar, 100 N. Arlington Ave., with Fortune Club and DJ Tiger Bunny on Saturday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/vaguechoir.

“We don’t fit in, but I want to make it clear that that’s great,” Mark Earnest said recently. He’s the singer and guitarist of the band Vague Choir. “Everybody talks about ‘The Reno Scene’ in big fat capital letters, but it doesn’t exist because there’s like 17 of them, but with Vague Choir, I’ve noticed that we’re able to play within four or five of those.”

“We kind of fit on the edge of quite a few different scenes,” said drummer Jason Thomas.

The three members of Vague Choir—Earnest, Thomas and bassist Marcus Mayhall—are all what you might call veterans of “The Reno Scene,” or several of those miniature Reno scenes all competing for attention, who have played in a variety of different bands. Earnest is also a journalist who writes a music column for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Vague Choir is a bit of an oddity because it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre or a specific corner of local music culture. The band members say they like this, though, because it means they have more diverse experiences than bands that fall into an easily recognizable genre and tend to always play the same venues with the same bands. When the band hits the road, they have similarly diverse experiences, fitting comfortably on bills with shoegaze bands in San Francisco and roots rock bands in Seattle.

Earnest started the band Mr. Vague back in 2003. Back then, it was an acoustic guitar act, with other players and other non-electric instruments. The project got louder and louder for a few years and then became a solo project from 2008 to 2011. It was Earnest’s songwriting project while he also played in other bands, like the metal group Dirt Communion. As Earnest’s songwriting outlet, the lineup was always shifting, but in 2011, the group stabilized enough that seemed like a band with a specific sound and alchemy. So, Mr. Vague became Vague Choir.

Earnest begins most of the songwriting, but the songs are radically transformed by Mayhall and Thomas.

“I have songs, I bring them in, and then they beat them up wonderfully,” said Earnest.

All three are very capable players, and the trio format suits the band—this isn’t a trio that seems like it’s missing an element or two. But all of the playing is done in service of the songs.

Thomas is probably best known locally as the drummer of the prog-rock power trio Cranium, and in that context he’s know for playing fast, complex, polyrhythmic stuff, but in Vague Choir, his playing is restrained and tasteful, with just brief flashes of virtuosity when it seems appropriate.

“The songs don’t need to be overplayed to come across the way that envision them,” he said. “Sometimes we get a little flashy, and yes, I like to be creative with the beats, but sometimes I play the straightest possible thing I can play because it just seems necessary.”

“He takes my dumb little folk songs and turns them into epics,” said Earnest.

The band exists in a weird spot: too loud and heavy for the acoustic open mic nights, but too melodic and tuneful for the punks and metalheads. It’s an amped up songwriting project that’s also a stripped down rock band. It’s like a bizarro universe version of Pearl Jam where Eddie Vedder was hit by a bus and wanky lead guitarist Mike McCready joined Extreme or something. Although, Earnest doesn’t really sing like a grunge singer—he often sounds like Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs.

“We’re not a party rock band,” said Mayhall. “We’re a geek rock band.”

“That’s the story of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Earnest. “Almost every band I’ve been in has been like that where there’s something about it—even something like Dirt Communion, which was a little more obvious, still had some screwed up elements to it. Everything has always had a little bit of a turn, but that’s appealing to me as a listener too. I tend to like bands … that you can’t fit right into an exact genre. That’s what I like to listen to, and that’s what I like to write, too.”