A Chat With Vesperteen
So we naturally reached out to Colin Rigsby of Vesperteen. Today we had the opportunity to sit down to have a chat; with me on my couch in Melbourne, Australia with my cat, and Colin in Ohio, USA, after having eaten way too much over multiple Thanksgiving meals. Here's what went down.
Kelly Burch (for Strife Magazine): I did a bit of research and there's not a whole lot of information online about Vesperteen and how it came to be. How did you come to start up Vesperteen?
Colin Rigsby: I played in another band for over ten years. We did a lot; we put out five albums and toured a lot. We just kind of slowed down, and we all started doing different stuff and got off the road. I was home a lot more and I tried to be a bit more domestic and tried to do some other hobbies and stuff. It was great for awhile, but I still felt that I had to keep playing music somehow.
In House Of Heroes I wrote a lot, as it was collaborative and we all wrote our parts, but there were so many songs that didn't fit that band. I told our old tour manager who was also a promoter in Columbus, Ohio, "Hey just put me down to open up shows", playing acoustic things that I was going to finish writing.
He did that, before I even had songs finished and it gave me the motivation to finish all these songs.
KB: Did that feel like pressure to do that?
CR: Yeah but I like having a goal. A bit of healthy pressure is good. And so I did that, and I started playing those and it was really fun! I just loved being the singer and the frontman, even though I'm not great at guitar at all. I kind of liked that pressure a little bit too, of getting off on that fear of being kind of exposed. I mean anything exciting is a little bit nerve-wracking, a little bit dangerous.
KB: I know what you're saying. This is me right now. Completely. [laughs]
CR: You feel alive, right?
KB: Yep. I feel alive! I go from terror to bouncing off the walls.
CR: That's great. So I did that and it was great and I loved it and I tried to record some of those songs I'd written and performed. A few songs in, I just wasn't feeling them totally and was having a hard time coordinating production days with my buddy. So I kind of put it off, I was like "let's stop this for now". I didn't know what to do.
Right around that time I sat down at a piano. Thinking of things that are kind of uncomfortable; I'm not good at piano at all. Even worse than guitar. But I just sat down at the piano we had and would just make up chords and play around with melodies. There was something about my ignorance with piano playing that made it fresh and exciting and inspirational. It was like "I don't even know what I'm doing but it sounds cool!" and that made me excited and inspired. I immediately wrote the 6 songs that ended up on the EP, pretty quickly. So I did that and hooked up with my other buddy who had just moved back to Columbus from LA, and he's a keyboard player as well and he plays with me now in the band, and I said "I just wrote all these keys based songs. Do you want to help me co-produce some of these?" and he did most of the audio engineering.
KB: Is that Jesse Cale?
CR: Jesse. Yeah.
KB: I follow his Snapchat.
CR: Oh of course.
KB: It's CRAZY.
CR: It's like a television program.
KB: It is.
CR: It's like the same television program over and over, but you know what you're getting!
KB: You do know what you're getting, with all the segments. We've got the smoothie part, the cat part, the gym part..
CR: You wonder what he's going to do in those parts. Jesse's awesome. So yeah, it kind of just felt right timing. Like "Hey you've kind of got this keys based, electronic based thing, and I've kind of come from this rock and singer-songwriter thing. If we could collaborate on this thing, I think it would be really cool." And it turned out awesome and I'm super proud of the EP.
That was a year ago. Since then we've just been trying to play shows. I'm always writing a ton, and I've been writing with other producers and doing some co-writes with other writers. That's the story to this point.
KB: Cool! So is Vesperteen a stage name for yourself. A name for that kind of music or a name for a project that could be expanded into a band name?
CR: I kind of wanted it to be a name for me. Like I said, I played in a band for 10+ years and it was very collaborative. So I just wanted to try something different and have it be just me. I do everything. I make all the calls, I do all the writing, and I wanted it to be flexible in terms of playing out. Even as I was recording with Jesse, I still didn't know how I was going to perform the songs live. I just wanted to make this this the best I can and I'd figure out how to play it later. But I knew I wanted it to be mainly me and so then I'd have the flexibility of bringing in whoever can play, wants to play, friends, musicians, when they can, when they can't, but mostly on me.
There's probably some friend/psychological issues where I didn't want to have to rely on anyone else. Like "If this works, it's because I did it, and if it didn't work, it's because I didn't do it right".
KB: Yeah, there'd be that sense of achievement of doing it yourself as well.
CR: Yeah, and it's kind of just easier for me not to have to rely on people. At least this time around.
I watched the acoustic version of Obsess Possess when you played with two guys playing on a couch and Jesse was there as well. It was really good.
KB: The guys that played guitar, did you just ask them to come in and help you out for that performance?
CR: Yeah, they're buddies of mine and they've been playing with me since then. We're about to do this tour and one of them is not able to do this next tour, so that's how it's becoming and how I envisioned it; just whoever can come play, if you can't, that's fine.
My friends have other stuff going on and I knew that I would be the only one committed or invested in the biggest way. I don't want to expect anyone to drop everything and come on a tour that might not make that much money, but I can do it. So those guys are just buddies of mine from here in town, they play in other bands and stuff and they've been playing with me here and there.
KB: When I see you play the drums and singing at the same time, it strikes me that it would feel like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time. Does it have that feeling or is it just muscle memory now?
CR: [Laughs.] Not now. I first started playing in a band with my brother and some friends, I was a singer and I wanted to sing in the band too. So I would do backup vocals and play drums at the same time. From right when I started playing the drums they've always gone together for me. So it is very much natural, memory muscle thing now.
But it is a very interesting multi-tasking thing to do. I was just listening to this science guy talking about how there is no such thing as multi-tasking. Like you literally can't multi-task, that the human brain can't do multiple things at once.
KB: I've heard that too.
CR: Like when you're emailing and listening to a podcast, you're not really doing both at the same time. You're doing one or the other back and forth. So yeah I was just wondering about that the other day with drumming and singing. I'm doing a BUNCH of stuff at the same time. Same with playing guitar and singing at the same time. That is multi-tasking. Your mind is two different places. And maybe it is that your monkey part of your brain is doing the guitaring or the drumming, and that's keeping it busy, so that your human part can be focused on the singing part. I think that's what's going on [laughs].
KB: I loved how on the EP there's such a difference of sound. Like Shatter In The Night and Obsess Possess, they're like two completely different sounds. I like how the EP has that kind of spectrum of music. Was it intended to be like a showcase of different sounds that you could do?
CR: No, not intended at all. When I wrote them, they really just felt like they were coming to me. Like "This is a cool song, let's just see where it goes." So over the course of a few weeks I would work out these demos and get them in a place. I've always been of the mind that when it comes to creativity for me and song writing, not trying to make something that's not. Like, taking what's already there and whittling away and finding what else is there and what else can make it great.
KB: I love that.
CR: That's kind of what all of the songs were. They started with melody and a lyric and went from there. There was no intentional effort to create a common thread between them all.
Initially I just wanted to do a five song EP. I knew we were recording six songs and I wanted to save one, just to have to put out later. But when they were all done, I felt that one would have a hard time standing on its own. That any of them standing on its own wouldn't sound like the EP. They only worked all together. Even though they are so different. And I like that, an album that every song is kind of different. I think there is a common thread where it's all sounds like me; my voice and melodies and everything, and I think that works. I love the dynamic and the variety.
KB: I do too, I love it. I love how there's little quirks through it. Like even in What We Could Have Been how there's a part where you say "We were meant to be" and there's this gasp of air. It's really cool.
CR: That one we had a lot of fun with and made it extra cheeky or sarcastic or whatever and took some liberties to make it extra and lean into that.
KB: So with the video coming up. I saw the post on Twitter about the What We Could Have Been video idea, where you're wanting to get people to contribute little clips for that?
KB: It is a great name!
CR: I've kind of tapped them to be taking initiative and be thoughtful about things we can do. They have basically been my publicists and my booking. Twitter's great because I can say "Hey who's in DC?" or whatever and if I get 20 replies, then I know it's worth to do a show there. It's just been awesome. Technology's great for that.
But anyway, the video will be cool. It was a fan's idea. She said "You should do something like this, because your fans love being a part of it". If you're IN a music video? You're going to want to tell every body about it and share it. I know I would.
KB: True. It's like a really organic way to get excited about music as well.
CR: To me it's really economical too because I don't have to go out and shoot a video. But to me it's priceless because I can't go out and buy a fanbase. I see so many artists that have things going on that appear to be really cool, but then they don't have a lot fans. And man, I'm very unknown, but I have just these awesome people who are really latching on. And they're a small group but they're so cool and talented and passionate and here to spread the word and spread music, so I thought it was a great idea. Let's do that. I can literally edit it myself and make it whatever I want to as well.
KB: I'm excited to see it. Can I make a suggestion that you do the part where there's the gasp? [laughs]
CR: Yes! Definitely.
So there was a Snapchat photo of yourself with Josh Dun, and then like 10 minutes later I saw an artwork of that same picture on Twitter. Do you find that overwhelming or exciting or..?
CR: I find it so incredibly cool. I was just telling someone else about that because the connectivity and the immediacy of technology is incredible for artists today. I played in my other band in 2001, before social media. So I've had one foot in each era, in a way, and I can really compare and contrast how it's been. So it's awesome. I went to sleep and that was one of the first things I saw waking up in my bed. Somebody drew a cool picture of this thing I did last night!
And it happened another time on the last tour we did. Maybe even quicker. We were about to go on stage to play in Dallas and Jesse has this cool blue lipstick and I took it and did some cool marks on my face and neck. He took a picture of me right before I went out to play. Then we played, and packed up. As we were getting in the car, somebody tagged me in this picture. A really great drawing of me wearing this stuff that I had just put on a hour earlier. That's like so cool! I don't think I'll ever be "that's weird" or overwhelming or anything. It's flattering.
KB: It is cool. I guess there's a lot of negativity about social media, but there's these philosophies about us being all connected, and I feel like things like Twitter are like an actual real-world representation of that, and how music connects us all. And even as a fan of music it's really quite exciting to have that connection with an artist that you love the work of too. So it's like a mutual thing and you can feel that excitement.
CR: Yeah, I love it. It's so great. I feel like it's "With great power comes with great responsibility" kind of situation. It can be used for greatness or it can be used for horror, basically. Have you seen the show Black Mirror on Netflix? It's really good. It's all about that. It's mostly about the bad possibilities of technology but it gives you a really good perspective of what we have, how we should use it, how it can be abused, and how it can get out of control, even if it seems like a good thing. It can kind of get out of hand a little bit.
KB: I could see that happening.
CR: Yeah I'll just keep trying to make it cool. [laughs]
KB: I think you're doing a good job. You make me laugh with jokes every now and then too. Puns. Isn't that what the internet is for? Puns and cats.
CR: Well I'll say to my friends, if I didn't have some sort of job or public endeavour, I probably wouldn't be on something. I love what it can do, but I do feel at times there is a need to be always engaging and I'd never want to come across as ingenuine. Nor say things due to feeling I 'should' say them. I do keep that in check. I try to keep that balance of engaging and find the right voice, but that's hard. It's like songwriting but it's a little more immediate. Whatever I'm saying is the same approach. I want it to be relatable and genuine but I also want it to be clever and creative.
KB: There's some very clever lyrics. They make me smile.
CR: Good, I'm so glad.
KB: So I know that you're a dad as well and I wonder how those two roles blend together or if it feels like two different lives?
CR: It can feel like two different things. They can clash sometimes. My wife and I started dating and then three days later I left town for two or three months. Our relationship was built on this; I go sometimes. I think we have better communication that most couples that see each other all the time. We make a point to.
It was 2001 when we first started touring. Telephone and calling cards is what we used. There was no email and only payphones. It was a long time ago and yeah when we had kids I was still touring a lot. I took breaks here and there. That's actually how I met Josh Dun. He filled in for me for 9 or 10 months when we had one of our kids. I kind of knew him because he was a fan and we'd met at shows and talk and I knew he played drums. So I hit him up to fill in for awhile and then I eventually came back and we've been friends ever since.
So that's just how it's been, for years and years. A part of our lives. We've built our life around this, to allow for me to travel and make things. It's a challenge, but I couldn't have it any other way.
KB: Do you find it's grounding as well? You know, you're a big famous star and then at home someone throws up or drops a drink or something.
CR: Yes, sacrifice for another person in any way is a humbling experience. Whether you're taking care of a kid or a parent or a friend. Doing something for somebody else is the best way to stay grounded and level headed. It's cool. It's hard but it can't be any other way.
I know that the majority of your fans would be school aged and I wondered if you had anything to share by way of getting through some of the tough parts of school.
CR: That's been an interesting thing to be engaged in with these kids. Like I said I've tried to talk to them a lot. There'll be several a day reaching out for some kind of advice, or something to hold onto. And I haven't figured out a way to tell them what it's like from a perspective of someone with adult responsibilities, as opposed to having the freedom they do. But it's real what they're feeling and try to take myself back to what they're feeling. And it's relatable too. A girl recently asked about "What do you do when you have occasions when you feel stuck, uninspired, like you're a failure and you're never going to get where you want to go?". And I'm like "Oh, you mean every day of my life?!"
KB: [laughs] Yep. There's just some stuff we just don't grow out of, right?
CR: I was like, maybe we're not supposed to fight it. I think if you just accept that you're always fighting an uphill battle. Accept it and get over it and do what you've gotta do. I don't remember what I told her, but yeah, if you don't have insecurity, you'll be delusional. Because insecurity is reality. You don't know what you're doing. You don't know what you're going to be doing. That's just reality.
KB: Sometimes those periods of unknown and insecurity, it's like a void waiting to be filled with the next cool thing that's going to happen. Do you find that?
CR: Yeah. Of course I'm always looking. I'm my own marketing department so I'm always like "What am I doing in January! I've got nothing to do!". I'm always a boat without a paddle, just drifting wherever, so.
KB: So that's the down side of doing it all yourself, right, you've got that sense of accomplishment, but also that weight of responsibility too.
CR: But I love all the parts of it. And I'll always be involved. I do graphic design too, art, and photography, and I love the strategic planning and doing cool things around a release. But there's things like booking shows that's hard and time-consuming. If there was someone else doing those things I would have more time to write and experience life to have things to write about.
We wrapped it up there, talking about the Vesperteen tour coming up in the US, and Colin talked about the possibility of touring overseas at some point (Australia and UK yay!), more likely as a solo/acoustic performer.
The US tour dates for December and January can be found here: https://www.vesperteenmusic.com/#tour-section
It was SO lovely to chat with Colin, and we are so excited to watch Vesperteen evolve and grow along with him. Thank you, Colin, for your music and authenticity! Written by Kel Burch
Interview by Kelly Burch