Oklahoma proggers Vangough return this March 17th with their new album entitled ‘Warpaint,’ almost four years after the release of ‘Between the Madness.’ The result of experimentation between the band members, ‘Warpaint‘ is the band’s most mature record to date. Guitarist and singer Clay Withrow spoke for Prog Sphere about the new material, working with producer Sterling Winfield, touring, and more.
You are set to release your fourth studio album Warpaint in March, what marks your first full-length recording in almost four years. How does it feel to be back with the new material?
It’s a relief to finally be done with the album but at the same time it’s unsettling because I’m constantly obsessing about things out of my control, like whether or not people will dig it or if it’s even going to be heard in the first place. Basically my association with trying to make a business out of music is an unpleasant one.
What can you tell me about the new songs comparing with 2013′s Between the Madness?
I was very excited that Between the Madness would be the album to simultaneously propel us to a reasonable level in the industry while also defining what makes us unique as a band. While I do think it set the record straight about who we are, my efforts to get it proper exposure seemed to fall short. Warpaint is kind of a response to that. It’s less bitter and angry, and more accepting of defeat and the reality that some things just aren’t meant to be.
I understand that new album, in some way, represents a creative renewal for you. Lead me through the creative process of Warpaint. Did your writing approach for the new album change comparing with your previous works?
There was certainly a lot of musical influences swirling around me when we started writing some of the songs two years ago. But they evolved over time as I was inspired by different things. Our bass player Jeren Martin was a much more prominent writing force on this one. He and I collaborated for months on a number of these songs, slowly tinkering and revising. For the Warpaint, our mode of operation was constant revision, experimentation and asking ourselves what we were trying to achieve with a certain song until we’d finally hit that “aha!” moment. Writing for Between the Madness was pretty much the polar opposite. For that one I had all the songs meticulously arranged, including drums, before stepping foot into the recording studio.
How does the album title effect the material presented on the record? Give me a snapshot of the topics you explore on the new songs.
The concept for the album came shortly after we released Between the Madness in 2013 and was refined considerably after our two North American tours where we definitely evolved as a band. In broad terms, the songs within Warpaint are very preoccupied with our internalization of cultural rules.
What evolution do you feel Warpaint represents comparing with your previous works?
From a songwriting standpoint it is a significant evolution. Not just with our writing process but in the arrangements themselves. There’s more restraint here. We always had the option to put anything and everything into the songs. The temptation to be bold and to express our ego in superfluous ways. But trying to balance restraint with bravado was the key evolution in my opinion.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when making Warpaint? Tell me about the technical side of the album.
The biggest challenges were time and money. Once I took on a full-time job after the release of Between the Madness, the energy and time I could usually commit to Vangough decreased dramatically. The cost of creating the album was also significant as I wanted to make sure we took our time crafting a brilliant mix, which I think we did thanks to Sterling Winfield. Also, there were several periods during the making of this album that I just felt like I was ready to give in and call it a day. So tricking myself to overcome such a psychological hurdle was very challenging. My obsession and perfectionism with writing and arranging music definitely took its toll on myself and my family.
Where was it recorded? Who produced it?
The majority of the album was recorded in my home studio here in Oklahoma. But we recorded the drums in Ft. Worth, Texas at a place called Ft. Worth Sound. I was the producer on this album but I offered a co-producer role to Sterling Winfield because I felt confident that he could help us create the best sounding album to date, and I think I made the right decision! It’s one of the best mixes I’ve heard. It’s certainly the best we’ve ever sounded! So a big thank you to Sterling for truly knocking this one out of the park.
Will you be promoting the new album live? Are there any plans for tours?
We are planning a few album release shows and are looking into tours where they’re feasible. We’ve gained a considerable amount of experience as a live band thanks to our first two tours and we know we have a live energy that very few in our genre have, so we want to be out in front of people.
What does the future hold?
I’ll leave that up to the listeners. If Warpaint generates enough interest then I’d tell you more albums, more tours, more content. I would never stop writing music if I could. I’m an obsessive person and I sit and dwell on musical worlds that have yet to be created every hour of my day. But ultimately this is a business so I can’t keep pushing myself to create unless we spark enough interest.