Interview: VHS Or Beta

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Kentucky is home to the largest fried chicken chain, “the most exciting two minutes in sports” Kentucky Derby, and dance-rock band VHS or Beta. As modern day genre-benders, they fuse French house with dance-punk and American rock. Their latest album Bring on the Comets marks a change for the band with renewed pop sensibilities and a sound so sticky, you’ll have to de-wax your ears just to get the songs out of your head. When JUICE first got news of the electro-poppers’ gig in KL (as part of the upcoming Heineken Green Room with Swedish electronic underground act Djuma soundsystem and local dance-deconstructors Box Frenzy), we immediately made an international call to Louisville (pronounced Louie-ville) to speak to bassist Mark Palgy. What followed was a long-distance conversation on dance-rock, Obama and bailouts…

Hi Mark. How’s it going? We heard it’s close to midnight over there.
Hello. I’m pretty good. It’s about 11 here.

So is that close to bedtime for you or are you an all-night rocker?
I don’t plan on doing too much “rocking” tonight but I don’t go to bed too early either.

Can’t sleep, eh? Well now that Obama’s in the White House, how are things in the good ol’ US of A?
Unfortunately there’s a huge financial crisis that I’m sure everybody’s feeling the effects of. But you know, we’re really happy that Bush is gone! Despite the fact that the financial market is struggling, there’s a feeling of hopefulness here… that we’re gonna get through and once we get through we’re gonna start working on other things and get stronger. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, you know? We love Obama!

He like a sliver lining over a dark cloud…
Yeah, there’s a lot of people here without jobs. It’s been a difficult winter.

You’ll be in Malaysia soon. Is this your first time in Malaysia and what do you know about it?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know too much. I haven’t cracked open my Wikipedia knowledge of Malaysia yet. I’ll have to read about it.

Yeah, Malaysia has a lot of hidden treasures.
Yeah, I know. I’ve heard of Kuala Lumpur in conversations with people. It sounds very exotic and unique.

How has life been on the road?
To tell you the truth, we haven’t been on the road recently. We’ve been home for quite a bit working on new material. We’ve been very relaxed.

Cool. Will we get to hear some of it when you guys come down?
Yeah, maybe, if we get our act together on time.

Your home state of Kentucky is famous for exporting chicken. How often do you guys eat it?
What? The chicken? (Laughs)

Yup, the chicken.
Craig, our singer, is a very big fried chicken fan. But we don’t necessarily eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, there are other places to eat fried chicken here. He eats it a couple of times a month. He loves it.

Louisville, Kentucky is a long way from France. How did you guys come up with your sound that fuses French house, dance-punk and American Rock?
The internet. I think when we were first starting to get introduced to bands we liked, it had a lot to do with the fact that we were going to raves and parties and stuff. At the time, talking 10 years ago now, the internet was a big part of how we found music. I think other than having a nice little record store here, we were able to sort of see what was going on with the rest of the world.

Let’s set the record straight here. Are you a dance band that happens to play rock or are you a rock band that knows how to groove it?
I would say… hmmm… that’s a tough question. We’re always trying to challenge ourselves. I don’t like to say I like one thing more than the other. I like rock music and I like dance music. It’s a difficult question to answer. To make it simple, I guess we’re still somewhere in the middle.

Apart from being featured in Grandma’s Boy and The OC, ‘Night on Fire’ has also been used in the PS2 baseball video game MLB 06: The Show. Are you guys fans of baseball?
Ahhh… no. None of us are fans of baseball. Our manager is, though. But we don’t have a major league team in Kentucky. I can’t really say with any certainty that anyone in the band is a fan of baseball, but we do like basketball.

So who’s your favourite player in the NBA?
My favourite player is Francisco Garcia. We don’t have any pro-teams. We have a college team here. And he used to play in our college team at the University of Louisville. They’re called the Cardinals. And we watch the Cardinals play all the time. In fact, the season is happening now.

What about video games? Is there a Playstation on the tour bus?
Craig and our drummer Mark Guidry (likes video games), but I don’t play Playstation anymore.

Do you ever go to the Kentucky Derby or is that just for old folks?
It’s fun to go to the Kentucky Derby. I went once. Normally, we’re on tour when it happens. We haven’t been home for the last few but it’s a good time.

What’s your favourite thing to do during free time on the road?
Sleep. It’s hard to get it when you’re touring. So if there’s any free time, I’d like to sleep.

‘Burn It All Down’ has some pretty strong lyrics about setting certain revered objects to flame. Were you guys Punks in high school? What’s your greatest act of defiance?
I don’t think I was a Punk in high school. We were lots of things in high school but I don’t think we could classify ourselves as Punk. As for my act of defiance… let’s see…

Did you paint your teacher’s car a different colour?
(laughs) I wasn’t the best student. I mean, I’ve never really enjoyed school. From an early age, I knew that I wanted to play music. At the time, it was just a dream. But now that I’m actually doing it, you know, it makes a lot of sense that I didn’t like school. But I don’t know… Maybe little by little there were things I did that were defiant, but on the whole I was a pretty good kid.

Is that why you’re a bassist?
(Laughs) Probably!

Midnight Juggernauts did an awesome remix of that song. Do you guys plan to do any DJ sets in the future or have you already started?
Yeah, we’ve been DJing for about 10 years now. We began just after the band started. We do it all the time. It’s very easy because we can kind of go from place to place around the States a lot easier. Like on Friday, we’re going to a club in Chicago. We go to LA quite frequently. DJing has kept the band busy when we’re not touring.

So which incarnation of VHS or Beta gets more groupies? The rock band or the DJs?
(laughs) Who gets more groupies? I guess that when you’re DJing, it’s easier to talk to people whereas when it’s the band playing, we’re a little bit more separated. You know when you’re DJing, people can come up and say hello and whatever. (Laughs) No one’s ever asked me that before.

Always a first time. Coming back to your songs. We feel that there’s a lingering feeling of hope in most of your songs. Are you guys romantics at heart?

Yeah. I think you’re right. We don’t wanna get too depressed. We want our music to be hopeful for people. We don’t want it to get too…

Yeah, or leave people feeling hopeless. I think I, myself and Craig and everybody are hopeful people. I’ve never been a fan of music that’s too depressing. I think that’s just who we are as people.

So what bands were you into when you were in high school?
During high school it was mostly classic rock. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

Anything more recent? Did you go through a Nirvana phase?
I did enjoy Nirvana when they came out. I can’t say that when I listen to those records now, I get the same feeling when I was younger. I think the band was great but I don’t go like, “I wish I was doing that.”

Does being on the same label (Astralwerks) with Fatboy Slim, Kraftwerk, Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx have anything to do with your band’s new sound?
No. We’ve been working on our sound for years. I don’t think that sharing a label with someone famous should shape your sound in anyway.

Which format is more enjoyable to listen to music to: Analog or digital?
It depends. I like vinyl a lot. But you could listen to CDs and it sounds very nice too. I can’t say that I’m a fan of MP3s though. I think MP3s sound really bad. It’s strange that everyone’s gotten used to it because it’s really a loss of some amazing art.

Well, sorry to say this but we’re recording you on an MP3 player right now.
That’s okay. You can’t make my voice sound very good though.

In the US now, it’s all about the bailouts. If you had 1 million dollars to drop, who would you bail out and why?
I don’t think anyone truly deserves a bailout. The American car companies have been making crappy cars for years and then they come to the government asking for a hand-out.

That sounds vaguely familiar.
Yeah. They should have been making fuel-efficient and green cars for the last 20 years. And now we’re stuck with foreign dependence on oil and all this nonsense with the Middle East. I definitely wouldn’t bailout the car companies. Maybe, the music industry. Maybe we should help out some of the artists that are struggling now. It’s hard for younger artists to make it.

You said earlier that the internet helped with exposing music. Do you think it’s harder now for a new band to make it with a myspace account compared to the past when you needed a record deal?
The chances of someone making it big just off myspace are very slim. I think it results from a number of different things. There are some exceptions to that rule. There have been bands that are very lucky recently with blogs, myspace, facebook and whatever. But I don’t think that it’s gonna last. It’s not necessary something better or bigger than a record deal. But it’s also not something that you can base success on. People are still going to want quality music. You can’t just be in your bedroom and make a record and expect people to love it. There has to be certain qualifications.

Last question. Now that Obama’s in office, we want to help him. So where in the world is Osama Bin Laden?
What??! (laughs) Wow, I wish someone would get that guy. I think that’s the million dollar question. You can get… what is it… 25 million dollars if you can find him?

You don’t need to play music after that…
Yeah, just find that guy. I don’t know, I think he’s in the hills of Pakistan or somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan. I don’t know how much longer he can live on a mountain though, he’s already pretty old.

He’s definitely not in Louisville?
I think he could be in Miami on the beach getting a tan.

Thanks for your time and we really look forward to watching you and your band perform here.
No problem and we look forward to coming too. J

Keep your schedules clear and dancing shoes clean. VHS or Beta will be rocking the dance floor on 28 March at Orange Dance Club, KL. You can get your invite at

Image Heineken