Hometown: Whittier, Calif.
Members: Brandon Blaine, Michael Perez, Luke Perine, Jay Rogers
Current Release: Free To Eat
For Fans of: Ceremony, Dead Kennedys, OFF!
Watch enough biopics about a band and you start to become numb to the big, and very much apocryphal, eureka scene. That moment when this group of mismatched souls and misfits get together in a practice space for the first time and—boom—out comes the magic. Cue each person in the scene gaping at the others with an expression that says, “Is this really happening? How are we doing this?!”
Just as there’s a sliver of truth in every lie, so too are there bands out there that actually lived a moment like the one Hollywood has been relying on for decades, groups that shot out of the gate almost fully formed.
“It just came out,” Plague Vendor bassist Michael Perez says of his band’s frantic post-punk sound. “Once we started practicing, we just locked into a sound. It came so naturally that within a two-week period, we had written our first album.”
Bear in mind, it’s not as if the quartet knocked out a double LP concept album in less than a month. The total running time of Free To Eat, the band’s debut out on esteemed punk label Epitaph, is only about 18 minutes. But also consider that these aren’t wham bam, Ramones-like buzz saws. Stirred into this boiling stew of whipcrack beats and jagged bass riffs is guitar work (courtesy of Jay Rogers) that brings together the drive of surf music and sheets of dissonance akin to towering figures like Keith Levene of Public Image Limited and Andy Gill of Gang of Four. Even if they run no longer than two-and-a-half minutes long, these songs run deep.
They run even deeper when capped off by singer Brandon Blaine’s lyrics. The rail-thin front man shimmies and shouts through every song with an intensity and fearlessness akin to Lux Interior of The Cramps or Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.
All that is before you catch up with his lyrics, which at times political (the pointed jabs at modernity in the band’s theme song “Plague Vendor”), poetic, and silly (“He said, ‘Go back to sleep’/I say, ‘Why you step to like that/’cause in my dreams I got 22s on my black Cadillac,’ he sings on “My Tongue is So Treacherous”).
True to the spirit of the band’s quick start aesthetic, the words tend to just pour out of Blaine after hearing the music his bandmates (Rogers, Perez and drummer Luke Perine) come up with.
“It inspires subconscious thought,” Blaine says, “and I’ll know exactly what I want to sing about. And it always ends up being inspired by something that happened to me or happened to someone I know, or just how I feel a certain day. It just has to be organic and true.”
Plague Vendor’s ability to create such rich sonic worlds in such a short period of time has everything to do with the relationships that were already built up between the boys. All four grew up in Whittier, a former Quaker community that sits about a half hour outside of Los Angeles. Close enough to the bustle of Southern California, but far enough away that they could avoid getting wrapped up in it.
“If you go up into the hills,” Perez says, “you can see Long Beach, you can see the L.A. skyline, and you can see the Disneyland fireworks going off. We get to hibernate there. And it’s so small so you can’t really walk up and down the main strip without someone inviting you in to their place for a beer or something.”
The four connected during their high school years, as part of a large group of friends that were all playing music, trading records and taking an annual trip to attend Coachella.
Impressively, when asked about the sounds that the soon-to-be bandmates bonded over, none of the groups mentioned above in this article even came into the picture. They were listening to groups like Liars and Underworld, and apparently went through a pretty heavy Dylan phase.
“That’s when I realized I could start a band that had a more storytelling, lyrical base,” says Blaine.
So by the time all four decided to get together and knock some songs out, the only element that they knew they wanted to have was one of relentless energy.
“There’s no real rules, but we just tried to keep it frantic,” Perine says. “No slowing down and it had to have a consistent energy throughout. Even for our album, we wrote some really cool songs that we tossed out because they weren’t in that frantic category. We wanted to keep it at that level that the lyrics don’t stop and every instrument is just going throughout the whole record.”
That same idea extends to Plague Vendor’s live performances as well. The four, especially Blaine, don’t stop moving from the moment they get on stage, tearing through their songs with little time to breathe in between each one. Their sweaty delirium made the group a big hit on this year’s Warped Tour. And their steady pace has helped provide the gents with some determination to go even further in 2015.
“I think we’re all really confident in our live show,” says Blaine. “I think we could play wherever and fuck shit up with whoever we’re matched up with.”
Right now, though, on an off day on their Warped Tour jaunt, the band is looking forward to returning to Whittier and eager to share their adventures with friends and family.
“I’ll be interested to see how things are going to be socially when we get back home,” Perine says. “All these folks are seeing is Instagram and social media so they don’t know what’s really been going on. I imagine though it’s just gonna be a week of celebration and partying and then pretty instantly feeling like, ‘I can’t wait to get back on the road.’”