S.F. Psych-Rockers Black Cobra Vipers on Their Residency at the Chapel and 'Who Let the Dogs Out?'
The most memorable moment in Gregory DiMartino's musical career came one winter night when he got a bloody nose while performing at Bottom of the Hill. Equipped with only a single square bar napkin, which he quickly bled through, DiMartino stood bewildered. Luckily, a lady in the audience provided DiMartino with a tampon, which he then jammed up his nose -- and proceeded to play the rest of the show.
DiMartino, along with bassist Julian Borrego and drummer Rob Mills, bring this fearlessness to their jazzy psych-rock band, Black Cobra Vipers. The trio, formed in 2010, lace dark, hypnotic melodies -- reminiscent of Radiohead -- through unnerving crescendos and syncopated beats -- comparable to the likes of avant garde rocker Jack White -- in what sounds like an intimate conversation between friends. With a self-titled six-track EP under their belts and a two-track seven-inch coming out in February (soon to be followed by a full-length album), Black Cobra Vipers have taken residency at The Chapel for the month of January. They will headline their final night this Tuesday at 8 p.m. ($12). We sat down with the band to discuss the aesthetics of their music, the Holy Grail, and just exactly, "Who let the dogs out?".
Your music is very dramatic: At times it's quite and soothing, but it can just as similarly be raw and dirty. Where does that come from?
Borrego: I grew up with a very eclectic taste like Bossa Nova as a kid. Anything from rock to reggae and hip-hop. Some of my favorite bands are like Radiohead: People who are doing interesting things and are artsy -- and edgy.
DiMartino: Absolutely, I think intellectual music that strives for that nice material aesthetic that is beautiful and intriguing. And I think that talent is something we all agree on. Something that you can tell is very personal and well executed, that is a sincere display of artistic vision that forms a connection with their inspiration. Like the conversation between them [the musicians] translates well through the music and when that comes across there is a certain aesthetic, and when that translates to the listener, something excellent is occurring.
What do you hear your fans compare your sound to? Do you agree or disagree?
Mills: People will hear similarities from anyone like Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, and even the Pixies. I can hear what they hear in our music, but I'm sure like any band, people understand that we don't sound like just one band.
DiMartino: It's always flattering [when fans compare us to other bands] because they mean it as a compliment and [it's] just always nice to hear. At The Chapel, we were soundchecking and a girl said, 'That has like this Tortoise vibe,' and I thought that was awesome because we love that band. It's cool that that inspiration is coming across, and that we're not just sounding like a rip-off.
With that said, what makes Black Cobra Vipers different and/or unique?
Mills: One thing that separates us would be our technical ability on our instruments. That has been the priority: To separate ourselves technically and artistically. We like to keep the artistic integrity very high. And if it's not very high, it's not worth it.
DiMartino: Whereas we have no specific niche that we are striving for or striving to excel in. I think what we are striving for is high art. I think that is our end goal, Shangri-La, you know, the [Holy] Grail...
Borrego: We are always striving to do something that hasn't been done. It's like a challenge each time. It's more than just us --
DiMartino: We're just trying to blow our own minds!
When did you know that this was it? This was the lineup of Black Cobra Vipers, and "This is what we are going to commit our time to?"
Borrego: It happened gradually over time. I don't think there was just like one moment where we like clicked, it was just more of an unspoken thing.
DiMartino: Even when we first started playing we would look at each other and Rob would be playing this awesome beat, and I was like, "This guy is my favorite drummer." I think that each of us are just fans of the others' work and each others' artistic vision that it seems like too cool of a party to really let anyone else in -- or for it to end, really.
I think we are all extremely curious to see what we can make, being so impressed by each others' technical ability. We are coming at music with six hands and one sort of collective mind. You could sort of imagine somebody removing all three of our brains and transplant[ing] them into a head of an octopus: That's us -- like a circus one-man-band rig. And that's like the closest thing you can get to our sound.
You're performing your final show in your residency at The Chapel. How did you get the gig? And how has it been going so far?
DiMartino: It came about because the guys at (((folkYEAH))) wanted to do a residency. This sort of thing has gotten pretty popular. We are really grateful to have been given this opportunity, and we are very excited to be a part of such a beautiful venue. And we've gotten really lucky with the bills we've had. Every night we've been playing with one of our favorite bands out in the city right now -- it's just great to play with bands that we really respect and are big fans of us, as well.
Anything in store for the last show this Tuesday that our readers should know about?
DiMartino: The answer is abso-fucking-lutely, yes. Julian and I were just talking about how the show is going to be awesome. And we were trying to gauge what we might do -- with our first show [at The Chapel] being a rockin' indie vibe and the second one being more like slow jams -- and now we are going to do a healthy mix and throw in a few surprises cover-wise. This is a let loose, a "Who Let the Dogs Out???" -- us, that's the answer to that -- kinda show. As of Tuesday, the question of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" will no longer be rhetorical.