Nashville’s own indie-rock duo VOLK, Eleot Reich (drums, vocals) and Christopher Lowe (guitar, vocals) are releasing their new EP, Stand the Test Apr. 28) The project delves into bluesy retro-futuristic dance punk, synthwave, new wave, and nostalgia-filled roller rink bangers. Their masterfully designed video for “I Fed Animals” is a cyberpunk spectacle of stylized street fights and music performance, shot partially on location in Tokyo. (watch above)
Since meeting in Berlin in 2013 at a brothel-turned-bar called Madame Claude’s, VOLK’s work ethic can’t be questioned. Recording regularly, and spending more than half of the year on the road since their inception, has paid off. They’ve shared bills with The Dead South, Charley Crockett, Electric Six, Supersuckers, Diarrhea Planet and more. They’ve played festivals like SXSW and Mile of Music. And, they’ll be playing Muddy Roots Music Fest this September.
In their travels, VOLK connected with producer/sound engineer John Pedigo (Old 97’s, Joshua Ray Walker). They recorded “Stand the Test” at Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas, and worked with him on the remixes and remasters that make up this EP. They’re currently in the process of completing their next full length album with Pedigo.
“Recording with John has been great,” says Reich. “We start from this emotional and raw place, true to our live sound, then build from there. For ‘Stand the Test,’ the song kept growing in meaning from when I wrote it, to going through Covid, then while recording, and now my partner just left me, and turned out to be a break-up song for myself that I wrote two years earlier.”
“Stand the Test” is a melancholy break-up song set against soothing indie rock hooks. Its hauntingly beautiful chorus gives you a feeling like you’ve known and loved this song your whole life. Lowe’s rich guitar compliments Christopher Tait’s (Electric Six) synth undertones and Matt Van (Electric Six) provides an infinitely danceable bassline. It has an ‘80s throwback vibe while being thoroughly modern, like it wouldn’t be out of place on a playlist with Cyndi Lauper and Sharon Van Etton.
“Touring with Electric Six taught us a lot and we all became friends,” says Lowe. “So, we knew we wanted to bring Tait and Matt on for this song and the next album. Tait came to one of our shows in Detroit after we’d already toured with him. He heard us play “Stand the Test” live and he really loved it. After recording, Tait wanted to take a crack at a remix. The Pedigo mix really kept vocals and drums forward, closer to our live sound. Chris had this vision in his head of this roller rink he went to as a kid called Rollerama, and he came from that place in his remix.”
“Stand the Test (Dubai Bros – Rollerama Remix)” is a nod to childhood feelings of hanging out with friends during summers that’ll never end; couples skate, laughter and junk food—building the relationships and memories that we take for granted as adults. The Dubai Bros (Chris Tait and Zach Shipps) lean into Shipps’ re-recorded disco bassline and Tait’s menagerie of synths. It’s a song that burrows into a timeless nostalgia that takes lyrics like, “And I’m trying to remember what I love / But we don’t know how long this will last” from romantic heartache to looking back at the good times of an idealized childhood.
“These days I’m over the cool rocking virtuoso guitar thing,” says Lowe. “I just want to bring this Tom Morello, nebulous sound, where maybe you can’t even tell it’s a guitar. For ‘I Fed Animals,’ it’s like the id of my Gretsch being pushed through whammy and octave pedals. I’m feeling what weird ways my foot can move, weird places I can hold the pick on the strings to make the most jarring noises possible.”
“I Fed Animals (Remastered),” originally on their 2021 album Cashville, was remastered by Pedigo to bring out a bigger, fuller sound. This stomp-stomp-clap, stadium-sized, indie blues-rock banger has the raw energy of Yeah Yeah Yeahs or White Stripes while tapping into the primordial foundation of Big Mama Thornton or Bessie Smith’s “Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl.” The iconic drums waterfall into primal chaos as Reich’s carnal lyrics of lustful revenge are complemented by Lowe’s lo-fi, raw pterodactyl screeching guitar stabs. The visceral and animalistic core of this song beckons you to tear the clothes off of your lover.
“I wrote this after going through one of my first breakups,” says Reich. “I was angry and just wanted revenge. I was out there doing my thing, and I wanted it to get back to him. I thought of the line “I Fed Animals” and loved the metaphor of it all. I love the history of blues and using these types of sexual metaphors.”
The Blade Runner meets Ghost in the Shell meets Tekken music video for “I Fed Animals” is a retro-future, VFX-heavy labor of love that took months of production. Director Patrick Pierson even flew to Tokyo to shoot the streets and neon of Shinjuku to capture the authentic feeling of his cyberpunk vision. The video is a feast for the eyes as the band performs against neon geometry and banks of neo-futuristic screens while a cyber girl and street demon face off in beautifully choreographed fights through rain and city streets. Each meticulously crafted frame is a work of art in its own right. The cinematic majesty of the video pulls no punches and lands in the echelon of masterpieces like director Seth Ickerman’s video for “Turbo Killer” by Carpenter Brut.
“I saw VOLK live at a mid-sized club,” says Pierson, “but they’re sound is so big, like AC/DC or Queen. I knew I wanted to work with them, and I knew I wanted to work within a cyberpunk aesthetic. I took a page from anime, grindhouse, 70s sci-fi b-movies and old kung fu films. We shot VOLK in a studio, and I flew to Japan to shoot the background plates to honor the anime roots of the idea. For the fight scene, we brought on O’Calla Joslyn to do the choreography and professional dancers Doug Hooker & Gretchen Marie Olson. I wanted the fight to mimic a murmuration of birds, the way they dance and fly together in a rhythmic pattern.”
“I Fed DarkNESynths (Acid Fader Remix)” is a moody, dark synthwave, slow-motion dancefest. It feels like a journey through Berlin’s underground tunnels, arriving at secret parties where designer drugs that we haven’t heard of yet are traded among the underbelly of society. It’s a song of dancing under pulsing red lights, and making out with strangers in dark corners. It might live in the same psychedelically nebulous world as Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy.
Their next album with Pedigo is nearly complete and will include Dick Valentine, Chris Tait & Matt Van (all of Electric Six), Joshua Flemming of the Vandoliers and Ray Wylie Hubbard. They’re constantly touring, so keep an eye out for them in a city near you. One thing’s for sure, VOLK wants to bring their brand of badass swagger to your town and they’re going to do it on their terms while showing us all how to have a good time.