Brandon Hagen of Vundabar calls me from a random Motel 6 in Connecticut. It’s early, but for him, it feels even earlier. The night before, the band played New York City and then drove towards Boston until stopping at 4AM, exhausted, to sleep. They could have left the city early enough to make it back to Massachusetts. Instead, they hung around to catch Pile, falling victim to the contagious pull of Boston bands — a lure that they, with a sophomore LP up their sleeve, are beginning to contribute to.
Vundabar is the brainchild of drummer Drew McDonald, bassist Zack Abramo, and Hagen, the guitarist and singer. Their music rests comfortably between surf punk and indie pop, all the more enhanced by their good humor. From the glam-pop hook of “Chop” to the summer swagger of “Oulala” and back to the tight percussion of “Ash In The Sun”, their sophomore full-length, Gawk, sounds like the work of a band twice their age. They recorded it live together in the same room — a first for the three. After touring new material for so long, they entered the studio only to find they finished recording in two days flat with minimal overdubbing. They may be young, but the college trio pull off professionalism and positivity with uncanny confidence.
It all began when their debut release, Antics, dropped in 2013. With the record out on Bandcamp, streaming numbers began to rack up and, sure enough, an agent reached out after a French blog’s positive review of the album caught his attention. “That’s when we felt more of an obligation to take things a little more seriously to make sure we were prepared,” says Hagen. “We thought it may have been a scam because his email and everything was in broken English, like, ‘I’m going to bring you on big tour!’ But he turned out to be a really great guy.”
Word soon reached them that their music was being passed around France’s own local scene. “Because of this underground fanbase, he was able to book us a lot of shows,” Hagen explains. “It’s actually kind of weird if you think about it.” He is, of course, referring to the band’s unusual imbalance abroad versus in Boston. Vundabar certainly have a large pull in our city, but so does Krill, a similar local act with a few years of seniority, whose first European tour was only just this summer.
“The financial structure of France’s industry is way more stable than ours,” Hagen continues. “Our agent covers our expenses, which is not common at all. The French music industry is bigger than their car industry and is subsidized by their government, which means there’s a lot of ways to make it work. This guy signs whoever he wants to sign, regardless of how big they are or what their social media following is like. Managers in the US require you to put in so much work to the point that you basically don’t need an agent anymore. Very few people sign you off of passion. There, it’s a purely favorite-based decision, like you pick a band to join your label if you dig their music. That’s it.”
Vundabar wrote Gawk in a similar fashion — emphasizing pure favoritism over strategic moves. “I’ll write stuff and think it’s trash, especially if I’m really excited about someone else’s music,” says Hagen. “I catch myself trying to write like them and that’s the stuff that gets thrown away. It happens with local bands a lot simply because of proximity. We were all obsessed with Pile for a bit. Drew was playing syncopated drum beats–which is a super duper Pile thing–and I was like, ‘No. No Pile worship.’ It’s good to do that as an exercise, though, to know you can recreate and capture something.”
The music is straight-faced, but their onstage personas are nothing but silliness, stuffing stage banter, poses, and comedic faces mid-song every ten seconds. It’s occasionally misread as an act. Vundabar don’t care if that’s the case. To them, it’s a way to both relieve stress and play into their daily personalities. “It’s definitely not tried or an effort,” says Hagen. “I would feel weird if we weren’t performing that way. There’s so much other work that goes into being a band, so I want to have a good time when we’re doing the thing that we do for 30 minutes.”
By the time next year hits, they won’t have anywhere left to crawl on a bill. They’ll overlook it all from the comfort of a headlining spot — and there’s no way Vundabar will climb to the top without bringing other talent with them. “There’s new bands that are really great but don’t get enough attention,” he says. “Horse Jumper of Love blow my mind. I feel like more people need to know about them. Maybe Crag Mask, too. There’s so many bands people need to know.” As long as people are gawking, the Boston trio will fight inaction by bringing others into view, making the city’s contagious music pull even stronger.
VUNDABAR + HIGH POP + MINI DRESSES + HORSE JUMPER OF LOVE. FRI 9/4. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 472 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/18+/$12. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM.