What's in a Band Name Like Viet Cong?
Is it insensitive to name your band after a group responsible for the deaths of thousands? Viet Cong doesn't think so.
Post-punk strung through an art-rock meat grinder, Viet Cong is the resuscitated project from two members (vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace) of the heavily eulogized noise-rock band Women. Transitioning has been less than smooth for VC, however -- there was a rather infamous onstage fight between Flegel and his brother Pat, as well as the death of Women's guitarist, Christopher Reimer, in 2012. Oh, and there was that time that Flegel electrocuted himself before a set and blood started leaking from his ears.
"I haven't noticed anything permanent . . . it was pretty scary for a few days, though. I looked like the little kid from Jurassic Park when he got shocked off the fence," Flegel, Viet Cong's vocalist and bassist, says dryly of the incident, which was the influence for the post-apocalyptic song "Silhouettes."
"I made it through the whole set," Flegel adds. "By the end of it, I was just completely disoriented, like I had no idea what was happening. I couldn't hear my voice. I don't think it would've been the best show to watch us. Probably sounded close to garbage."
When you hear the word "Viet Cong," maybe you finding yourself demanding immediate apocalypse or wondering what they were thinking. Maybe you think of a black-and-white snapshot of a police chief general nuzzling a .38 revolver into the skull of a suspected guerrilla (did you know Eddie Adams' image captured the exact moment the bullet entered his brain?) on a sunny Saigon street. Whatever strong evocation shocks you when you hear the word, the Calgary four-piece Viet Cong says they mean nothing by it. (After this article went to press, an Ohio venue canceled a Viet Cong show due to the name.)
"We have no political affiliations whatsoever," Flegel says. "We don't mean [the name] to be offensive either, we're just kinda stuck with it at this point."
Even songs like the uneven marching on "Select Your Drone" or the stark, Television-inspired "Bunker Buster" aren't intentionally political. But Flegel does admit to being somewhat of a "news junkie," catching up on world events being one of his morning rituals.
"I grew up in the kind of house where we got the newspaper every morning and that's what we did: wake up in the morning and eat your cereal and drink your coffee and read the news. And we're all completely depressed and insane," Flegel says, laughing.
He notes that a prevailing feeling of helplessness and despair that comes with oversaturation of international dispatches is a necessary feeling.
"There's nothing you really can do about it, [but] it's good to be informed," Flegel says. "It's good to know what's going on the other side of the world. People, I think, easily retract into these bubbles, especially in North America and they don't realize there is an outside world where things are happening, like drastic, terrible things."
This explains some of the meaning behind "Newspaper Spoons," the moody, droning opener on the Viet Cong's self-titled full-length released by Jagjaguwar at the beginning of this year. The title is actually a reference to a Burroughs line in Naked Lunch, criticizing capital punishment and mass media's role in spoon-feeding the masses.
Which leads us to the reason Flegel has flatly said he's sick of civilization, which prompted him to move from Calgary to Vancouver Island.
"We spend a lot of time in cities. I grew up in a city, and I've lived in a city for most of my life," Flegel says. "That definitely influenced the move out west to a smaller zone. [I need] more of a laid-back lifestyle."
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