For those otherwise unaware of Plague Vendor, one picture tells the whole story.
It was snapped during last year’s Ohana Fest, curated by Pearl Jam’s own Eddie Vedder, who is expertly duct-taping the pant leg of frontman Brandon Blaine. “Real friends help you tape the rips in your pants mid show,” the caption reads. The black-and-white image exemplifies the band’s transitory existence — standing on the cusp of the big time, yet still needing sturdier britches.
“We’re certainly at a transformable time,” Blaine says during a recent phone call. “We’re using these current shows to try things out and experiment. We’re preparing for the future.”
Then again, Plague Vendor have been engaged in a near-constant evolution since forming in 2009 in the quartet’s hometown of Whittier, California (“Shout out to Derek and Mike Wedge,” Blaine interjects). With its 10-song, 18-minute run-time, 2014’s Free to Eat epitomized the band’s frenetic approach to rock ’n’ roll.
“When we started, we were way more of a straight-up surf rock band,” Blaine says. “Our attitude was ‘Fuck everything, we’ve come over to play and party.’”
Then, as Blaine explains, the band “got older but kept writing,” which resulted in 2016’s Bloodsweat. Here, the frenetic tunes and devil-may-care attitude were tempered, resulting in a more even-keeled rock album that traded piss and vinegar for nuance and mood.
“We haven’t left behind that ethos,” Blaine counters. “We’ve just gotten better about it. We know when to hold back and when to release. But we’re always gonna be intense and crazy.”
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It’s that maturity, plus a groundswell of industry buzz, that afforded Plague Vendor ample time to record their third album, By Night, due out June 7 via Epitaph Records. The band utilized their newfound creative freedom to “hang out and write songs with no deadline,” as Blaine explains. The final piece of the puzzle, however, proved to be super-producer John Congleton (Best Coast, St. Vincent, The Walkmen).
“He took our vision and his vision and combined it,” Blaine says. “It’s the way he records and mixes everything — it all just ties together.” Blaine adds that Congleton was “down to get weird,” and that dynamic afforded the band a license to “go all the way.”
There’s certainly echoes of its predecessors in By Night’s 10 tracks, which retain undercurrent of angst and aggression. Yet the new LP is far more sophisticated, a dark and moody amalgamation of punkish sneers, braggadocious blues-rock, crunchy hooks and driving rhythms, and threads of metal, punk, New Wave, and more. It’s a record meant for raucous evenings or a midnight cruise down a deserted highway. It may not be revolutionary, but it’s still an impressive record, a stop on the way as the band plot a trajectory deeper into rock’s molten core.
If you’d rather avoid driving 95 on the I-17 to hear the record, there’s always a Plague Vendor show instead. The band are regularly lauded for their raucous outings, with Blaine in particular known to thrash about wildly or pick up a snare drum for a mock marching band.
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“For me at least, it’s always been the same: Get on stage, look everyone in the eye, and keep them in the palm of my hand,” he says. “Every show is completely different, but it’s always about dancing on the edge of a cliff. Not everyone has the same response, and the crowd wants to see you fight for it.”
That’s arguably the real heart of Plague Vendor. No matter the sonic maturity, increased media presence, or swanky festival gigs, the band remain unchanged at their core: four feisty friends with a singular mission.
“We like to think of ourselves as a gang, and people don’t know what to expect,” Blaine says. “We always say, ‘Let’s go all the way, don’t stop.’ It’s still all about taking over the world.”