VHS Collection is a trio of old friends. James Bohannon (vocals), Conor Cook (guitarist/producer) and Nils Vanderlip (keys) banded together while growing up in New York and began to cultivate their sound. Today, their organic chemistry has paid tenfold when producing polished, yet boisterous, music.
“I think it’s very collaborative across the board,” Bohannon tells American Songwriter. “That said, we all have our core areas of competency, and we just pass stuff around.” Bohannon cultivates his well of lyrics while Cook and Vanderlip hone in on the soundscapes. The result? Over 100 million streams on Spotify, and a new single called “The Dark” that debuts today (April 21).
“When we wrote [‘The Dark’], it was right on the cusp of everything happening over the last year,” Bohannon explained. “Which has just been a crazy time to be in a band and to be writing and be working on an album because it really forced a lot of the remote processes to come together.”
The pieces did fall together for the normally nomadic trio, and “The Dark” emerged as a brilliant track that juxtaposes elements of light and dark. Cook explains that they found their sonic balance by first laying down an MS-20 synth bassline inspired by M83 and Daft Punk. Soon after establishing their sprawling chords, the band revealed that “The Dark” came together in three to four hours before the final cut.
Pulling in inspiration from the movie Drive, and the final scene in Fight Club solidified the roaming, gritty life they wanted to instill into the track. Both the pre-chorus and chorus came to mind when American Songwriter probed further about the band’s creative motivations.
“I think the pre-chorus is this really special moment where all the music kind of drops out,” Bohannon said. “And the lyric is When we’re alone. And so you have this really driving verse and then the pre-chorus hit is like a… just very sweet, delicate moment. And obviously, it’s a little bit punny in the fact that it’s a lone vocal and it’s When we’re alone. There’s a sweetness to that line, which could go either way.”
Cook chimes in: “I mean the chorus, just in terms of the lyrics, is really a nice little poem in some ways. It’s like When we’re alone / when the dark comes to take control in the light of your eyes. It just really just paints this picture, I think, of someone almost hiding out somewhere as the world is falling apart.”
If VHS Collection were poets, this poem certainly maintains a precise meter. Each moment and transition adds a unique element to the broader lyricism of the track. The cohesiveness is what the band has been evolving for.
“I feel like we like [‘The Dark’] because it has the right mood and the mood of the lyrics fits the cords [and] fits the sonics. So I think it’s encouraged us to continue to pursue that direction and that aesthetic. One thing we’ve been trying to do in this [upcoming] album is really hone in on what the VHS sound is. Whereas the last album was a little bit all over the map… we’re trying to have a little bit more of a cohesive vibe,” Cook said.
“The Dark” is the first track off of VHS’s upcoming album, and it locks in the band’s signature sound as a blend of electronic and rock components intermingle with their own twist of indie and pop. The track consequently oozes with beats that demands you roll down your windows on a cool summer night.
The band dove deeper into the music, discussing their meaning of the song. “We just want our listeners to feel something. That’s what we’re always going for. We want to elicit some sort of emotional reaction from our listeners. And for us, it’s like the two phases of light and dark and all that… This is probably a theme that we talked about a lot is just kind of the levity of darker times and how ups and downs are a natural part of the course. And how in our verses we keep like a big driving and intense moment and then we kind of open up into these like really big catchy, celebratory choruses and sort of like the dark and the light theme is something we play on in that song,” the band shares.
The process for “The Dark” all came to a culmination in the music video. The trio DIY’d the music video and reached out to fan Hailee Lautenbach to drive a rented car around LA. This visual encapsulates the band’s independent roots while also speaking directly to the themes of “The Dark.”
“I guess part of the story to hopefully provide encouragement for other bands out there. Just as long as you kind of keep putting out music and keep playing shows and just sticking with it,” Bohannon concludes. “It’s good to get a following that way. So yeah. We’re a DIY project and we’re excited to release an album and start this new phase of the project. [‘The Dark’] is the first release of the new front of the new album.”
Photo by Grant Spanier