May The Vores Be With You

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May The Vores be With You
by Kevin J. Hosey

the vores

Veteran band releases a new CD, plays this weekend at Music Is Art

What keeps a band together for more than 30 years? Apparently, songs about Love Canal, murder, deteriorating relationships, stalking, mental disconnect, and maybe not seeing each other every day. Oh, and humor—lots of humor.

The Vores, who started playing and recording music in Buffalo in the late 1970s, are about to release their newest CD. Common Scar, upon completion of the art work by Brian Grunert, who designed the art work for the Vores’ 2007 CD, Moment of Uncertainty, and won a Grammy Award for Best Record Packaging for his design of Ani DiFranco’s Evolve CD in 2004. The band is made up of original members Biff Henrich on guitar and vocals and Gary Nickard on bass and vocals, visual artists who also provide much of the songwriting, as well as keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter Cathy Carfagna (ex-Jazzabels, current Outlyers, solo, and Jim Whitford Band), Scott Ryan on guitar and vocals, and Patrick Heyden on drums.

Henrich, Nickard, and Carfagna recently sat down at an Allentown restaurant to discuss the new CD and the Vores past and present. Carfagna conveyed Whitford’s compliments for the Vores’ Elmwood Festival of the Arts performance to Henrich and Nickard; Whitford told her the band “was as loud as Motorhead.”

“That is because we’ve had loud drummers,” Nickard says with a smile. “It’s caused by the speed of the music and the velocity of the drums we play at. I always complain that I can’t hear Biff’s guitar on stage.” He nodded to Henrich and Carfagna. “My job is to connect these guys to the drums.”

While this writer and others have compared the Vores’ sound to art rock, art punk, and bands such as Wire, the Gang of Four, and Pere Ubu, Henrich hesitates on comparisons. “We’ve used the term avant garage; that’s a pretty good description. I’ve never called us ‘art rock’ because that would present a different connotation. There are things I have listened to and that we were interested in, but the sound really came from us. At the start”—the Vores’ first release was a four-song seven-inch, “Love Canal” and “Get Outta My Way,” flip-side “Amateur Surgeon” and “So Petite”—“we tried out some singers who were real bad or too good, and [original member] David Kulik and I decided to try singing.”

Nickard notes that most of the band’s songs are “either about death, near-death, or existential situations,” and Henrich adds that “there other people who can write those love/happy songs. The closest song we have is ‘Forget That Guy,’ and it’s about a stalker.”

As for the new songs from Common Scar and Moment of Uncertainty, Henrich says, “It’s a progression. The songs we’ve composed in the past several years, Patrick says, are half dark and half humorous.”

“We take the point of view of the character, but we don’t endorse them,” Carfagna says.

“Like ‘Heartbeat.’ It’s about a psycho,” Nickard says with a laugh. “We don’t just write these songs. The world can be a dark place.”

“It’s easier for me to write about darker issues or characters, but the world isn’t always dark to me, it’s entertaining,” Henrich says.

“Like monster movies,” Nickard says. “I watched monster movies, read most of the monster magazines and Mad magazine. The madness is tempered by Madmagazine.”

“Otherwise, we’d be a Norwegian black metal band,” Carfagna says.

And burn down churches?

“Except I don‘t do arson well,” Nickard says and Henrich replies, “I don’t do prison well. But I find the ‘He was such a nice guy, a quiet guy’ comments about a killer fascinating.”

Common Scar features 13 new songs and a cover of Bernie Kugel and the Good’s “Walk Around the World,” with Kugel singing. “It’s a natural outgrowth of the previous CD,” Nickard says. “It’s less about capturing the songs of the past and more about pushing forward. The vocal duets [Henrich and Carfagna] and intertwining vocals impress me. They have an X-like quality.”

“The Pixies as well,” Carfagna added.

Henrich remains modest about his musical contributions and status. “I’m more conscious of my shortcomings than attributes as a musician. I will take any help I can get. All those little voices in the band are good; not everything is coming out of my head or Gary’s head or Cathy’s head. I don’t feel I have to play all the time; sometimes, it is better to hear a keyboard here instead of a guitar. It creates a different dynamic.”

How have Henrich and Nickard stayed together and creative for almost 35 years? “We come together, but we don’t hang out together. It’s a certain weirdness that keeps it fresh,” Henrich says.

“We do this for us,” Nickard adds.

The Vores will perform Saturday, September 17, at Music Is Art, behind the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Recording "Common Scar"
Recording “Common Scar”