Fade out

August 22, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After 18 years of rocking out on stage, experimental post-punk band Vox Populi is ready to call it quits.

A Saturday-night show at Cookies Bar & Lounge in Martinsburg will be the band's last live performance. They'll be the last set of the night, following Admiral Browning, Stifling and Burning the Letter.

Vox Populi has decided to stop doing live shows because the band's newest mate, 26-year-old drummer Ben Proudman, is moving to New York to study music. The band's frontman, Todd Young, 42, was recently diagnosed with a heart condition.

"Which makes being the frontman for a rock band a little challenging," said Jason Murphy, the band's 35-year-old bassist.

Vox Populi is a four-man band based in Martinsburg. The band began as a performing arts bit - slam poetry with the sneer and swagger of punk and a postmodern itch to deconstruct the way we see things - but eventually evolved into a experimental rock-punk hybrid.


In its early days, Vox Populi was very much in to "found" art, using objects like hubcaps, sheet metal and whatever else they could find to make music. Their early stage shows incorporated a few "noisologists" - people who banged on things - a guitarist, a poet and an interpretive dancer.

"Sometimes we would pull up in a pickup truck full of junk and they'd say, 'What the hell is this?'" Young said. "That's our rhythm section."

But as of late, the band's composition has changed, reflecting what most would recognize as a traditional rock band innards - a guitarist, bassist, drummer and vocalist.

Young's prose hasn't changed much from what it was when the band formed in the early '90s. It's still very anti. But with the departure of their drummer, Young's health condition, and accidental progression toward bonafide rock, the band thought is was time to go in another direction, back to its performing arts roots.

"Since Ben's leaving, we're obviously not going to have the rhythm of the rock band," Murphy said. "It's, like, OK, so what are we doing next?"

About Vox Populi

Vocals, songwriter: Todd Young

Vocals, guitar: Paul Cogle

Bass: Jason Murphy

Guitar: Daniel Schuchman

Percussion: Ben Proudman

Genre: Post-punk, experimental rock

Influences: Einstrzende Neubauten, Fugazi and Saul Williams

Next Show: Cookies Bar & Lounge, 1017 S. Queen St., Martinsburg, W.Va. Doors open at 9 p.m. Showtime is at 9:30. With Admiral Browning, Stifling and Burning the Letter. Call 304-262-3892 for more information.


Q&A with the band

What are audiences' reactions when you guys play? Were you performing for people who were already in this underground punk-type scene?

Todd: Usually, at least a handful of the people that were there fit that. And then the rest of whoever might be there were just standing there looking at us like, "Oh, my god, what is this?"

Where do you guys play?

Jason: We did a lot of book-your-own, all-ages shows back then. Now, we do some of those, but there's a local place here, Cookies, that has underground stuff. ... In D.C. and Baltimore, we've played at the Ottobar, the Sidebar, the Velvet Lounge in D.C. ...

Todd: What was that place we played in Baltimore? It was full of Marines.

Jason: If they had paid attention to us, we would have been screwed.

Todd: ... They actually loved the one song that we still do, "Lying in the Gravel." It's an anti, first Gulf War song. It's very, very aggressive. I thought they were going to kill each other.

Paul: They loved us, but they had no idea what we were saying.

Jason: Before that show, I looked at Paul and said, "Remember, your guitar can be a weapon," because we thought we'd probably get the crap kicked out of us.

I'm kind of wondering, given that you guys had other drummers before, why break up the band? Why not continue?

Jason: Well, technically we're not really breaking up. I think we're ready for a bit of a change. ... We've kind of, by default, gotten to be in the rock genre - which is great, we love being a rock band. I just think it's gotten limiting.

What do you guys want people to know about you when they read this story?

Todd: One of the things ... is that there are no rules as to what music is supposed to be ... What I like best about us, is when someone asks, "What's your band sound like?" I can't give them an example. Best I could say is that we are a punk band.

Jason: ... We actually played a benefit show in Hagerstown. Most of the crowd was high-school age to early 20s. We were getting these looks like what's with the old guys setting up?

Todd: And we rocked harder than anyone else.

Jason: I remember just looking at them and saying, "Yeah, kids, there's punk rock after 30."

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