As we rolled through the drive-thru of a McDonald’s on an oppressively humid Bloomington afternoon, looks of excitement sprung onto Alex Fowler and Tyler Volk’s faces as they learned of the new Neon Indian single had just been released. Amidst the grinning that accompanied “Annie” playing over the car’s speakers and receiving our food, the two members of Vista Kid Cruiser mused about other artists they draw inspiration from. These influences ranged from the new A$AP Rocky album, to Graze, to modern pop artists.
“What’s that one Kylie Minogue song,” Fowler asks as he looks to Volk in the back seat.
“Can’t Get You Out Of My Head?” replies Volk.
“Yes! I love that song.”
“ I swear that badass pop chicks have more balls than guys singers right now.”
Aside from talking about the state of modern pop music and one dollar chicken sandwiches, the most telling moment of our time together came when I posed a fairly simple question: Who are your counterparts in Bloomington?
Volk and Fowler looked at each other a bit puzzled and both replied with the name of a local DJ. Why is this significant? For the same reason Vista Kid Cruiser is the most important band in Bloomington. There is no group like them.
They are not trying to be the next Pavement, they don’t deafen you with an unrefined brand of noise rock, and in a market that is rich with “college bands,” Vista Kid Cruiser is thriving because of what they are not.
They are not ironic. They are not trying too hard to adopt modern trends or aesthetics. They are not forcing anything.
“Selling out is an old thing,” Fowler said. “It’s about making things more digestible for an audience. You can’t just make a six-and-a-half minute song that only you like. You need to be aware of what the listeners will go for.”
Volk chimed in moments later adding, “All the best artists right now are proving weirder ideas over the past few decades can be put into a new context.”
Volk’s point is supported within the opening seconds of Vista Kid Cruiser’s latest release on internet label Business Casual, Goodbye Sample City, where “Heart” features a Keith Sweat vocal sample that is pitched up and all of the 80’s R&B glory within it soars over a tactful combination of bass synths and breakneck hi-hats.
So what exactly does their music sound like?
If you were to try to put it into a genre you’d be most accurate placing it somewhere between vaporwave and experimental dance. It certainly does not take itself too seriously. It relies heavily on vocal samples from all across the musical spectrum. You can find anything from a Black Eyed Peas sample in “Vista Boys and Girls”, to an additional Sweat sample in “Soul”, and even a Jojo sample in an unreleased track they’ve been rolling out at recent performances. When examining what has made them one of the most popular acts in town, it would impossible to overlook the aspect of live performance.
Their shows are an infectious, unadulterated good time that largely transcends the personal taste of the audience. The backdrop is generally the corner of a basement that has become damp with the heavy breath and body heat of an ungodly amount of college kids per square feet. Volk and Fowler station themselves behind synths with an occasional vocal produced by Fowler, while Rex Brown is positioned behind his Mac triggering samples and drums using Ableton Live.
The live show hasn’t always this polished and Volk says that their first handful of shows, which found him and Fowler playing synths and singing on top of already completed tracks, were “whack” and “pretty ridiculous to be honest.” They both attribute a great deal of the live show’s acceleration to fellow IU student and Carmel, Indiana native Rex Brown being added into the mix. “First off he’s an extra person to help make songs realized,” said Fowler. “On top of that, he helps with the layering of percussion, which he is just so good at.”
The group has taken their act out of dimly lit college houses and into venues across Bloomington this past year, playing shows at The Bishop and Rachael’s Café, as well as being the opening act at WIUX’s Culture Shock. They hope to take their show on the road at some stage in the near future.
“I want to work on getting on as an opener for a short tour. Just to do that once in my life, to be able to say we did that,” Fowler explained as Volk nodded his head in agreement. “We need to get on a tour this spring break or next summer,” said Volk. He begins to laugh as he extends the pointer finger and pinky on his left hand and mimics answering a phone, “Hey Clams Casino! What’s up?”
So what’s on the horizon for Vista Kid Cruiser?
Besides working on their next release and hoping “every song on the release will give you shivers,” they hope to get released on a larger label each time they put out a record. Additionally, they aspire to craft a “great pop song that you could hear on the radio.”
For now, they will have to settle for being the most important band in Bloomington, because the city and its music scene have never encountered something quite like them.