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Vundabar’s Brandon Hagen on the Plastic Actuality of Making Indie Rock Music within the TikTok Age


Brandon Hagen, lead singer/guitarist of Boston-based alt-rock band Vundabar, has spent the final ten years taking ambiguous existential crises and distilling them into track lyrics. Even so, there are nonetheless some issues in life which are simply too tough to explain.

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“I’m simply going to indicate you,” he tells Billboard from North Hampton, Mass. on a Zoom name, lifting his foot as much as the digicam and rolling up his pant leg. “It’s simply wonky!”

His ankle is strictly that — wonky. Perpetually discolored and bruised-looking, the 27-year-old’s so-called “achilles heel” start defect is one thing he was usually bullied for rising up. That, mixed with being uncovered at a younger age to the repressed troubles effervescent underneath his Irish-Catholic, Twin Peaks-adjoining hometown, made for what Hagen calls a really “angsty” adolescence, which he vented into Vundabar’s 2015 album Gawk and its whimsical-but-rage-filled single “Alien Blues.”



That track’s path to success has additionally been a little bit wonky. Over half a decade after it was launched, its streaming numbers immediately began growing by the thousands and thousands — all because of a snippet of it going viral on TikTok seemingly out of nowhere. Click on on the “Alien Blues” sound and you’ll discover hundreds of movies of teenagers passionately singing alongside to the lyrics, “My tooth are yellow, hi there world/ Would you want me a little bit higher in the event that they have been white like yours? I must purge my urges, disgrace, disgrace, disgrace.” One screams the phrases at his personal red-faced reflection within the mirror, and one other punches what appears to be like just like the partitions of a highschool rest room stall to the rhythm of Hagen’s high-voltage voice.

“The numbers shot up actually excessive,” Hagen recollects of the track’s spike in listeners, which began round Thanksgiving final yr. “Abruptly it was important, the place I feel we had 100,000 streaming [plays] a day, and that become 1,000,000 a day in two days.” (As of publishing, the track had racked up 90 million whole U.S. streams thus far, in accordance with Luminate, previously MRC Information.) 

Within the six years between the discharge of Gawk and the “Alien Blues” increase, Hagen and his bandmates Drew McDonald and Zack Abramo had already put out two entire albums and completed recording one other — their newest challenge Satan for the Hearth, which dropped Friday (April 15). He was turning into identified for a track he wrote as a youngster — “[TikTok] is simply this insane software…you must simply take it and attempt to take it gracefully” — however he’d already found way back that there’s much more to be offended about than the stuff he felt at 18.

Vundabar’s 2017 LP Odor Smoke, for instance, explored the futility of caring for a sick cherished one in America’s capitalist healthcare system. And the band’s new horror movie-themed challenge Satan for the Hearth — designed to simulate how actuality is as unpredictable and plastic as, say, success earned by blowing up on TikTok — was impressed partly by pandemic life and partly by Hagen’s father’s coronary heart attack-induced stroke and subsequent aphasia prognosis.

Hagen, nevertheless, has determined to take all the popularity funneled by the triumph of “Alien Blues” — irrespective of how delayed — in stride. “Our data are all sluggish burns,” he says. “It takes individuals time to search out them and get to know them and go them round. I don’t care that a lot anymore. We’ve simply at all times been a band the place we plod alongside and we develop a bit, and we plod alongside after which we develop a bit, and simply preserve grinding.”

Under, Hagen talks with Billboard about Vundabar’s new album, pandemic-age touring and the aftermath of going TikTok-viral with “Alien Blues.”

The “Alien Blues” success story is loopy. Out of all of the songs in your catalog, why do you suppose that was the one to explode on TikTok?

It is smart to me that a variety of youthful individuals establish with it. I made it and recorded it after I was like, 18. That track is simply coping with a way of alienation, it sort of simply feels like a meltdown. Being a teen is bizarre, and being in a time the place individuals want a launch and must blow off some steam – that track has that.

That file particularly had grown its personal viewers because it’s been out. What was occurring with TikTok was simply the newest iteration of what had been occurring since we put it out.

Which of the TikToks are your favorites?

I’m unhealthy with favorites… I like those of youngsters taking part in it. I like the way in which that it sort of could be very separate from Vundabar. Individuals are taking the track and making one thing of their very own from it, the place it turns into extra about them and their expertise than about us.

You’ve at all times launched music from your individual unbiased label, Gawk Information. Did main labels begin hitting you up as soon as “Alien Blues” took off?

When every part occurred with “Alien Blues,” there was a real trade blitz. It’s all pushed by metadata, so actually on the identical day, each main label on the planet was blowing up my telephone. It was very complicated and difficult to navigate, particularly for a track that’s outdated and a part of a catalog we personal.

Why didn’t you signal with any of them?

The entire feeding frenzy of majors coming round – it’s simply so quick. Individuals are throwing out presents and it’s across the virality of this track. And if that ought to drop, then that provide may seriously change.

I’m not against labels, and there are particular advantages to majors particularly. If we needed to do this, I’d wish to do it in earnest with a brand new file – like, “Okay, Vundabar’s gonna make their weirdo pop file.” If we wish to go make a giant pop file, we’ll – which, I feel we’ll – however for those who’re going to make a slow-burn idea file the place it’s worthwhile to pay attention for 40 minutes, that’s in all probability not what a serious may help out on.

You’ve been touring on and off. How is that going? Do you suppose the indie dwell music scene is beginning to recuperate from the monetary pressure of the pandemic?

Everybody who’s touring once more is sort of taking the temperature proper now. The nerves are gone a little bit bit. Individuals are like, “Alright, it’s time to get on with life.” It places individuals on this actually weird place – you would be lined up touring for 30 to 40 days and any day in, somebody may get COVID and the rug’s pulled out. Incomes a residing in music’s at all times been precarious, and now it’s simply extra so.

We’re only a dwell band at our coronary heart. It’s been so lengthy with COVID, I forgot one thing was lacking from my life. The factor in music is there’s a murkiness to what you do. Once you’re making data and songs, it’s all in your head. Touring is grounding, as a result of it’s very a lot bodily and exterior. It tempers the extra “thinky” facet of it.

You made your late evening debut lately. How was taking part in “Alien Blues” on Seth Meyers?

That was wacky. I used to be like, “You may have two and a half minutes to not f–okay up, don’t f–okay up.” However the upside of us making our late evening debut with a track we’ve been taking part in for seven years is it could be fairly exhausting to mess it up.

Is it bizarre selling a seven-year-old track at a time while you’d usually be focusing solely on pushing the brand new file?

There’s part of me that might fixate on that, however I don’t wish to be bitter about individuals coming into our music.

One factor that was good about this track off Gawk and this new file is we recorded each of them with the identical engineer on the similar studio. And it was the primary time we’d been again since we made that file. So aesthetically, production-wise and process-wise, it was very a lot aligned with “Alien Blues.” In a means, the [new] file was a return to kind.

How is Satan for the Hearth totally different out of your earlier 4 albums?

It has essentially the most vary. There are a number of the most fragile songs on right here. There’s a yacht rock track. “Satan for the Hearth” is the heaviest track we’ve ever made. “Heatwaves” is sort of like a zombie rising in a small city after which simply terrorizing the city.

There’s a dream logic to it. Issues simply occur, pictures are offered to you. You don’t query why one factor occurs after the opposite in a dream, which, I really feel like that was the final two years. In life and on the planet, I used to be questioning actuality, like, “How the f–okay is that this actual?”

Do you suppose any of that very same angst from “Alien Blues” has carried over to the brand new file?

No. I might be alarmed if I used to be 27 and felt the identical means that I felt after I was 18.

Hearken to Vundabar’s new album Satan For the Hearth beneath:





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