Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band has the heart of a teen, literally.
“We didn’t necessarily know what we were getting ourselves into,” explained Benjamin Verdoes, co-founder and lead singer of Seattle, Wash.-based Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band. He talked over the group’s timeline as he waited patiently for wife and band mate Traci Eggleston to pick him up so they could head to the studio; there, they’d work out percussion kinks for the newest record. This has been Verdoes’ daily schedule as of late: work, then studio.
At this point, all the ideas have been born. The songs have all been written in full and are in the Mt. St. Helens repertoire. Verdoes has been anxious to get them recorded. Now they’re laying out a lot of basics, getting the skeleton of the album built so it can be out by early 2010. They’re progressing, but what’s left is “a lot of little details to fill in,” Benjamin said.
They might sound like old pros at this, but this is an incredibly young group. In fact, that’s essentially what Mt. St. Helens is known for: their youth, belonging in particular to their 14-year-old drummer (and Benjamin’s adopted younger brother), Marshall Verdoes.
“He kind of blows people’s minds every time they see him,” Benjamin said. “He doesn’t even necessarily look 14, and when people find out how old he is they’re genuinely awestruck.”
Mt. St. Helens actually started as just an idea between the Verdoes brothers. When Marshall was young (or younger”¦), Benjamin would bring him along to all the shows he attended, and Marshall would incessantly try to convince Benjamin that they should start a band together. Benjamin slowly started teaching him some tricks on percussion, and was impressed by Marshall’s quick knack for drums.
Benjamin had been involved in other various bands, but after watching his younger brother progress so fast and accurately on drums, he decided to experiment. The two began a project, roughly four years back, as a pair sparking fire for the first time.
“In some kind of form, in some rough primordial state, it was just us playing riffs,” Benjamin said.
It wasn’t until fall 2007 when the lineup became a quintet, including Matthew Dammer, Jared Price and Eggleston.
From the start, there was a lot of quick buzz surrounding the group’s odd approach to hyping their new creation. They made a Myspace page, but didn’t actually post any samples of their music, opting instead for comical blips and parodies that did not relate to their music whatsoever.
“We kind of, through this series of accidents, came up with this thing where we didn’t post music,” Benjamin explained.
The brothers hadn’t landed on a solid demo yet and were in transition from a two-piece into a larger group. Even if they were posting purely to stall for time as the group took form, it worked. Mt. St. Helens gained a ton of interest; enough that at their first show, there were hundreds of awaiting bodies.
“It was an interesting reaction that we got, so we definitely played into it,” Benjamin said.
Things continued to go well, enough so that Mt. St. Helens went from something of a fling to a full-fledged affair. Comparisons in sound were made with bands such as Wolf Parade and Modest Mouse, thanks in part to the driven scratch of Mt. St. Helens’ urgent guitar chords, swelled by slaps of cymbal and other smack percussive movements, exemplified prominently on songs such as “Albatross, Albatross, Albatross.” Impressive, catchy licks with Benjamin’s lightly fuzzed-yet-piercing vocals are displayed nicely on “Anchors Dropped.”
Mt. St. Helens spent the last year touring across country and playing from their self-titled album (which came out in mid-March), which consists of a lot of Benjamin’s older material, mostly songs quilted together with years of pieced ideas. They’ve also been debuting selections from their upcoming release.
Whenever they can find spare moments, be it on a long stretch of freeway in the van, or at pit stops or cafÃƒÂ©s, Benjamin and Eggleston take turns helping Marshall with his schoolwork. This wasn’t a choice based purely on touring. A few years back, Marshall realized it was much easier for him to get schooling done on his own, away from the traditional school scenario. Benjamin was already helping Marshall with his schoolwork, but volunteered to take on the role of teacher as well. Even off the road, Benjamin and wife Eggleston take turns helping Marshall with school while the other works a part-time job.
Between the commitment to the band, the family tie and the schooling, the Verdoes brothers are virtually inseparable. Luckily, they have a tight bond.
“I spend almost every waking hour with him it seems like, for the last four years,” Benjamin laughed.
For most kids, the kinds of distractions presented by being a traveling musician and still getting school work done would be too much; but the environment has worked well for Marshall, Benjamin said.
As far as the live shows themselves, it’s still a real treat for audiences to see a youth so precise and talented on drums.
“We work really hard on it, but he definitely has a real gift for it. It’s really cool to watch,” Bejamin said in praise of his younger sibling.
Benjamin still finds himself having to pull his brother’s I.D. out for proof of that he’s underage.
“People—they’ll argue with me, they’ll be like, ‘He’s not 14,'” he said.
For the time being, they’ll be touring through the West Coast and finishing up in the studio, still somewhat curious of their own next step.
“It’ll be definitely interesting how this next record comes out in the spring,” Benjamin said. “How we transition into this real, band, I guess.”