Home Read Albums Of The Week: Vegas DeMilo | Black Sheep Lodge

Albums Of The Week: Vegas DeMilo | Black Sheep Lodge

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Riff-driven power-pop outfit Vegas DeMilo have just release Black Sheep Lodge, a shimmering fourth album which one writer described as “The Replacements fronted by Liam Gallagher.” It’s an apt comparison as the expertly produced collection displays its ’90s grit while also exhibiting the songwriting finesse of Paul Westerberg and Jeff Tweedy clamoring against the dramatic tension of Oasis anthems.

With a nod to their formation in the mid-’90s and as a playful exercise, the blistering songs on Black Sheep Lodge are a taut affirm while also loose complement to Liz Phair’s 1993 classic Exile in Guyville, which itself was a song-by-song retort to The Rolling StonesExile on Main St. For their “response” to Guyville, Vegas DeMilo cunningly inhabit the clueless, bro-anointed guys Phair was mocking. Black Sheep Lodge would most assuredly be the frat house hangout in Guyville.

Vocalist/band co-founder Foster Calhoun Johnson explains, “One of my all-time favorite albums — and certainly one of the best albums of the 1990s — is Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. It’s an album of naked emotional honesty that captures the sexual politics of the time in one lo-fi classic after another. When we began writing songs again during the pandemic, I adopted that same concept as a conceit. Only rather than responding to The Rolling Stones’ druggy classic, I found myself writing a response to each of the 18 songs on Exile in Guyville — but from a very different perspective, typically that of the terrible boyfriend or incorrigible lothario inhabiting so many of Phair’s songs on her record: the Black Sheep referenced in the album title of our new record.

“We did write 18 songs but several months into the project, it became clear we were never going to finish if we didn’t scale back our ambitions so instead of a complete rebuttal, we made a song-by-song response to the first 12 songs but jumbled out of order, like couples at a ’70s key party. The album was always going to start with Charlie Watts, which is written from the perspective of the oblivious musician boyfriend in Phair’s 6’1. Imaginary Blondes is written from the perspective of the (soon-to-be) ex in Phair’s Divorce Song. And Tuesday Night Fever is a kind of feverish mirror image to Fuck and Run.

“At the last minute in the recording process, one of the tracks the band had originally written for Black Sheep Lodge got replaced by a song Alec Johnson wrote called Get In The Van. That song — which has nothing to do with Liz or Exile in Guyville — might as well be called The Ballad of Vegas DeMilo. Get In The Van is about an epic road trip the band took from San Francisco to Austin in 2002 to play SXSW. Two weeks of misadventures boiled down to four minutes. But it’s really about more than that. It’s both an elegy and a tribute to the journey the band started in 1994 and somehow (amazingly) still finds itself on today.”

With a name inspired by a misheard lyric in AC/DC’s song Touch Too Much (on the band’s final album with Bon Scott, 1979’s Highway to Hell) and a nod to the iconic marble statue in the Louvre thought to represent Aphrodite, Vegas DeMilo were founded in 1994 in San Francisco by brothers Foster Calhoun Johnson (lead vocals, guitars) and Alec Johnson (bass, keyboards, vocals). Blazing out of the gate with their self-titled debut in 1996, Vegas DeMilo released three widely praised LPs over the next six years, receiving airplay on more than 60 commercial rock stations across the U.S., and toured extensively, including multiple appearances at SXSW, NXNW and CMJ.

1998’s Before It Gets Old introduced fan favorites Chemical Girl, My Brilliant Career and Acid King while 2001’s Motel California launched with a record release show at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore Auditorium. The album included the single Payback. VDM began the new century by adding members Scotti Fraser (guitars), Andrew Griffin (drums, guitars, vocals, percussion) and Travis Ballstadt (guitars, vocals) to the original core of Dug Nichols (guitars, vocals), Bradley Wait (guitars, keyboards), Dan Catherwood (bass, vocals) and the brothers Johnson.

Over the years, the band’s songs have found success with music supervisors with placements in dozens of films and TV shows including, Felicity, One Tree Hill, Skate, The Osbournes, Pasadena, Clubhouse, Just Deal and the motion picture Scorched. Recently scorching the House of Blues Houston, the band will hit guyvilles across the Western U.S. this spring/summer. No one will be exiled, all are welcome at the Black Sheep Lodge.”

Watch my interview with Foster Calhoun Johnson HERE.