The VAM Commanders



In the beginning... there was beer. But it cost money that Josh and Joe didn't have. Growing up relatively poor in small Oregon town, all they really had was a total lack of shame. But they really felt like drinking that night.

So for lack of a better plan, they walked the several blocks from the grocery store to the plaza, lay down a hat and began to beat-box. About five minutes in, Markos strolled by with a guitar and decided to sit in.

The impromptu band dished out absurdist takes on Snoop Dogg and Lynard Skynard. Inexplicably, people stopped to dance. And they ponied up some serious dough. Within an hour the band had made $30, more than enough to purchase the desired beer, and to give a healthy tip to whatever homeless person they conned into buying it.

So the boys decided to jam again some time. They met at Markos's house the next week, embarking on an ambitious set that included songs by Green Jello, B.B. King and several hip-hop jams. Primarily they picked the songs they thought would irritate Markos's sister the most. She wanted them to play Spice Girls covers, which they did and she still hated.

For the next practice, Markos invited his friend Paul to play on bass.

The fledgeling band dubbed themselves The VAM Commanders (VAM), in order to wrest control of a theorized conspiracy of cars surrounding Josh's house bearing the letters V-A-M on the license plate.

VAM began writing songs and trying to convince their friends they didn't suck, so they would be allowed to play at house parties. Along the way, they were joined Will, who hadn't lived in town when the band had originally formed.

The completed lineup was Joe rapping with Josh on guitar, Markos on drums, Paul on bass and Will on second guitar and lead vocals. The set consisted of a series of original songs, ska and hip-hop covers and long passages of freestyle rap and drum and bass solos.

With their sound complete, VAM quickly gained a reputation in Southern Oregon. They were known for playing loud and fast, occasionally naked, and leaving a trail of damage in their wake. Every "venue" they played at banned rock music afterwards, so they rented generators and threw keggers in the woods. They lit things on fire. Twice, people had to move out after the damage caused by booking VAM to play at a house show.

The band eventually earned opening slots for touring groups like Unwritten Law, Zebrahead and Vanilla Ice, who threatened to kick their ass after they asked permission to play their version of Ice Ice Baby at the show. They even secured an opening slot for Green Jello, whose song Three Little Pigs had been the first they'd ever attempted.

Markos left the band and was replaced on drums by Dustin, who Paul had played with in other projects.

With Dustin, VAM recorded their fourth CD, The Cark-Ass Goat, selling it independently around the northwest on their own label, Conspiracy Theory Records.

But by then, splits were forming. Not musically as much as geographically. Josh wanted to go to Portland, Dustin to Tokyo and Paul to Corvallis. Joe and Will were happy staying put. They all got what they wanted and VAM were left behind.

The members of the band all moved on with their lives, pursuing things like building hand-made guitars, journalism and starting families. Most of them played in other, longer-lasting, even arguably "better" musical groups. But those pursuits never seemed to resonate with people the way VAM had. Fans wrote letters begging the band to reform, offering them money and gigs, or explaining how VAM had been their inspiration to pick up an instrument. Mostly, this confused the band. They'd played songs about punk rock chihuahuas and beer. They shouldn't be the kind of important that people still cared about years later, but for whatever reasons, they were. So, occasionally, they'd throw together a few songs a party when they were all visiting family. xxx

Then, randomly, Josh discovered that VAM had a website that no one in the band had made or even knew about. He made a joke that it was like even Skynet was trying to get the band back together. The response was overwhelming: that was how much VAM had meant to people.

So finally, nearly a decade after the release of The Cark-Ass Goat, the band said "why the fuck not," and began emailing new songs back and forth to one another, just to see if they still knew how to write a song. But they quickly realized maturity was a good color on them, feeling that the songs were the best of their career. They decided to call the project, This is Not a Time Machine, so that everybody was well aware, the band couldn't make them 19 again. But maybe they could all grow up a little together.

Despite geography and common sense, This is Not a Time Machine, the new album from the long-defunct VAM, will be released on Tingle Finger Recordings along with an extensive tour in September 2014.

The official "Beer N' Naked Chix" dancers