When the VAM Commanders started out in Ashland during the mid-90s—smack in the middle of the era of bleached-hair boy bands adorned with puka shell necklaces and Gap cargo shorts—they were counterculture thrash-rock teenagers ready to destroy the world with distorted power chords.
"Like so many bad decisions, it was fueled by alcohol," explained Josh Gross, guitarist and one of the band's vocalists. "As underage kids without jobs, Joe Perez (vocals, guitar) and I were looking to raise some money for beer, so we took an acoustic guitar down in front of the Shakespeare Festival and started annoying tourists with Snoop Dogg covers."
From there, Paul "RQM" Kincaid pushed his bass amp across town and the crew started learning ska covers of Spice Girls songs, replacing the über-girly pop lyrics with references to boogers and zits. The band proceeded to become a shitstorm-touchstone of Southern Oregon's punk scene, developing a devout audience who worshiped them for their rambunctious NOFX-style tornado rock, and played at punishing tempos in every basement, field and garage they could muster.
"Paul had a party trick of playing the bass one-handed while chugging booze with his other," recalled Gross. "He was doing that, leaning on his amp, in some degree of nudity, when his amp (a small practice amp totally unsuited for any real gigs) started smoking and sparking. Paul turned his head all leisurely, set down the half-gallon of whisky he had been chugging from, picked up his pants, and beat out the fire. He kept playing the entire time."
"I had to the EARN the nickname Naked Paul," added Kincaid. "We would play a house party and some windows would break, or there were holes in the ceiling, or someone would crash into the neighbor's car, or the light fixtures were dangling from the wires or.... actually, that was just one party."
After a long hiatus in which members started families, moved to Japan, studied metallurgy ("Because that's hella Metal," said Gross), built careers, and generally grew up, the band has written and recorded a new record called This is Not a Time Machine, and are reuniting for a short tour with fond memories of the past and a new forward momentum.
"We've matured quite a bit, but that mostly means that the mornings hurt more," said Kincaid.
The new album is a mix of rewritten and unrecorded songs from the glory days and new material. Songs like "Just Say No (To American Idol)" and "The Age of Wrinkle-Free Injections" bellow with a newfound maturity measured with VAM Commander's signature youthful, alcohol-induced playfulness, all without a flux capacitor.
Thurs., Sept. 18
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.