ON THE EVE of the European release of Curiosity, the debut album by Portland's Wampire, Rocky Tinder has found his way to Laurelhurst Park from Renn Fayre about half an hour after our scheduled interview time. He's sporting an oversized black Boyz II Men T-shirt, and later admits he's a little hung over from the previous day's festivities at Reed College, where his girlfriend is graduating. His partner in Wampire, Eric Phipps, shows up about 10 minutes after that. It's auspicious timing to discuss the fact that although Wampire has been a lively part of Portland's music scene since 2007, it took them nearly five years to write and record an album together. By comparison, being 30 minutes tardy is totally forgivable.
Wampire started with just Tinder and Phipps, primarily flaunting a hybrid of danceable tribal punk with programmed beats, egg shakers, guitars, and sometimes matching outfits. "We were trying to be a party band," says Tinder. "After a while we just wanted to start playing cool songs that didn't necessarily need to make people dance."
They've abandoned most of those initial audio avenues, though the strength of some early recordings and Wampire's live show was enough for Champaign, Illinois-based Polyvinyl Records to sign the band early this year after they opened for now-labelmates STRFKR. Tinder and Phipps teamed up with Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Jacob Portrait to engineer and produce Curiosity at Portrait's Northeast warehouse studio space, the Wave Cave. (UMO's Ruban Nielson also did the cover design.)
The band entered the studio with little more than snippets of demos, wanting to allow the creative space and Portrait's collaborative spirit to work its way into the project. The result is a patchwork of diverse musical terrain that ranges from no-wave electro to Swedish dancehall pop to rambunctious garage rock, sometimes all within one song.
"A lot of the songs were written without a specific concept for them to be Wampire songs," explains Tinder. "We were just writing songs and we'd bring them to the table after the fact. The inspirations were kind of all over the place."
"In a way it was like writing songs for another band to play, to detach yourself from it so that when you're composing it, you're wondering if another band played it, if it'd be cool," adds Phipps.
Throughout Curiosity, Wampire's sonic partnership seems to be one of mutual respect, even when their respective songwriting strengths are fairly disparate. "We worked on some songs that were specifically Rocky songs or specifically Eric songs, but they're still collaborative during the production," says Phipps. "Then we just bounced ideas off each other. But pretty much Rocky likes to write about the darker stuff and I like to write more about the sunny side."
Whatever the process, and however long it may have taken, it's hard to delineate too much when a song as effortlessly fantastic as the Nick Lowe-meets-Julian Casablancas "I Can't See Why" revs up, or when the psych-club groove of "Orchards" spills into the mains. Patience is a virtue, after all. And besides, with Curiosity under their belts, Wampire are learning a thing or two about timing.
"The writing process went a whole lot quicker if you could say, 'This is just a demo,'" says Tinder. "'Don't worry about it. This song might not ever get worked on.'"