Cruising the neon glories

The Vas Deferens Organization searches for the timeless

"Duh," Castille says, rolling his eyes. Both he and Lumbleau cheerfully acknowledge that their stuff can be grating, and that some sort of structure makes listening easier; it's just that they're not interested in easy listening.

"We have a lot of restless creativity and energy," Lumbleau explains. "We're always coming across something--a genre, a style--that we want to try. We have a lot of varied tastes, and we're intent on touching on all of them."

"We're the only studio in Dallas--and probably in Texas--that I know of that's completely dedicated to nothing but experimental music," Castille says. "Whether it be rock or non-rock based...we're looking to make something that's completely new, whether it be country, blues, rock, jazz--anything."

"It's like a hub of sockets," says Moock. "People that want to go into the experimental stuff can come plug in and work with us."

"We pull out ideas and nurture creativity," Castille adds. "It's not like you're going to Joe Blow's studio out on Industrial. I want a band to come in and deliver whatever they want to deliver to me, and I want them to be absolutely assured of getting everything out that they can possibly express."

The fact that the VDO often works with the raw materials of others' creativity has led to headaches in the past. Some people, entranced by Lumbleau's knowledge, Castille's studio chops and equipment, and the Organization's impressive output, have gotten in over their heads and freaked at the results, or found VDO's philosophy at cross-purposes to their own. Which is to be expected: Anyone creative and self-possessed enough to think an album of his musical ideas worthwhile is going to have his own definition of what's right, and seldom do two creative people agree completely. Thus when Todd Deatherage took the Calways to Castille and heard the results--think of Bob Wills broadcasting live from Moon Base Alpha--he was most disturbed. "I mean, I need stuff we can play when people come to hear us," Deatherage would say later, quickly adding that he bore no ill will toward Castille and Lumbleau.

"It was all a misunderstanding," Castille says now. "Todd kinda flipped out and erased all the tapes," he adds in a tone of voice that indicates he would have preferred a swift poke in the nose rather than that indignity. Still, he remains equable: "There are extremities of music, and sometimes people don't hear what we hear. I'm dedicated to really professional, over-the-top cosmiche music, hippified--no, not hippified, but the kind of stuff that 40- or 50-year-old hippies could sit and listen to and just go, 'oh my God.'"

More recently, the VDO produced and engineered Cruising in the Neon Glories of the New American Night by noted astronauts Mazinga Phaser and experienced a bit of friction when headman Wanz Dover--being seriously courted by Sony--wanted to redo some songs sans the VDO's trademark treatment. On one hand, you can't fault the VDO--who did the work on Neon Glories against future earnings--for wanting recognition for their contribution. On the other hand, they're still Mazinga's songs. Given the headstrong creative mixture, some mutual bristling was unavoidable.

"I guess there have been instances where it hasn't been crystal clear at the outset what the implications of being in the studio are; from now on we'll spell it out right up front," Lumbleau says. "If you're gonna work with us, there's going to be a certain amount of us doing things [to your work]...you're coming to us for processing...playing it straight out isn't necessarily the only way to do something in the studio. With us, you're signing on for a signature sound, a recognizable intensity and tone. As long as we're explicit with bands--if you're coming here, it's to experiment--we should be OK."

The work on Transcontinental Conspiracy went much more smoothly. Castille and Lumbleau first worked on the album with Brad Laner (late of Medicine and Squirming Coils and a previous collaborator with Lumbleau), and then managed to abscond with the members of Mercury Rev that appear on the disc. "They were going to be interviewed," Castille recalls, "but we took them to our place first where we had some drums and stuff laid out--"

"It was more or less a trap," Lumbleau admits.
"--and when they started playing, I stuck my head over the mixing console and said, 'Hey, d'ya mind if I record you?' and they said, 'sure.'"

"If you ask them, they'll joke that we kidnaped them," Lumbleau says with a laugh.

"We were essentially kidnapped," Jayson Russo says affably. "It was a really strange incident...they plied us with alcohol, but it was a good time." The band had earlier gained access to Brad Laner in very much the same way.

"The last time I was in Texas, I had hurt my foot at a show," Laner recalls. "Everybody was on drugs, and Matt kind of rescued me, took me over to his house and took care of me." That was the start of what Castille describes as an "ADAT mailing frenzy" between Russo in New York, the VDO in Dallas, and Laner in Los Angeles--the "transcontinental conspiracy" that gave the album its name.

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