VHF is currently the best-kept secret in rock music. Unless you follow rock and heavy metal blogs, you might have missed the release of their debut album. It’s a tour-de-force of pyrotechnic guitar, bass and drums, progressive yet melodic, and unique not only in content but in how it was put together.
The band contains Joel Hoekstra, late of Night Ranger and the new guitarist in Whitesnake, as well as part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Rock Of Ages on Broadway. On bass is Tony Franklin, formerly of The Firm and Blue Murder, as well as stints with David Gilmour and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, among others. Manning the drums is Todd “Vinny” Vinciguerra, noted drum author and teacher, who also toured with Big Brother and the Holding Company. I caught up with the guys to ask them about the project and how it came together.
You are each busy with so many different projects, how did the recording process work for VHF?
Joel Hoekstra: That’s the interesting part of VHF. It’s built from the ground up, a backwards writing concept. Todd laid down song structure drum parts, then Tony played bass parts to that, and then I came up with melodies, hooks, counter riffs, or in many cases doubled what Tony had done. It was fun to try and I think we got some cool, unique results.
Todd Vinciguerra: I would go into my garage with a zoom H1 digital recorder to play my drum arrangements with a click track, and then send that wav file to Tony, who was given free reign as to what to play and where to take the song rhythmically. When I got his bass parts back, I would go in the studio and track my drums along with the bass tracks. From there, we would send the rhythm tracks to Joel for his parts. Again he also had free reign.
Tony Franklin: I had no preconception of what it was going to be like. Todd’s parts were very song oriented, so I spent time creating bass parts that complemented that. It was quite challenging in some ways, as I wanted the parts to feel natural, like we were playing in the room together. They had to be tight, and flow well between each section, but they also had to make sense as a whole piece of music. It’s easy to come up with different bass parts for each individual section, but it takes longer to create a series of meaningful grooves that flow and build and connect and make sense as a complete piece of music. I approached each song separately, trying to let the groove, the vibe, the overall feeling “speak” to me, and tell me what it needed. It was almost like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, without knowing what the picture was.
Had the three of you ever worked together previously?
TV: Joel and I were roommates in Hollywood many years ago. I think somewhere I have a cassette tape of some prog rock songs that we wrote back then. I should find it!
TF: Vinny reached out to me through email initially. He had some drum groove ideas laid down and asked me if I’d like to add some bass parts to them. He said, “Play whatever you want.” It sounded interesting, so I agreed. I knew nothing about Todd, or his playing, but was intrigued by the whole process.
JH: Todd and I had jammed together, but had never really done anything together and I had never even met Tony. I’ve since recruited Tony to play on another side project of mine along with Vinny Appice and Russell Allen. He’s pretty much my dream bass player. A great sound, chops, always plays for the song and has a fantastic, rockin’ feel.
How did the guitar song “Conception To Death” come about?
JH: Todd asked me to do a “guitar solo” track on the album. Seeing as the vibe of the album has a psychedelic vibe, I thought I’d do something conceptual, rather than play a bunch of fast licks. I just thought of each of the stages of life and created little musical segments to generalize the feeling of each of them. I also had fun putting together the video for that, to tie it all together for people.
“All Is Within” is a great bass showcase, with shades of Jaco Pastorius in it. Was he an influence?
TF: Jaco is the reason I started playing fretless bass. When I heard him for the first time, I knew I had to have a fretless bass. I’m essentially a rock player, so I take a rock approach to the fretless bass. Jaco’s influence is undeniable. I find the fretless to be such a versatile instrument. It can sound like a traditional rock bass, but it also lends itself to the Indian scales with the microtones. I wanted to create an Eastern flavor on this track, so I tuned the A string to a G and the E to a D. This gave me the ability to have an open note drone while I was soloing above it.
Were you pleased with the results of the recordings?
TV: I really had no idea what the end result would sound like. To say that I’m pleased [would be a] huge understatement. I knew that it would have a huge rhythm section sound with Tony playing bass. I mean, the guy is a monster. Then to add Joel in the mix is icing on the cake. He’s such a creative guitarist and had free reign to explore sonically. I knew I would be pleased.
TF: Todd’s drums were the pieces that I was given, and I had to figure out what pieces I had, and then put them in the right place! Joel then added his parts, and was totally on board with the process. His parts complemented everything perfectly and took it to the next level. He clearly put a lot of time, thought and effort into crafting his parts. I was very pleasantly surprised.
Any chance they’ll be any live shows?
TF: I hope so. I know we’d love to do it, but with our locations and busy schedules it could be challenging. But the project and the recording came together in pretty much an effortless way, so I believe that live shows will present themselves in the same way. I remain open to that.
TV: There is a good chance for live shows. When and where we will just have to wait and see. We all have pretty busy schedules.
JH: The odds are against it right now; I’m very busy with Rock Of Ages and have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour, and then a world tour with Whitesnake next year. Never say never though!
You can get more information about VHF, and about Vinny, Joel and Tony, at VHFBand.com.