Interview With Benjamin Verdoes of Mt. Saint Helens Vietnam Band

How’d you first become interested in pursuing music?

I got into music by way of my older brother primarily. We had an evangelical background and listened to music at the church we went to. There were kids around us playing music so even though we didn’t come from a particularly musical family, we dabbled with instruments. At 13, my older brother and I started to enjoy rock bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and whatever was popular. I played drums most of the time when I was young. As I got older, I got fascinated working on songs. As far as literary references, I try to read a lot of Russian classics like War & Peace. That was one phase I was in, absorbing all I could. Then, I began reading Steinbeck. I studied at Seattle Pacific. I grew up in the church so there’s a lot of biblical literate I became aware of. Some narrative comes from that.

I can’t honestly say I picked up any religiosity in your lyrics, mostly I feel a sense of love loss. But the seaworthy chants could be influenced by Steinbeck’s slice of life tales.

Right. That religious element doesn’t usually come through. A lot of it is narrative fiction. Another portion is little slices of life experiences. There’s a few autobiographical things. But it wasn’t my intent to use the religious realm. It’s more interesting to write from whatever sparks the tangible experiential realm.

‘Albatross, Albatross, Albatross’ has many of the components that work so well for the band —a freaky stop-start arrangement as well as entertaining slow-fast tempo shifts.

That song, lyrically, is about people wearing lockets of significant others. That necklace-locket concept is kind of influenced by the rhyme of the ancient mariner, where the albatross is worn and is essentially saying that one person has a bird around their neck —an albatross, and taking that metaphor and suggesting they should lose that extra weight burden.

‘Anchors Dropped’ has an archetypal nautical motif and its aching vocal chant recalls Modest Mouse. But more interestingly, Matt’s guitar seemingly references ‘70s axe masters Brian May (Queen) and Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy).

Definitely on that song, but specifically on ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Little Red Shoes,’ there’s that Brian May riffage. A lot of times I’ll write these harmonized parts and Matt’s a big classic rock fan. He has a knack for pulling that sound out of a Brian May song and adding to it. We’ve enjoyed that. But I didn’t know about Thin Lizzy until recently and now I really enjoy listening to their music. People have compared us to them. We also get Wolf Parade comparisons. I don’t own any of their records, but fans brought me to them.

‘Cheer For Fate’ may be your most accessible song.

We made a music video for that recently. It’s emblematic of our style. It was a good starting point for us. Lyrically, I wrote it about people obsessing with someone. There are some people around me in different spheres who understand what the song addresses. There’s a sense of freedom I wanted people to grab onto. You know the feeling when you obsess over someone and start to believe it was meant to be. That informed the title.

Is there a broken thematic flow running through your debut album?

Yeah. There’s a bit of a theme that keeps resurfacing. With ‘Anchors Dropped’ and ‘Masquerade’ there’s this sense of pursuit to find something out about a relationship. There’s also this theme I picked up on that was an impacting character I don’t fully know how to describe. He’s this fictional character that makes a big impression then disappears or gets bogged down.