His & Her Vanities on stepping back out
The Madison band returns October 29 after five years of silence.
For a few years in the late aughts, it was hard to overlook how much Terrin Card and Ricky Riemer did for music in Madison, even if they were self-effacing about it. They used their label Science of Sound to help boost younger musicians in bands like Icarus Himself, Sleeping In The Aviary, Whatfor, Pale Young Gentlemen, and The Hussy. Riemer also recorded and mixed albums by a ton of other Madison artists (and still does) in a studio constructed in his East Side home, also called Science of Sound. The two also helped The Frequency get off to a successful start. On top of all that, their band His & Her Vanities was a well-loved, if sporadic, presence, playing some of the shows I enjoyed the most during those few years.
Card and Riemer began His & Her Vanities in the late 1990s as a basement recording project after having their first child. The project eventually became a full-fledged band with Card on bass and vocals, Riemer on guitar and vocals, Sara Quigle on drums, and Matt Abplanalb on guitar. A self-titled debut album from 2002, and their 2004 album A Thought Process, rooted the band in noisy but unmistakably bright post-punk. Highlights like “Magnetic Material” balanced twisty guitar figures and fuzzy synth lines with an infectiously punchy chorus, making pop melody and bent-up rhythm work together. This early stuff has a lot in common with Brainiac and Enon, though with its own distinctively wiggy twist.
But on their third and most recent album, 2009’s The Mighty Lunge, His & Her Vanities opened up their sonics and writing to a lot more vulnerability. Especially on “Wait It Out” and “Wake This Day,” they sounded like they were confronting the frustrations, exhaustions, and hopes of the family life that was just getting started when the band formed. The cover art showed a stick figure just barely hanging on with one hand to a disintegrating staircase. Watching the band play those songs at the time was intense and disarming—they’d kept up the kinetic energy of their earlier bizarro-pop adventures, but redirected it inward.
That said, things have been pretty quiet for the past seven years. HHV didn’t play live very much even around the time The Mighty Lunge came out. Card and Riemer divorced about five years ago, though the band never officially broke up. In the interim, Science Of Sound put out the first few releases from Madison post-punk band Control, and Riemer and Abplanalb’s other band, the brilliantly cracked Transformer Lootbag, started playing live again. This summer, HHV unceremoniously announced that they’d be playing an October 29 show at Mickey’s Tavern. It’s their first since 2010. While preparing for the show, Riemer and Card answered a few questions about digging up old material and the new stuff they might be writing soon.
Tone Madison: Why did you decide to start playing shows together again? Why now?
Ricky Riemer: Well, as some may know, Terrin and I were married and went through a divorce after we put out our three records. It was a new and emotionally difficult time which lead to me wanting to take a break from the band. We never officially 'broke up' the band, so I guess it was always in the back of my mind to eventually play out again once the time was right, which happens to be now. Everyone was available and into the idea of playing together again, so here we are. It's something we all love to do and missed doing it a whole lot.
Tone Madison: Did the Transformer Lootbag reunion have any influence on HHV getting back together?
Ricky Riemer: Not really. That was a completely separate thing, but was a similar situation where we all missed playing together and wanted to do it again.
Tone Madison: What has it been like coming back to the songs? Do you find that the way you’re playing/approaching them has changed?
Ricky Riemer: Coming back to the songs has been fun. Some took longer than others to remember how we played them live, and we still haven’t gotten through them all, but for the most part we’ve kept things the same as they were. It’s nice to know we still find them enjoyable to play after all of this time.
Terrin Card: I would say we pretty much try to stay true to how the songs sounded on the recordings, for the most part. The records have more elements added here and there, like keyboards, extra noises and such, which we don’t do live. In the beginning we used to lug the keyboards/sampler along to shows, but it seemed like too much effort for how little they were used. Ricky sometimes samples a sound we’ve used and adds it by using a pedal, but not often. Arrangement-wise, things stay the same.
Tone Madison: Are there any songs in particular you’d say you’ve found a new perspective on?
Terrin Card: I can’t really think of anything we’ve taken a new perspective on. Revisiting the old songs has been fun, but we’re really excited to start working on some new ideas, which we’ll start getting to more after the show.
Tone Madison: At the Mickey’s show, what will the setlist be like as far as which HHV albums you’ll be drawing on?
Ricky Riemer: We have re-learned a batch of songs from each of the three records that were released. I think it's a good balance that showcases our diversity between records.
Terrin Card: Since we have so many different kinds of songs, creating a set list that flows is sometimes tricky. But we like mixing things up. I believe we’d all get bored if we stuck to one sort of style or feel.
Tone Madison: When The Mighty Lunge came out, you mentioned that you already had some new material in the works. What’s the status of that stuff?
Ricky Riemer: Yes, we still have songs/ideas on the back burner waiting to be revisited, and so far we've finished three which we plan to play at the forthcoming show which should be fun to share. Two of which we’ve never played live.
Tone Madison: What else do you all have planned for the future, in HHV and in other music projects?
Ricky Riemer: It would be nice to write a bunch of new songs and record them. For both HHV and Transformer Lootbag. And also to play some more shows. It's been a long enough break from things and it feels really great to be creative with my friends again.