Michael William had been in a couple Austin bands (bands that now hold legend status in the underground) when he met a musical soul mate of sorts in Joshua Garrett. As the two became close, Michael taught Josh how to play guitar and, soon thereafter, the core of Vietnam was born. After a stint as a six piece, replete with saxophone and keys, Michael and Josh abandoned the band and fled their hometown for Philly, where they honed their songs as a duo. From that point on, things have fallen into place with the addition of Mike Patrick on drums and Ivan Sunshine on bass; for those who see Vietnam now for the first time, it's hard to imagine that there was a time without Mike and Ivan, so completely do they fit the puzzle.
After one EP released on Vice Records last year (entitled "The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street"), the band now seems more ambitious and creative than ever. Vietnam is a difficult band to describe, in the way that all great bands are. No easy labels leap to mind, because as much as they are hippie outlaws, they are confrontational punks and gentle intellectuals, and also countless other tags that could never really capture the subtlety and complexity of the band or its music. The songs basically straddle the worlds of rootsy Americana and psychedelic head music. They are built around a core of blues, country and folk, but stretch into dreamy, drony, trippy territory and often explode into punk noise and aggression.
One of the most striking aspects of Vietnam's music, however, is their lyrics. Frankly, nobody out there writes lyrics with such care, poetry and storytelling craft. They are personal in their subject matter and in their composition; Michael's lyrics are unmistakably his own. His words take the shape of thoroughly composed, cryptic, and idiosyncratic stories of desperation, love, death, and desire, all culled from the lives of the band and those around them. It's important to mention "those around them", as they seem to collect an assortment of devoted freaks everywhere they play or live; they are a magnet for like-minded types and their charisma is such that many become like-minded types after one show.
Indeed, to give oneself over to a Vietnam show is to be transported to a time and place that has never existed, a world that the band has happened to create by the sheer force of their collective personality and the beauty and sincerity of their songs. It can be hard to know on what one should focus while watching Vietnam play; Michael's worn, yearning voice, the fucked-up elliptical blues of Joshua's lead guitar lines, the simple, solid force of the rhythm section, the intensity of Josh and Michael's onstage camaraderie, or the sheer visual impact that the band possesses, that is to say their at-once jaw-dropping and casual sense of style. In the end, it all adds up to an overwhelming experience, an experience that the band captured on tape this summer as they recorded their first full-length record in Los Angeles.