Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band

Illustration for article titled Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band

Seattle’s Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band may have discovered the secret to sounding—if not staying—young: start a band with a 12-year-old. Drummer Marshall Verdoes is now 14, but his age is no less an inextricable part of what makes this band tick. At the heart of all those bendy guitars, time shifts, and small sing-along anthems is a feeling of great, familial warmth. As it turns out, Marshall is not only the step-brother of singer Benjamin Verdoes, 27, he’s essentially the live-in son of Ben and wife Traci Eggleston, who is also the keyboardist for the band. If all that seems as knotty as the group’s complicated handle, fear not: MSHVB’s self-titled debut, just released on Dead Oceans, resonates with an easy-going simplicity and loads of energy. It’s also quite youthful. Benjamin—whose band plays tonight at the Rathskeller—spoke with Decider about the joys of keeping it all in the family.

Decider: The band’s MySpace page appears to have launched almost two years before you played your first show last June. Is that correct?
Benjamin Verdoes: Totally. I’d been scheming with my little brother, thinking about starting some kind of side project. He was learning drums, and I’d told him that if he got good enough, we could do something for fun. It turned out Marshall was really good, and the band I was in with Matthew [Dammer, guitar] and Jared [Price, bass] was splitting up. My wife, Traci, had never aspired to play music, but she got caught up in the excitement too. We wanted to wait to perform until we were all ready, so we picked a date down the line and started to promote our “world première.”
D: Which you did with a series of hilarious viral PSAs. Was there anyone advising the band at the time in terms of promotion?
BV: We didn’t have a manager. We didn’t have a publicity agent. We didn’t have a booking agent. We just had a bunch of ideas. I was working at a high school, and Traci and I were watching Reading Rainbow one day and thought it’d be super funny to make PSAs in that style. We had no idea it would cause that much of a stir.
D: In your last band, you played with a sibling as well. Were you at all hesitant to play with another brother?
BV: The dynamic is so different. Marshall and I grew up together, but I was graduating from high school by the time he was starting to interact. I was more of a father figure for him, and even now he lives with me. I taught him how to play baseball, how to read. Music was a logical extension. My old band was really special, but it was very hard work. With Mt. St. Helens, it’s the opposite. By the end of practice we feel really, really good.
D: How did Marshall come to live with you?
BV:  That’s an interesting piece of the puzzle, actually. I grew up with numerous foster siblings. My father died when I was 1, and my mom—she’s very compassionate, and she’d always wanted to have a lot of children. I was home-schooling Marshall after I’d moved out and he’d stay with me for several days at a time. When Traci and I got married, it just made sense for him to move in. I grew up without a dad, and I didn’t want that for Marshall.
D: You’ve spent plenty of time in a band without a 14-year-old in it. How does Marshall’s presence change things?
BV: Well, he can’t be in the room when there’s a 21 and over show—that’s more our rule than the venues’. He’s super ADD—a lot of drummers are—but he’s definitely a 14-year-old; he does things to get a reaction out of us. He’s also naïve in that he loves Modest Mouse and The Smashing Pumpkins, but he doesn’t understand who’s big and who’s not, or where we fit in. When we played with The Walkmen, he just strolled into their green room and started hanging out.
D: Did he name the band?
BV: He did. I try to give him as many naming privileges as possible. Sometimes he’ll hit a home run; other times he’s not so on. But one of the coolest things about him being that age is that he has so many ideas. I mean, the rhythms that he comes up with on the drums…he’s so intuitive. It’s very bizarre to me how well he responds to complicated material—it’s like his brain is wired for it. Before the band actually started, we put together this song for his school talent show. It started in 5/4, then went into a waltz and came back. He played it perfectly.
D: There’s something to be said for being of an age where you haven’t yet learned your own limits.
BV: I’ve often hypothesized that that’s the reason playing with him is so wonderful, because he has a certain purity. And he hasn’t had his heart broken musically. He hasn’t accumulated any baggage. It’s just totally organic.
D: How long has he been playing now?
BV: I started introducing him to drums when he was probably 3 or 4. I would buy him drum sets at pawn shops—the little kits made for kids—but he would destroy them. He started focusing in around when he was 7, I started to give him lessons, and by 10 he was really solid. He’s learning how to play guitar now too.
D: What about you and Traci—do you have any rules to keep things from getting too personal within the band?
BV: It’s all really, surprisingly cohesive. Traci and I are best friends. We hang out all the time, like constantly, and she loves touring. I’ve met people who say their significant other tells them to quit their band and get a real job. Traci’s more like, “Oh heck yeah! Let’s go travel, meet people, and make records.”