by Shruti Pal
“There was this one time in Dallas, where our fans had been lined up to see our show since 10am. Some of them had baked us cookies. It made us really happy. And there have been so many places around America that have made us feel this way; we’re really grateful,” says Keegan Calmes. Calmes is the lead singer of Vinyl Theatre, an indie-rock band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Calmes says that, as a musician, Milwaukee wasn’t the easiest city to thrive in. In general, it was upbeat and happy, but it wasn’t easy for people to be drawn to the kind of music that Calmes and keyboardist Christopher Senner were creating at the time. Calmes ran track and Senner did martial arts, but the real magic used to happen in their high school’s piano rooms.
What began as a high school music duo turned into a successful long-distance relationship between Calmes and Senner. “We kept Skyping, and even released a record. He would record his parts, I would record mine, and we would put them together. It was really bizarre, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do what I did with anyone else.”
Vinyl Theatre’s sound has evolved drastically from their days of self-released songs on SoundCloud. In the past, they have refrained from divulging emotions in their lyrics. However, more recently, they have begun to let their songs take on the shape of their feelings and experiences, rather than trying to create “happy”-sounding ear-pleasers. Now they have more minor progressions, and more reality in their lyrics. Their popularity has sky rocketed in the past two years, with hit-singles such as “Breaking Up My Bones” and “Gold.” Calmes feels much more comfortable with Vinyl Theatre’s newer material: “The older songs, they just don’t resonate as much.”
Vinyl Theatre’s music is very deserving of the recognition that it has been receiving. It can be difficult to create a sound that is both popular and unique, but Vinyl Theatre has managed to do that with Electrogram. Their songs are fun, intelligent, and, most importantly, real. Unsurprisingly, they were on Billboard’s Next Big Sound Chart in 2014. The band’s dedication and hard work earned them a Fueled by Ramen signing quite early in their career. Calmes believes that the signing added a more professional dimension to their music, and they are already working on songs for their next album.
In terms of Vinyl Theatre’s influences: they come from everywhere. Bassist Josh Pothier loves everything from Death Cab for Cutie to Radiohead, drummer Nick Cesarz is quite into the Killers, and Senner is a huge Supertramp fan. It is probably this amalgamation of influences that allows their music to be so accessible to a variety of listeners. When members of the band really liked a band enough, they would go buy their album on vinyl. This standard coined the name ‘Vinyl Theatre.’ Needless to say, their large and ever-growing fan base definitely feels that they are “good enough for vinyl.”
Recently, the band has been on tour with Twenty One Pilots, which they claim has been a very educational experience for them. Calmes is dying to play in Tokyo, as he has always been allured by its culture, but is also dying to go to England to meet some of his friends out there. “It’s harder to keep in touch with your friends,” he says, regarding tour life in general. “You’re in a van for six months, away from all your friends and family, and it can be very depressing. But when you do finally see them, nothing has usually changed, and that always feels nice.”
Vinyl Theatre will be playing at the Foundry this Wednesday, the 24th of February, with Californian band Finish Ticket. Calmes says that he hopes for some collaboration, as he feels that both bands have competitive sides and will put on their best show. He loved the last show that Vinyl Theatre played in Philadelphia, and is excited to be coming back. “Philly has been very supportive. We have a brand new show this time around, and are super excited to share it with everyone.”