“The Meat Shoes sounds like a terrible name for a band, like so terrible it’s good.”
By Mike Shanley
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
In some ways, Los Vampiros Amarillos are new to the local music scene, even though they’ve been here for quite some time. Jesse Baldoni (guitar) and Ben Vivio (bass) began playing together in 2008, joined by Kevin Koch (drums) shortly thereafter. They’ve released a few CDs and a split single. But they decided to rebrand themselves once a national movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault utilized a variation on their band name: The Me Toos.
Baldoni says the Me Toos might not have to explain themselves at a performance. “Everybody who’d come to see us knew that, in no way shape or form, were we trying to trivialize that, or make light of that,” he says. “But it became pretty apparent that it wasn’t appropriate.”
Los Vampiros Amarillos, in contrast, might be harder to pronounce (vam-PEER-os ah-mah-REE-os) but it easily reduces to “LVA.” Besides, the name also carries a bit of family history. Koch’s father-in-law played in a Mexican garage band during the ’60s with the same name, covering bands like the Beatles and the Who. The Me Toos’ music had a similar link to British pop, so it seemed natural to take on the name.
Man the Manipulator, the trio’s new 12-track album, shows the band moving in more of garage rock direction. On tracks like “Injury Is Likely” and “Hey Man” the guitars snarl all over the music. Baldoni seems fired up as well, though he’s not above delivering a straight forward vocal in “I Don’t Mind.” Some songs get in and get out in two minutes or less and the power chords and driving rhythm section maintain the pop essence throughout.
Like most of their previous releases, the group recorded Man the Manipulator at Attic Studios, literally the third floor of Baldoni’s house. He used ProTools to capture the clarity of the band, but he also brought in a Tascam cassette four-track recorder to add some edge. “The tape speed is not consistent,” he says. “So it flutters in and out a bit, especially if you double-track it against something that’s digital. It comes in and out of phase. It creates an interesting effect.”
The last three songs on the album veer more toward the cleaner pop of the band’s earlier work. “Break Me Shake Me” features Wendy Hickman of the band For Dizzier Heights as a guest vocalist, belting out a ’50s style ballad.
For the finishing touch, they bid farewell to their previous life with “We Are the Meat Shoes.” While the lyrics might be a tad sentimental, the title originated in an auto-corrected text from Koch. “I don’t know if he was voice-texting me, but instead of coming through as ‘Me Toos,’ it came through as ‘Meat Shoes,’” Baldoni says. “There was no context to what he was messaging me, so I had no idea what he was talking about. The Meat Shoes sounds like a terrible name for a band, like so terrible it’s good. Then I don’t know if that came before or after I had written that song, but the song kind of reshaped into a goodbye song to that name.”
Man the Manipulator — named for a lyric by ’80s new wave band Suburban Lawns — has another family connection. Baldoni was struggling to lay out the cover, which depicts the title with a photo Vivio shot of a chair and a television abandoned on the side of the road. “My six-year old daughter saw me messing around with it and said, ‘Daddy, that’s kind of boring,’” Baldoni recalls. “She took the phone out of my hand and picked out all the colors for the album art. I gave her credit on the back [cover].” The next generation helps the vampires live on.