On Urban Dictionary, an anonymous author ("Not Motivated") defines "ribbon chaser" thusly: "Someone who does whatever it takes to acquire a ribbon. He will stab his own guys in the back if he has to."
The members of local rock band Vespolina are not, let's make it clear, fame-hungry backstabbers. At all. In fact, they may be overly harmonious—contented, they say, often to a fault.
"I think we might suffer from not having stars in our eyes," says bassist Daniel Ray. "We're these jaded, older townies that don't have these weird illusions of making it, and contracts, and guarantees."
It might surprise you, then, that Ribbon Chaser, the band's new album, which it will release on vinyl at The World Famous this Friday, boasts the sort of dizzying chutzpah that usually comes with sonic youth. Yet its tonal focus and world-hardened lyrical themes are the obvious product of experience.
"This is the most married together that any [of my] songs have been," says Daniel Aaron, the band's frontman and songwriter.
Indeed, particularly for Aaron, whose previous band, Timber, was a fairly by-the-numbers alt-country outfit (that group also featured several current members of Vespolina, including Ray), Ribbon Chaser is a butterfly moment. He has assumed the role of frontman convincingly and with gusto; his startling tenor, now a cross between Lambchop's Kurt Wagner and The National's Matt Berninger, is both warmer and more urgent than ever.
Meanwhile, Aaron's lyricism has taken a dark and symbolic turn. Everywhere on the album, there are physical omens: in "The Wrong Way," he sings of "rosaries swinging from the rearview" and "broken mirrors and breaking hearts" within one tense, expressive minute (the rosary returns in "Unwound"; at one point in our interview, Aaron jokes about his "Catholic guilt").
He admits that his songs tend toward darkness. ("They're always kind of about suicide," he half-chuckles.) But the explosive stories therein resemble vignettes rather than diary entries.
"I've dealt with depression, like every kid growing up in the suburbs," Aaron says. Still, he explains that his songwriting is largely impersonal. "Nothing is based 100 percent on real stories… They're just sort of moments of what could be. Like if you just sat and watched 15 minutes of a movie without really knowing [what's happening]. You can tell what's going on on the screen, like it looks pretty, the sun is setting, they're saying their last goodbyes. But it's not a story, story."
As an example, Aaron cites "Throwing Sparks," Ribbon Chaser's single-worthy sixth track, which features three verses, each one a separate narrative. He explains that the verses are "in and of themselves not totally related, but you could make them related, if you wanted to."
That vague but insistent sense of connection runs throughout the album, down to the song titles themselves (that "The Wrong Way" leads into "Direction" hardly seems like an accident).
Within Vespolina, there is an obvious connection among bandmates, too, and it's significant that, despite the bleak lyrical themes, Ribbon Chaser is actually, weirdly, an uplifting record. "It's easy to turn into this heavy, dark, brooding mass if you're not careful," says Ray. "And we're not a black-metal band."
On the album, the rest of Vespolina counters Aaron's weighty themes. Coupled with Ray's driving bass lines, drummer Steve Hendriksen's upbeat backbone keeps things from stagnating; guitarist AJ Griffin proves yet again he is one of the more under-appreciated (if overworked) musicians in town. Meanwhile, keyboardist Holly Belle's distinct backing vocals provide melodic levity in moments where it is much needed.
The aftertaste left by the album is one of place amidst chaos. And, though Vespolina might not be a band of ribbon chasers in the above-mentioned sense, Ribbon Chaser proves that they are not quite as shiftless as they proclaim to be.
Or maybe that's all a put-on, anyway. "In this town it's so uncool to enthuse about anything at all," says Ray. "And that can get in the way of ambition, if you're not careful." Though bandmembers might not be the self-promotional, in-your-face type ("Everybody's tired of that guy. This town is full of that guy. And none of us like him," Ray jokes), they're clearly proud of what they have accomplished.
"This happy hour has gotten so ironic," goes a particularly resonant line in "Unwound," but it's a more pleasant irony that Aaron and Vespolina are now experiencing. Through their desire to be free from expectation—get this—they've accidentally hit on something really special.
WHO: Vespolina, Boycycle
WHERE: The World Famous
WHEN: Friday, July 12
HOW MUCH: $15 (LP and concert), $5 (concert only)