By: Heidi Darby
In the midst of a repartee about accountability and freedom of expression, Nico Vega vocalist Aja Volkman trails off into an unexpected silence. Snapping back into the conversation she giggles, "Okay, I don't want to take you out of the interview, but let me tell you exactly what's happening right now. Our band wagon just got here and I seriously can't wait to see where I'll be living the next three months."
An understandable interjection considering she was gearing up for a three-month tour with her infant daughter in tow. The juxtaposed roles of ferocious alt-rocker and new mother are met with an endearing amount of uncertainty on Volkman's part, who admits that juggling a national touring schedule with motherhood will be an adventure -to say the least. The tour comes on the heels of the resurgent success of the Los Angeles based band's militant stomp-rock tune, "Beast."
"Beast" originally emerged on the group's first EP, attracting attention courtesy of its raw sound and political innuendos. Seven years and four releases later the hard- hitting track resurfaced on a video game trailer for Bioshock and the trailer for the Tom Cruise flick Jack Reacher, reigniting interest for the song and consequently Nico Vega. Volkman attributes the staying power of the track to its underlying themes of self-empowerment and acceptance, concepts the Oregon native frequently addresses.
"I was one of those kids growing up that felt like an outcast at times. I felt like because I was different, that maybe I should take medication or something to suppress it, so I could fit into the mainstream more," Volkman shares. "'Beast' is about overcoming that. That's what the Nico Vega message is to me. It's about the freedom to express who you truly are, and not feel the need to hide it or suppress it."
Live performances substantiate her distaste of suppression, where the pint-sized powerhouse fervently bounces around the stage, climbing onto and leaping off equipment. Performing alongside guitarist Rich Koehler, drummer Dan Epand, and newly-anointed bassist Jamila Weaver, Volkman's visceral nature and onstage acrobatics helped fuel the group's consistent touring schedule despite a four-year break between full-length albums.
The group's latest EP, Fury Oh Fury, is a precursor to the upcoming full-lengthWe Are The Art due out in June. The title track off Fury Oh Fury resonates with the same high-octane vocals, gritty instrumentals and impassioned lyrics that supplied "Beast" with muscle, but the remaining tracks are an abrupt departure from NicoVega's previous work. "Lightning" and "Lead To Light" expose the band's affinity toward synthesizers, revealing a dynamic that leans heavily towards 80's pop. While Volkman defends the new direction as experimentation, it was met with confusion and initial criticism from long time fans. Volkman counters that the new sound is an exercise in exploration, not a commitment to future material.
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"I think we're just always ever changing and growing. It's just experimental. And some people criticize but at the same time, it's like, what are you going to do? Not try new things because people are going to be uncomfortable? You just gotta go with what sounds good to you in your own ear. And that's what the band tries to do, we try to stay true to what gets us fired up, and that's what we put on the record. "
Throughout Nico Vega's unconventional rereleases (the version of "Beast" on Nico Vega covers Nico Vega and Rod Stewart is definitely worth checking out) their inclination to make the kind of music that speaks them helped the group land tour dates with Blondie, an opening slot for No Doubt at Gibson Amphitheater, and their current supporting 2013 national tour.
Despite a prolonged sophomore album release, marriage, motherhood, alternate careers (Koehler moonlights as a DJ and Epand directs film, including the last three NV videos) Nico Vega managed to keep it together. Volkman mused about their perseverance in an upbeat manner, stating "We constantly have to reevaluate. It's like constantly like being on your first date. Are we happy? Do we want to keep seeing each other? And the answer has always been yes. I think as long as the answer is yes, we keep moving forward."
Nico Vega performs Tuesday, March 19 with Imagine Dragons at House of Blues Anaheim. 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim. (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com. 7:30 p.m. $22.50-$25. All ages.