In the realm of music, Canadian band VHS has embarked on a thrilling quest with their latest release, “Quest for the Mighty Riff.” Their seventh full-length album, which debuted earlier this May under Wise Blood Records, is an exhilarating and energetic tribute to muscled warriors and eerie sorcerers. With ferocious death/punk tracks, VHS pays homage to ’80s sword and sorcery flicks, immersing listeners in a world filled with enchantment and danger.
According to lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Hochins, “Quest for the Mighty Riff” is “a fun and energetic album that pays homage to muscled warriors and creepy wizards.” He further adds, “We are big fans of sword and sorcery flicks, so it just made sense in the grand scheme of VHS.”
When asked about the concept behind the album and its homage to the niche genre, Mike explains, “There isn’t really a theme or story that runs through the whole album aside from the songs all being about sword and sorcery flicks that we enjoy.” He elaborates, “The interludes and narration tell a story about the three of us being on a quest to find even mightier riffs. It’s all in good fun and we have played with riffs in album titles before.”
As for VHS’s dedication to conceptual odes and blood-soaked niche genres, Mike reveals, “When we started the band, the entire concept revolved around having songs about horror movies.” He continues, “With the last four albums, we took the concept even further by focusing on even more specific subgenres of horror films.” Their exploration now extends to the realm of sword and sorcery.
When describing the sound of “Quest for the Mighty Riff” compared to their earlier works, Mike states, “I think this album kind of makes our earlier albums sound like demos honestly!” He adds, “It’s a bit more epic and a bit more heavy metal in sound. The production is definitely our strongest so far.” Mike highlights the mastering process as well, stating, “Topon from Apartment 2 Studios really nailed the mastering process.”
Regarding the notable guests featured on the album, Mike expresses his excitement, stating, “We’ve always liked to have our friends be on our records, and this one is no different.” He mentions James from Hellripper, Marlee from Hyperia, Schuler from Trocar, Aaren from Molder, and Matt Harvey of Exhumed as some of the contributors. Mike adds, “We are all huge Exhumed fans, so it is always a trip to have Matt involved on our albums in any shape or form.”
Reflecting on the songwriting and recording process, Mike explains, “The padmemic sort of shifted how VHS works as far as songwriting/recording goes.” He describes their shift from a live off-the-floor approach to a file-sharing method. “So for this album,” Mike says, “I basically recorded the guitars and vocals with drum programming to essentially demo the entire album and then sent off the songs to our drummer Andy to replace the drums with his own ideas.”
When asked about memorable moments or challenges during the creation of the album, Mike admits, “There wasn’t anything that stands out as particularly memorable or challenging.” However, he emphasizes the overall fun of the process, stating, “What always sticks in my brain is just how fun the entire process is. It’s cool to see the album go through the transformative process that happens when each of us puts our stamp on things.”
Addressing the role of Schuler Benson in providing narration for the album, Mike explains, “The narration was something that I knew I wanted right from the beginning of writing the album.” He shares how Schuler, whom he met through a podcast interview, became the perfect choice, stating, “I thought that since he has a history of being on the radio and doing a podcast, he would be an excellent choice to really nail the narration. I would say he definitely knocked it out of the park!”
When asked about the significance of the song “Illias and His Magic Bow” in the album’s context, Mike provides insights into the movie it is based on. “It’s based on a movie called Conquest,” he reveals. “It was directed by Lucio Fulci, who will not be a new name to anyone that is a horror lover. He is more well known for doing blood-soaked horror but has definitely dipped his toes in other genres as well.”
Regarding the cover art for the album’s different versions, Mike explains, “The main cover and what we used for the CD and LP was done by an artist named Creepy Jason.” He shares his discovery of the artist and their collaboration, stating, “He is an amazing tattoo artist that I actually discovered through the TV show Ink Master. He was really into the idea, and now this is the third album cover he has done for us!”
Looking ahead to the future, Mike reveals, “The main plan for now is just to promote the album and see how far we can take this little band.” He adds, “That said, we are always working on new music. We have the next album pretty much written and ready to be recorded.”
For more on VHS, visit: vhshorror.bandcamp.com.
FULL UNEDITED INTERVIEW:
Mike: “Quest for the Mighty Riff” is our 7th full length album and it came out earlier this May on Wise Blood Records. It’s a fun and energetic album that pays homage to muscled warriors and creepy wizards.Can you tell us more about the concept behind the album and how it pays homage to ’80s sword and sorcery flicks?
Mike: We are big fans of sword and sorcery flicks so it just made sense in the grand scheme of VHS. There isn’t really a theme or story that runs through the whole album aside from the songs all being about sword and sorcery flicks that we enjoy. The interludes and narration tell a story about the three of us being on a quest to find even mightier riffs. It’s all in good fun and we have played with riffs in album titles before. Our third album riffed on Jaws and was called “We’re Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs.”
What inspired VHS to focus on blood-soaked niche genres and create conceptual odes to them in their albums?
Mike: When we started the band the entire concept we wanted to revolve around was having the songs be about horror movies. So this has been the concept of the band from the very beginning but with the last 4 albums we have gone even further with the concept idea. We’ve made entire albums about an even more niche subgenre of horror movies. We did space horror, vampire movies, aquatic horror and now sword and sorcery!
How would you describe the sound of VHS in this album, compared to older ones?
Mike: I think this album kind of makes our earlier albums sound like demos honestly! We really nailed what we wanted to with this album. It’s a bit more epic, and a bit more heavy metal in sound. The production is definitely our strongest so far and Topon from Apartment 2 Studios really nailed the mastering process as well. It’s similar to what we have done in the past but just better in pretty much every way!
Mike: We’ve always liked to have our friends be on our records and this one is no different. We have James from Hellripper, Marlee from Hyperia, Schuler from Trocar and Aaren from Molder all on songs on the album. These are all people that we have met through VHS and have become friends with. We also have Matt Harvey of Exhumed doing some of the instrumentals on the album. We are all huge Exhumed fans so it is always a trip to have Matt involved on our albums in any shape or form.Can you share some insights into the songwriting and recording process of “Quest for the Mighty Riff”?
Mike: The padmemic sort of shifted how VHS works as far as songwriting/recording goes. We used to be more of a live off the floor type of recording band but we switched to more of a file sharing approach for the last few albums. So for this album I basically recorded the guitars and vocals with drum programming to essentially demo the entire album and then sent off the songs to our drummer Andy to replace the drums with his own ideas. He has a knack for taking the songs into different directions. He doesn’t always follow the demo drums that I programmed and since I’m not a drummer I always trust his instincts to guide the songs where he thinks they should go. Then comes the bass and adding in any samples or edits that we feel the songs might need. The songwriting itself for the album was really painless. Once I had an idea of where I wanted the album to go, the songs really poured out of me.
Mike: There wasn’t anything that stands out as particularly memorable or challenging but what always sticks in my brain is just how fun the entire process is. It’s cool to see the album go through the transformative process that happens when each of us puts our stamp on things. I basically make the backbone of the song but Andy adds his own color and so does Curtis. On top of that hearing the album come together with the narration and the samples really brought everything to life and is super cool to hear the evolution of the album going from an idea to a finished piece of music.Has the band experimented with any new techniques or instrumentation on this album?
Mike: I wouldn’t say we have done anything that would come across as experimental on this album. It really is just a straightforward metal album for the most part. That said we do have some synth work on the album and I guess the narration is a step in a different direction for us. We’ve used movie samples but never really tried to tell a story throughout an album before. This is something I’m fairly certain we will utilize in the future again but in just a slightly different way.
Mike: The sound and atmosphere of the album I wouldn’t say were heavily influenced by anything in particular filmwise. The intro and interlude done by Matt Harvey were definitely influenced by the Conan the Barbarian score. There’s also a few more epic sounding parts throughout the album that were meant to have more of a movie score feel. The album really just tried to convey how much fun it is to watch these movies. Watching movies like Conan the Destroyer, Highlander, or Masters of the Universe is a blast and we wanted that to come through in the music!
Mike: I wouldn’t say that I am as obsessed with sword and sorcery flicks as I am horror flicks but it is probably more obsessive than your average person. There’s just something fun and satisfying about sword battles, cool armour and fantasy settings. It just hits that sweet spot of satisfaction that you have had since you were a kid. I’m 43 but I still get hyped when He-Man transforms in the cartoon or when Conan chops off Thusla Doom’s head on the stairs in Conan the Barbarian. I think every person at some point in their life has used a tennis racket or hockey stick as a fake sword and dreams of saving that damsel in distress or defeating the evil villain. These movies really tap into that fantasy and I think that is definitely part of the appeal. You can live vicariously through Conan without having to actually put your own life at risk!Could you elaborate on the significance of the song “Illias and His Magic Bow” in the context of the album’s concept?
Mike: “Ilias and His Magic Bow” is based on a movie called Conquest. It was directed by Lucio Fulci who will not be a new name to anyone that is a horror lover. He is more well known for doing blood soaked horror but has definitely dipped his toes in other genres as well. Conquest is honestly just a bat shit crazy movie that centers around a young man named Illias who receives a magical bow that shoots lasers. There’s a half naked witch for a villain and a ton of werewolves and creatures running around. I’m not even sure if I would call it a good movie but it is certainly entertaining!
Mike: The original idea was to have separate artwork for all three versions of the album but we ultimately decided that it might be confusing for people at the end of the day. The main cover and what we used for the CD and LP was done by an artist named Creepy Jason. He is an amazing tattoo artist that I actually discovered through the tv show Ink Master. He stood out on the show and seemed like an awesome dude so I sent him a message on Instagram to see if he did band art. He was really into the idea and now this is the third album cover he has done for us! The cassette version features art by our friend Nev at Gruesome Graphx. We have been using art done by Nev since the very beginning of the band. He did our first logo, a ton of shirt designs and pretty much all of our remaining album covers!
Mike: The narration was something that I knew I wanted right from the beginning of writing the album. I tried a few times to do the narration myself but it just wasn’t sounding good. I met Schuler through an interview on his podcast and we have stayed in touch ever since. I thought that since he has a history of being on the radio and doing a podcast that he would be an excellent choice to really nail the narration. I would say he definitely knocked it out of the park! The interludes really bring the whole album together and make it feel like more of an experience. Otherwise it would just be 11 songs that happen to be about sword and sorcery movies.
Mike: I kind of change my mind all of the time about what song on the album is my favorite but the one that I keep coming back to is “Illias and His Magic Bow.” It’s super catchy, has a ton of fun riffs, a cool solo and I think the vocals are really hard hitting on that one.
Mike: I’m not sure if I would say Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a sword and sorcery movie exactly but it definitely fit in with what we wanted to do with the album. If you were old enough in 1991 to notice music there is no way you weren’t hearing this song almost daily. It was literally everywhere. I thought that it would be pretty interesting to see if we could turn it into a death metal song. I’m super happy with how it turned out and a lot of people have said it is better than it has any right to be! It’s about time the world had a death metal love song!
Is there a particular reason why “The Neverending Story” was chosen as a bonus track?
Mike: The idea for the cover songs came after the album was mostly written. The idea was that each format of the album would have a secret bonus track. I just thought a metal version of “The Neverending Story” would be hilarious and I think that is exactly as it turned out. We are huge fans of 80’s music and there really isn’t any other movie tie in song that is more well known. I guess the bonus songs being secret tracks didn’t last long!
Mike: We’ve definitely become a better band over the years but still sound like VHS. The early albums are a bit more raw and loose and have a much more live feel to them. We’ve started to really expand our sound and really don’t set any rules of limitations to what we do. We’ve been adding more synths, the last album had a saxophone solo and I really don’t see us not throwing in curveballs on future albums as well. The main thing that we’ve learned over the years is that we can really do whatever we want and people seem to be along for the ride!
Mike: We are definitely not a touring band at all. We are open to the idea of playing festivals or one off shows here and there but nothing has really come up as of yet! We are planning on playing some shows in Winnipeg next year and maybe if we can make it work a small Southern Ontario run as well.
Mike: The biggest take away we want people to have from any of our music is just to have fun. Above all else we want our music to be fun to listen to. We have a blast putting all of the songs together and if people can catch that vibe and crack a smile, bang their head or check out a movie they’ve never heard of before then I would say we have done our job!Tell me about the unique combination of death metal and punk VHS uses.
Mike: I’m not sure how unique of a combination it is but we just have never put any limitations on our music. I am a huge fan of both punk and death metal so it was pretty easy to let both of them come into our music. We definitely take a lot from punk in terms of the song structuring, the catchiness and the overall energy of the genre. I guess we are also a pretty DIY kind of band so that whole punk rock ethos also comes into play as well. I’ve always said we are a bit of a rock n roll band but with cookie monster vocals!
What are VHS’s plans and aspirations for the future, now that “Quest for the Mighty Riff” has been released?
Mike: The main plan for now is just to promote the album and see how far we can take this little band. That said, we are always working on new music. We have the next album pretty much written and ready to be recorded but we aren’t in any rush since we feel like we have something special with Quest for the Mighty Riff and want to promote it for a long time yet!
Mike: The main thing I want to say is that we appreciate all of the support for the album so far! This interview happening is a testament to the fact that the album is reaching new ears and bringing a lot of new people into the party. We are a band that likes to have fun and don’t ever expect any sort of success but we definitely can’t say that we don’t find it humbling that people are taking notice of the album. Whether you have been there since the first album or are new to the party, we appreciate you all!