VHS Collection is an electro-rock band based in New York City composed of three lifelong friends. It’s equal parts James Bohannon (vocals), Conor Cook (guitar), and Nils Vanderlip (synth). They’ve recently reached over 12 million plays on their most recent hit “Waiting on the Summer,” and we had an opportunity to sit down with them for an interview before they played at Music Hall of Williamsburg.
Growing up in New York, what was the music scene like?
Conor Cook: I feel like when I was growing up in New York, I would go to HMV and buy CDs [laughs]. I was really into Rage Against the Machine and I really liked Wyclef [Jean]’s The Carnival. But this was all before I started playing music.
James Bohannon: The music scene was a cool escape from uptown. It was good coming down to the seedier scene of Lower East Side. Especially around then — it was much grungier and more rock. We’d hang out at St. Marks Place and spending time downtown was just a cool way to experience New York.
What was the first show you went to?
Conor: I saw The Roots at Mercury Lounge.
Nils Vanderlip: How old were you?
Conor: Uh, I don’t know, high school?
Nils: I was in 7th grade, and I saw Phish at Radio City, and it blew my mind.
James: The first show I went to? I went to see Taj Mahal at The Beacon, when I was around eight [years old]. My dad took me.
Why the name VHS Collection?
James: One: We grew up on VHS tapes. I feel like we’re one of the last few generations that grew up on the tape. The other reason: We began writing songs on these two week long excursions in upstate New York in old cabins. Whenever you go up to a house that’s been there a while, you can open up the cabinet next to the TV and you always find a ton of VHS tapes. We were doing a jam session and we saw it. Someone said the name, it fit, and we just stuck with it.
What’s your favorite VHS tape you own?
James: White Men Can’t Jump.
Nils: Probably Beauty and the Beast.
Conor: I would say Fletch.
What’s one thing your fans don’t know about you guys that you can tell us?
Nils: It’s all lip sync, all the time.
James: I feel like we hang it all out there, maybe too much information constantly.
James: We had boring corporate jobs before we were musicians. I was in finance and startups.
Nils: I was always playing music.
What’s the best city you’ve travelled to?
James: San Luis Obispo, for me.
Conor: San Francisco is a lot of fun to play. The crowd just has a different energy. There’s a lot of old, rocker guys who used to go to like Grateful Dead shows who just show up to jam in the front. The crowd there is always drunk and really into it.
Do you have a wish list of cities you’d like to play?
Collectively: Red Rocks! MSG!
James: I really want to play Belly Up in San Diego. The Garden is kind of, like, the temple in New York.
Conor: Radio City would be good too.
Anything fun you’ve learned about each other on tour?
Conor: We’ve all known each other for a long time, between 15 and 20 years.
Nils: We’ve covered it all.
James: Sleeping in a bed together is a new thing we’re doing, but now I know that Nils kicks from 4 AM on. [everyone laughs].
Conor: We’re constantly reminded of things we’d love to forget about each other.
What’s one artist you’d love to collaborate with and why?
Conor: Daft Punk
James: It would be cool to work with Aaron Dessner and the other guys from The National because I love what they do with their sound without using electronic instruments. It’s a totally unique sound. Obviously not the singer because I’d want to sing.
Nils: [laughs] Move over.
James: I mean I love that guy—
Nils: —a wild feud breaks out, between The National and VHS Collection!
If you weren’t in music, what would you want to do?
Nils: I think it would be interesting to be in film. I’ve done some music scoring.
James: Yeah, entertainment industry would be cool. Maybe I think that because we’ve spent a lot of time in LA, but I guess I’d say entertainment.
Conor: I think it’d be cool to do action sports filming or movies. Maybe surf movies or something. Another job that doesn’t pay well.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
Nils: Stretching, push ups, a lot of high fives.
Conor: Heavy drinking.
James: I have a bunch of serums and stuff. I’ll drink a bunch of tea. I’ll drink some apple cider vinegar. Gargle salt water. I’ll do some vocal exercises. Say a few prayers. Call my dad.
Conor: Mostly we argue about what shirts we’re going to wear and that takes about an hour.
James: I usually come up with a terrible outfit and Conor tells me I can’t wear it.
Nils: Something usually breaks.
Conor: Dive into the crowd.
James: Full cheese pizza. No. We always try to go out, meet new people, especially if we’re in a new city. That’s the most fun on the road.
What do you have in store for 2017?
James: We’ve got an album we’re finishing up. We’re going to release that then try and do a European tour shortly after.
Nils: A lot more writing the next month. We’re back in writing and recording mode.
Want more VHS Collection? Follow them on Twitter!
Go out tonight, and any night. Jukely is a concert subscription that gives members guestlist access to hundreds of music events – for one price. Whenever you want to go out, you’ll always have something to do. Learn more and sign up at jukely.com.