Please list all of your band members and their roles in the band.
John Dickey - Guitars, Vocals
John Parsons - Bass, Vocals
Brandon Hemley - Drums, Vocals
For starters, what bands were you guys a part of prior to Verst? How long has the band been around?
Verst is a trio from San Francisco, California. Bass player John Parsons first discovered guitarist John Dickey’s music in the mid-90s through a random purchase of Pie’s “gone” EP in a Greenwich Village record store. Dickey was the mastermind behind Pie, a Boston-based band that opened for Built to Spill and Yo La Tengo before imploding after a string of indie releases. Parsons led San Francisco rockers, Rule of Thumb, through four albums (and opening slots for The Gourds, Richmond Fontaine, and Chuck Prophet, among others) before dissolving the band.
In 2002, Parsons was determined to find more Pie music. An internet search revealed that Dickey had relocated to San Francisco and formed a new band, Richard Bitch. That move would prove to be fortuitous, though it would take another decade before the two Johns joined forces in Verst. Starship Crash, the debut album released in 2015, was deemed a “noise-pop masterpiece” by Pandora and received numerous accolades in the press. David Slain, the band’s second album, was just released.
Brandon Hemley (also from Rule of Thumb) propels the music on drums, and all three members sing in various combinations of shared lead and background vocals.
We started playing together as Verst in 2012.
What’s the origin of that name and have you changed the band’s name before?
As is the case with most bands, I think, coming up with a name is one of the hardest things to do. We had a list of a couple hundred options, but couldn’t all agree on anything. Verst was one of the more random ones on the list and was short, sweet, and a bit weird. I think it originated from some bastardization of liverwurst; we were riffing on rhyming sounds and general silliness. Anyway, it won the name lottery. It’s actually a now-defunct Russian unit of measurement that might come back into vogue given we now have a Russian president in America.
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs and do you think these topics will change over time?
Dickey is the primary writer in Verst. While we all contribute our “parts” as we work things out in rehearsals prior to playing new songs live or recording them, Dickey’s vision is pretty defined (and in some cases, there’s a Pro Tools demo where Dickey plays everything…providing a pretty clear direction for the tune).
Themes range from the personal to the topical, covering everything from the agony and ecstasy of love to the perils of addiction to the contemplation of how a few moves from the deep state might help take care of the current situation in D.C. There’s always a certain amount of ambiguity in the lyrics, allowing the listener to put themselves in the middle of the song, based on what they might think they hear…and what state of mind they’re in at the time.
What bands are currently inspiring the music that you’re making?
We’re fairly insular in terms of making our music. There aren’t a lot of current bands that influence what we do; it’s really more an amalgam of the things we grew up with and absorbed while coming into our own unique musical personalities. Dickey and Parsons have a pretty serendipitous crossover of influences that most bandmates wouldn’t necessarily share: Riff-oriented 70s/80s stuff like Blue Oyster Cult and Judas Priest and the early stylings of Van Halen and Foreigner (if filtered through an LSD-soaked cheesecloth); the AM Gold syrupy goodness of Bread and America; the proggy, exploratory leanings of King Crimson and Hawkwind; and the 90s ‘fuck it, man’ slacker-but-tight-as-shit excellence of Pavement and Dinosaur Jr.
We all went to see Tame Impala together and dug the shit out of it. Parsons is the most voracious in terms of seeking out new shit all the time…currently digging King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the reunion of Luna, Wussy, and others.
Was there a particular band/artist or concert that inspired you to start a band?
John Dickey (JD): Here is a quick list of artists/albums off the top of my head, in terms of big ones.. Zeppelin - zoso Judas Priest - unleashed in the east Echo and the Bunnymen - crocodiles, heaven up here U2 - boy Bread - best of bread Bowie - low, heroes The Damned - black album Pavement - slanted & enchanted Sonic Youth - evol, goo John Parsons
(JP): Wow. Tough question, because I have so many different musical influences. But the albums that probably inspired me the most to learn how to play and start creating my own music are probably Television’s “Marquee Moon,” Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti,” and Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” Brandon Hemley
(BH): I started playing drums when I was 10. I had a sweet all-in-one HiFi with a record player and big-ass headphones with a long coiled chord, much like Matthew Sweet’s on the cover of 100% Fun. The first albums I really got into playing along with were Aerosmith Toys in the Attic, Led Zeppelin II and The Cars.
What do you do to prepare for a show? Any flexing, exercises, etc …
LOL. Nothing out of the ordinary. Though if we ever get a festival slot or a chance to play the Fillmore, we might have to do one of those group huddles beforehand. Mostly, it’s just keeping an eye on our gear and trying to give the other bands on the bill the same attention we hope they give us.
What has been the biggest highlight of the band’s career so far?
We had a nearly sold out record release show at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, CA (Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead is one of the owners, and the club hosts some amazing national acts). The place was jam-packed on a Wednesday night and we played one of the best shows of our “career” so far. It was a glimpse of what we could do, given the chance.
If you could tour with any bands, past or present, who would they be and why?
I think we’d be completely simpatico with any band that has a guitar slayer as one of their key components. Dickey has a truly singular and defined sound/tone with the chops to wow any fan of prodigious guitar skills. But it’s not just the technical proficiency…it’s all about the songs, too. So I think we’d have been great tour mates with Pavement and Television back in the day. In terms of currently active bands, I think we’d fit nicely on a tour with Dinosaur Jr., Pond, All Them Witches, Earthless..or fellow local acts like Golden Void.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We’re already tracking for album number three…we’re just hoping to get a chance to play some bigger shows (festivals would be amazing) in the coming year and have more people hear our music. The musical landscape these days allows for more people to get stuff out there more easily, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to cut through the noise and get your stuff heard. We’ll keep doing it regardless, but the feedback loop is a fantastic motivator when it’s working!