3/7/2013 - When Jake Mehrmann gets on the phone, he and the Tan Vampires are barreling down I-95, somewhere between Baltimore and New York City. It’s near the end of an eight-day mini-tour that began on the Seacoast and hit six states before wrapping up in Manhattan and returning for more local gigs, including one March 8 at the Shaskeen in Manchester.
Frenetically ranging far from home — even in winter’s bleakest days — is strategic, believes Mehrmann.
“When you can get any music you want on the Internet, being the band that can hand you the CD may be one of the only ways to prosper,” he said. “The shaking of hands and meeting of people … stuff like that matters a great deal.”
The music of Tan Vampires is a faster-moving target. Metallica meets Radiohead on “Fake Southern Drawl,” from their 2011 album For Physical Fitness, but it bears no resemblance to “Playing by the Rules,” a spare, percussive new song unveiled at a recent NHPR in-studio performance. “I Can Hear Them in the Dark” has jagged edged guitar licks — Tom Verlaine by way of Picasso — tempered by unearthly keys. To sum it up is futile.
“I Found a Body” confounds at multiple levels. Another song from the debut CD, it’s at turns beautiful, terrifying, lilting and eerie. Lines like “I found a body to call my home/and dozens of roses left by the phone” inspired some fans to choose it as wedding music.
“I noticed that pre-twentysomething girls blog that song on Tumblr pretty frequently,” said guitarist Nick Phaneuf.
But consciously or not, they skip past the loss limning the song’s refrain: “There’s nothing about the world that any of us have learned to change/we still know nothing.”
Mehrmann, the band’s chief lyricist, shrugs off the occasional misinterpretation.
“I think it’s inevitable, and sometimes it will add more depth to what I thought the song had,” he said. “The more possible ways people can find meaning in it the better.”
He’s less charitable with attempts to pin down the band’s style. Asked which comparisons he likes and which are annoying, Mehrmann said, “They all tend to annoy me. … We do pretty consciously try not to sound like any one of our influences. For that reason I don’t like when people compare us to those things.”
Phaneuf doesn’t mind as much.
“If someone compares my guitar to Television at all I’d be deeply satisfied,” he said. “When an astute listener pulls something out, I’m really gratified.”
Tan Vampires formed in 2009, as Mehrmann looked to give his solo work foundation and depth.
“I always pictured these guys as the band,” he said.
That includes Phaneuf, keyboard wizard Mike Effenberger, drummer Jim Rudolf, bass player Mike Filitis, with Chris Klaxton on trumpet and guitar.
Phaneuf and Effenberger help shape a Mehrmann lyric into a Tan Vampires song.
“The way the process works is based on Jake selecting musicians he likes,” said Phaneuf. “He’s asking me to do what comes naturally [and] I think that’s true for the rest of the band. That’s what makes it Tan Vampires — we’re most like ourselves.”
The Dover-based group wears its home state moniker proudly.
“There’s a reason why we’re the musicians we are, and a lot of that has to do with being from New Hampshire,” said Mehrmann. “I don’t think we’re ever going to tell anyone we’re a Boston band.”
Apart from Mehrmann’s well-groomed soul patch/mustache combination, Tan Vampires are quite hirsute — does Granite State pride explain all the band’s facial hair? Not really; nor is there another deeper meaning.
“The story is, shaving is too time-consuming,” said Phaneuf, who sports a bushy Fu Manchu himself. “I wanted to come up with an explanation like a postmodern analysis of Abercrombie ads and the positive self-image of men who weren’t shaven or waxed — but it’s not really like that.”