Transcending day to day reality through their mind bending music, Glen Volsunga and Bacchanal challenge listeners to break on through to the other side, clothed or not
by Lee Abraham †
Websterís defines "bacchanal," as "an orgy of drunken revelry." While accurate, the definition leaves a few things to the imagination. One thing Webster forgot - music. Thatís where local musician Glen Volsunga comes in. Along with his band Bacchanal, Volsunga creates a sonic boinkfest unlike any other.
Rarely does a bandís name match its music so perfectly. "At first we had some crazy stripper chicks in the band," laughs Volsunga. "They were kind of frisky you might say. It was pretty decadent.... it kind of turned into an actual bacchanal everytime we practiced."
That was back in the mid 90ís. For a while, sheer hedonism was the bandís mantra. Practices were such a wild time, there was no rush to play in the bars. Eventually though, after working out the, er, kinks, in their sound, Bacchanal played their first gig at Favorites. "They actually pulled the plug on us and said, ĎGet those fucking whores off our stage!í The girls were humping the microphones and stuff. It was just too much for Ďem."
As time went on, Volsunga found that the strippers were more of a distraction than anything else. Especially since they couldnít sing. "We got rid of the girls and decided to focus on the music," says Volsunga. "It was just a big party to them and we wanted to do more."
Before forming Bacchanal, Volsunga was a member of the Doom Snake Cult. Back in í89 the snakes were signed to record deal with Jail America of Relativity Records. "They ripped us off," says Volsunga. "It was a bad deal. We sold like 30,000 records and got nothiní. Actually we got $700 I think."
Not only did Volsunga learn about the pitfalls of the music biz, he yearned to expand past the snakes dark, ultra heavy sound. When the record deal went nuclear, it was truly doom for the snake cult. "I wanted to do hippie stuff," says Volsunga. "The Doom Snake stuff was too heavy, too limiting. I mean, I enjoyed it... itís a side of me. But there are so many other sides."
Together with snake bassman Jeff Schoeb, Volsunga had a lot of songs and ideas that couldnít be used for the DSC. "Bacchanal is the complete opposite," says Volsunga. "Anything can be thrown in. We get bored easily, so mixing it up keeps it interesting for us... and hopefully the listeners too." On stage, Bacchanal wiggles and moans seamlessly from one musical style to another, with hard-fusion, fuzz box blues and exotic funk, being the preferred positions. But itís their seemingly incompatible juxtaposition of aggressive post-punk urgency and acid soaked hippie space exploration, that lubricates the genre slip and slide of Bacchanalís mind bending grooves. "Itís evolved into a completely unique sound," says Volsunga. "Weíve been calling it Egyptian Hillbilly Funkadelic."
One thing Bacchanalís music will -never- be called: easy listening. Anchored by Schoebís relentless, chest thumping bass and deep vocal growls, Volsungaís signal processed guitar is a buzzsaw of tones, a sharp and dangerous set of auditory cutlery specifically engineered to carve through to the other side of a listenerís consciousness. On any given night, various percussionists sit in, joining drummer Mike Ledfoot as he pounds out beats that sometimes resemble a frenzied machine gun, others a Middle Eastern belly dance. Far from radio friendly, Bacchanal has an edgy, avant-garde approach... an electric beatnik vibe tailor made as a soundtrack for altered states.
Although heís been a teetotaler for several years, "I got bored with alcohol," Volsunga is, in the words of one of his early influences, Jimi Hendrix, "...experienced, not necessarily stoned, but groovy." Now in his early Ď30s, the wiry, long-haired rebel-with-a-musical-cause has seen the ups and downs of drugs and booze. These days heís an avid student of yoga, a computer madman, and through it all, a proponent of legalizing marijuana.
"Weed relaxes and puts you in a positive state of mind," says Volsunga. "But then alcohol, which is legal, creates negative and violence. Itís a fucking joke. Thereís thousands of documented cases each year of people dying from alcohol overdoses but never in the history of the world has anyone ever died of an overdose of marijuana."
"They need a national Ďcoming outí day, like gays have," continues Volsunga. "You know, professionals like doctors, lawyers, politicians, cops... to come out and say, "Hey, I smoke pot. It helps me relax and doesnít hinder me at all. If everyone that smokes pot, said they smoked pot, it would be legal already."
A veteran of the local music scene, Volsunga has watched Las Vegas change over the years. As technology has elbowed its way into the music game, heís been a cyberspace pioneer. Music from Bacchanalís new album, "420 Proof," can be heard on the band's website, and the album is being sold on MP3.com.
One thing that hasnít changed though is the time honored tradition of "flyering." The ultimate grassroots marketing campaign, handing out flyers for an upcoming show is one of the most cost effective ways for a band to get the word out. An avid promoter, Volsungaís flyers are always among the most creative. Usually, flyers are put on car windows. Occasionally though, Volsungaís enthusiasm drives him from the parking lot to inside a competing venue. He was recently booted from the House of Blues for passing out flyers.
"It was silly," says Volsunga. "Thatís how local musicians promote themselves. Theyíre like one of these new rich assholes that have come to town that are claiming to be helping out local musicians. It just seems very apparent to me that itís just bullshit. They have this once a month local band night, charge $10 to get in and pay the bands a couple hundred bucks or something. Thatís not helping them."
Sometimes Volsunga runs into static even when heís going through proper channels. Example - the Fetish Ball, recently held at Legends. Originally tickets were to be sold through Ticketron for the event, but when the ticket outlet realized the Fetish Ballís theme, it halted sales. "Ticketron is such a powerful monopoly that now they think theyíre judges," says Volsunga with obvious disdain. "They were actually pretty mellow," he says of the people that attended the ball. "The hippies are wilder than they are. I was a little disappointed actually. I mean , there were people whipping each other and stuff and they were dressed up fancy but they were pretty subdued... there was a party afterwards though that started at 3am that was a whole different story, it was as wild as you are ever going to see."
Donít get the wrong idea about Volsunga, as much as heís about uninhibited pleasure, thereís a also a quieter, more reflective side to the guy. Make no mistake, there is a method to his madness. "Bacchanal is all about being wild. The solo stuff I do is like love songs, very mellow and relaxing. The other is high energy. The only thing they both have in common is that they both have spiritual messages hidden in them," he says. "If you start out talking about religion and philosophy people tune you out, but if you start with sex, people are all over it. The idea is to get out of our crappy bodies and into a higher plane. We totally try to design the music to get people in a hypnotic frenzy and go crazy, hopefully a dancing naked type thing. Thatís right up our alley." ###