The Vores are still going more than 30 years after they formed in Buffalo, NY, in the late 1970s, in the guise of original members Biff Henrich (guitar, vocals) and Gary Nickard (bass, vocals), and currently Cathy Carfagna (keyboards, vocals), Scott Ryan (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Heyden (drums). The Vores’ first release was the four-song 7″, Love Canal/Get Outta My Way/Amateur Surgeon/So Petite, in 1978. Their second release, the 7″ single Stress, came out in 1980
In 2005 they released Moment of Uncertainty, a great album of dark, edgy, humorous art rock reminiscent of Pere Ubu and American new wave and post punk bands of the 80s. I really love this album. The fact that I’m a big Ubu fan, and a big Talking Heads fan, would have made me automatically hate it if I thought it was a cheap imitation, or a cheeky rip-off; Moment of Uncertainty is a forthright, intelligent and essentially groovy work of art
Their most recent release, Common Scar came out in 2012. Again it is consistently good, in the same vein as their previous stuff: wildly creative and often very funny
“We’ve used the term avant garage; that’s a pretty good description. I’ve never called us ‘art rock’ because that would present a different connotation. There are things I have listened to and that we were interested in, but the sound really came from us. At the start” — Biff Henrich, Artvoice
Biff Henrich was kind enough to answer these questions for me
Hello Biff. Where did the name ‘the Vores’ come from?
It is Latin for eaters. When we were searching for a band name, every practice for weeks, we would discuss it while we set up. Gary would come in with two legal sheets of paper, two columns per side with list of names he had come up with. And we never liked any of them. Gary has a leaning toward the baroque and names like “Iron Fucking Death Chalice” just didn’t seem to reflect the sensibility of the rest of the band. So the list provided great entertainment but not much in the way of results. Dave Kulik (original guitar) casually walked into the room in the middle of one of these sessions and said, “What about the Vores?” We kind of all looked around and said, that sounds pretty good. There were no objections or guffaws and it stuck. I still like it after all this time and seems to have staying power. My friend Brian Grunert, who designed our recent album covers says it is a perfect 70’s band name
How did Paul Tschinkel come to record you at Max’s? Had he been familiar with the Vores beforehand?
Our manager, Debra Lary was good friends with Paul’s assistant. Her name was also Debra if I remember correctly (maybe not). Anyway, that was the link. They got Paul to come see us at an early NYC gig and he thought it would be great to record the band. This is of course before MTV and music videos broke out. There were two main guys recording bands and then going around to art galleries and other venues and having public screenings of them. One was Paul, who had his cable show in NYC. And there was Target Video in San Francisco. I’m sure there were others but they are who I was aware of. Both of them had come to Buffalo at some point for screenings. It was a great way to see bands that probably did not make the tour stop in Buffalo
Did you and Gary hang around much at CBs and Max’s, or any other clubs, when you were in the city?
Buffalo is about seven hours by car to NYC and at that time I was getting down there about 4-5 times a year. A lot of that was for specific purposes like our gigs, and that didn’t always give us a lot of free time. But we did manage to go to those clubs to see bands and also to other places such as Tier 3, or the Mudd Club. Just as often I would see music at art venues such as the Kitchen in NYC. In Buffalo, we had vibrant scene and bands would tour through here and play places like McVan’s, The Spectrum, The Schuper House, and later, the Continental. Additionally, I was involved in Hallwalls Gallery in Buffalo that had a music program that was similar to the Kitchen in NYC and if there were things we wanted to see we would bring them in for a show as part of the programming. That’s how guys like Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca got to Buffalo
The Vores Amateur Surgeon live at Max’s Kansas City, May 1979
Amateur Surgeon is one of my favourite Vores songs. What was the inspiration?
I had read where some university was adopting admission criteria for entrance to its medical school other than “highest quality available.” Lyrically, I just took that to what I thought was it’s logical conclusion and sonically to what I thought that conclusion might sound like
Is Common Scar a record you’d always wanted to make? And how would you compare it to Moment of Uncertainty?
I probably wanted to make Moment of Uncertainty for a longer period of time. Common Scar followed relatively close on the heels of MOU. I think that Common Scar is certainly more representative of where this band has been in the past 10 years but we couldn’t have made it without making MOU first. One builds upon the other. They aren’t that far apart but CS is probably a bit more sophisticated in it’s selections. The range is little broader and nuanced. That probably is a reflection of the evolutionary process of writing and recording songs. I can’t say that either is better but they are slightly different. My nod probably goes to CS because it is the most recent. I think that anyone in a creative endeavor tends to favor their most recent creation above all others for a short period. It is when you revisit an older piece and re-discover its merits that you come appreciate its value. On the flip side that are those older things you did and you say, “What was I thinking? How did that ever see the light of day”
How much do – or can – the songs change between the original ideas you have and the finished recording by the band?
A lot. First, I must say that contrary to appearances I am not a sole creative in this effort. It has always relied on everyone in the band contributing and even a few outsiders. So I am willing to collaborate and refine ideas wherever and with whomever I can. Gary and I have done the most over the years but early on Dave Kulik wrote songs with us and those contributions were indispensible in defining our “thing”. Other members along the way have also added to the whole. Cathy plays like no one else we have ever had and I know we can let her go on her own with songs or parts of songs and approach it her way. You learn new ways to play things, new ways to approach things, new things to think about and that all gets sifted through the whole
I think the song I came to the band with that was changed the least was “Funeral”, from Common Scar. That song sprung out of me finished but that was unique. The songs also evolve as we play them. We add things and modify small things as we go so that if we play the same song 10 years ago and then play it today, it is different. Still recognizable but the performance will change. You have to trust the other musicians. Particularly with the live performance. We have done several events with an augmented line-up called Monsters of Nature and Design. It is an extended performance format that Gary has spearheaded. We have had 15 musicians and one rehearsal and it works out great. But it only works because we surround ourselves with great musicians that we trust to handle the material
Your nephew’s in the band. How did that come about?
Scott was 13 and had been playing guitar for several years. I saw him play in a band he started with his friends at a school function where they played original songs. I saw two things I liked, he had no stage fright although he is generally a reserved personality, and they got in some trouble with their school administration for violating some of the stage rules that had been laid down. It was shortly thereafter that we needed another guitar player for what I thought was only two gigs. I thought the image of a 13-year-old with us would rattle some cages and I knew he could handle the gig. It turned out better than expected
Stress 7″ 1980
How do you feel about comparisons to Pere Ubu?
I don’t think about it too much because I can’t do anything about it. There are a lot worse bands to be compared to and I like them so that is good. I can hear some shared sensibilities although I don’t think we sound like them. I haven’t heard a lot of their stuff so there are some things I don’t know there. People need a reference to talk about sound when there is no sound available and that one seems to work for a lot of people. Maybe it is the Lake Erie Effect with Cleveland being 200 miles down the shoreline from Buffalo
Do you have any personal feelings about the death of the record industry?
Not really, although I think the communal aspect of record stores, book stores and discussions with friends about musicians or songs has been a loss due to the internet. With all information available at your fingertips, there is no sense of satisfaction and reward when you find a recording you were looking for or discover a new band you never heard about. The excitement of the quest was part of the joy. The industry always seemed to have the misconception it was about commodity and they eventually distilled it all down to that. But it was really about finding others who shared your sensibilities and even being one of only a few who knew about certain things. Like musicians or authors. There are fewer and fewer insiders today and that means less uniqueness
I remember reading about the great Son House and wondering what he sounded like and what all the commotion was about. The recordings were long out of print and unavailable. One of the major record companies re-released some of those recordings in the mid 70’s and I was excited to come across the record in a store. The reward of discovery and finally hearing that voice after years of wondering was thrilling. Today, with everything preserved on the web, there is no need to feel the anxiety of thinking you may never get to hear Son House and know what that experience is like
Biff Henrich and Gary Nickard
You and Gary have known each other for 35 years, but you don’t really hang out. Why do you two work well together?
We actually hung out yesterday! We have always been kindred spirits of some sort. What I think is funny he thinks is funny. What he mocks, I mock. And when you have that with someone, you always seem to pick up the conversation as though it never ended. If we don’t see each other for two months, it is as though it was an hour ago. He is more academic than I am and I am more intuitive than him (all in degrees of course). It is a great balance when wrestling with the creative process
What’s happening next with the Vores – gig-wise, etc?
We will play down in Erie, PA. March 22nd. In conjunction with a documentary film about Buffalo Music. It was made by Elmer Plotz – HERE
We will play in our area 5-6 times a year. Finding venues can be challenging as there are simply fewer and fewer places to play live music and the audience seems more and more reluctant to venture out. Another condition of the digital age where everything is at your fingertips
We are happy to travel if the expenses are covered. The trick is getting all the musicians together for any extended time. Everyone has other activities, bands, day jobs etc, so coordinating is like juggling water. I have some footage of performances I want to edit and put up on the web. Mostly the extended projects like the Monsters group. We also have audio recordings of those kinds of performances we want to put out. They are mostly mixed down but still need to be mastered and produced. That will need some funds from someplace
We still write songs, although not at a furious pace. The reality is that it never was a furious pace. We were always very deliberate with the songs that we finished, quick to discard ideas that were going nowhere fast
I’m now off to band practice with The Good. Another great Buffalo band that stuck me in their lineup a few years ago
OK. Have a good one!
A live gig/interview podcast is available at Archive.org
and you can listen to the 1978 four-song single tracks here: