Primetime success would only scuttle the underdog status of Seattle grunge veteran Vendetta Red. Despite benefitting from emo's trendiness and major label backing, the quintet still toils outside the rock mainstream. To wit: the band's dark, caustic frame of reference and its music's epic scope don't garner the hype of emo's pallid, lovelorn poster boys (here's looking at you, Conor Oberst).
"We don't fit in anywhere -- it's a fucking curse," complains Vendetta Red singer Zach Davidson. "We try to get shows with bands in all these different genres and they won't fucking take us because -- quite frankly -- their kids will probably hate us. We're too fucking weird."
While flaunting the same hardcore and punk influences that fuel emo and its post-core cousin screamo, Vendetta Red's aesthetic hews closer to that of Sunny Day Real Estate. On its latest, Sisters of the Red Death, the band plunges headlong into alt-rock territory that has more in common with the swirl of Smashing Pumpkins or Echo & The Bunnymen than the four-chord breakdowns of My Chemical Romance.
"I don't even want to scream anymore," says Davidson. "I listen to these fucking guys on the radio singing about how they would kill themselves, but I really doubt it... and why would you talk about it if you're not willing to do it? There's so much music where they're just complaining and not suggesting a way out. It's drivel."
Davidson knows despair. He suffered child abuse and spent his teens homeless, he says, kicking around Northern California. His past informs Davidson's music, from haunting odes such as "Stay Home" to the band's minor hit (about the aimless alcoholism of musicians), "Shatterday."
Sisters explores similar subjects, displayed on a bigger canvas. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the disc tells the story of Gloria, who leads a gender revolution that becomes a full-fledged religious war. The title references a cult that killed itself in 1900 by self-immolation, the members believing they were purifying themselves for the coming end of the world.
"People's Church, Heaven's Gate, the Koreshes -- that happened just in my lifetime," says Davidson. "We live in a modern age and yet we're still so easily misled by faith."
While fashioning the album, Davidson pondered the complexity of being a white male in today's world, and considered his own culpability.
"When I was in juvenile hall and the group homes, there were so many cases of poor little girls who were raped by their dads and this shit was going on for years. It's such a male thing. I've started to recognize my own chauvinism. Things I'm conditioned to be oblivious to as a white male," says Davidson.
The album also touches on the molestation revelations within the Catholic Church ("A Dark Heart Silhouette") and, as a whole, serves as a parable about tolerance and religious wars.
"We played a show in Kansas the other day and our motel was right across from this cornfield. We went across the street and played in this cornfield, which stretched from horizon to horizon. Just an ocean of corn. Every single ear of corn in that field was rotting on the vine. You could feed the people in Zaire for a month with that amount of corn. We just let it rot, and sing the praises of America while we spend all this money on weapons when there's people dying everywhere," Davidson says.
Neither armchair philosophers nor bedroom activists, the members of Vendetta Red play shows for food banks and volunteer their time to assorted causes when they're home. Similarly, through dark lyrical imagery and occasionally tortured lyrics, Davidson keeps the focus on hope, not bitching.
"I've always made a conscious decision to never fucking cry about what happens," he says. "I have too much pride. I would never want to speak that way for the kids and suggest there's no solution."
Vendetta Red plays Tremont Music Hall, Friday, August 26, at 8pm with Bayside, School Yard Heroes and Nightmare of You. Tickets $10. Call 704-343-9494 for more info.