In Studio: Verisimilitude Finds Three Is A Perfect Pare
Verisimilitude, a playful instrumental trio from Leon Valley, is the Curly Sue of the San Antonio music scene. They’re counter-cultured, technically remarkable and skilled kids. Listening to their highly syncopated, start-stop-turn-on-a-dime songs, it’s a little hard to believe when lead guitarist Zach Appelbaum says, “I don't know how to read music on guitar. I don't know most of the notes I play. I don't even know what scales really are. Like, I can’t play you a G minor on the spot.” But that’s not to say they don’t know what they’re doing.
The trio goes way back. Back to fourth grade, in fact, for drummer Felicia Salazar and bassist Dakota Appelbaum. Dakota brought in his younger brother Zach, who was seven years old at the time, to jam with them. They recorded songs through an old karaoke machine and proudly played them at school functions. It wasn’t until a few years later, in 2006, that Zach and Dakota’s mom caught wind of their talent and took the reigns. “My mom sat us down and said 'y’all are gonna practice every Sunday from noon to four' et cetera... and she just kind of organized it.” As Dakota explains, “[My mom] said ‘you guys are too talented to not have some kind of structure.’ You could say she's the mother of the band. She pretty much started Verisimilitude.”
The novelty of their youth helped Verisimilitude attain a certain level of local fame, playing at many First Friday events and open mic nights. “For a while, I feel like we got more of a following and a hype then we've had until pretty much now.” Says Zach, “We had the San Antonio Express-News [cover us] when we were that age, we started to become something as a kid band.” Verisimilitude Jr. played covers of bands like Rage Against the Machine, the White Stripes, and Third Eye Blind. It would be a few more years until they began writing and performing their own tunes. “Then,” says Zach, “as we went into [our] teenage years, [the fame] kind of faded out and we lost the charm of being that little kid band and started our adult career.”
By 2010, Verisimilitude had dwindled down to a four piece with Felicia playing drums, Dakota on bass, Zach on vocals and synthesizer and Dakota and Zach’s older brother, A.J., on lead guitar. After recording their first studio EP, Melodies From the Backhouse, their brother A.J. was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, which left the band in emotional ruin. Eventually, A.J was no longer able to stay in the band. “The crazy part about that in the storyline,” says Zach, “is that when A.J. left we had this contract with Studio 1400, this small label in San Antonio. We'd just recorded with them, we had the EP release day set, we'd made a little DIY music video, and A.J. quits. We [couldn't] play the songs without him. He was a huge part of how we wrote the songs, [and] I couldn't emulate it."
They had five weeks to try and fix the songs they could no longer play in order to make the release date. In the end, they wrote five essentially new tracks for the EP and were able to make the deadline. “We kind of came in with an explosion,” says Dakota, “We had to accomplish something huge, and we did it.”
While they might not be able to write out the sheet music for their tunes, Verisimilitude has an extremely sophisticated method of writing music. “I think a big focus of ours was from the beginning to be as syncopated as possible,” says Dakota, “We're playing the same riffs, but sometimes we’ll play the same pattern but go into a harmony. We were in the same orchestra [in high school] so we'd be playing to a metronome all the time. We were just trained that way-- to be as tight as possible. So it was never about ‘let’s just do some power chords and write a vocal melody.’ It was always like ‘let’s make the most complicated thing we can.’” They oftentimes write impossible riffs and force themselves to learn to play them during practice. Sometimes they’ll even challenge themselves by playing a song really fast and cutting down the time signature. Their syncopated sound is both dynamic and placated; it’s this unique style that gave Verisimilitude their name.
The band wasn’t always instrumental. Before A.J. left, Zach was the band’s vocalist. When they became fully instrumental, Verisimilitude “started to get a different sound, a lot more experimental, a lot more mellow.” This was also in part due to the fact that Zach took on the role of lead guitarist. He says his style of playing was “percussive, rhythmic, [and] involved less reverb pedals.” So with the dramatic change in style, Verisimilitude was born again. “That's like the second birth of V-tude,” says Zach, “we were a different band, we kind of changed genres and really got into the sound we play now.”Given that Dakota, Felicia and Zach are only in their very early twenties, they've still got many a renaissance in their future.
V-tude is a busy group these days. They’ve just finished recording another EP, due to be released this October. They’re also spearheading a new music festival they're calling Austin Instrumental Music Fest (AIM Fest) to try and gain support and draw attention to the rising instrumental music scene. For more on Verisimilitude visit their bandcamp or Facebook page.
One final note: during our interview with Verisimilitude, Dakota and Zach spoke about their love of classical music, and how they grew up listening to KPAC 88.3 FM. Given recent research of the connection between metal fans and classical music fans, perhaps that's not surprising. But we saw it in action as we helped the band load gear into their pickup truck. When Dakota started up the engine, Brahms came pouring out of the speakers. Loud!