The Vorpal Sword
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The Vorpal Sword

Jasper, AL | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | SELF

Jasper, AL | SELF
Established on Jan, 2016
Band Alternative Rock

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"Slaying The Jabberwocky"

The Man in Red strolls up to the microphone and strums a few chords on his red acoustic guitar.

Turning to the drummer behind him, he nods once and with a crack! the drumsticks ricochet off the snare like Rocky Balboa working a speed bag, cymbals crashing, bass guitar thrumming, and we’re off to the races. During the intro he struts about the stage, rocking to and fro, occasionally strumming with one arm flailing around in a Pete Townshend-style windmill. Finally he closes his eyes and leans into the mic, his silver-tinged hair flopping in the soft breeze like the wings of a seagull, and launches into the opening lyrics of Limbo.

Joseph Michael Higgins the First, the man in the red suit and tie, is a born showman. It’s that simple. Watching him cavort Mick Jagger-style on stage with his band The Vorpal Sword at the second Path to the Foothills concert at the courthouse square in Jasper, with not a trace of self-consciousness, it’s easy to imagine him and the band playing the big arenas. He is obviously having a good time up there and it shows.

There’s a method to his redness. As Joseph explains, it’s an icebreaker, red is his favorite color, and it’s his own tip of the hat to Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. The guitar is an Ashland by Crafter and even has a name: “Ava Rose”. “ ‘Ava’ is a female name that I really like and it’s also from a Smashing Pumpkins song Ava Adore. The ‘rose’ part came from the red color of the guitar.”

The Vorpal Sword is comprised of four local musicians: drummer Randy Quillen, from Jasper, Joshua Abel on guitar, from Dora, bass player James McCauley, from Thach, (“God’s Country” as he calls it) and lead vocalist Joseph Higgins, from Cordova. They’ve been playing together as a band for over a year, but for a while they were The Band With No Name.

“We went a very long time before we even came up with a band name. That was probably the last thing we worried about,” Joseph says, sitting at a conference table with his band mates in a downtown office, dressed sharply in a newly-pressed suit the color of an Arizona sunrise.

“And the reason we came up with the name was they wanted us to play the Path to the Foothills and we had to have a name,” says the gray-bearded, professorial-looking Randy Quillen.

Raven-haired James McCauley, looking stylish in a dark jacket over a black Poe’s Tavern T-shirt, leans forward slightly.“Coming up with a band name seems like an insurmountable task almost, because it’s how people are going to identify you,” he says in a low, quiet voice.

“It’s not like a song where you might eventually forget about that song. Your band name, you’re stuck with it,” Joseph adds.

The name The Vorpal Sword was actually suggested by James’s wife Tracy, and refers to the weapon used to kill the mythical beast in Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem Jabberwocky. “The name The Vorpal Sword is kind of analogous to needing an all-powerful weapon to solve the problem. At that time it felt right because we couldn’t come up with a band name,” James explains.

James knows well about the difficulties naming a band. “In ‘97 I started playing with Matt Patton and Van Farris,” he recalls. “We started a ska/punk band called Model Citizen. I was the original bass player. In the same way as Vorpal Sword, we named that band on the fly because they were asking what our name was down at Norris Music, and they were gonna announce us on the radio. So we really quick threw in a bunch of names.”

The guys love playing music so much that most of them do double duty by playing in other bands as well. Joseph also plays in a metal band called Evil Eye. Josh and James have both played in Smashley. “I’ve played in every pickup and cover band around here,” Josh says.

The experience has taught him well. As Joseph guides “Ava Rose” through the mid-tempo opening chords of Mr. Comatose, Josh casually tosses a few jangling Byrds-like chords of his own here, another one there, his electric guitar chiming like Sunday morning church bells, until the tempo suddenly jumps gears and takes on a faster, harder edge. Watching him expertly plucking those magical chords from the strings it’s hard to imagine that, were it not for some friends who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix, Josh might be playing drums. “I was fifteen when I first started playing guitar,” he says. “I was a drummer before that and got into marching band and met some friends who turned me on to Randy Rhoades and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I got to hear the Electric Ladyland album, the Hendrix album. That was it for drums, drums over, drums no good. It was all guitar after that.”

Randy also started out in high school band, but a gift from a friend altered his musical path. “My brother made me march in high school. He said I was too small to go to gym class,” Randy quips, as the other three members erupt in laughter. “A lady named Barbara Bellochi bought me my first drum set when I was about nineteen and said, ‘You need to be in this band.’ I still have that drum set. It’s the orange one that I play. I’ve used two of the toms down here[Path to the Foothills concerts]. I mix them in with all my other drums.”

Most of the guys know each other well, and have played together in other bands. “Me, James and Josh did a band called His Mighty Lovers, which was a spoof of one of my characters that I had done when I was working at Lowe’s,” Randy says. “The spoof was Roquanda Jackson and His Mighty Lovers so we just shortened it because people couldn’t remember all of it. It went on for about two years. We wrote fifteen, sixteen songs and just played them at parties and stuff, and I think that’s how the three of us became so tight. Josh’s grandfather had an old blue house [in the Argo area] and we used to get together at ‘the blue house’ and we made recordings and just figured out how we wanted to do stuff together. It’s still there.”

Joseph is the primary songwriter but all four contribute to the final version. “I’ll bring in a song and then they write their parts for it,” he says. “There are songs that we’re working on that we’re writing together so it’s eventually its gonna be a combination of different styles, different ways to get a song done,” he says. Where does he get ideas for songs? “Just out of thin air,” he laughs. “Just pick up the guitar and keep strumming until something comes out. My best friend is a handheld recorder.”

“Joseph writes them faster than we can come up with parts for them,” Josh says.

“Joseph is an amazing songwriter,” James adds.

One song, the catchy, reggae-flavored Ballad of Bernie, is based on a real person. “That song actually is from a guy…..we go to Garfields at Jasper Mall on Wednesdays and do Open Mic Night,” Joseph says. “There’s this fellow there, a custodian who used to be in the military, and he was talking about how he couldn’t get a good job with, like Alabama Power with security. He eventually did get a job with security, and he had to go take police courses because military training wasn’t enough. You see this quite a lot with veterans, so I decided I’m gonna write a song about this guy’s story. It was even him that mentioned the song name, Ballad of Bernie. That one is one of the few true story songs.”

“That one is kind of a knock at The Police for me,” Randy says. “It has two different movements in it and one of them is really Police-oriented and the other one is just like every eighties song that I’ve ever heard.”

“I was excited about that one because it has kind of an early eighties feel to me,” James says.

Vorpal Sword’s musical style is hard to classify in one genre, the result of the varied backgrounds and tastes of the four members. “Me for one, I’m very eclectic,” Joseph says. I’m mostly influenced by bands like The Melvins, The Pixies, The Vines, Modest Mouse, Johnny Cash.”

“I like all the old seventies guitar heroes,” Josh says. “I’m a huge fan of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and I really love Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, and even stuff nobody likes. Randy teases me because I like Vince Gill and Brad Paisley, but they’re really good players.”

Randy prefers listening to bands with good drummers. “I love Galactic, that’s my favorite band. They’re out of New Orleans, and they have different singers come sing with them. That’s their forte. I go for Arctic Monkeys when I want something really fast, and I love The Police, Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix.”

“It depends on what I’m trying to learn,” James says. “If I want to learn about structure, I’ll listen to surf music like The Ventures or new wave. If I want to learn about energy I’ll listen to punk rock or Tuscaloosa bands. If I want to learn about controlled energy I listen to seventies classic rock. For complexity I’ll listen to progressive rock, like Kansas and Yes, or classical.”

The band is in the process of gathering and recording songs for a future release. “I’ve got a small setup at my house and we’ve been recording some of our songs on Cubase. So far we have two that are basically in the bucket to take to somebody and have them mix them down,” Randy says.

The Vorpal Sword is currently vying for a spot at the 2016 Foothills Festival, although they aren’t keen on the idea of competing bands. “We’re not really big fans of doing any kind of ‘battle of the bands’ things,” Joseph says. “My problem with them is, they pit bands against each other and in the music industry, that’s something that naturally comes anyway. I don’t like being against this other band just because….they’re great at what they do and it’s not gonna hurt me that another band exists.”

Randy agrees. “I mean, it’s a competition and music is not really competing against anybody else, because there’s so many different ways to do music,” he says.

If The Vorpal Sword manages to slay the Jabberwocky and are chosen to play at the Foothills Festival this fall, maybe they will write a song called Ballad of Barbara Bellochi. 78

To contact The Vorpal Sword for bookings, email thevorpalswordband@gmail.com
or visit their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheVorpalSword/ - 78 Magazine Online


Discography

The Vorpal Sword Self - Titled EP

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Bio

THE VORPAL SWORD is taking alternative story rock on an exciting new journey. Guitarist JOSHUA ABEL, Bass and Synth player JAMES MCCAULEY, Percussionist RANDY QUILLEN, (each of whom have made greatly respected contributions to local music both together and in other projects), have teamed up with Songwriter/Vocalist/Rhythm Guitarist JOSEPH HIGGINS, whose punk and metal band Evil Eye was the driving force of many house parties and club shows since the early-2000s. The Vorpal Sword has already gained attention with their exciting new sound at regional venues such as The Nick Rocks (Birmingham), Workplay Theater (Birmingham), Mathews Bar & Grill (Birmingham), Maggie Meyers Irish Pub (Huntsville), and Warehouse 319 (Jasper, AL). The Vorpal Sword begins their third year with aself titled EP release on Sept. 23rd, combining experimental and classic elements of songwriting and musical storytelling.

Band Members