“Jesus Christ Parker!”
Shannon Paine-Jesam, drummer for Dallas’ experimental grindcore band Vault Dweller, broke away from his slice of pizza just in time.
His warning proved enough as Vault Dweller’s guitarist Parker Turney laid waste to the ambushing pack of zombie-like ghouls with a few well-placed assault rifle bursts.
No worries y’all, this ain’t the apocalypse (yet).
This is Fort Worth Noise playing Fallout 4 with every member of Vault Dweller.
For those unfamiliar, Fallout deals in dystopia. It's set in a desolate post-apocalyptic environment. And while we don't currently find ourselves living thru the apocalypse, these are rather dystopic times.
1919 Hemphill is a sacred temple of a DIY safe space that has found itself recently under attack by neo-Nazi fuck sticks on 4Chan.
In short, after the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire, Nazi trolls on 4Chan produced a list of DIY safe spaces across the country propagating a directive for their Nazi brethren to call upon authorities to inspect said safe spaces in their local area.
Fort Worth authorities shortly thereafter received several complaints from this army of pathetic Pepe memes, forcing their hand to move on 1919 for code violations.
What these low life shits didn't count on was the strong support of the Fort Worth and greater D/FW music and arts communities coming out in full force against them, swiftly raising over $10k to help 1919 get the property on Hemphill up to code.
However, there's more work that needs done and thusly more money that needs to be raised. Saturday's event at Three Links furthers this fundraising effort.
Besides diving into Vault Dweller's involvement with 1919 fundraising efforts, I semi-mapped out Fallout/music parallels that required exploration.
Generally-speaking, RPGs - not just Fallout - pair well with musicians. It’s just a fact.
The non-linear nature of an RPG like Fallout provides creative space for gamers to play in. Like a practice space for bands, anything can happen in a sandbox game. It’s your world to forge, not the other way around.
Now then, time for the real reason this all came together: I am a Fallout nerd-supreme. This fact was beyond confirmed by the end of the gaming session.
As a teenager, besides playing music, video games provided me an escape. I always held a preference for RPGs but in 1997 an IT guy working on my step-dad's computer asked if I had played Fallout yet.
That guy, some random IT guy from Bedford, TX, changed my life. I have played and enjoyed every game in the series since. Nowadays it's the only game I play (besides a few sports games while drinking with friends). Other games are just that, they are meaningless to me.
Given all of the above, I finally worked up a message to the band to see if they'd be down to walk the wastes with me. Emma Lytle, the band's vocalist and foremost Fallout gamer, worked out the logistics and we aimed to meet up Monday, Feb. 6th.
This gaming sesh was on!
I drove out to the 214 and pulled up to the address given to me but somehow I managed to knock on the back door instead of the front. I’m a lot like Dogmeat in the sense that I am somewhat of a lost puppy.
Then I waited some more.
5 minutes later, standing on the doorstep with my PS4 in hand, I started to get the sense a pack of feral ghouls could be ambushing my ass soon.
Instead, Emma rescued me from the porch and led me to Fallout playing, music writing bliss.
Once inside I struggled with powering up the PS4. My baby doesn’t travel often, took a little while to get its sea legs I suppose.
In the meantime I acquainted myself with the band.
Bassist Todd Thompson joined the other three band members on the couch along with Emma’s boyfriend Eddie and their two cats, Charlie and Zoey.
Charlie was active and friendly; he immediately swooped in for a petting, giving me a shot of confidence that I’d get the Playstation working soon.
That “confidence” was short lived however as Zoey, resting high above in her sleepy perch, shot me a disinterested cat look that said, “Meh. Who the hell is this loser??”
The PS4 finally fired up after a lot of finagling with the wires and the controller.
In my best Dirk voice I thought to myself, "Take that with you Zoey!"
With the PS4 humming along, it was time to get down to business.
As is the case on any Fallout campaign, in spite of my cursive-walking thru life, I did have a few objectives that clearly needed to be met.
For this story, those objectives went something like this:
1. Interview the band, particularly about the 1919 benefit show.
2. Have each band member create their own vault dweller using Fallout 4’s character generator.
3. Play lots of Fallout!
I handed the controller to Parker and pressed record on my iPhone voice memos utility.
I asked how long they had been together.
Everyone paused until Shannon said, “It’s been since January of last year.”
They all seemed a little shocked it had been a year already.
Emma playfully chimed in, “Happy Anniversary guys!”
This interaction encapsulates the vibe of the band. Contrary to the grave tones found in their music, everyone in the band is super laid back. I'd pay good money to watch the comedic banter Shannon and Parker displayed throughout the night.
I asked Shannon, "How do you play drums that fast?"
He replied, "The boring answer is time and practice."
To which Parker challenged, "What's the dank answer???"
After some shared laughter among the group, Shannon conceded and gave us the dank answer: "Being so furious at your instrument ... just destroying the circles around you."
His answer segued nicely into my next question...
"Like a tasty sesh of Fallout, do you find playing music provides an escape from the insanity? And also, at the same time, perhaps it doubles as your way of fighting back?"
Parker humored me, "I can see the parallel. It being a release, like blowing up enemies or making a lot of loud noise (with music)."
Shannon seconded, "I did break my snare head at our first show."
"In general, I find musicians prefer RPG games due to the inherent freedom/space for creativity found in them. Do you see those parallels in a non-linear game like Fallout?"
"There's a certain aspect to the freedom that I like. Personally," Emma motioned to herself, "Fallout for me kind of opened up my mind to what the world is coming to. The humanity of it. The aspects of propaganda and how societies function before and after."
"I see it," Parker added. "Exploring a expansive world, like with music, you can write anything."
"So I wanted to talk about the 1919 benefit. Have you played 1919 before?"
"Oh yeah," Parker confirmed.
"I think it's great you're playing this benefit show. I went thru that whole 4chan thread, that shit was crazy."
"I just can’t believe people waste their time," Emma demurred. "If I hated something that much I wouldn’t waste my time and go there, and scope it out to call the fire department. 1919 is about the music. Anyone is welcome there even if you are a shithead. As long as you’re respectful. There's other DIY spaces this is happening to and they're not making enough money to cover expenses. It's really sad."
"I read all the lyrics for your songs on Bandcamp. The Vault Dweller from the game essentially serves as a vessel of justice that sticks it to the man, whether that's the Brotherhood (i.e. Neo-Nazis), The Enclave, etc. Basically, the Vault Dweller is a truth seeker. So Emma, with that said, is that what the lyrics for 'Vault Dweller' and 'War of the Words' address?"
Emma: "For pretty much everything I write lyrically I don’t ever want to be super specific about one thing, especially with Fallout. I just like the general concepts. Even if they enjoyed living in the vault, the general concept was they were lied to, they were forced there, they were coerced there, and ya know, that’s fucked up!"
What about track 3? "Forced Evolutionary Virus." Is this song about Fallout? If so, is it about Super Mutants or Deathclaws?
"Totally about Fallout," Emma confirmed, "this is about Super Mutants."
How about the album title, Fucked Up Lizard People, which doubles as the title of track 6. Is this a reference to David Icke and his conspiracy theories?
Everyone laughed about this because, as it would turn out, I wasn't the first to ask.
Emma: "It seems like every time we play (shows) someone always goes on and on about this conspiracy. I know we have a whole song about fucked up lizard people, but it's not about that. Someone mentioned it was about Hilary Clinton around the time of the election and we were like, 'It's not about Hilary Clinton!' If you haven't noticed, we're all pretty goofy. I think I decided to write about it because one day at practice Shannon kept calling us fucked up lizard people."
Shannon provided further background on the name, "I actually got that name from Eddie (Emma's boyfriend). We were making up D&D characters and Eddie said, 'you could be a Fucked Up Lizard Person.' So that's where we got it from!"
Perhaps some of the best times that night came from each of the band members creating their own likeness using Fallout 4's character generator.
I had this idea where the band would design their own characters that I'd later arrange in Photoshop, making it into a photo strip or something. Essentially, the end goal was to create an art project with the band; a metamodernist collaboration between the two parties if you will.
Each band member took their time carefully crafting their character. Many laughs were shared as they tested out the seemingly endless amount of options made available by Fallout 4's character generator.
After each member finished their character, I took a photo of it with my phone. Emma later emailed me a file of the band's logo.
Next I downloaded a font that Emma suggested; the Fallout-inspired Overseer font.
Lastly, I uploaded everything into my archaic desktop and ...
If you look below at this photo of the band you can see they all portrayed themselves rather accurately.
Play Lots of Fallout!
I mentioned I'm a Fallout nerd-supreme, right? Then please know for a good portion of the night we simply played lots of Fallout!
Parker went first. They said he was the least experienced Fallout player so we started there.
I liked watching Parker play because he played with a level of reckless abandon that more than deserved our admiration. He shot anything that moved. Anything. That included all my in-game allies who were none too happy about it.
Shannon was up next. There was a little more method to Shannon's mayhem as he savagely slaughtered his way around the wasteland.
Shannon also proved to be a jumper. You know how there's always someone that keeps walking their character right off a building, offing themselves? In our sesh, that person was Shannon. His jumps were pretty epic really, mucho style points.
Todd, who had been quiet throughout the interview, took control next and let his Fallout-ing do the talking. Todd methodically worked a gang of raiders, delivering skilled headshots to most of them in a wonderful tactical display.
Emma got her hands on the controller next and proved to reign supreme. She conscientiously cruised around Far Harbor, an area she'd yet to explore in her own Fallout campaign. Like any hardcore Fallout gamer, she looked over every detail of this world that was new to her; she savored every pixel as it came across her screen.
I connected to her style of play instantly. It was less about the shooting and more about exploring the world in which she found herself.
Prewitt! What? You thought after a night's worth of Fallout talk I was going to keep myself from that controller? You must be joking!
At the top of the night Emma noted my player's level ranking which is pretty outrageous and somewhat embarrassing (I play A LOT of Fallout, like A LOT A LOT). The exceptionally detailed nature of my settlement building also impressed Emma and once again I felt somewhat embarrassed because I apparently out-nerded everyone in the room.
Not wanting to disappoint, I started by returning to one of my many stash houses to dig up this wicked customized harpoon gun I had come across earlier in the game. From there I entertained the band with many a tasty slaying.
These warm-up shootings gave me a bit of false confidence. The band had decided it would be best if I took out Fallout 4's religious nuts, The Church of the Children of Atom.
It started off well enough as I made quick work of the cult leader, High Confessor Tektus. Soon after however, as I stepped out of his quarters, his legion of followers zapped me into a pile of radiated goo with a crushing vengeance.
And with that, after 4+ hours of good hangs, our night had concluded.
I thanked the band for their generous hospitality - even Zoey, the grumpster cat - and made my way back to the 817.
"War. War never changes."
In the cinematic introduction of every Fallout game a narrator recites the line "War. War never changes." And while on the surface this quote seems to suggest that war is always fucked up, that war is always cold and hard and sad, I believe the quote is more nuanced than that.
I believe it also implies that in spite of war, there is always a light, a beacon of hope. A hero ultimately unveils that the good bits of humanity yet exist under the darkest clouds of war. For the Fallout series, this hero has always been the Vault Dweller.
The dualistic dynamic nature of the Vault Dweller is what makes the character messianic. The Vault Dweller is magnanimous in a cruel world and yet, can prove ultra-violent when violence is necessary. I mean, it's going to require something more than charisma to stop the oppressive likes of the Brotherhood and other Fallout Nazi-esque factions.
Given this context, the band Vault Dweller more than lived up to their namesake.
Vault Dweller's music is louder and faster than yours with lyrics and vocals that rival the voracity of a hungry pack of deathclaws. As evidenced by the 1919 Hemphill benefit, they are more than prepared to get their hands dirty and take these alt-right shitheads straight on.
At the same time, you will be hard pressed to find a band more generous with their time. A band that enjoys life as much as they do.
I am honored to walk today's IRL wasteland with the likes of Emma, Todd, Shannon, and Parker. If they are the Vault Dweller, you can call me Dogmeat.
I hope to see you all at Three Links this Saturday, first Nuka-Cola's on me :)
SUPER DOUBLE BONUS UPDATE: Fort Worth Noise attended the 1919 Benefit Show at Three Links and took the following photos and video of Vault Dweller's performance. Safe travels Wastelanders!
Vault Dweller Video
Vault Dweller at Three Links Photo Gallery (click thumbnail to enlarge)
about the word writer person:
Prewitt Scott-Jackson writes Dad poetry & short fiction when he's not hyping and typing for Fort Worth Noise. His writing can be found in Ghost City Press (New York), Five 2 One Magazine (Los Angeles), Prairie Schooner (University of Nebraska Press) and Sick Lit Magazine (Texas), among others. He prefers short walks on the beach because – and I quote – “It’s really hard to walk on sand.”