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Articles and thoughts by Peter Holslin

Tireless intellect: As Vegetarian Werewolf, John Paul Labno ponders the universe

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Photo by Maria Maria Photography.

In the year since the breakup of his old band, Grand Ole Party, John Paul Labno’s proven to be an unstoppable force. Along with his girlfriend, Sasha Pfau, he’s the creative force behind indie-soul band The Hot Moon. He plays tenor sax in Mr. Tube & The Flying Objects, a quirky funk outfit headed by Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession. To pay the bills, he serves coffee at Gelato Vero, the café next door to his Middletown apartment. In his off hours, he writes songs for a new solo project called Vegetarian Werewolf.

Recently, the 28-year-old multi-instrumentalist powered through a marathon week: The Hot Moon went into the studio to record their new album, Mr. Tube had rehearsals for a show at The Casbah and he prepared for this week’s solo CD-release party at Tin Can Ale House. But in an interview at his cozy apartment the week prior, he said he wasn’t overwhelmed.

“In a certain sort of way, I feel like it keeps me a little more level-headed,” he said, as he double-fisted soy chai lattés. “I have plenty of stuff to do as it is. Anything going tremendously successfully would only mean more stuff to do.

“Which is fine,” he’s quick to add.

Vegetarian Werewolf grew out of his own restlessness last October, when Hot Moon bassist Jovi Butz and drummer Jason Hooper went on tour with Jenkins for three months. With nothing better to do, Labno sat down to make The Blood Count Step, a 28-minute one-off that’s being released on cassette tape by Factual Fabrications, a small label based in Brooklyn.

The record’s 11 songs were inspired by the high-intensity soundtrack of Nintendo’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, only it’s been slowed down to a spooky dub crawl. Recording all the instruments himself, the 40-day endeavor pushed Labno in new directions: He’s taken up keyboards, and he’s singing for the first time.“It’s like a novelty record,” he said. “I wasn’t so sure I could make a record at all—and it turns out I can. So now I’m writing another one.”

Where Grand Ole Party radiated animalistic energy and The Hot Moon oozes soulfulness, Vegetarian Werewolf combines Spartan ingenuity with intellectual curiosity. In “Man and Machine,” a new demo that Labno plans to put on a proper Vegetarian Werewolf debut, he explores the romance between humans and computers. “Evening time, a glass of wine / Time to plug in,” he sings over a beat that juxtaposes a squeaking Sharpie with a clicking typewriter. “Digital world lets him be who he wants / Digital woman loves him for who he is.”

As Labno explains, the solo project works as an engine for his need to make sense of the world.

“Do you accept the fact that things can seem so droll and mundane that, therefore, things are meaningless and there’s so much crap out there that we’re just lost in a confused haze? Or do you keep looking?” he wondered. “I choose to keep looking. I think it keeps me feeling a lot better. I try to keep my picture of the world growing, because I feel like if it gets stuck at any one place, things start to become a lot more difficult.”

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the project seems to capture how Labno’s making sense of his current circumstances.

Last year, he was playing guitar for a band that was hitting its stride, recording an album in Atlanta with Ben Allen—who produced Animal Collective’s landmark Merriweather Post Pavilion—and preparing to go on tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But when Grand Ole Party split, he had to start fresh. Today, he writes his solo material in his bedroom, recording songs on his laptop and using his floor as a kick pedal.

In “Light of Day,” another new demo, the chorus might reflect the radical difference between then and now: “It’s so hard to let go of the phantoms we’ve grown used to / Everything I used to know is as a dream.”

He could use a day off, he says. But he’s not gloating. “Whether people like the music I’m making or not, or whether I’m playing to 20 people or 2,000 people or whatever, I’m in my fuckin’ house making as much music as I can every day,” he said. “It’s the same thing I’ve always been doing.”

Vegetarian Werewolf will celebrate the release of The Blood Count Step at Tin Can Ale House on Thursday, July 8. myspace.com/vegetarianwerewolf

This article ran in last week’s issue of San Diego CityBeat.

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Written by Peter Holslin

July 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

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