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David Vassalotti Writes Tumultuous Songs About Modern Life and 14th-Century Revenge Killings

The guitarist for Florida's atmospheric punks Merchandise, steps out for his second solo album of lo-fi guitar pop, industrial noise and musique concrete.

“Death Will One Day Rob Us All” from David Vassalotti’s under-rated and now out of print 2011 debut album Book of Ghosts, is a track of sad beauty.

Though the vocals are buried in a fog of fuzzed distortion and guitars, there’s a saturnine riff drifting through the song that is as racking as it is melodic.

After time in noisey Tampa hardcore acts such as Cult Ritual and Neon Bluds, and a decade involved in the more arty pop of Merchandise, Vassalotti had stepped out to create music that veered more to the Scott Walker singer/songwriter vein that included songs about the death of modernist US poet Hart Crane.


Broken Rope, Vassalotti’s second solo album continues with the downcast melancholia but adds some more avant garde moments including “Bolshoy Kitev”, the video of Vassalotti performing we are premiering below.

Noisey: “Death Will One Day Rob Us All” is a beautifully personal song. How did it come about?
David Vassalotti: I’d just moved back to Tampa after a brief stint in Atlanta and had just gotten out of a long-term relationship. I was out of a job and living in a dilapidated punk house full of crazy friends and roaches. There was no air conditioning (a death sentence in Florida). We were living off of old bread stolen from supermarket dumpsters. Bread and mayonnaise sandwiches. My mind was a mess. I was (as always) trying to find some meaning in this seemingly meaningless existence of ours. Our impending death is inevitable, but we continue to press forward. That’s it in a nutshell.

Is there any talk of getting the album re-issued?
Not at the moment, but I’m not against the idea. There were only 500 made and very few (if any) ever made it overseas. Not many people heard it in the first place. It’d be nice to breathe a small bit of life into again.

Is Broken Rope much different?
Yes and no. There are definitely a lot of structural similarities between the two records, as well as comparable thematic and literary preoccupations. They don’t necessarily sound similar, but they do sound like work from the same man. I’ve gotten better at recording myself. I have a microphone now! Book of Ghosts was recorded by singing/playing straight into my laptop internal mic Ha. Broken Rope is a more refined version of the beast. Still, it was recorded on a fat budget of zero dollars. I ain’t fancy.


I loved the unhinged sound of Cult Ritual and Neon Blud. Do you miss those days?
I try not to get too nostalgic, but I do miss those days at times. I don’t want to relive them, as they were difficult in many ways, but it was a time of constant adventure and excitement. The volatility is what made it so rich. That’s why Cult Ritual and Neon Blud were around for such brief periods. They couldn’t last forever and remain true. We always had to move on to new things. I still collaborate with ZZ (who plays in Ukiah Drag now) on recording projects that may someday get released, but for now I’ve traded 'band life' and 'music scenes' for a quiet life of reading and petting dogs.

Neon Blud played some early shows with the Men, who like Merchandise made some significant changes to their sound. Do you get frustrated with how the punk scene freaks out when a band changes too much?
It never surprised me when my bands would get criticised. Punks constantly talk of being reactionary and fighting the status quo, but musically it can get stale quick. Punk music and ethics were my first ’true love’ when it came to actual involvement (I bought my first guitar to learn Black Flag and Dead Kennedys songs when I was 13), but my interests continue to grow more diverse. Punks have gotten a lot more open-minded over the past few years. The internet has changed everything. My involvement with punk is much more peripheral than it used to be, so maybe I’m wrong…


You studied literature at college in Florida. Do you have a favourite Florida writer?
I actually don’t, ha. I specialized in European modernism and wrote my thesis on Joyce and Beckett. Most of what I read comes from abroad (aside from certain American classics like Melville, Faulkner, Crane, Bowles and other long-dead ghosts).

When did you first meet Carson Cox?
It was around 2005, I think. I played drums in a power violence band with ZZ (pre-Cult Ritual) called Smalltalkdeath. We didn’t know shit about recording but there was a sound guy at a local venue that would record bands for cheap after hours in the back room. That guy was Carson. He and I shared some atypical interests and we hit it off pretty quick.

You’ve produced a lot of music together. Does it feel weird when he’s not involved?
No, not really. It’s a necessity for me. I do love working with him. He’s a much more gifted producer than me, he’s got great ears. As with any collaboration, there are compromises. Working on an LP totally alone allowed me to follow any whim and it gave me the opportunity to experiment with song construction in ways I wouldn’t be able to physically explain to someone else. The two of us do have a weird mental connection (and we were living together while I recorded this), so it still feels like he was involved. He’s the first person that got to hear it completed, plus he’s helping release the damn thing.

“Ines De Castro” is about a 14th-century Portuguese noblewomen who was decapitated and her lover King Peter sought revenge on her killers by publicly, ripping their hearts out claiming they didn't have one having pulverized his own heart. That’s romantic and brutal!
I’m attracted to melodramatic and historical things. I first became aware of the story as a reference in one of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. I did some further research and the song just came quickly thereafter. I quote two little bits of the poem in the lyrics, a way of Pound trying to communicate to King Pedro through a dream. It’s very similar to a song on my last record “L’ange de l’assassinat”, which is about the murder of Marat by Charlotte Corday, interspersed with Lou Reed lyrical references.

'Broken Rope' is available Feb 12 through Wharf Cat Records.