If there ever were two individuals meant to find each other and make beautiful music as a couple, it is these two. Of sympatico backgrounds, and with the typically eccentric …
If there ever were two individuals meant to find each other and make beautiful music as a couple, it is these two. Of sympatico backgrounds, and with the typically eccentric how-did-you-wind-up-in-Taos stories between them, the pair is closing in on two decades of togetherness.
No, we're not talking about a wedding anniversary, but they do play at weddings. Meet the one and only Vanilla Pop.
The duo has long been on the Taos music scene since their first appearance at open mic night at the Taos Inn, with Alan Vetter ("Al Dente") and Greg Thum ("Lester Moore") showcasing their vocals that Vetter described as, "Greg's falsetto and my smoky, pea gravel voice."
Against the backdrop of a drum groove delivered by their percussion synthesizer, front man Vetter and guitarist/bassist Thum belted out some Gary Numan, Beatles and Cars.
The Taos Inn show quickly led to a five-year stint of weekly gigs at both the Martini Grille in Albuquerque and at the old Swig in Santa Fe. Five "Best of Albuquerque" awards later, and monthly shows in Denver and Durango, Vanilla Pop began traveling to perform for private events all across the country, Vetter said. When the Martini Grille closed, they promptly found another home at Hotel Albuquerque's QBar, where they continued to play to a packed house once a month for several years.
In 2006 they also appeared in a New Mexico Powerball television ad campaign, performing their rendition of the Powerball theme song.
"Landing over 100 gigs a year right out of the gate enabled us to develop the show and our personas during those early years," Vetter continued. "If you had told me back in 1999 that we'd be doing this full time for the next two decades, I would've told you to ease up on the martinis."
The duo is known as much for performance as for music. When they met they had both already dabbled in writing original content, with Thum noting he had never much covered others' music. But after an evening of playing together and following each other's leads, they felt they were on to something.
"Out of the gate, we both knew we wanted to be a theatrical band, which was my personal preference: to have an alter ego which flies against the quiet person I usually am. Put me in a wig and an outrageous costume and I'm ready to go," Thum said with a smile.
Vanilla Pop's synthesized arrangements - now sequenced with strings and brass - focus primarily on the electronic dance beats of the 1980s, but their repertoire also embraces other genres, with Neil Diamond, Metallica and a few classics by the old crooners all somehow fitting flawlessly into the duo's tight stage show, they noted.
"We've also launched 'Vanilla-Hip-Pop,' a full-on hip-hop set of classic rap numbers, keeping it interesting for both our fans and ourselves," Vetter said. DJ Wiggah (Thum) is in charge of the mix.
"Rough work, though," Vetter laughed. "Hip-hop is exhausting; there are no breaks. You just have to keep going. Thank goodness for our roadie, Mike 'The Irish' McKenna, who lugs around our stuff and helps us set up," pointing to an extended van, which he assured was filled to the ceiling with equipment.
Their trusty self-described "tongue-in-cheek, sequin-studded, Vegas- and polyester-inspired show" hasn't quite put leisure suits back on the map, but new fans and long-time followers eat up what they have to offer.
"My jumping off the stage and singing to you right up in your face might make you a bit uncomfortable at first," Vetter said, "but you'll have the feeling that you and I have shared a moment. We've developed a style and technique which is distinctly our own: playful in delivery while being musically serious."
The two men are quick to credit in part their success to the Taos music community at large, which supports and celebrates the serious pursuit of music as both career and entertainment. "It's amazing there is such a concentration of damn good talent and music in this small place, and everyone comes out to hear each other play," Vetter said. "There's no competition here; it's about recognizing and supporting."
As an example, Vanilla Pop noted they collaborated as "Vanilla Rawk" with Mina Tank and Norm Cutliff, serving up some big-haired, glam-heavy metal like Motley Crew. "But that's what I mean, we have all given so much of ourselves in so many incarnations to keep this music scene alive," he continued.
"And a shout-out has to go to Jimmy Stadler, who turns up every single day with incredible stamina and commitment, with giving to the community through his performances, his teaching, his appearances at the [Taos] Living Center, and all the many other things he does."
It is an extraordinary tribute to the talents imbibed throughout the enduring music scene of Taos.
In May they are planning a performance here at KTAO, which they've dubbed their First Annual Geriatric Night. ("For those who don't come out to The Alley [Cantina] for our 10 p.m. shows," explained Vetter.
Looking ahead, neither knows what the future holds. "We've reinvented ourselves so many times but now we'd like to find new venues and travel more," Vetter said, noting this year they will be performing at private events as far-flung as Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Portland, Maine.
Whether showing off their stage personalities or dishing over a cup of coffee at CiCi's in the John Dunn shops, the two are a disarming and irrepressible presence. One hopes they find time to keep swinging by Taos, and getting us dancing..
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