The Venditos Interview
This interview features strong language and discussions of intoxication and human sexuality. If you are not comfortable with these topics, perhaps you should skip to the gallery. Or you could look at some kittens, instead.
Featuring an ever-changing lineup of local musicians (including more drummers than Spinal Tap), the Venditos have been rockin’ Oklahoma City for nearly a decade. Their sound is hard, heavy, and fast; their lyrics tend toward the funny and profane. Frontman and founder Chris Sanders and bassist Gabriel “Gabe” Barham graciously granted the Bureau an interview in .
During a break from the interview, they told me how the band name once almost got them killed. The band were playing at an Oklahoma City dive called Spinozi’s, which has since closed. The bar was a hangout for members of a local motorcycle club. When 1 of them asked Chris his band’s name, he replied,
The Venditos. Unfortunately, the motorcycle club was the Banditos, and, in the noisy bar, motorcycle man misheard Chris.
The Banditos? You can’t call yourselves that! As the motorcycle gang menaced the band, a nervous clarification was made, staving off disaster.
Mercury Photo BureauPlease introduce yourselves.
Chris SandersI’m Chris Sanders; I play guitar and I sing.
Gabe BarhamMy name’s Gabriel Barham, and I play bass and sing.
MPBAnd who’s not here tonight?
ChrisRichie Zenner is not here, and, for the show you saw at Kamps, Austin Barham was the drummer.
MPBDo you currently have a drummer?
ChrisWe’re gonna be working with several [drummers] on the album, and [I’ll probably] lay some of the drum parts myself. I have a few people in mind and I have contacted them, but I don’t want to say their names just yet[, since nothing’s finalized].
MPBAre you looking for a permanent drummer?
ChrisWe’ve pretty much been a revolving door on drummers since we started.
MPBI actually knew that; I did some research beforehand so I wouldn’t have my d*ck in my hands when you got here.
GabeChris is a little disappointed by that. [laughter]
ChrisWe might as well cover that. I have a hater. We don’t know who it is; usually, every show we have, he emails 300 – 500 people, saying that I am lying to my fans — you know, all 5 of them — he says that I am gay, and that I will never
admit to the number of c*cks I’ve sucked, in his words. [Sidenote: Since publishing this interview, we’ve received an example of this hate mail. Being upright citizens, we reported the abuse to Facebook and blocked the sender.]
And, he really seems mad that I claim I’m from Apache, Oklahoma. I was actually born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but [I grew up] in Apache [and] I graduated from [Apache High School]. So I claim that as my home town […].
GabeI have seen pictures of [Chris] wearing an Apache [High School] football uniform.
ChrisAny publicity’s good publicity, you know, like Marylin Manson, shock rockers, sh*t like that.
MPBThat goes back to Bertold Brecht, but if you’re going to invoke Manson, you’ve got to mention Alice Cooper, and, for that matter, Zappa, whom I know you’ve cited as an influence.
MPBI understand the band has its ultimate origins in the Oklahoma City open mic poetry scene. I know that you used to read at Galileo’s; did you also attend the Medina’s [Sidenote: Now defunct, Medina’s Coffee House in Oklahoma City’s historic Paseo District hosted poetry readings and open mic music beginning in the mid-1990s. Notable poets who got their start there include Scott Jonathan Nixon (“The [Czech] Presidential Poet”) and Beau Sia.] readings, prior to that?
ChrisI did, and Sandmans [Coffee Shop] as well.
MPBOkay, so I probably heard you read.
ChrisI was on a break [from a] band called Closed, and we had our short-lived [time]. It was from high school, it was, like, a 7 year long bill. We got a little bit of good publicity from it.
MPBWhen did you graduate?
Chris2000. And then, after that band broke up, I really didn’t know what to do; I still wrote songs on acoustic [guitar], which most of them ended up being Venditos songs. I tried to go [to the open mic readings] at 1st and play acoustic guitar and sing […], and, I mean — I like my songs; they’re just not interesting without a full band. I’m not an acoustic singer-songwriter kinda guy.
And then I started doing poetry; I [wrote] 2 chapbooks; I travelled around a bit with Jonathan Bryant and Nathan Steinman (the Venditos’s original bass player). It ended up being a [pretty serious] 2 or 3 year deal. But I always just loved playing music, and I started getting back into it. And every once in a while, I’ll pop in [to the poetry readings at Sauced on Paseo] and read.
MPBOur mutual friend and fellow poet, Larry Bierman, remarked, when we saw your recent show, that you had changed a lot from the Medina’s days, but I don’t know whether he meant physically, or whether he meant your writing.
ChrisProbably both, because back [then], I did have hair […] to my shoulders, and I tried to grow a beard, which I still cannot do. But I just would not shave, and I can grow a goatee, so my goatee was, like, this long [gestures to indicate length], and then I had horrible patches —
MPBSo, like a hillbilly goatee.
ChrisLike, Joe Dirt, ’cause I am just a queer from Kentucky. [laughs maniacally] I had to throw that in there!
I’m not actually gay; I’m gonna put that in there for the record.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
MPBGabe, I know you came to the band later, because Chris is the only original member. How did you become their bass player?
GabeI played in a band in high school with Justin Hogan. We were in drama [class] together; 1 day we went to a Bye Bye Birdie rehearsal. He really wanted to be Conrad Birdie; he didn’t get [the part].
MPBI could see him as Conrad Birdie.
GabeBack then, he had hair down to his ass, and he was willing to cut it off [for the part]; that’s how much he wanted it. One day he brought his guitar up; we sat around playing on his acoustic, and he was like,
We should start a band! Alright.
So I played in a band with him in high school; we were called The Other Side; we were horrible. If I had recordings to send you, I would, but he would stab me. [Sidenote: Because we love our readers more than we value human life, we present “Fade Away”, by The Other Side.]
And then after that, [Justin] went off to play with someone else, and I joined a band called Spooky Fruit, and we were just kids: stupid, ’cause I listened to stuff like Bad Religion, Angry Samoans, Vandals, Guttermouth, and a little bit of the Murder Junkies, and Gwar. Stuff like that. I played with Spooky Fruit for a long time, and, as angsty, drunk punk rockers do, we got in a fight and we quit playing together.
Then I was in a band called Old Major for about another 4 years; got to play with a lot of cool bands; got to play with the Subhumans and Guar and Reverend Horton Heat and all that kind of stuff. And we got in a fight, and [then] I was like,
Screw music! I got back into school, […] started college. [Around 2006,] Justin calls me and says,
You still got all your stuff? and I was like,
Well, I know these guys; they need a bass player; you want to start playing again?
So I went and met Chris […]; we decided it was cool. I faked my way through [some of their songs]; they said it sounded nice, well, okay,
Let’s do it; you’re in for now; we’ll see how it goes.
Well, okay; when’s the 1st show?
Oh, we go out of town Friday. And this was on a Wednesday.
MPBDid you have a day job then?
GabeWell, I delivered pizzas and went to school. I had no problem with missing a couple days’ classes, ’cause I was on a pretty light schedule […].
I went and played with [the Venditos] out of town; I think we played in Kansas for about 3 hours. All “hippie jam band” style. [We played 3 dates on that tour.] Ever since then, I’ve been the other stable [band] member.
MPBYou’re both self-described band whores. What other bands are you in?
ChrisI play drums for The Planets Align […]; me and Gabe [are in a] David Bowie cover band project.
MPBI think Justin Hogan and Tanya Felter are involved in that?
ChrisJustin’s asked Tanya to be in the project; I think he wants her on backup vocals. I think he wants her to sing the Freddie Mercury part on Under Pressure.
I’m also the backup drummer for the Chloës. They have a drummer —
MPBThey have a hot drummer! [Sidenote: Read an interview and see pix of all of the Chloës, including hot drummer Leila Wright, in our 3-part profile.]
ChrisYeah; people are disappointed when I show up.
GabeBut, he’s never tried to do it in the tutu and skull + crossbones tank top [like Leila Wright].
MPBGabe, what other bands are you in?
GabeI’m also in the Bowie [project], and I also play in Spooky Fruit; we got back together a few months ago […]. And I play in a band called Star Cruisers. There’s a science fiction illustrator in Oklahoma City named David Lee Anderson; he’s been going to all of these [science fiction and fantasy] conventions […]. He’s illustrated Magic[: the Gathering] cards, the 1st couple of Elder Scrolls games; he’s [illustrated the covers for] all these books. So, he put together a little band, and we go to all of these cons and sing songs about unicorns and space travel and Mork and Mindy and Star Wars and Star Trek.
Austin, our drummer — he’s my little brother — we’ve played off and on together for 20 years now, and he has a family now, so he doesn’t really have the time for it. He plays in Spooky Fruit, ’though. Richie plays with The Planets Align, and he records for Bly; [they’re not a live performing band].
Chris1 of the members is in California.
MPBChris, give me the short version of the band origin story.
ChrisMe and William Stewart, back in high school, we had that band, Closed. We had several names: Closed, Dallas, D-Trip […]. Me and him […] wanted to start […] a project band, and that was the Venditos. William Stewart came up with the name […]. He thought that it meant
the sellout, and we were like,
We’re not gonna do that; we’re gonna do weirdo music. [The name was supposed to be] ironic.
Me and him played with Rob White and several others and kind of made these recordings, and 1 day we got asked to play live, just at random ’cause I went to the HiLo [Club] a lot.
[…] We were drunken-ass buffoons; we sometimes would knock [people’s socks off] and other times [we’d] chase them out of the club [with] crazy, loud, noisy jam sessions.
MPBI read that you would tell promoters that you had 9 songs, and at song number 3, they would ask you to get off the stage [because of the time].
ChrisYeah. And since then […], I [no longer] try to see how wasted I can get before a show […].
Will ended up leaving […]; he wanted it to be a [recording project], and he’s doing that to this day […]. He has no desire to be in a band.
Nathan Steinman was 1 of the original [members], and he stuck with it for a long time […]; then we had a mishap.
GabeTell him the story.
ChrisWe were on a mini-tour [to] Dallas, Austin, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, home. So, we make it all the way to New Orleans; he was there with his girlfriend at the time — I don’t remember her name, but we called her
Brother Clit. […] We went to a party after the 2nd night, after we played the show 1 night; […] we had played a show the night before, but we were gonna stay there, hang out with some friends, and leave that night.
I did drink a little bit at the party; [then] I went to the bus and slept for about 2 hours [and] drove the bus through the French Quarter to get to […] where we were staying […]. The drummer, Rob White at the time, saw [us arrive and] me open the bus door; I had barely got the parking brake on when he grabs me, throws me out of the seat, and throws me […] on the ground. And he’s wasted […] on whiskey, and he’s like
You’re not leaving me in New Orleans, and I’m like,
Dude, I’m just going to the house, where all our stuff is at, and that […] started the whole thing.
We go to leave; Nathan doesn’t want to go; his girlfriend is pressuring him to stay. She’s from New Orleans. We [have] a big fight […]. And I was like,
I’m the captain of this ship; either you’re coming with us, or you’re staying here, and he got all pissed. And we took all his gear out of the bus, not in the nicest way, either. And, we f*ckin’ left him there. A lot of people call me
The Captain to this day.
That’s how Gabe ended up in the band. When I called Justin, I was asking if he could play bass, ’cause I knew he was a guitar player, and he said
No. I can’t do it, but I know somebody who can.
[…] I still feel bad about leaving Nathan. [But,] we’re still good friends; he got over it […].
MPBTell me about the naked skateboarding.
GabeWe had a drummer, Cody Bass, for a while, before he exploded into little green globules. Straight edge kid, I mean, he’d have a beer every now and then, but it was even less than I drink, which [isn’t very much]. I’ve played in bands where we puked off of buildings onto people, and where we’ve almost been arrested, playing punk stuff with Spooky Fruit, [but] I’ve never been so afraid of being arrested because of 1 of my band mates as I was because of Cody.
Nice kid, but he is just off the wall. We were on our way down to 6th Street in Austin, and […] there’s a bridge, I can’t remember the name of it, [Sidenote: It’s the Congress Street Bridge.] where people hang out, because at night, 1000s of bats fly out of it […]. And [Cody] was sitting in the bus […]; next thing [I knew], he’s got his pants down and his shirt up, and he’s skateboarding down the middle of the bus, right where his crotch-ial region is perfect[ly visible] on 1 side, and his ass is [visible] on the other side. And he’s just going down, makin’ some kinda eagle noise —
ChrisWhat was that he called it, eagle bear or something? [imitates eagle screech]
Gabe— you know, to make sure that people actually looked […].
He was always getting into situations like that. 1 day, he just showed up on the bus with […] a bookshelf —
ChrisWe were in Fayetteville […]. [Gabe and I] went out on [a unicycling] adventure, and [we] come back to the bus, and the next thing you know, [Cody] and Jabee[, a rapper friend of ours], yeah, they show up with a bookcase […]. And he’s like,
This’ll look great on the bus!
GabeAnd all it did was conk us in the head when we were tryin’ to sleep.
Chris[laughs] Yeah; I ended up tearin’ it down and throwin’ it away.
MPBChris, you have several nicknames, including
ChrisAt 1 point, I was called
Captain I [had] so many nicknames throughout the years:
Wayne, because that’s my middle name.
MPBWhat does the song title BTFBTN mean? [Sidenote: Chris and Gabe decline to go on record, but do reveal the title’s meaning to us.]
ChrisOn the record, Clark Deal[, the Chaotic Studios producer for the BTFBTN video,] hated it. We found that even funnier [than the actual meaning]. He begged us to change the title.
MPBYou wrote songs in pretty disparate styles for your first release, as opposed to the more cohesive sound of your current offering.
GabeIt just depends on who the main contributor to the song is. Most of them are Chris; I think the songs he writes are like, Mudhoney; there’s some punk-sounding stuff, just pretty much anything Seattle [grunge] era.
ChrisI’m [such] a 90s whore. That comes through in everything I write.
MPBI know you list grunge as an influence, but you don’t sound like grunge to me.
ChrisI think we’re a lot cleaner.
GabeI think we said that because it’s something we listended to a lot […]. The 1st time I saw Chris, he was in a godawful band that opened for NOFX […].
MPBYou’ve spoken elsewhere about how booze and drugs were a problem.
ChrisI don’t think they were so much of a problem; we really loved it. But they were a problem with our ability to perform.
I’m 31 years old now […]; I love playing music; and I love gettin’ f*cked up […]. But when I get on that stage these days, [even if you just] paid $2 at the door, I want to give you what you f*ckin’ paid for. I want to get up there and play a rock show […] and not be […] a drunken, f*ckin’ mess playin’ [9 minute songs].
We used to push [the drinking] way too far, every time; it was a [status thing. Now, I’ll only] have a beer or 2 before I go on.
GabeFor me, it got to the point where I was telling the crowd that I was Jesus and yelling at them. I would finish off a bottle of Bushmills on stage, and that stuff just can’t happen.
MPBYou’ve had 2 tour buses?
Chris[We bought the 1st bus] for $500. It was a 32′, 66 passenger, International diesel schoolbus. I spent 2 to 4 years [customizing] it; it had Murphy beds, a makeshift bathroom, a kitchen, all our gear stored in the back. [It] got about 9 miles to the gallon; at that time, diesel was 79¢ [per gallon], so it wasn’t that big a deal[. Once you get a van and a trailer loaded down with gear and people, you’re getting similar mileage, anyway].
The next bus was […] an upgrade […]. It’s a 1972 MCI Greyhound […]. It was an evangelist’s bus.
GabeShag [carpet], floor to ceiling. It [still has] the Jesus [vanity] license plate: there are a lot of little towns in Texas, which is where we mostly play, when we’re out of town, that if they see a band bus, then it’s automatically pulled over […].
MPBWhen you played at Kamps, you played 4 songs you haven’t recorded yet:
- Keeping Score
- Happy Song
Plus a cover of Bowie’s Life on Mars.
GabeLike I said, the Vandals was a big [influence], and if you’ve ever listened to [them], they’re [only] about half serious […]. They’ve got a song, for instance, called
ChrisIs that the 1 that goes, [singing]
I invented socks/I invented gravy/I invented the cotton gin/but no one ever paid me?
GabeYeah […]. [Sidenote: The lyrics are actually a paraphrase of Aging Orange] [The band] were talkin’ about emo kids 1 night, and I was like,
Dude, it’s not hard to write [emo].
ChrisWe’d been making fun of, mainly, the vocals, you know, that
Nyeeah, nyah nyah! [imitates whiney vocals]
GabeI yelled something in my “emo” voice, and, I think it was Kristine [Kamen Wendt], who’s our “band mom.” She [goes with us when we leave town, if she can, and makes sure] there’s healthy snacks on the bus; she really takes care of us. She’s a really sweet lady. And she was like,
You do that way too well. […] So I just came up with a riff and put that on it.
[…] It was never meant to be a serious song, but, every now and then, I’ll be walkin’ through a store, and I’ll hear [whistles the chorus from Emo]. [Chris] even said his mom started humming it, 1 day, while they were drivin’ around.
Gabe[Regarding Happy Song,] basically, I’m a nerd. […] a lot of my songs [have to do with]
Things are gonna get better; if you’re havin’ a bad time, don’t worry about it, ’cause that’s what BTFBTN is about […]. I’ve got some friends who have a lot of really bad sh*t goin’ on, and those songs are my way of makin’ them feel better […].
ChrisKeeping Score is […] kind of a slower, pop-rock song.
GabeYeah, all “Hootie.”
ChrisIt starts out all,
If you want to know all the facts of life, you gotta stand up and give it a try. [It’s] part of some crazy […] concept album; it’s something that I’m in the course of writing. Gabe has some songs to contribute […]. We’ve talked […] about whether to release it as 2 EPs. It’s like a yin-yang thing[, with the 2 writers], but it’s in the works. So we really don’t know what’s gonna happen [with it].
MPBTell me about your current project.
ChrisSo far, there’s 13 tracks, all in various [stages of completion. They’re all still demos]. There’s no title yet.
I’m tryin’ to write somethin’ that’s […] following this [rock star character]; it’s a story that’s been told over and over […], but it’s about how ya tell it. It’s like a rise and fall […] thing. The thing is, we just got done spending a year doin’ [Pink Floyd’s] The Wall. [Sidenote: Chris is referring to a fully produced tribute show of The Wall performed by a collective of Oklahoma City musicians in 2011.]
MPBWho writes most of the songs?
Gabe[Chris wrote] most of the Version 4.0 stuff before we came into the fold. And then Secrets was a lot more collaborative.
MPBTime to play “Redeem a Song.” What’s a musical guilty pleasure, a specific song you like, and why should I like it?
Chris[thinks for a few seconds, then:] What’s that song,
I wish that you would step back from that edge?
GabeThird Eye Blind. [Looks it up on smart phone] Jumper.
ChrisIt’s a great f*ckin’ pop song. The whole song’s a hook, from beginning to end. It’s shaped like a triangle; [it starts simple and small] and it builds.
GabeI’ll just go with a whole band that I’m slightly embarrased that I like: Dave Matthews [Band]. I used to date a gal [who] would only have sex […] to Dave Matthews’s double live [album], and that kind of endeared it to me. She was definitely the cutest girl that I’ve ever dated.
MPBThanks for coming down, and a shout out to your bandmates who couldn’t make it.
ChrisThe safe word is banana. [laughter]