Becoming Vekora

If their were ever a renaissance drummer, it would be Jesse Sprinkle. Beyond music, his skills in percussion serve as a tool for community. He recently spoke with HM about those ideas and his numerous projects with an endless chain of outcomes.

By

If their were ever a renaissance drummer, it would be Jesse Sprinkle.

The 38-year-old New York native has recorded and toured with an impressive number of national acts including Demon Hunter, Dead Poetic, Morella’s Forest, Kutless and a twelve-year run with Poor Old Lu. He also produces albums for countless artists at BlueBrick Recordings in the Rochester, NY, where he frequently fills in on drums. Beyond music, his skills in percussion serve as a tool for community. It is through drumming he is able to connect with friends in his new band Vekora, and it’s through drumming he is able to better connect with children in Kampala, Uganda. It’s through music his ideas turn into action. He recently spoke with HM about those ideas and his numerous projects with an endless chain of outcomes.

How long have you been in New York?
(I’ve lived here) off and on. I came out here in the late ’90s and got married. We went back to Seattle for a couple of years to try that out, but it was a little bit too hectic. We’ve lived in New York over a decade now.

So you’re probably somewhat used to the cold.
I guess to a degree, but last year was a little tougher winter than usual. But for the old timers, they’re like, “Oh, it was worse than this before.” For me, this is pretty rough.

Last year was a bad winter across the board.
Yeah, but sometimes I get creative in the winter.

I feel like a lot of melancholy music feels better in the winter time.
Yeah, absolutely.

You mentioned you are producing a woman’s album right now? Who is that?
A girl from the Rochester area named Colleen Marie. It’s her first record. She writes cools songs, but I wanted to take it from a coffeehouse acoustic thing to a full band sound. I think (new talent) is one of the things that keeps me excited about recording. I would think I would be tired of music by now because I’m constantly bombarded with it, but when people come in with a purpose and something to say, that fresh perspective makes music exciting. It makes me appreciate music again.

Absolutely. They’re not just burned out musicians, going on for their 30th year.
(Laughs) I don’t want it to sound too jaded or overdramatic, but Vekora was therapeutic for me because I’ve been treating being in bands as a job for many years. It’s a good job, but you also get a little numb. With the exception of Dead Poetic, I hadn’t really been in a band since Poor Old Lu where I was playing with friends and loved it. It didn’t involve business so much, even though there was a little more pressure with Dead Poetic because it was a label band.

They got pretty successful too.
Yeah. We made a couple of bad choices at the end. Not bad for our lives, but bad for the industry. Me and the singer didn’t want to take a couple of tours, and the label got upset and didn’t want to promote our records. Then it all went weird.

Right.
But with Vekora, I needed that experience of playing with friends for the love of music, and letting whatever happens, happen. We’re not sitting there trying to go far and impress people.

This is our heart, take it or leave it. I think that translated really well with people because you can tell it’s a genuine album.

Who are some other artists recently that you’ve produced or worked with that you really enjoyed?
(Laughs) Oh, I don’t enjoy any.

(Laughs)
There’s actually a couple of bands we play with around here. Vekora plays with a singer named Ryan Clam and his band is called the Dirty Pennies. They’re indie rock, kind of like the Black Keys, The Strokes, that dirty, bluesy indie rock stuff. They’re just really fun guys.

The drummer actually has my old drum kit. I really don’t like getting rid of drum stuff, but for some reason with him, I feel like it’s okay because it’ll be in good hands. It’ll be close by; I have visitation rights.

It’s not going to end up in a thrift store.
Right. I actually get to play those drums whenever we gig out with that band, which is fun. I don’t have to pull my drums out of the studio. They’ve been good friends and they’re fun to watch. They actually play as a two-piece right now with drums and the guitar/singer. It’s interesting they have that much energy with two dudes.

Two-dude bands are the thing now.
Yeah. Then there’s a guy named Ryan Webster — who I haven’t been able to produce because he lives in L.A. now — he’s done a couple of gigs and acoustic sessions here. My gosh. You have people that are talented or okay, but then you have people that have “it,” whatever “it” is. He’s fantastic. He just played a gig here at the studio a week or two ago.

Going back to Vekora, tell me about the band name.
I would love if the band could come up with a couple folklore stories of what the name means, because it can add to the mystery of the band. Really, we were panicking to get a band name because we originally had a band called The Resonance and saw how many other bands have that name. We were putting together a campaign to raise money for the record, and we needed to get a name soon because we didn’t want to change the name after the campaign. We were putting all these lists of names together and nobody was really sold on anything.

The music is mysterious, so I wanted some word that doesn’t connote anything. I started putting together half-words and things like that. I’m just like, “How about Vekora? It’s kind of mythical sounding.” So it technically doesn’t mean anything, but I would love to spread rumors around about some really deep meaning. I made up this fake holiday called International Vekora Day, and I had a bunch of friends online posting these fake memories they have from childhood.

I do a lot of fundraising and networking for mission trips and stuff like that, and it’s always pulling teeth to get anyone to respond to anything. Maybe it’s too serious for people. When I did International Vekora Day, it started spreading. People were making ridiculous memes and turned it into a super fun week of posting ridiculousness. It’s really funny. You can read these people making up stories. Some people sent videos about what they do on Vekora Day (laughs).

That’s terrific.
On a small level, I thought that was a brilliant way of getting people involved without being a burden or overwhelming. That was neat.

Right. Now is your chance to make up the folklore version of where the name came from.
That’s actually great. We could even just tap into that same group of people and make up the meaning and see what madness comes about (laughs). That’ll be the New Year’s resolution I’ll have.

“The entirely fictitious bio of Vekora.” That’s good.
That does happen sometimes. Some cover band called Bob’s Brothers’ Band or something came in to record here. We were asking them, “What the heck does the name mean?”

The guy was like, “Well, there’s a few different possible meanings of how we got the name.” I’m like, “You don’t even know?” (Laughs) It’s just funny. Either one sounds pretty good, but how could you not know which one is the real story?

Just pick one name and stick to it.
I was laughing. Yeah. Anyway, it’s been fun. Getting the Vekora record done was pretty exhausting. I’m a classic-idea-man. I take on too many ideas at once and get totally spread thin. That’s just something I’ve accepted about myself, so I’m trying to work on it. I’m trying to fulfill a few different campaigns at once that are going slowly and hopefully people will be patient.

Are there any song off of Vekora’s self-titled album that you particularly found special?
Yes, absolutely. Actually, the first track is still probably one of my favorites. When we first wrote it, I knew the ideas were cool, but it had too many parts. It was long and dragged out, but I knew if we cut a few kinks out, it would be amazing.

Our producer, Terry Taylor, said the same thing. He’s like, “If we just shorten these parts and make the vocal part sound like a chorus here, it would work.” As soon as he did his little touch to it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this song is amazing!”

That, and “Blood” are really my two favorites on the record. Maybe “Animal,” too, just because it’s got that chill groove on it.

It has a cool vibe.
Yeah, I agree. Originally, it would’ve been later in the album, but after we finished the project, we put it (up front) because it’s got the vibe and it’s got the drive.

That’s pretty great. I like that one a lot.
Yeah, thanks man. I’m happy we had the chance to do it. One of the biggest things besides playing music with friends again, which is unexplainable, is having Terry and Derri (produce the Vekora album). They were the first producers I ever worked with 20 years prior with Poor Old Lu. It’s hard to explain to people how much that means to me. I’d never been able to communicate to both Terry and Derri how important it was for Poor Old Lu to do that first record. It’s so common for me and, even more, my brother, to come in and produce someone and set them off in their entire career and then not hear back from them. It can bum you out.

Vekora was a good way for me to say, “I really appreciate you guys. This is the most special thing I’m doing now. Can you be a part of it as well?” I think they understood that. It’s kind of neat.

Good. Speaking of which, Vekora recently did the song “The Brightest Star” with Poor Old Lu.
Yeah!

Do you see any other collaboration with the band in the future?
If it were up to me, I would say 110% that would be happening. I think everyone’s interested in it. I don’t want to shift blame, but my brother being so busy has been the root of not being able to do Poor Old Lu stuff.

The reason why “The Brightest Star” happened, though, is because Scott wrote the song for Poor Old Lu and said, “Okay, this probably won’t happen, but what if Vekora does it?” We produced the song and then Aaron just had to chime in so it was manageable for him.

I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed. But from the response we’ve gotten, it might be cool to do an EP of the two bands together instead of a split. Instead of doing different songs on a record, it might be cool to work together, which is not something that usually happens with bands.

Absolutely. It’s something different, something unique that gets attention. Poor Old Lu started in what, ’93 or ’92? So it would be a good anniversary.
Absolutely, I’m hoping that something like that can happen.

How did you meet the other Vekora members?
You mean originally, how did I meet them?

Yeah.
I’ve actually known Kurt and our bass player, Brian, for at least 15 years. I’ve worked with them in different ways. I met Alexandria more recently. Actually, it was through that Uganda water project. I met her parents when we were speaking at a church. They were like, “Hey, this is our crazy daughter. She sings,” and I was like, “Whoa! Yeah, she is crazy.”

Then through that connection, she recorded with her band in my studio. I was like, holy smokes, this girl’s voice is amazing. She was pretty young at the time, maybe 20. Then that band broke up around the time Kurt wanted to do music again.

I recorded two albums for Kurt dating back to the year 2000 or 1999 or something. He’s always been writing cool music, but he’s never really had good singers. I was like, this singer is amazing and Kurt writes great songs, so I was doing the matchmaking. I wasn’t even looking at being in a band, because I’m constantly being thrown around into different bands. But it turned out their drummer backed out and ended up moving out of state. They weren’t sure if I wanted to join Vekora, but as the songs started progressing, I was like, we should really do this. I wanted to get a producer out here and make a record we’d love. I don’t know why, because I’m not going to go off touring or whatever. I didn’t plan that we’re going to market it and make money; I just wanted to do something we’re really proud of. People can sense that it’s genuine.

Brian was actually in my band for my solo music back in the late ’90s. Then we worked in the studio together and he started his own studio after working with me. Now he’s got a studio in Rochester and I’ve got my place here. He mixed a couple of the songs on the album.

We have a very talented bunch of people. We’re kind of over­qualified for how not busy of a band we are. Maybe someday we will be able to play out, but right now, we don’t have a ton plans to keep busy. It’s just an occasional show here and there.

Is there anything down the road you’d like to see the band do?
Nothing we specifically talked about. If I mentioned anything, it would just be my perspective.

To me, I think the perfect situation would be to find another band that’s fairly well known and do a part of their tour for a week. But other than the singer, none of us are really in a position to leave families for any extended amount of time. We’re all married with children and stuff like that. It’s not like when I was younger and I’d go on the road for a month. But if the situation comes up to play shows that aren’t in our town, I would be open to it. Until then, the record sounds solid. Hopefully it catches on. We plan on doing a video soon, so you never know these days with kids and their YouTubes, maybe we can get that circulating for some extra buzz.

Do you think your trips overseas have influenced how you write music?
It’s definitely influenced my writing. I’m into organic music, and that’s where my opinions differ from some of my friends nowadays that are really into the processed side of music and everything. When I came back from the first several trips, I did some projects that were African influenced. I didn’t want to seem like I was doing a Paul Simon thing necessarily, but I did a CD to help raise funds for those trips and support some things out there. It’s fun.

Being a drummer, I’m so into the rhythmic side of music it was an immediate blast for me to be able to be out there in small villages in the middle of nowhere, just playing percussion at little churches and stuff.

You’ve played in Poor Old Lu, Demon Hunter and Dead Poetic, amongst other artists. What were some of the highlights from each of those three bands?
Just showing off my muscles, you know? (Laughs) How muscular I’m not. Well, Poor Old Lu is in its own category because, for one, it was my first band. My brother and very close friends were in it. I really feel the music was timeless in the sense that we were making relevant stuff back then, but it still stands up right now.

Demon Hunter was cool in the sense that I could work out some of my childhood metal dreams. That was a little more industry­-oriented, which isn’t my favorite way of doing music. I mean, it was great to get the exposure with Demon Hunter on Headbanger’s Ball. It’s not an egotistical thing, but wow, I had always kind of wanted to be on Headbanger’s Ball (laughs).

Dead Poetic was still industry savvy, but there was a cool balance. We were good friends, and we were working together as a team. Our last record we did was the record we wanted to do even though people thought New Medicines was more like our style. Truthfully, we wanted to do a record that was more ’90s rock as opposed to emo rock.

Vices was pretty grungy.
Yeah. There were great things about all of the bands. It’s harder for me to play the industry game because I’m not really wired like that. That’s why I like having a small studio to help new artists to get to other places, even if it’s a springboard to other dimensions.

Right. Each of those bands we were talking about have been tied to the Christian music industry in one form or another. How do you see the industry has changed since Poor Old Lu started 20 years (ago)?
Oh, man. I don’t even know what the industry is nowadays. By the time later Dead Poetic came out, people were listening to the music if they liked the sound of it. When I was younger, there was a very definite segregation of Christian and non-Christian music, which is dangerous to me.

I know people say you shouldn’t be ashamed to be a Christian. I’m not even talking about your faith. I just don’t want people to judge the style of music based off of what the person thinks they believe at the moment. I mean, Peter Murphy is a classic ’80s new-wave kind of guy, and people don’t go, “Well, for a Buddhist artist, he’s pretty good.” They don’t care what his faith is; he’s just Peter Murphy! I know that by the time Demon Hunter and Dead Poetic came out, people loved them whether they were Christians or not. A lot of times, they didn’t even know or care. I think that’s cool.

I also played with Kutless on a record and on tour. That was a weird thing, too, because we had some people saying we shouldn’t have tattoos because we’re doing such overtly Christian music. I don’t even like to get into those debates at all (laughs). Some people loved Kutless for who they were, and other people were like, “Well, you’re doing worship music, so you shouldn’t look like that or do this.”

That’s a frustrating situation.
That added to my jadedness, unfortunately (laughs). I’m trying to clear being judgmental out of my life now.

How do you keep the disappointment in the industry from affecting your faith?
I don’t know. I guess, like everything in life, it’s constant maintenance. Even dealing with resentment or forgiveness, you just have to do the upkeep, I suppose. Because I’m always working with music, I’ve had to find something to pour my energy into where I feel like I’m moving forward. I could sit there and go, “Oh, this happened in the past and these people screwed me over, blah, blah, blah…” As long as you’re moving forward. I think that’s a huge part in anyone’s life, whether they have anything to do with the music industry or not. It’s that whole concept: You’re either a part of the problem or you’re a part of the solution. If you’re just going to complain about it, then you’re not really helping any. Some people could argue about the way I do it, but I don’t know if they’re doing anything productive in the meantime.

It’s challenging. Definitely challenging. But I want to keep writing music to stay sacred and inspiring. I have my good days, and I have my bad days.

That applies to every aspects of life.
Exactly. So I don’t really know where the Christian industry is, but it seems like it’s more of an even playing field now with the Internet. It’s not quite as run by corporations and record companies. I don’t know if that’s exciting or if it’s overwhelming.

Vekora was posted on February 19, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by .