Bursting with a wild potpourri of influences collected across a lifelong friendship, Broken Vacuum is a genre-busting Tulsa duo that doesn't suck.
A self-described “rockin’ teenage combo,” Tulsa’s Broken Vacuum started as a conversation between two ninth graders at a bus stop in Coweta. Christopher Matyniak heard Aaron Wessinger got a guitar for Christmas.
“So I came up to him I said, ‘Hey, I heard you got a guitar,’” Matyniak said. “’Want to start a band?’ and his reaction was ‘I don’t know how to play,’ and I think mine was ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you.’”
Wessinger agreed, but it might have been the last time they agreed on anything for awhile.
“The funny thing is,” Wessinger said “I remember I would go, ‘Hey, can you teach me how to play this song?’, And I would show him Nine Inch Nails, and he would be like, ‘I don’t like this,’ or I’d be showing him Nirvana or whatever, and he’d be like, ‘No.’ Then he’d be like, ‘Here’s some Pink Floyd. Learn this. And I would be like, ‘Pink Floyd is hard.’ But because we had such different musical tastes, he was showing me stuff that I would never have listened to necessarily, and …at first I would show him stuff and he would be like … ‘I don’t like this, but this is cool.’ So we kind of chipped away at each other, basically.”
The year was 1994.
After 28 years of chipping away, Broken Vacuum’s debut, A Night of One Hundred Thousand Storms, was released September 1, 2022. Produced and engineered by Matyniak, the album primarily contains new versions of songs originally recorded on Wessinger’s Tascam Portastudio 414 in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and also features Steven Davison on drums and Andy McCormick on saxophone.
Across 11 tracks, Matyniak and Wessinger seem to be continuing their musical argument, drawing inspiration from/taking the piss out of ‘80s new wave (“Lost Inside Your Eyes”), hip-hop (“Sweet Strange”), punk (“Van Impe (End of the World)”), and leftfield mashups. “Sex & Gin” is reminiscent of the pseudo-country songs The Rolling Stones used to do, and “Welcome to the Gates of Hell” sounds like “Weird Al” Yankovic parodying the cult power metal of Cirith Ungol. A lot of it seems to be a joke, but a lot of the jokes are funny. Most unexpected of all are the moments that seem sincere.
Make Oklahoma Weirder spoke to Wessinger and Matyniak about their album and, for some reason, Jabba the Hutt.
Make Oklahoma Weirder: Why didn’t you release any of these songs back then?
Aaron Wessinger: It was a different time before the internet, if you can believe that. I think it was just us kind of doing it for ourselves. We’d record these songs and give them to friends and family, and they’d enjoy it. But I don’t know. Was it just pure laziness?
Christopher Matyniak: Laziness, and it was really a time in our youth where we were really cutting our teeth on learning how to do it all—write good material and record well. We have great songs from back in the day, but 99 percent of them will never see the light of day.
Wessinger: And it’s one of those things, like, in hindsight, I’m kind of glad we didn’t, because there are tracks that we know that we can now do better. So basically we pulled the whole George-Lucas-with-Star-Wars only we didn’t release the original Star Wars. That’s probably a bad analogy because that means we’re releasing the new Star Wars with the really crappy Jabba the Hutt. [Laughing] This record is our crappy-CGI-Jabba-the-Hutt record. You can quote me on that.
Matyniak: It was all fun and games, and now we actually wanted to put in serious effort. We actually wanted to give it thought and time and put it all together right.
What made this more serious to you?
Matyniak: I think our abilities.
Wessinger: Chris went to school and honed his recording abilities, and time just went on and we became better musicians and better songwriters. So when we came back together and said, “Let’s actually do a real thing,” we had some experience under our belts, and it’s like, “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.”
Matyniak: A lot of the genesis behind it, too, was listening to the old tapes. I called Aaron one day and said, “Hey, let’s digitize those old tapes. You never know what’s on these things.” We’d had them sitting in boxes for years. So he came over … and we just kind of got to talking and it was like, “You know what? We’ve got some good songs here we could rework, and put out.” Honestly the whole thing was just to see what happens.
Wessinger: It was kind of a mix of old stuff and then, “Hey we got some new tracks, let’s record these new songs” because we didn’t want it to be just a rehash of old stuff. I mean, it’s old to us. It’s new to everyone because it never existed.
Matyniak: Looking back on it, even when we wrote these things 20 years ago, they were great songs then, but we just had a four-track. Maybe it just wasn’t worth releasing if we couldn’t do it how we really wanted it to sound. So having that ability freed us up to really select the best stuff and put it out.
Wessinger: We waited till we could get the CGI Jabba. That’s what we did.
Matyniak: Another thing too is, I’ve been in a few bands since some of those original songs were recorded. And you have your certain experience in different bands and working with different people, but there was only one person I always wanted to work with again, which was Aaron, because the way we work together is super easy. Anything goes. We’re super honest with each other — “Hey, that’s good, or that’s shit.” I enjoy the work side and I enjoy the goofing-off side. It was just a perfect match, and so when we came back to those tapes, and listened to how much fun we had back then and knowing that we could still have it now but make it better, it was just the natural conclusion.
So how much of this is re-recorded vs. original recordings?
Matyniak: The songs as a whole are re-recorded, but I liked to take what was really good out of those demos. Specifically, the vocals from “Van Impe” are from the original tapes and I’ve just matched them up to the new recording, and the guitar solo from “I Just Want to Be Your Man,” is from the original recording, just matched up and edited. … It’s a technique that I learned from Frank Zappa. He would take a solo from a live show and put it into a song, and I thought that was a really cool idea.
When I first heard the album, I immediately thought of Ween.
Wessinger: For me, personally, Ween is the reason I bought a four-track. I loved all the early Ween stuff, and I love how DIY it was. … Me and Chris were, like, two of the six weird kids in Coweta, Oklahoma. So we weren’t really gonna find like-minded people, let alone like-minded musicians. When you have a four-track and a drum machine, it’s like, “We don’t need like-minded musicians. We’ll just do it ourselves,” which is the same thing Ween did. … I tell people we’re kind of like Ween, but we don’t sound like Ween. … We’ve got a metal song, and then we’ve got a rap song. We want to keep you guessing.
Jeremy Martin writes about music and other stuff in OKC. He's also the less funny half of comedy duo The Martin Duprass and the proud father of two delightful baby turtles (pictured).