Matt Flegel, bass player and chief songwriter for the four-piece band Viet Cong, chuckles when asked if people often inquire about his mental well-being.
“Yeah, I think everyone is worried I might always be on the verge of suicide,” says Flegel, who brings the band to the Rickshaw Stop this week. “I tell people that songwriting is the way of getting those dark thoughts out so that I can stay lighthearted.”
Although Flegel is an affable, gregarious interview and group surprises audiences with self-effacing stage banter, his band’s name (from a notorious guerilla organization) and song titles (“Death,” “Pointless Experience”) give credence to queries about his state of mind. There’s also the mythologized back story of the band, which formed after the acrimonious dissolution of Women— a dearly-missed Canadian post-punk groun — and the death of Christopher Reimer, Flegel’s former bandmate.
“I understand the interest, but there is not much autobiographical material in my lyrics,” says Flegel. “I do like dramatic, depressing music. When I listen to it when I’m depressed, it actually makes me happy.”
Originally intended solely as a recording project between Flegel and guitarist Scott “Monty” Munro, Viet Cong became a band after drummer Mike Wallace (also of Women) and guitarist Daniel Christiansen were recruited for a grueling 60-date tour to promote “Cassette,” the group’s acclaimed 2013 EP.
The band released its self-titled debut LP in January, which drew stronger critical response, and since has earned spots at coveted events such as the Pitchfork Music Festival and Primavera Sound.
“This was definitely unprecedented,” says Flegel. “We had no idea the group would grow like this. I think we’d still be happy to play live shows even if no one showed up, but it’s nice to feed off the energy of a big crowd.”
Although the band employs the spiky guitars perfected by Women (which infamously broke up after Flegel and his brother got into a fistfight onstage), Viet Cong’s sound also has warm synths. (While Women’s songs disappear into feedback-laden squall, Viet Cong’s build until they’re bathed in a strangely comforting blanket of propulsive electronic surroundings.) Viet Cong songs “Continental Shelf, “March of Progress” and “Silhouettes” feature dramatic shifts that Flegel attributes to an unlikely influence.
“I was actually listening to a lot of classical music at the time we were making the album,” says Flegel. “That definitely played a role in these songs kind of having multiple moving parts.”
Even though the band hopes to record during a brief tour break in July, the window for that process is getting narrower with every new festival request. Flegel says, “I don’t think we anticipated this being an issue at the beginning. I guess it’s a good problem.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. March 5
Contacts: (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com