When Los Angeles-based indie rock band ViceVersa received a cease and desist letter from Vice Media, they were stunned. The alternative youth media empire headed by CEO Shane Smith, is demanding that the struggling band immediately shut down their online presence, and stop selling any branded merchandise. In addition Vice Media wants to see evidence of how much money the band has made over the past three years.
In our new interview, band member Zeke Zeledon tells us how he feels about the situation, how it’s been affecting the band, and what their next move will be.
It’s been a pretty hectic little while for you guys
On the bright side, it seems like a lot of media outlets have been backing you up.
Yeah, I mean it’s a pretty good story, given the timing, I think is what it’s all about. The fact that they’re expanding and we’re attempting to. (laughs) I think a lot of people can relate and resonate with our side.
You made a GoFundMe in attempts to make enough to take Vice Media to court.
Pretty much what it is, is that they’re giving us until the April 18th to respond to them, which is a tactic like “you have until the 18th to respond to withdraw your application, or we will proceed with court litigations.” I think what their attempt to do, is “well we have a set of lawyers and you guys probably don’t.” (laughs) The fees essentially would be to have a lawyer on retainer, to proceed and make sure we don’t mess up somewhere.
Which is a really large amount of cash for a band struggling even to pay rent.
Yeah, it sucks. That money should go into fixing our van, or getting into a studio. It’s a crappy situation. (laughs) This whole situation has been putting us in limbo, because we don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep our name, or where exactly this is taking us. It’s been, like you can imagine, one crazy ride this past week.
As of now, do you think you’ll be taking them on in court?
I think right now, the support that we’ve been getting [has] been universal support. Everyone has been like “fight for your guys’ name, fight for the cause, don’t let them bully you,” and I think that we have a lot of leverage, even though we don’t have dough. Mainly because they’re taking a big PR hit, and a lot of people on different social channels have straight up written on our behalf. “You better withdraw this, or you’re going to lose a big time fan,” or “until you fix this, I’m going to boycott your channel.” So we’ve gotten their attention. (laughs)
If you were to be forced to comply to their demands, what would your next move be?
If there was no real option, right now since we have an audience, I would want it to be a co-operative effort, as far as “this is what’s going to happen, what do you guys think?” I feel like any artist, you have to earn your fan base and once you have, even for our level, a small base, it’s a collective effort. I would want to keep the name at all costs, but if there’s some sort of a compromise that gets reached that helps all parties, that would be cool. We’re not trying to cause any real trouble, we’re just trying to stand our ground.
How do you think the fans and following of Vice Media, a brand that was said to be an indie supporting, out-of-the-box publication, will react to this?
In my humble opinion, I think this is a little blip, that there will be a little bit of a backlash, [but] if it was covered on a more international level, that it would hit them really big. I think it really depends on what happens, as far as what they make us do, or what they decide [are] our only options. I know their PR team is like “how do we fix this? How do we come out here not looking so bad.”
The new fans that we’ve gotten, we’ve gotten a lot of private messages, we’ve heard things like “I’ve unsubscribed, I’ve told my friends to stop paying attention.” We’ve also gotten [people saying that] they’ve been on decline recently, over the past few years is what the general consensus has been. In reality, it’s cool getting the attention right now. For us it’s like how do we get back to doing what we do, which is music.
You were about to go on tour before this came to, how is this going to affect that? Do you think you’ll still be able to do that?
That’s one of the obstacles, because promoters don’t know what we’re going to be called. They’re like “so, are you still going to be ViceVersa in June, or are you going to be a different name?” When you do a tour, you have to book it in advance and there’s always marketing that goes into it, but when you don’t know what you’re going to be called, it kind of puts us in a weird spot. Otherwise, we’re going to do something really lame, like “the band formerly known as ViceVersa.” (laughs)
You’re a small Los Angeles band, living the struggling artist life, just trying to make ends meet. How does it feel when a major publication like Vice Media comes at you like that?
At first it was like “no, this is fake. What? No.” At first there’s that whole “this can’t be possible.” The first letter they sent us, it was the real deal. It had not only a three page letter, as far as what their claims were, but they also had screenshots of all our social media, of our Facebook, our Twitter. It had a lot of legal language attached to it, we were like “wow, this is the real deal.”
In December, when we got it, we were like “we can’t do anything but write back,” because we attempted an olive branch response [saying] “we’ll narrow our scope, there’s no way that we believe these two names are confusing, we offer this and hopefully that’s good enough.” When they wrote to us, they said you guys have 20-something days to respond, or we’ll hire a client to proceed with legal action.
So we met that deadline and we also gave them a deadline. “We give you guys two, three weeks to respond, so we know where we’re at,” and they didn’t say anything, they didn’t respond until March. By then, given that we started getting some recognition for our work the previous year, this is all we have left, we can’t change our name now, so let’s give them everything we’ve got. In a weird way, I think this would be a little bit more complicated if we were a lot bigger. I think right now, the absurdity of the fact that they’re asking for profit receipts, it’s like “alright, that’s it.” (laughs) It’s interesting timing, to say the least.