Good As New
On Vacationer‘s blissful electro-pop album, Gone, we are transported to another place. Maybe it’s a sun-soaked beach, a glimmering ocean, or a majestic mountain. Maybe it’s a Berlin club, the Eiffel Tower, or a highway across America. Wherever it is, there we are eased into shaking off the chains of worry and stress, and allowed to unwind and let go, relax and indulge. If we need a trip, Vacationer will take us there.
Vacationer is made up of Philly-based frontman Kenny Vasoli and Brooklyn’s electronic outfit Body Language. One cool Wednesday evening, I met with Vasoli few hours before the band’s set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had been a longtime fan of his work — he previously fronted a band called The Starting Line, a Drive-Thru Records group on the forefront of the pop-punk scene during the early 2000s — and was a little fangirl-dazed upon first meeting him. But he was nothing but cool, humble and animated, exactly as I remembered him from my teenage years. Geeky 15-year-old me would never have thought that I’d be talking to Vasoli about a new electronic project 10 years later. It’s funny to think that things like this come full circle, but there we were.
The Cameo Gallery performance space and the restaurants nearby were buzzing with noise and chatter that night, leaving us a little perplexed at first as to where to conduct the interview. But finally, we found a quiet, albeit odd, spot: a bench right outside the venue. Leave it to us to make the sidewalk a professional place of business.
While most of Brooklyn seemed to walk by us and stare, we talked at length about the band’s beginning, the new venture into electronic music, their Downtown Records debut Gone, his favorite vacation and more. So, without further ado, here is Part 1 of my interview with Vacationer:
TMN: So, forgive me for starting the interview this way [laughs], but I have to tell you that I was a huge Starting Line fan in high school. As a teenager I grew up on everything Drive-Thru Records.
KV: That’s beautiful.
Are you ever hesitant to talk about that band when discussing Vacationer?
I’m not really hesitant about it, but I don’t wear it on my sleeve. I don’t list it as credential. I like for this [Vacationer] to stand on its own.
Can you take me through a timeline of how Vacationer began?
The point of transition for me was after I went to Bonnaroo in 2011. I had two new Person L demos that I was really excited about. One was sort of a Talking Heads-influenced, rolling beat dance song, and the other was a Thom Yorke, Eraser-era electronic-backed song. I gave them to some friends of mine, like Anthony in Circa Survive and the Manchester Orchestra guys, and also sent them to my manager, Matt, who used to play guitar in The Starting Line. But he said the demos weren’t speaking to him, which made me re-evaluate what kind of output I was doing. I really like making music with Person L, but it’s so frantic in its focus.
Were you a fan of electronic music at that time?
Well, even before that I was listening to tons of electronic music and really getting into the whole shoegaze electronic scene. I was heavily into Beach House and The Radio Dept, and all their sweet-sounding soft records. I wanted to do something like that for fun. I didn’t know where it would lead to, I just knew that I wanted to make something that’s not loud and not me yelling my head off [laughs]. Something easily facilitated in just one room, where I wouldn’t need a bunch of players, just a few people helping me with beats and whatnot. That’s where the inspiration really came into play.
Then I asked Matt if he knew anybody in Brooklyn that might want to co-write and produce new music with me. He sent me a list and some links to artists like Penguin Prison, MDNR and Body Language. Body Language was the one I was really stoked about so I asked him what their deal was. Turns out they worked out of their own studio and had written with Passion Pit. I love Passion Pit! So I went up to Brooklyn and we started messing around with some stuff. I wanted to do electronic music that was somewhat organic. Inspired by this one Four Tet song, we put together a four-on-the-floor kickdrum and simple bass line, and after awhile the song turned out to be Gone‘s “Great Love”. It was really cool and I was so excited to do something electronic. I watched Body Language work and it was such an eye-opening and learning experience. They seemed to be excited about the way I sang and did my melodies. Every other weekend we did sessions together and after a few months we had enough material for a record.
That’s amazing that you all were able to come together right away.
It was a real wonderful work of coincidence that we were able to communicate and produce so well and so quickly. I really didn’t know what it would be like since it was the first time ever I was stepping into the electronic world. I was afraid, but after the first session they really got an idea of what I liked and would email me loops and clips that they put together. I’d be like “These are awesome!” and throw a mic on my guitar and play along with them. I’d then throw on some vocals and additional loops on the clips, which would prepare us enough for our next Brooklyn session.
Coming from a more indie rock scene, how would you say the creative approach is different when tackling electronic music?
It’s a lot less pressure for me because I don’t have to be the one to always come up with the initial idea. There are so many ideas being thrown my way from Body Language. And all it takes is that one idea and that’s enough for me to start, it’s the first puzzle piece for me to picture the rest of the song. The hardest thing for me is to stare at a completely blank page [laughs]. Once you have an idea, it’s like a word association game. It gives me a glimpse that I can take inspiration from.
Continue reading after the jump…
Some electronic projects are criticized for not having enough energy on stage. What’s Vacationer’s live show like?
Live we play as a four-piece band with a drummer, guitar player, keyboard and vibraphonist, and myself on bass and vocals. We trigger samples a lot and our drummer also has a percussion sampler. We do have backtracks that have backbeats that we will throw effects on as we’re playing, but our idea is to not really understand what sound is coming from what machine. I think it all meshes well because there’s a live drummer, which gives the music more dimension than the record.
I remember how lively The Starting Line shows were and was worried Vacationer’s music might not translate as well onstage.
It’s a different kind of energy. It’s fun being able to play music that hinges on the dance side of things. I’ve never had people dance to my music. People will bob their heads to The Starting Line, but people will actually dance to this band. It’s a thrilling thing. I once heard this interview with James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem). He was in a lot of indie bands early in his career and he said that a realization dawned on him when he began making dance music. He compared it to somebody who makes decorative cakes to somebody who was just a baker. Decorative cakes are made specifically for something and you can immediately tell if people like it because they will look at it and want it. It’s instant feedback. When you see people dancing, it’s instant feedback because you know the music is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s so fulfilling!
It’s hard not to dance when all the songs on Gone are about fun and relaxation!
[Laughs] That’s what we focused on, fun. And out came this very carefree, problem-melting kind of music. It’s all about escaping the harshness of life and diving into these songs for a little bit. That was the objective. I really don’t think there’s anything abrasive or threatening about what we do [laughs]. I’m sure people with a harder edge can be opposed to it, but as far as I go, I just want to enjoy music. I don’t want to add to any of my problems.
[Laughs] There sure is enough sad, sad music out there anyway.
[Laughs]. Yeah, exactly. Even when I’m talking about something rooted in heartbreak. I always try to find some sort of beauty in it, some sort of relief through these songs. I want to have the music and lyrics convey that.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Vacationer this Thursday…