- August 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH VACATIONER
Vacationer’s Relief, the Philadelphia group’s second LP, is clear in both title and intention. If Gone, the sunny electronic-pop act’s 2012 debut, was about escape – whether through travel, photography or toasted sonic bliss – Relief unspools the strings of our wound-up existence with a cinematic wallop of positivity-oozing pop.
A collaboration between Kenny Vasoli and Body Language’s Matthew Young and Grant Wheeler, Vacationer returns tighter and more powerful after spending the last two years touring with groups like Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Naked And Famous, Tennis and Niki And The Dove, as well as making numerous festival appearances.
In August, A Beer with the Band drank some CBC Pale Ale with Kenny at the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio. We chatted about the video shoot for “The Wild Life,” instrumental hip hop, Jimmy Buffett and the Philly music scene. You can catch Vacationer with St. Lucia at the Metro on Nov. 10 and 11. Grab tickets here.
The Show: Vacationer at Fashion MeetsMusic Festival in Columbus, Ohio // August 29, 2014
Drink of Choice: Yards Brewery in Philadelphia
Kelly from A Beer with the Band: How did the transition into Vacationer happen? What inspired the shift into electronic music and DJ-ing?
Kenny from Vacationer: My interest in electronic music started around 2005. I think Radiohead was my gateway drug into electronic music, and then I probably heard about Aphex Twin through them. And then I just started mining Nina Tune and Warp Records and discovered all sorts of different sects of electronic music. Around 2010 it seemed like more and more bands were starting to incorporate that into their music, and that was really exciting for me. A guy that I was working with, who worked for a label that Person L was on, gave me a list of recommendations off stuff to listen to. On that list were things like Memory Tapes, Neon Indian and Washed Out, and I had never heard that stuff before. It clued me in to the chillwave thing that was happening. At first I was like, “Oh yea, I wanna do that!” because it just went so well with just chilling out and riding your bike. It really fit my personality well and it really resonated with me. So, I sought out producers to work with in the summer of 2010 and became aware of Body Language. The guy playing vibraphone with us, Matt, he’s in Body Language and he’s half of the production team. I instantly became a fan. I started having sessions with them and we would collaborate. I’d show them bass line ideas that I had and we’d just lay it out on a beat and then start singing some stuff. I’d bring some stuff home and write with it. The workflow became really consistent. That’s how it started. Those guys were way more evolved than the typical chillwave thing that was happening. They were into it. They liked Toro Y Moi and they liked Washed Out, but their band is sort of like space-age disco. They grew up on every kind of electronic music under the sun. They knew the ins and outs. For me – coming from a rock world – I think that I had a little bit of a different perspective on a sense of melody and a raw quality that I could bring into that. It just seemed really exciting once we started comparing notes and collaborating.
Kelly: I think that’s one of the biggest things that stands out to me about Vacationer. You can very clearly hear a ton of influences – on Person L as well. The range of influences is pretty amazing. Every time I listen to it, I hear something new. With Vacationer, you could totally collaborate with a rapper because you’ve got tons of hip hop vibes.
Kenny: I would like to do that. Maybe not on a Vacationer record, but I would love to commission beats for people.
Kelly: Now that you’re into your second album, Relief, what were your creative goals the second time around that you really wanted to hone in on?
Kenny: I think I was really happy with how the first record came out. The time that I was making Gone was a really special, sentimental time in my life. I was in a very happy place and I wanted to take a photograph of that with the record; I felt like we did that. To be honest, I was lacking inspiration when it came to starting to write for the second record. It took about eight months to a year to really get the ball rolling and find some stuff worth singing about. It was a little bit frantic at first because I wanted to make something as good as before, but once it started happening and I got a couple songs in there, I started to realize that there’s a little bit more to songwriting than having to be in love or having been hurt. There’s plenty there. I started tapping into that and focusing on things that I wanted to remind myself of – and remind other people of – and I hoped that could resonate and give a community feel to the music. Which is the best kind of thing. Which is what you feel at festivals when everybody’s zoned into the same thing. I think wanting to connect with festival audiences was something I had in mind for this record. I like music that can be shouted through the masses but can still be intimate and personal. When it finally came down to putting stuff on track we pretty much approached it exactly as we had with Gone, and those guys gave me little snippets of stuff they were working on. Same guys, same set up. Once we got close to completing it, we started stripping out samples and putting in real ensemble players. We were putting together wind ensembles and string ensembles. We even got an opera singer for “Parallels.” We really took advantage of some resources and I think it became a more dimensional record. It became something that is sonically much deeper than Gone. Gone was a little two dimensional as far as some of the sound on it. But with Relief I feel like there is a lot more texture to it.
Kelly: Layers are something that really characterizes your music. With Gone, the continuity was totally there and made it something to listen to start to finish through those elements of layering and looping. Most albums become about “singles” and individual songs that you can pull out as your favorites, but Gone is definitely something that you can sit with and listen to it for the entirety. Each song was so intertwined with the next.
Vacationer: Yeah, for chillwave music, too, you sort of have to have another level of patience to listen to a full album and not be like “Ah! When’s it gonna drop hard?” We drop it – but I don’t know how hard it is. Deee-Lite was right – “Groove Is In The Heart.” You don’t have to hit them over the head with a buzz saw wave bass for the drop.
Kelly: Are those transitions and the fluidity between songs something that you had in mind day one when you started writing for Vacationer?
Kenny: For the first three songs we were just trying to write good stuff. But by the third song – I think it was “No Rules” – we started to lock in on a little bit of that hip hop tempo. We thought it was really cool so we started using similar instruments on it and similar reverb settings. We were like, “Oh my God, I think we have a sound here.” That was really exciting to me. In Person L there was so much going into it and we really didn’t hold ourselves back from much. We had plenty to work with and plenty of influences and we weren’t scared to use them. And with this, it’s funny. I just thought that was the way to do it because that’s what my instincts were telling me. But working with these guys, I started to realize that it’s a really powerful thing to have a sound. And you don’t have to look at it as a restriction but more as a characteristic of your band.
Kelly:I’d imagine it’s like having a voice as a writer. Writers can have a unique inherent voice while still trying out different styles or working in different genres. But it’s true. That’s something that still needs to be developed.
Kenny: Yeah. That was what happened for us eventually. And in our visuals, as far as graphic design and video that we use, there’s a through-line.
Kelly: Yes, there’s clear imagery with everything that Vacationer puts out: album artwork, graphics, your whole branding in general. Is that something that came after the music? Where did that inspiration stem from?
Kenny: Even the name Vacationer didn’t come until after we wrote the first record. We were searching and it was the last piece of the puzzle. We had songs like “Gone” and “Trip” and I was trying to find a name; I knew there was something there. I threw around Sabbatical and Leisure and stuff like that. Eventually I think I went to the Thesaurus, found Vacation in there and threw the personification on it. With all the visuals we pretty much hunted for archived footage. There’s this guy Prelinger, or maybe it’s just an archive house, but it’s all ‘60s and ‘70s footage. A lot of it is excursions and vacation footage to Haiti and stuff like that. It’s endless. I go to that really often to just cut stuff together. It works really well.
Kelly: Where did you do the most recent video shoot for “The Wild Life?”
Kenny: Costa Rica. It was the best. The crew that was there and working on it, they were sweating bullets and carrying all this stuff, and they kept telling me to do stuff like, “Okay, jump in the water again!” That’s the crazy thing I didn’t calculate going into this. We have kind of a tropical thing going on here and we’re called Vacationer – they’re gonna send me to some places … Luckily the label is on board with that idea and all about embracing it.
Kelly: Going to awesome locations like that must be pretty rewarding to be able to do as a band. It’s a nice perk. Are there any other goals or mile markers that you’ve achieved so far in these two albums that you’re proud of?
Kenny: We’ve just played so many cool shows. One thing I would say is being on tour with Bombay Bicycle Club, who is legitimately one of my favorite bands and is a huge inspiration for Vacationer. We became friends with those guys and that was awesome. There’s been a steady incline of things like that, but there hasn’t been one big blow-up moment, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ll embrace it if it ever happens, but I like that more and more people are coming to shows; more and more people know the words; songs are getting some airplay. I just really want a career out of this. This is the type of music that I can play well into my age. I want to embrace that and I want to be the Jimmy Buffett of good music. I want to play on a dock with people in rafts listening to it.
Kelly: That’s a great visual for your music. I’m thinking a destination tour where it’s all tropical locations, remote beaches, private boats, all for your biggest fans.
Kenny: Yes, that’s the end game. I’d love that. We were talking about this the other day – but I really want to get into Tumblr. I think my first post is going to be an open letter to Jimmy Buffet asking if he can relinquish the reign. When he’s ready to retire he can pass it over to us.
Kelly: So, what does that mean your fans are going to be called? Aren’t Jimmy Buffett fans called Parrot Heads?
Kenny: Oh yea! It’s gotta be something like Palm Heads. I don’t know what it would be….
Kelly: It could be something with Hula – like Hula Heads?
Kenny: Hula Heads! There it is! I love it.
Kelly: That could be the name of the blog, too. Or you could start a hashtag trend with your fans. Every time you take a picture with fans: #HULAHEADS.
Kenny: That’s genius. I hope you don’t mind if I steal that.
Kelly: Relief only came out in June of this year and I know you’re still touring on that record, but are you starting to write more at all?
Kenny: Yes, even just in these past three weeks. I’ve started to set up some mics and gotten everything comfy in the practice space. I have it set up so that I have my computer coming through studio speakers and then I have my guitar amp right alongside it, and keys readily available. I gotta have everything all plugged in and ready to go for a time when we’ve home been home for a little bit. Our space is in the suburbs of Philadelphia area.
Kelly: Are you guys still involved in the local Philly music scene? What is your relationship to that scene?
Kenny: The Philly music scene is something that is ever-growing and it’s more exciting now than it’s ever been – especially for bands like us. We didn’t have too much of a place as far as billing on shows when we first started the band. There weren’t a lot of people who were comparable to the mood and energy of the band. But now, there’s more and more stuff that I’m becoming aware of. I love it. I’m trying to foster and contribute to the music scene as much as I can, and it’s nice we’re getting integrated a little bit into the hip hop world. I did two weekend block parties in a row for friends that was all about the “who’s who” of Philly hip hop DJs. I went up there and did live vocals for my DJ sets. I don’t do anything too technical; I just use an MPD to control Ableton and crossfade and do effects. I do a very modern DJ set. Being around guys that are scratching and doing wax, I really try to have something interesting and engaging. And with the vocals I’ve been getting a little bit of respect from those guys and people are enjoying it. It’s nice to find acceptance in a world I never thought I’d be in.
Kelly: How is your live DJ set incorporating Vacationer music?
Kenny: Basically I do the instrumental of a Vacationer track and sing over top of it. Then I’ll mix in J Dilla or DJ Cozy – three or so songs of somebody else’s – and then do one of mine. It just keeps it moving and makes it more of a performance, but there’s also some stuff you can groove to.
Kelly: What’s the new music heading toward? Are you inspired by any new sounds?
Kenny: I love the sound of our band, and I hope this doesn’t sound boring, but I want to keep making an extension and progression of our first record. Because I have collaborators, too, their influences are always growing and changing. I can’t state enough how much those guys do for the band. I feel like I do five percent of the writing because all I do is play bass and guitar and vocals on top of this stuff. That might sound like a lot, but everything else that’s in it is so much the backbone and starting marker for where things are gonna go. I trust these guys with their instincts so much and I love the influence that they draw into it. A lot of those influences I don’t even know. When we wrote “Trip,” the working title for it was “Dilla Tribute.” I was like, “What’s Dilla?” They said, “You don’t know who J Dilla is? He’s this beat maker who made this amazing instrumental hip hop record called Donuts.” And I’m like, “Instrumental hip hop? I’ve never heard that! That sounds great!” To be honest, rapping kind of loses me sometimes. I’m not much of a lyrically-minded guy when it comes to listening to music. There’s Tribe and Dilated Peoples and Biggie and Jay Z … I was into the obvious stuff but I had trouble with it sometimes and it lost me after a while because of too much rapping. But finding that there’s a genre called “Instrumental hip hop” and then finding Onra and Odyssey; it just blew my mind open. Often times I’ll be riding my bike, listening to Odyssey and singing along with his instrumental tracks. It has the potential to shake something loose for a melody and I love the tempo. It’s something that really resonates with me.
Kelly: Are there any newer bands that are on your radar – or local Philly bands – that you’re excited about?
Kenny: There’s this guy making beats from L.A. called Monster Rally. I think he’s been doing it for awhile. It’s all this tropical stuff over hip hop beats. I was like, “How do I not know about this?” I’ve become really into that guy. There’s also a band called Brick and Mortar from Philly, and we’ll be working with them in the future.