A night of good vibes and interview with Vacationer
18 May 2012: The Studio at Webster Hall New York
Before the show even started, Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer was sharing the love with the fans of his new band. He asked earnestly, “How’s everybody?” then he insisted that the house lights be turned on so he could take a photo of the audience of their first headlining show in New York City. Vasoli was ready for the occasion, dressed in a tie dyed tank top with a hand crafted shell necklace, boat shoes and tidewater length cotton pants. The crowd in the Studio at Webster Hall was more than willing to whoop it up even before they had heard one song. Vasoli put away his iPhone, announcing, “Let’s get it started.” Footage behind the band showed beach scenes and tropical landscapes as the room was transported to a faraway locale, setting the tone for the Vacationer musical mindset. (Even their website allows visitors to plug in a destination to watch videos with Vacationer songs as a soundtrack.)
Vasoli picked up his bass and launched into “Everyone Knows”, the opening track from their new full-length release Gone. The space center stage was tight, but Vasoli continued to boogie while performing, creating an instant party. His laid back vocals crooned over the sampled foundation, which included the pop and hiss of vinyl. Playing vibes was Matt Young, a collaborator for the band and member of the electronic project Body Language. Drums, guitar and keyboards rounded out the group playing every song from the album, as Vasoli explained, “Cuz that’s all we got.” From the soaring melody of “Good as New” to the undulating percussion of “No Rules”, the band presented the songs in tight renditions but no less fun filled for a live gig. Dynamics were inserted throughout the night for added effect. For example, the instrumental intro of “Dreamlike” became an all out party jam, as crowd and band let loose. And Vasoli amped up the wailing vocals of “Trip”, singing, “I need a trip, a trip’s what I need.”
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PopMatters chatted with Vasoli in a follow up phone call from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he grew up and still lives. He discussed how the new band came into being and what exactly he means by taking a trip.
You certainly bring a tremendous stage presence to the show from the very beginning. Is this something you’ve learned through touring with your former band A Starting Line or do you come by this naturally?
I have to think it’s because I’ve been doing it for so long that I feel comfortable with it. I guess that if you asked my Mom she’d tell you that I was always happy to entertain people, like I never minded being the center of attention. I definitely had a lot more nervous energy with it back in the early days than I do now. I feel pretty comfortable on stage at this point in my life.
You play bass while fulfilling the role as frontman, making it look so natural too. Has this always been your instrument?
Well, I don’t find it terribly easy to play bass and sing at the same time. It’s always been a little bit of a mind game, trying to play a rhythmic instrument and sing. But I’ve been doing it for a long time now, so I feel a little bit more comfortable with it these days and it’s definitely my favorite instrument to play. I’ve been playing bass since I was nine years old so it feels the most fluid to me. I’m the most comfortable writing with it too. But it’s also just really fun – it’s a really sexy instrument. You don’t see a lot of people who are the main singer playing the bass, so I like that it’s a little bit unique about me.
When I was young I started finding out about Weezer and Green Day and Nirvana. I got bit by the bug to start a band really badly. My thought process back then for choosing the bass was well, it looks really cool and everyone that plays it looks really cool plus hey, it only has four strings! It’s got to be easier to learn than six, right? And look, you only have to play one string at a time. I also figured that at nine years old it’d be harder to find someone to play bass for a band, so it’d be easier just to learn it myself.
Were you always a singer?
Singing definitely came afterwards. A couple of years after I started playing bass I started to sing, and that was also because I couldn’t find anyone else who would want to sing for a band or take it seriously in the style that I did. I would listen to records and try to sound like people I thought sounded good – I would sing along until I could sound something like them.
The groove is such a big part of Vacationer’s songs – if you’re writing on bass is this what comes first, then melody and lyrics afterwards?
Yeah, usually it comes with the groove first. Matt Young and Grant Wheeler of the (Brooklyn) band Body Language are my cohorts in this project since the jump off. It started with a few sessions together to come up with raw ideas. After that I said, “Hey Guys, if you have any loops or beats just layin’ around or you come up with and you want to send them to me, I can write down here in Pennsylvania and get prepared before I come up there to fine tune it.” They are still sending me stuff, I got some stuff a few days ago that I’m really excited about.
So that’s kind of the dynamic – they give me the electro groove, kind of loopy stuff and I’ll write my guitar, bass and vocals on top of that. I’ll chop it up a little bit so it makes sense to me structurally and then I’ll go up there to lay it down to make the final version of the song.
How did you come to collaborate with Body Language?
I met Matt and Grant through my buddy and colleague Matt Watts who played guitar in Starting Line – he now manages them, though they were just friends at the time. I had approached him a couple of summers ago about wanting to dabble in an electronic project, seeing if he knew anybody who could help me write and produce that kind of stuff. He gave me a list of a few artists, and I really seemed to connect with Body Language. So I inquired further and managed to get a session with them a week or two later. We just hit it off right away; their personalities go so well with mine that we’ve never had any personality clashes at all. So not only are we great songwriting counterparts but we’re such good friends since this all started.
And I’ve known the drummer Ryan (Zimmaro) since we were thirteen or fourteen years old and in bands together. I pretty much had the record completed before I showed him anything. Once I did he really liked it, so I got to ask him to join the band with me. He even ended up writing some stuff – he wrote the drum track on the last song on the record, that song “Be With You”.
Is it true that you had most of the songs completed before you had a name for the band?
I think by the time we had the song “Trip” we had come up with the name Vacationer. We had always tried to think of the perfect name since the beginning of the project. I would run stuff by the guys and ask them what they think. Usually things would get a lukewarm reaction, so I thought O.K. I need to keep looking because I want something really good. I wanted something that was one word, something not too weird and something that captures the energy of the project. We looked into the name Leisure, that was on the right track but there turned out to be a pretty cool electronic project named that. So it may have even been just looking through a thesaurus for ‘leisure’ and I might have seen ‘vacation’. That might have been it, so I was down that the name wasn’t taken. Everybody really liked it and we already had the song names “Gone” and “Trip”— it all seemed to tie in perfectly.
The theme of travel definitely runs through the entire album. Is it a trip as in a physical act or a philosophical pilgrimage, maybe purely party vibes?
I think it’s both. The word trip is such a well rounded, many meanings kind of word and I like all the things that it means. I like the quote from What About Bob? that says, “I don’t want you to take a vacation from your job, I want you to take a vacation from your problems.” I like to remember that and I’m always trying to be on a vacation from my problems.