Friday, November 30, 2012

Vacationer Interview

Last month, WRMC introduced the first annual Grooveyard- a new tradition for the radio to host a concert on Halloween weekend. I sat down with Kenny Vasoli, the singer of Vacationer, the show's headliner. An old-timer in the music scene, Vacationer is Vasoli’s new project hailing from Philly, with a shoe-gaze, Beach House-inspired vibe. The band's album "Gone" was released in March. We talked about everything from the band's conception to "pumpkin pie almonds"..Here you have it. Many thanks to Kenny for sitting down to chat.

What do you do musically in the band?
I'm the singer and I'm the bassist and writing wise I wrote the bass lines and the guitar lines and the vocals. And I have two writing partners— Matt, who's playing vibraphone with us, and his partner Grant. They’re in a band called Body Language and I started writing with them in the summer of 2010 and that's how this came about.

That's really cool. Where are you stationed?
Well, all of us, besides Matt, we live in Philadelphia.

So how do you fit into the music scene there? Philly isn't really what I think of when I think of the music from vacationer.
No, no [laughs] yeah, we've pretty much cut our teeth playing in new york and Brooklyn so we've only played Philly three times so we're trying to, y’know, trying to build up a scene there and um trying to throw some parties and get the word out and sort of cut our own little notch in Philadelphia but it's still a work in progress

With this type of music– you said you wanted to do electronic– were there any certain influences that drove you to that point or is it just sort of wanting to do something new?
Well I'd always really liked electronic music, since like 2005. I think it was around then that I started discovering, y'know, Four Tet and Aphex Twins, even Venetian Snares and all sorts of stuff like that, and I was always a huge radiohead fan . I always loved the way they integrated electronic music in with rock 'n' roll. And then once 2009-2010 rolled around, then I started getting heavy into bands like Beach House and Radio Department– the shoe gaze side of electronic music.

The idea of "vacationer"- you guys have songs called "Trip" and "Gone"- do you see this band as a concept project or is it just a result of writing low key music?
It definitely- the concept is pretty apparent almost feels like concept is kind of a dirty word.But, I think it's more just the "vibe", y'know?
When we set out to do this it was really something just so I could get away from the usual music that I was playing and sort of give my ears a vacation from, like, such loud banging symbols and distorted guitars and stuff like that, and having to not yell at the top of my lungs, y'know?

What is it like having the anonyminity of a new band-If you try to look you guys up online there is zero!
Yeah and there's way more now that there used to be. When we released "Trip" there was nothing. And I was so thrilled that people started listening to it and started blogging about it not knowing that it was me.  Like, certain people had hints because they knew my voice well enough. But that made me really excited that I could still write music that people would be excited about just by hearing it- not like, having to ride the coattails of things that I'd done before.

As far as the songwriting goes, how does it work? You said you do the lyrics and the bass- do you guys all just sit down, do you come with different pieces and try to piece it all together?
We have. Yeah, it kind of spans everything as far as that goes.  More times than not, Matt and Grant will be up at their studio and they'll just kind of be in the box on their computer just messing around and then they'll send me one minute loops, 30 second loops. And then I'll take the loops and I'll put them into my computer and cut them and paste them in a little bit of a different way, or just extend them and then put my guitar, bass, and vocals on top of that and send them a rough idea of what I have. And then they'll be like "Alright, this is good" or "maybe not this" or something like that- just throw me a bit of direction. And usually, by that trade and correspondence, we will get together and lay down the final version.

Are you on a label or is it self-released?
We're on downtown records.

And how did that come to be?
Once we released "Trip" then we were reached out to by a few labels and Downtown was one of the first ones. And by that point we were like "wow". We were like "what could really be a more ideal label for us than them.” And they don't really sign many bands, so they were very excited about having us on the label. And very quickly— once we realized we were one the same page as them and that they had the same vision for the band that we did— we pretty much just made that our home.

What can we expect from a live show? What's the- well, I don't want to say "vibe" because the vibe is pretty apparent from the music but...How does it switch up from the recordings?
I'd say that the danceabiity is a little more apparent live once you see us kind of grooving to it.  And with all the live instruments it's slightly more hyped up than the record.  Like the record is pretty minimal as far as instrumentation goes.  We expand on that. We try not to crowd the sound but we just try to have it a little more dynamic live and have it pop a bit more.  We also have some visuals too.

Yeah, I saw the big screen set up for the show!
Yeah, we have like old archive, basically vacation footage that we tripped out with some after effects. It's like psychedelic vacations.

Did you just find the footage?
Yeah, most of it is found. Some of it is from movies- just from like public domain servers.

Ok I'm going to do a quick round of "Halloween Favorites" because this is our Grooveyard concert. 

Favorite scary movie?
"The Shining" is really great... Kubrick is great. Anything Kubrick.  I don't know if you'd consider it a scary movie— I like creepy movies like "Blue Velvet,” any Lynch films. Yeah, stuff like that. And we just saw one of Kronenberg's first movies called "The Brood"; we took our projector into a hotel room and Mike had "The Brood" on his computer and we were watching it on the hotel wall and it was so freaky. I definitely recommend it around Halloween time.

Favorite Halloween costume?
Uh, I've been a Frenchman the past two years- we didn't realize that it was a costume party! So we dropped the ball on that. But the French man, if you have a striped shirt and a beret an eyebrow pencil then it's a pretty cheap and easy costume.

Favorite Fall Food?
Oh man... Oh, you know at my supermarket they have like these pumpkin- covered almonds?

How do they even do that?
It's just like pumpkin pie flavored almonds. This is like chocolate covered almonds but take the chocolate and make it pumpkin flavored.

Ooh that sounds so good.
Oh yeah, it's really good.  I've been annihilating them.

 Well on that note, I guess I'll let you get dinner. But thank you for the interview.; it was awesome. Talking to you. Thank you.
Yeah, great talking to you too. Thank you very much!


Friday, November 16, 2012

Mr|Tots New Original Series

The Middlebury Radio Theater of Thrills and Suspense (Mr|Tots) produces live audio drama every Saturday from 6:00pm-8:00pm on WRMC.

This week will feature Part Two of the original series The Wild You, written and directed by David Seamans, scored by Dustin Lowman. Listen to Part One here.

A description of the show:

For two years Jay has forgotten his self and his past, hitching across the country. But when an ill-tempered train conductor breaks his leg, he's forced to recuperate in a desert trailer park named Starport. While he struggles to hold his wild self at bay, Jay rediscovers music, friendship, and love. But is it enough to stop him from destroying himself and Starport with him? Written and directed by David Seamans. Music by Dustin Lowman. Recorded live with the Middlebury Radio Theater of Thrills and Suspense.


Monday, November 12, 2012

The La’s – The La’s. Get listening. People should give a brit about these Liverpudlians.

The past few weeks have seen the ‘Don’t Give a Brit’ boys cover the 90s in three short slots. So, in true ‘Don’t Give a Brit’ style,  I am completing this lack of an overall and thorough assessment in writing this week’s blog on an album released in the 1990 which fails to actually adhere to many of the iconic musical sounds that defined the remainder of the decade. I do not wish to eclipse the great music acts of Oasis, Blur and the like who came after this band, but I do wish to suggest that they owe a big debt to the Liverpudlian four-piece.
                When you think of a Liverpudlian four-piece, it is not The La’s that immediately spring to mind. The band embodies this distinct Merseybeat ( sound and as a result could not avoid comparisons with The Beatles. This genuine, rootsy and authentic sound is achieved through The La’s unadorned acoustic arrangement. However, the friendly rhythm guitars mask the less pleasant inner-meaning of songs such as “There She Goes” – the song that forms the basis of the band’s identity. The song’s lyrics, such as “pulsing through my veins,” have immersed it in a reference to Mavers’s previous heroin addiction. Nonetheless, the implicitness of these references mean that each song’s lyrics could easily be emulated by an adolescent boy with a draw-string guitar standing on the lawn of the girl he’s trying to win the admiration of at 3am as you regularly see in films. Yes, it would be correct to presume that these guys are a hit at soppy wedding functions. The La’s sound is relatively simplistic, but its in-sync guitar work and catchy looped riffs are just made to seem effortless by the quartet. For example, in “Looking Glass” the tempo is slowly raised throughout the song to give it a momentous ending.

                However, the relative ease in constructing and playing each song did not save the group’s dynamic from turmoil. The core duos tumultuous persona of Lee Mavers (guitar, vocals) and John Bower (bass backing vocals) made for a frequently changing line-up, with this lack of stability eventually causing the band to enter into hiatus after the debut album, with only haphazard reformings since. This instability was manifested in the numerous debut album recordings. Mavers’s personality made working with producer Steve Lillywhite extremely problematic. Mavers’s obsessive, particular and perfectionist mentality was the root cause of this. Mavers, for instance, scrapped multiple recordings of the band’s debut album. He also became aware of Lillywhite’s decreasing patience and told the rest of the band not to play to their full potential whilst recording. However, the entire next LP recording was ironically the LP that eventually got released after relations declined with Lillywhite to the point of collapse. This is why, for example, at the beginning of “Freedom Song” the guitar work sounds fairly disjointed.
                Mavers’s trajectory was much the same as the band he fronted. Mavers was originally witty, playful and driven but quickly grew into dropping out of the limelight completely, becoming a social recluse. The short lived success of the band is also due to their inability to find a place in the 90s musical lineage. They seemed to just float on the periphery through being distinctly different to the late 80s/early 90s British bands such as The Stone Roses. However, they evidently influenced the Britpop influx that was to come from bands such as Oasis, Travis, Stereophonics and The Charlatans and other future Liverpudlian bands such as The Coral and The Zutons. The La’s were in fact a “Timeless Melody” – indebted to the past yet not encompassing futuristic traits. This self-made void is created through the band calling upon hooks and harmonies of the mid-sixties whilst also maintain the friendly classiness of the Britpop 90s. However, it would be wrong to say that the band were nostalgic; they were not hindered by tradition; they were liberated by it. They used simple elements to construct their own identity; an extremely alluring the identity, as bar staff at British weddings are far too familiar with I’m sure.
                There we have it guys, a blog and show that sets out to portray the British 90s as a whole in a short space of time, yet not achieving its purpose. The La’s do not fit the general category for 90s sound, embodying timeless elements which could place them in any decade that we have covered in ‘Don’t Give a Brit.’ Odd choice then for the iconic 90s, but I picked them to stay in line with the general vibe of the show – unpredictability. This unpredictability is like a successful blind-date, which is why you should tune in every Thursday from 1-2pm on WRMC 91.1FM Radio. We do not believe in order, which is why there is no playlist to accompany the show, we live for the moment. However, we cannot keep this bureaucratic anarchism up forever which is why you should listen to “Timeless Melody”, “Doledrum” and “Feelin’” by The La’s. I would suggest “There She Goes” but you’ve probably heard it copious amounts of times at family weddings.                

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dreams and Nightmare, Meek Mill, 10/30

The summer of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group spills into the fall with the first album from the group’s biggest up and comer, Philly’s Meek Mill.  Meek has released a ton of mixtapes over the past few years, most notably Dreamchasers and Dreamchasers 2 in 2011 and 2012 respectively.  He’s also appeared on many tracks with Ricky Rozay on the Self Made compilations, in addition to making the rounds on records with other members of the MMG roster, including Wale, Gunplay, Stalley, and Rockie Fresh.  On October 30th, Meek dropped Dreams and Nightmares, a 14-song album released through Maybach Music Group/Warner Bros.
The album’s concept revolves around the two sides to Meek’s rising success in the hip-hop game; on one hand, the luxury he can now afford and the satisfaction of making it all the way from the bottom, on the other, the horrors he has seen and experienced along the way and the willingness instilled in him through those memories to defend what he has made for himself at all costs.  The album’s first track, also titled “Dreams and Nightmares”, communicates this split, and when the beat drops halfway through, Meek turns up the intensity about 30 degrees, taunting his detractors, “so much money all yo friends turn inna enemies, and when its beef I turn my enemies to memories”.  It’s a strong opening, largely because it demonstrates Meek’s greatest asset, his captivating energy on the mic.  It is an undeniably infectious talent, and his energy is enough to carry several of the album’s stronger tracks, such as the lurking “In God We Trust”, which honors money’s all-powerful hold over the Philadelphia of Meek’s youth.
However, Dreams and Nightmares is proof that Meek still has a lot to figure out about parlaying an elite and identifiable skill into a full, compelling album.  There are a couple of absolute duds, such as the star-studded “Maybach Curtains” and “Young and Gettin’ It”.  “Amen” and “Lay Up” are both decent, with the latter getting a great boost from the Teflon Don himself, but they are just missing something.  In general, the songs that don’t feature Meek Mill at the height of his aggression feel flat, half-assed in a way.
The good news, and what really saves the album, is that Meek does show signs of being able to adapt his high intensity delivery to different subject matters and kinds of songs.  On “Traumatized”, Meek raps about the death of his father and how it set the tone for the nearly constant killing of people in his life (“prolly part of the reason we drink ‘n we get high, when I find the nigga that killed my daddy know I’ma ride, hope you hear me I’ma kill you nigga”).  “Who Your(sic) Around” expresses disgust and bewilderment at the abandonment and money-grubbing of his supposed homeys and features a solid assist from Mary J. Blige.  “Tony’s Story Pt. 2” demonstrates Meek’s surprisingly strong story-telling abilities in the follow up to “Tony’s Story” off of Dreamchasers 2, and although it’s not nearly as strong as the first, it showcases one of Meek’s most impressive technical skills, his use of a sort of half-half-full bar (or short-short-long, I don’t know the musical term for this) rhyme scheme, which is both jarring and highly listenable (seriously, listen to "Tony's Story", linked above, for this, you'll see exactly what I mean).
All this is to say that Dreams and Nightmares, though spotty, is a decent album, and worth listening to if you’ve heard any of Meek’s stuff in the past and feel as strongly about his energetic flow as I do.  He’s got a lot of work to do, but his ability to distribute his strengths across a variety of songs is promising evidence that he can keep improving.
Best Line: “But he got killas lurkin outside of your home tonight, and they gon’ hit the crib and kill the kids, oh that’s Kony right?”--Meek Mill, “In God We Trust”
Also worth checking out: Priest Andretti, Curren$y (free download at