Courtesy of Downtown and Matt Shwartz

On a mid-week morning, I sat down to chat with Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer ahead of his headlining tour to promote his band’s latest endeavor, Relief, released earlier this year via Downtown Records. We spoke about the past and the future, and a little about getting old and surfing too.

Your first album, Gone (2012), tends to have a more dreamy, sort of dazed sound, whereas your new album, Relief, sounds a little more upbeat — you said “60s whimsy” in another interview. I totally feel like dancing when listening to it. Was that something you had in mind going into the studio this time around? Was it a conscious decision to redirect the sound given the long period of time between records?
We had a lot of time to reflect on what kind of energy we wanted to put on this album. We put a lot more dance-ability in this music, definitely. We were really interested in bringing that to the live show. [On positive music:] It’s funny when I look out there and see the lack of optimism in music and I understand music is a powerful outlet –- it can be really heartwrenching and beautiful, but more often than not now I find myself listening to The Beach Boys and music that makes me feel good.

What can you say about your live setup? What would you tell someone who’s never seen you play to expect out of your live show?
It’s definitely hard to picture what it would look like on record. Translating it live is really fun: we’re a four-piece band: guitar, bass, drums with synth pad. The vibraphone is the secret ingredient to the live set –- I can’t remember ever seeing a live band with a vibraphone. It’s a little more weighty [sic] giving those hip-hop back-beats live. We try to walk that line between a chill out shoegaze vibe and a danceable one so people at the show don’t feel uncomfortable standing and being a wallflower or just getting out there and dancing.

Your supporting acts are Brick + Mortar for the first part of the tour and St. Lucia for another part of the tour. What is your past relationships with both the bands if there is any, and if not, how did you make the selection of these two as your support for the tour?
We always have a wishlist of bands we’d like to play with and it’s only a fraction of the time that it pans out. With Brick + Mortar, we had a show with them last tour, I think they were out on tour and just looking to fill a date and sort of jumped on. I had heard of them before but I had never heard their music. You ever meet someone and just know you’re going to be friends? Yeah, that’s them; they’re just very personable. They just owned the crowd and we were all super blown away. Then they were watching us and very down and into it; we just hit it off right away. We supported St. Lucia on a couple of dates. I don’t know too much about their history, but it seems like people just sort of pair us together when they talk about us.

I watched the live stream of the break up Starting Line show; the amount of impact that the band and music had on so many people was present there. What led you (Kenny) from that moment to where you are in terms of this band today, creatively speaking? I just wonder how much your past musical endeavors (The Starting Line, Person L, etc.) play into Vacationer.
It’s been a crazy life. I always have a lot of trouble with monotony in general, I always want to try new things, I’m always in exploration of trying new things especially through music. I’m always constantly digging in the past and on a constant quest for new music. That’s my driving force in terms of creating. It’s easy to see a reflection of what I’m creating in my life. It’s like a scrapbook in these records I’ve created over the years. The thing with Vacationer is it seems to be a really comfortable fit for me at this point in my life. I’m coming around the bend in terms of age, I just turned 30 this year, and it’s nice to just sort of settle into it.

How or why do you still want to tour and make music after 15 years? What keeps you going?
I think because I started so early, I never went to college and hit the road at 16, 17. To be perfectly honest I haven’t gotten sick of it. I have the cabin fever of being home all summer, but I know how to pace myself now. At some point when I’m 70, if I’m still around, I’ll still have a youthful energy — I’m a single guy, I have a dog, and I like rock n roll.

The music video for “The Wild Life” video almost harkens back to “Island” from The Starting Line. As someone who has admitted to being inspired by that tropical vibe, and that both songs have that sort of islander sound to them, is this is a sort of theme you find yourself attracted to? If so, what is your attraction to it?

It’s funny that foreshadowing on the tail end of The Starting Line with that -– it’s funny I’ve always been kind of beach-endy in my music. There’s a vibe about the beach when it’s combined with music –- it’s like that whole spirit of Vacationer that you can go on vacation and not bring your worries with you. Which is funny: I’m the type of guy that goes to the beach for a couple hours and then goes home so I don’t get burned; I’m not really a beach bum in that sense. I am learning how to surf though.

What do you expect for this tour and the reception you’ll garner this time around at Slim’s? Particularly in the Bay Area, music is so eclectic and there are so many different sounds floating around that you either get lost or you get found.
We’ve been to San Francisco six or seven times and I guess we were lucky getting to play really good shows starting out. We went out with Bombay Bicycle Club at The Warfield, and that’s a show I will remember for the rest of my life, we also headlined Rickshaw Stop. We feel really lucky in terms of San Francisco and New York City; there are so many good bands and it’s great to have a positive reception in those large places.

Any weird tour or studio stories to share from this year?
It’s been pretty chill lately. People seem to really have it dialed in as to what’s appropriate and what’s not. When I was making The Starting Line music I was sort of the same age as the fans, and now we’re kind of growing up together. You know, when I was 18 I had those girls showing up to my parents’ house, but Vacationer doesn’t really attract that fanatical fan. Everyone is kind of chilled out.

You’ve said in other interviews that your songwriting is not your strongest point as a musician, despite how many lyrics you’ve written people still sing today and enjoy so much. What makes you rank your ability to write songs/lyrics so much lower on the scale of your musical talent?
I think it’s just because I come from a place where there’s a lot of talented guys that live in the area I live in, like Anthony Green (Circa Survive, Saosin) and Keith [Goodwin] from Good Old War. Those guys are so prolific and they’re writing a song a day. It took me a year and a half to write this record and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. Maybe it’s in my head, I think I have so much room to improve still and that’s why I think I’m still making music. In terms of writing lyrics, I feel like I can express myself in a way that explains my point of view and as soon as I try to put it to music it just sounds like rhyme-y fake poetry. I read somewhere “comparison is the thief of joy” so I am trying to compare myself less and less.

I understand that it’s hard to be around people you deem to be so much more talented that yourself, yet you can make those people a resource. Will you be doing some collaboration in the near future (granted that Vacationer is already a collaborative effort)?
Yeah, making music with Vacationer is just a free flowing kind of experience — it produces much more music than I could make on my own. Matt and Grant (Body Language) are so instrumental in making these songs. They’re important to the process because then I don’t have a blank page to start at. I love collabs but I work so slowly and being in a room with someone and trying to fire off ideas is kind of difficult, especially with an artist you really admire. I’m trying to do it more and more and exercise that muscle more often. I went over to Keith’s a couple weeks ago and we just kind of played music and some good sounds came out of that. I was excited he invited me over.

Relief just came out, but do you expect a new album maybe a little bit more quickly this time?
There’s still some inspiration hangover from the last album — I have things to say, in a good way. Matt and Grant are out on tour right now so I hope I can get some songs out so I don’t rely on them completely. I have high hopes that this one will come along a lot quicker, but I would never put it out until I felt like it was something exciting to listen to. I have high hopes though!

Be a wallflower or a dancer during Vacationer’s headlining show at Slim’s October 27th.

Article by Samantha Putt

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