Perhaps being most known as the front man of The Starting Line and Person L, Kenny Vasoli has been on the road and writing music since he was 15. His newest project, Vacationer, finds the now 28-year-old trading pop punk for tropically inspired electro-pop. Self-proclaimed as “the eastern seaboard’s foremost relaxation specialists,” the group also consists of Matt Young and Grant Wheeler from Brooklyn based Body Language. Their 2012 debut, Gone, is chock-full of dreamy vibes and island sounds from summers past. The group spent last year touring with the likes of The Naked and Famous, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, and Bombay Bicycle Club and are currently wrapping up their winter tour with Swedish synth-pop duo Niki and the Dove.
We recently caught up with Vacationer vocalist/bassist Vasoli backstage before their sold-out show at The Independent in San Francisco. Vasoli is cool and calm, clad in a tie-dye shirt, fur cap, and bright smile. It’s easy to tell where the band gets its good vibes from.
On the band’s Tumblr, you recently posted a “timekiller beat from the road.” Have you been writing a lot on this tour?
I just kind of spin my wheels with cutting stuff up and making instrumental beats just for fun. Writing is a little bit hard because for the most part I like to record myself while I write. Usually the way I write vocals is just sort of mumbling stuff incoherently into the mic and then sort of deciphering the syllables and then trying to write lyrics that sound like that. I’m a little too self conscious to be recording vocals around people. I do have a good deal of loops that Grant and Matt have been sending me from Brooklyn that I can work with. I listen to those constantly and just try to get some ideas for them.
Have you ever considered making a beats record or going into DJ’ing?
The guys were talking to me about maybe doing a summer mixtape of just all instrumental beats. Matt has an instrumental hip hop project called Big Friendly Giant. His stuff is awesome too. I’m trying to get my stuff up to par with his so that we can combine efforts and just release a free flowing mixtape.
Would you want to DJ live, as well?
I do DJ sets as Vacationer and throw that stuff in there a lot, but it would be cool to get Rhino on the drums and double the bass lines and have us do some of the harmonies on top of everything. I think that that would be a lot of fun – bringing the live element of our band to a DJ set.
Can you talk about some of the samples used on the Gone LP?
There are not as many as you would think. There are really just a couple. A lot of the stuff that sounds like samples is a lot of us taking dead air from a record and recording just the crackle of it. Then recording stuff ourselves and sort of overlaying them and chopping them up and then loading our recorded stuff into an MPC, so that it sounds like chopped up samples. There were a couple things that we tried sampling and couldn’t get the clearances for, so we just had to come up with an alternate arrangement that was sort of equivalent to it and then record it ourselves. We had to get a wind ensemble for one thing that came from this record that we couldn’t clear. We did end up clearing some stuff from a Don Ho live record. I can’t even remember what else. The particulars of that stuff you’d probably have to ask Matt and Grant about.
Where do you write your lyrics? Do you have to be in a specific environment?
I usually just do it in the upstairs of my house (in Philadelphia). That’s kind of like my happy place for being creative. It’s nice and warm. It’s great because I don’t have air conditioning in my house, so I really like going up there in the wintertime.
So with Vacationer, does the music typically come first?
More times than not, Matt and Grant are sending me these minute long loops that they make. Then I’ll take it and extend some stuff, chop some stuff apart, and then put my guitar and bass on top of that and then my vocals. For me, it’s a lot of coloring in what they do with my elements in the band.
You’ve mentioned Beach House as an inspiration for this record. What other artists have you been drawing from recently?
As far as melodies go, the Father John Misty record [Fear Fun] really resonated with me. It made me appreciate the elements of guitar and chord structure. I think his melodies and tone are really great. Also a lot of 50’s and 60’s vocal pop like The Free Design and Peggy Lee. Lots of stuff like that. I’ve been sort of all over the map. I think Phantogram is really great in the way they’ll do dream pop on top of chopped hip hop. Stuff like that I really like.
I can hear the Phantogram influence, but not Father John Misty as much…
I don’t think I’ll do anything that sounds anything like Father John Misty. I guess it just sort of brought back the coolness of what a singer-songwriter is to me. I actually don’t think that that record will translate as much as much as an influence – it’s more of an inspiration to having more songfulness to songs.
How does your experience with Vacationer differ from other bands you’ve been in?
For all intents and purposes, I just wanted something that wasn’t loud. I wanted something that I didn’t have to lose my voice every night playing. Something that people could either dance to or just relax and chill on a beanbag chair.
How is this live show different for you?
It’s not as much flailing with your body. It’s really just playing the songs while trying to create a vibe for everybody so there’s a breezier kind of atmosphere in the place.
What about in terms of songwriting?
This is the first one that I’ve shared the forefront of the songwriting with people. Those guys, Matt and Grant, are just as much songwriters in this as I am. This is the first time that someone else has given me a place to start from with the songs, which really helps me. Looking at a blank canvas for me is a really daunting thing. This is nice in that they gave me these places to start from. Very quickly we discovered that we were sort of onto a sound with it and we have a through line in that sound where I don’t feel like I need to hop around with influences or stylistically. I’m really embracing just having this sound that we can play off of and keep maturing.
A lot of the initial buzz for the band came from “Trip” being circulated around MP3 blogs. How do you feel about free streaming music services like Spotify or Pandora?
I’m into it. I use it a great deal. On the road it’s pretty much been our designated means of listening to music. I know that other musicians probably have their qualms with that kind of stuff, but for me it’s about getting people back into listening to music. It’s an easy way for them to hear music in high quality – not just off of YouTube. We’re in an age where we just have to accept that people are going to find it for free, one way or another. If people like something I have faith that they’ll go out and buy the vinyl or something like that.
Is it harder in this day and age, as opposed to a decade ago, to tour worldwide?
I think so. It’s hard to differentiate. I guess the climate of the style of music that I was playing back then is probably a completely different beast than what the whole blogosphere and electronic scene is like for me. I’m still learning what those two worlds are. It would be hard to draw comparisons. I feel like all things considered, this has been a really blessed experience being able to go and make a name for another band that really has nothing to do with the music of my previous bands.
It seems like you’ve made it a point to not ride the coat tails of your former bands.
I wanted a litmus test of what legs my songwriting had. It was really important to me to not have this preconceived notion of what this project was going to sound like – knowing that I come from Person L or The Starting Line. When we first released “Trip” and that first group of songs, we didn’t release any identifiable info about the band. I didn’t have any pictures of me and I didn’t put my name in it — still in the liner notes, I don’t have my name in the record.
Do the other guys?
Yeah, everyone else does.
Do you feel weird at all about that now?
No. I know I did it. I’d rather people just listen to the music and not concentrate on my name. My name already has some things attached to it… it’s not that I’m not proud of them. I just don’t want people going and looking for another Starting Line. I want people to find this record and like it and then come see the band. A lot of times people know of the Starting Line and know of Vacationer and don’t put two and two together until they come see a show, which I think is a really cool thing. It makes me feel good that people just like the music.
Do you have any plans with Person L in the works?
Not as far as playing, but we do have three or four leftover songs that we want to get out there. We will probably release them on iTunes as either singles or a leftovers EP. Look out for that pretty soon.
Have you started writing new Vacationer material?
We have two songs so far that have vocals to them, but even those structurally need a little bit of work. As far as skeletons of songs go, we have 14 or 15 that we’re working with.
Will the recording process be as loop based as before or will you incorporate more of the live band?
I think it’s going to be this, that, and then some. My inbox is always getting beats from Matt and Grant, so I will work with those. I think now that we have the band in place, Matt is going to come down to our rehearsal place, so while we are writing the songs we’ll be coming up with live arrangements. I’m sure that these guys will be playing a bunch on the record, as well. It definitely already has the sound of the stuff from before, but I think it’s going to have a little bit more dimension to it with everyone else in it.
What do you hope to accomplish with Vacationer that you haven’t done in the past?
I’d like more and more people to discover this and enjoy it and for it to keep growing as a life form of its own. I’d like to use the Vacationer name as a means to getting us to some really beautiful places to play. I think that that was sort of the ulterior motive behind this band. Once we started making this breezy tropical kind of vibe, we had this motivation to play it in the Keyes and on islands – really exotic places – and use the Vacationer name to our advantage. Hopefully more things like that will keep coming our way.
Catch Vacationer on tour:
01-31 | Las Vegas, NV @ Beauty Bar
02-02 | Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
02-04 | Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
02-05 | St Louis, MO @ The Demo
02-07 | Akron, OH @ Musica
02-09 | Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
02-15 | Brooklyn, NY @ Glasslands Gallery (DJ Set)
02-28 | Amityville, NY @ Revolution Bar & Music Hall
03-01 | Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
03-02 | Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Bowl
03-03 | Charlottesville, VA @ The Sothern
03-05 | Raleigh, NC @ Kings Barcade
03-06 | Atlanta, GA @ The Drunken Unicorn
03-08 | Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon
03-09 | San Antonio, TX @ The Ten Eleven