I can vibe with this.
I can vibe with this.
In a spur of the moment adventure this past weekend, I attended the Winter Meltdown concert hosted by 98x FM in Norfolk, Virginia. This is an annual concert hosted at the Ted Constant Convocation center on the campus of Old Dominion University. I had never previously been, but the stars aligned for me as I happened to be in the right place at the right time. By that, I mean that my sister was in Virginia this weekend, giving me reason to head down and visit. That and the fact that the lineup included some very important musicians that I was not willing to miss.
BANKS: BANKS served as the first performer of the night. I do not recall if I mentioned this previously, but I feel it is important to note that I was supposed to see BANKS a few months ago, tickets in hand and all, but ended up having to leave last minute and could not attend the show. Since that day I’ve been hoping to see her this summer at a few festivals, but to my surprise and joy, she was playing Winter Meltdown! I was not missing it. Due to the fact that she served as the first act, she was only allotted a fifteen minute set time, which was a bit disappointing, but better than nothing. Vocally, she sounded exactly as she does on Goddess, very soulful and sonically pleasing. However, she appeared very uncomfortable on stage. Throughout her performance I kept liking her to Lorde, in that her actions on stage are very atypical. However, unlike Lorde who has a strange demeanor and owns it, BANKS could not quite seem to work the stage. She rarely spoke and repeatedly walked circles in a very small area. This awkward stage presence did not bother me, but might deter some people from seeing her on more than one occasion. I feel BANKS best approach would be holding intimate concerts where she sits and sings, similar to something Adele might do. The only difficulty with this, though, is that her music is electronic. However, I feel with time comes comfortability and soon BANKS will be a headlining success story.
Bleachers: Bleachers performed immediately after BANKS, and what incredible performers they proved to be. I had seen, heard rather, Bleachers at Firefly Festival in Delaware, but was about a million miles away from the stage, sleepy in a hammock. Needless to say, this was a very different experience. If there is one thing that is for certain, it is that Jack Antonoff, lead singer, guitar player, and mastermind of Bleachers, has phenomenal stage presence. Many attendees of the show were there for headliners Neon Trees and Rise Against. Thus, I imagine bands like Bleachers and BANKS were not necessarily fitting with the music they enjoy. Knowing this, Antonoff made every effort to hype up the crowd. He was all over the stage, mouthing things like ‘let’s go’ and ‘what the f***’ at the audience members. This seemed to do it’s job. Near the end of the set, Bleachers performed an incredible cover of “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac and by the time they ended with their hit “I Wanna Get Better,” almost the entirety of the crowd had been won over, or at least appeased. Not to mention, the band that stood beside Antonoff were extraordinarily talented. To emphasize percussion, their were two drummers on separate kits, something that is extremely unusual and immensely intriguing. The band also consisted of a key/ saxophone player and another band member who was a jack of all trades, switching from guitar, to keys, to bass. He kept on going even when his string broke. Well played, sir. ALSO, bonus that he plays a rad Rickenbacker bass, very similar to Jenny Lee Lindberg of Warpaint, WOOP. The things I notice because I’m a music nerd.
HAIM: Ahhhh, yaas. HAIM are just extraordinarily talented. What you expect going into one of their shows is exactly what you get. I’ve seen them twice now, the first was early in the year when they had just started their headlining North American shows for the year. At Winter Meltdown they announced they had been touring their album, Days Are Gone for two and half years and that Winter Meltdown was their last show for the album. Good for them, they deserve a very long break! Due to the fact that their set was shorter, they did not play all of their songs. The setlist included: Forever, Falling, Don’t Save Me, The Wire, Let Me Go, and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well (it was a big day for Fleetwood Mac). Despite presumed exhaustion, Este, Danielle, and Alana still give it their all. They seemed to be taking some musical liberties as it was their last show. Danielle altered some of her riffs very slightly, which I really enjoyed. PLUS, she got a new Gibson SG, which in case you were wondering is my favorite guitar ever created, besides Fender Strats, so I was a little overwhelmed. Even the Rise Against attendees were talking about how well HAIM could play by the end of their set. Mission Accomplished.
A+ for the day.
About four years ago, Kenny Vasoli of The Starting Line headed a new creative project, Vacationer. Based out of Philadelphia, the Nu-Hulu music project has rapidly gained followers around the world. Over the past few years Vacationer has toured with well-known bands such as Bombay Bicycle Club, Tennis and The Naked and Famous. The group recently performed in Philadelphia with Bleachers, the alternative music project of mastermind Jack Antonoff of FUN. Vacationer’s second album, Release, serves as a celebrated follow-up to their successful debut album, Gone. Now having spent sufficient time collaborating creatively, the band is moving forward in bringing positive, relaxing, and euphonious music to the masses. Kenny took the time to answer a few questions for me, here is what he had to say:
Kenny, you have been associated with a multitude of bands with very different sounds. What has it been like creating music with different musical approaches and artistic visions?
It’s completely natural for me. I always follow my instincts and honor my influences, both old and new. I have more trouble trying to stick to one sound. I compare it to getting all of my food groups, I’d feel malnourished by only playing one specific type of music my whole life.
Relief, the band’s second album was released this past June, right at the start of festival season. Is it exciting to release an album and immediately get to tour it? How do festival performances differ from venue shows in this sense?
It’s nice getting to play festivals, we’ve had some amazing moments being a part of those this summer. It’s a thrill to be billed along side some of my favorite bands, even heroes at times. I’m always excited to play new songs, it’s like a freshly prepared meal that we are proud to serve. What I like so much about club and theater shows is the understanding between us and the audience. Most of the time when people see us in a venue they have an idea of what they are getting in for, so the ice is already broken.
Sonically, Relief differs from the debut album, Gone, in that Relief almost sounds more relaxed and simplistic, in a positive way. Yet, the growth between the two albums appears very organic. Can you discuss the creative approaches to each of these albums?
We took a very similar approach to this record from the last one. I think our biggest motivation was writing songs that we’d enjoy playing live. We’d played so many shows off of Gone, we could see where our set lacked energy. We added a bit to the writing dynamic with contributions from the live band, those guys are amazing players and have great sensibility so it’s nice to trust them with their parts. We also had a lot of ensemble recording sessions; I believe we had strings, winds and brass come in to track.. even an opera singer on Parallels. We wanted to make a record that went deeper both sonically and in subject matter. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
You’ve described your sound as ‘relaxed,’ which certainly comes across (in the best way possible)! What do you hope listeners take away from the music you create?
Relaxation and relief are the big objectives with this music. I want people to be happy and put their worries away when they listen to our music. I find stress to be a burden, and it falls upon me too easily. So I’m the poster boy for why this music exists, I need a pronounced reminder to chill out and enjoy life.
Gone is an incredibly unique album. The songs are very detailed, and because of this, actually expand over many genres. There is texture, tropical accents, soulful vocals, dream pop keyboard; the list goes on and on. How do you hone in on and finalize an end goal for a song when there are so many possible routes to take?
Between me and my collaborators, we have so many influences. Often times we’ll expose each other to our influences for the first time during a writing session. We really just follow our instincts and trust each other when we a re completing a song. If one of us is dry of an idea there is almost always someone who can offer one. It kind of becomes a relay race when one of us loses steam at the writing board. Often times when we are excited about new song, the synapses fire between all of us and it is complete in what seems to be no time.
You have toured so much over the past few years with many different people in different places. How are you going to spend your time off?
I lead a very simple life with simple pleasures when I am home. I love to spend time with my dog, hiking and skateboarding along side him as he trots. This past summer, I picked up surfing and am slowly becoming obsessed with it. I cook for myself almost every night when I am home. I enjoy hunting for records, meeting friends to hang out or even play more music. I also frequent the occasional dance night if there is a good party going down.
I admire your ability to incorporate traditional instrumentation alongside electronic additives. What inspired this?
That was an objective from the get-go with this project. My favorite bands were (and still are) ones who could utilize analog and passive instruments along side modern electronic production. E.i. Radiohead and LCD Soundsystem. I was also attracted to the stand alone artist who could create electronic music from natural sounding instruments, namely Four Tet. That was really what led me to find Matt and Grant from Body Language. They produce Vacationer with a background rooted in jazz and classic electronic music. I came to them with my own garage/rock band experience, but I had a vision of a chilled out result. The dynamic between all of us is responsible for the Vacationer sound.
There is a line in your song “Onward & Upward” that goes, “in a movement I found relief.” The way it is presented vocally, musically, and lyrically seems to almost capture the entire essence of the album. Are there any songs or moments that you feel have really captured all that is Vacationer?
I like to site that song as a solid representation of the new album’s message. Relief is readily available if you know where to look. I’ve found a sense of relief both in the band and in myself. Now I just want to spend the rest of my life experiencing it. That’s the song that encapsulated it most recently. Near the start, I’d say that the song Trip filled that role. That was the song that really lit the bulb, I could see clearly what this project was growing into. Not long after we Trip, we named the band Vacationer.
You’ve stated the music you create falls under the genre “Nu-Hula.” Would you mind elaborating on that?
That came from jokingly spouting off genre names at a recording session. I remember we were recording No Rules and Grant was dancing with hula hands. He then exclaimed, “it’s Nu-Hula!” We took to it right away.
What can we expect next from Vacationer?
We’ve got some more touring to do off of Relief. At the start of next year we’ll be making our way to the warm weather states down south for some shows. Come spring/summer we’ll be aiming for as many festivals as we can. In the meantime, we’ll be laying down sketches of new songs. Releasing this last record seemed to make me more inspired to write, which is a-typical. Usually I have a long lasting hangover and need to replenish inspiration. This time around I’m chomping at the bit to write new and exciting music.