TSJ Interviews Vacationer Front Man, Kenny Vasoli

Couple of weeks back, TSJ brought you the smooth sounds of Vacationer when we featured “Trip” as a Tuesday Tune. 

TSJ did some on-the-phone hanging with Vacationer front man, Kenny Vasoli, who talked to us about surf aesthetics, writer’s block, and scream-o punk rock. 

The Smoking Jacket: Where did you grow up, Mr. Vasoli?

KS: In a suburb north of Philidelphia, about twenty miles north of the city.

TSJ: And where do you live now?

KS: Same place. I bought a house that’s like five minutes from where I grew up.

TSJ: Do your parents still live in the house you grew up in?

KS: Yeah, they live like five minutes away.

TSJ: That’s sweet. So what do you find the music scene’s like out there?

KS: I’d say Philadelphia on the whole has always been punk rock driven — like tonight I’m going to my buddy’s first-wave screamo band’s reunion after fifteen years of being debunked. So a lot of stuff like that. Relative to the kind of stuff that Vacationer does I haven’t found a lot of hybrid,  indie, electronic bands that come from here. A psychedelic pop thing that seems to be happening with like Kurt Vile and War on Drugs and Dr. Dog and stuff like that. But as far as electronic music I haven’t been able to come across that much that’s been born here. But maybe that will change.

TSJ: Yeah, maybe you’ll be able to inspire a whole posse of musicians.

KS: Maybe, yeah. [Laughs.]

TSJ: How did you get into music? What instrument did you start out playing?

KS: In third grade I played trumpet for like a week. And when I was five I started piano and taking lessons and really didn’t absorb too much. I had a really elderly piano teacher who’d teach me “Hot Crossed Buns” and “Three Blind Mice.” Then I started taking bass lessons when I was 9 years old and joined a jazz band and really started to absorb that. And from that age, like 9 or 10, I was always forming garage bands or joining other people’s bands.

TSJ: Is jazz a good base for getting into pop?

KS: I think it’s good for musicality. I don’t know if it’s good for pop, because the structure of jazz and the structure of pop have very loose relationships with each other but I think it’s good to have that kind of knowledge or rhythm and also that thinking-outside-the-box that you can do in terms of improvisation.

TSJ: Tell me a bit about your role in Vacationer.

Kenny Vasoli: I play the bass and I sing vocals and I write lyrics.

TSJ: How does the songwriting work with Vacationer?

KS: It’s a partnership between me, and Grant and Matt, who are the producers of Vacationer and my co-writers as well. They’re producers and co-writers in a band called Body Language as well.

TSJ: How long has Vacationer been an entity?

KS: We’ve been writing music for a little over two years now. And playing live for a little over a year.

TSJ: We featured the video “Trip” recently on TSJ, and as well as being a great listen it’s so beautiful to look at — such a great aesthetic.

KS: Thank you! I appreciate it. Our publicist had worked with the videographer, Dave Homcy, he’s primarily a surf photographer, so it was pretty much a no-brainer to have someone who shot that kind of stuff for our style of music. They were able to fly me down to Oahu for a few days and didn’t have too much of script or an outline–

TSJ: You just started biking around a bit…

KS: Yeah! He pretty much just drove me around to places that he thought were really beautiful on the island and had me play on a tire swing and ride my bike and jump in the water. It was cool because it was all in keeping with the whole spirit of Vacationer — going and enjoying yourself and then just trying to capture it.

TSJ: There’s a real sense of nostalgia in your music, as well as in the video for “Trip.” What’s the idea behind that?

KS: I think we’re super inspired by the sixties style of music, tropicali music and surf music, and also just the way the things were put together back then, sort of analogue and realistic with the sense that you just had to be really good at playing. Like in order to harmonize and create melody in a really pleasing way. And it’s also that whole sunny pop from back in those days… We really tried that and put a new spin on that.

TSJ: Do you think there’s anything contemporary informing your work at all?

KS: For sure. Bands like Beach House and Yo Le Tengo and Radio Dept.

TSJ: Yeah, I thought even the name Vacationer was like a nearby holiday to Beach House, in a way.

KS: Yeah, definitely. A lot of the time I’m just like how can I take a bite from Beach House and make it not completely obvious. Even the name Vacationer does raise an eyebrow to that.

TSJ: So what else are you guys working on.

KS: Right now we’re just knocking around some new ideas. I’m actually just starting to dissolve a little bit of writer’s block that I’ve had recently. Just kind of trying to combat that with enjoying my summer and just live some life. We’re playing a scattering of shows, like festivals and stuff. And we’re preparing to hit the road in October with Bombay Bicycle Club.

TSJ: How do you get over your writer’s block?

KS: You kind of just have to wait it out. Inspiration is just sort of like a frequency that you get tuned into. I can’t really mine my brain for inspiration if it’s not just there on the surface. So I kind of just need to live life and to wait for something to happen that’s going to pique my interest enough to want it to be subject matter in songs.

Check out Vacationer online: vacationermusic.com
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Related on The Smoking Jacket:
TSJ Interviews Kevin Smith
TSJ Interviews “Craigslist Joe” Director, Joseph Garner
TSJ Interviews Magician Justin Willman 

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