This weekend at Fashion Meets Music Festival I had the opportunity to sit down with Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer, a feel good tropical/feel good band from Philly that takes pride in their self made ‘Nu-Hula’ genre. Vasoli was great to talk to, his music seems to spill over into his overall personality making conversations fun, personable, and chill.
Check out my Q&A with the front man below.
Your music is described as tropical and it has a feel-good sound. What inspired that?
Well, we started making the first record in the middle of the summer, and it was sort of a reaction to me not wanting to make loud music anymore. The tropical thing sort of came from the guys I was writing and producing with, they have an extensive collection of exotica records and that sort of aesthetic went into the songs at the really early stage of it and it was once they started doing these tropical slices to hip hop tempo that I really felt like this was something unique that we should grasp on to. It was a unanimous thing between all of us, once we started doing “Trip” and songs like that it became clear what kind of music we wanted to make.
What’s ‘Nu-Hula’? I know it’s the genre that they use to label your music, but what exactly is it?
That’s funny. Well that’s kind of an inside joke between us, like in the beginning. It just a genre we coined because it seemed like everyone was coining a genre at the time like the chill-wave tip was kind of cresting. We came up with Nu-Hula basically ‘cause it was our spin on Polynesian music and then we named our twitter handle after it and it was used in various channels and it has sort of stuck with us. We actually get that question a lot, it’s just a tongue and cheek attempt at naming a genre.
So, I read that you guys went on tour with Bombay Bicycle Club. How awesome was that?
Incredible, just incredible. That was one of our first tours. We had four US tours we got really lucky and I was a big fan of that band before that tour and then after it just made me an even bigger fan. I didn’t realize how young those guys were, they’re four or five years younger than me on average and so seeing how professional and well developed they were as musicians and songwriters was inspiring.
They were even working out “Carry Me” in the sound check, like writing the song.
Wait, they wrote the song right then and there?
Yeah! I love that record and I love that song and it was really cool that we got to be out with them when they were – you could tell that they were sort of hitting this really sweet spot of getting really comfortable with their band and really finding their sound. I can’t say enough good things about that band and on a professional and personal level those guys are all fantastic.
I know the one thing I love about them is that they have a different genre per album. Their first one is more indie rock, their second is all folk, their third is more of an indie pop album, and their recent release I was like woah, this is sort of experimental.
It blew me away. The new one strikes me as Middle Eastern hip-hop. A lot of that quarter tone sitar stuff – I know Jack [Steadman] went to India for a while and it’s cool when you can hear the inspiration that has been soaked up with somebody, like geographically. I love that.
Going off of playing with them, what’s the best venue you’ve played at?
You know it’s funny you say that because on that tour we got to play The Fillmore in San Francisco and that’s just a legendary rock venue that everybody has played, you know? I’m sure The Beatles have played there, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, all the greats of the ‘hippie’ area, but that was the place that poppin’ off so it was cool we got to go in that house.
Would you say you guys have matured since your first release?
(laughs) Not a bit. Next question (laughs) Yeah, like you’d hope so. I think so, I think people – well…
Like in sound and as a band.
I think so yeah, I’d like to think that we’re evolving as a band, I don’t know about our maturity level as people has gotten any better, I think that’s sort of plateaued with that. I think that we’re hitting a ground with this band and we’ve sort of broken into a new dimension with the last record – without trying to sound super stoked about my own stuff, I’m just trying so hard at what I do – but I do feel like there was a new thing that happened with the last record that didn’t happen on the first and I’d like to keep continuing in that light.
So, LCD Soundsystem. They were a major influence when you first decided to start the side project of Vacationer, can you tell me more about that?
LCD Soundsystem was this band that really – it just broke my mind open to using electronic music within the classic band setup you see on stage with guitars and bass and drums and vocals. They are a great representation of what you can do with dance music organically and that’s why I love that band and I take so much influence away from them. I also like the understatement of that band. Every time I saw them live the crowd would always go crazy dancing, they always have the memory like, “this is going to be a party and we’re just going to dance” and you would never hear – besides the lyrics – you would never hear them say anything trying to prompt people to dance, it just happened.
People just knew what they had to do.
Yeah. I love looking at that band and seeing what kind of hypnotism they do with their music that just make people instantly want to get down. We’re not quite a dance band so we can have a little bit of a cop-out if people aren’t dancing ‘cause we sort of do walk the line into this shoegaze, dream-whatever kind of territory, but when we do write a dance track I like going to that band as a reference point.
“Paradise Waiting” and “The Wild Life” are my favorite songs off the latest release. Every time I hear them I immediately think ‘summer anthem’. Would you say you tried to create more of that sound on Relief than on Gone? Did you attempt to do more on Relief?
Yeah, I think the biggest difference going into ‘Relief’ is we had a context for how the songs go live. Like, we saw them in front of audiences and we got to gauge the reaction of what we recorded on the first record in front of a live audience. That I think was in the back of our minds when we were making ‘Relief’ because we really like when you can feel that energy from the crowd when they’re excited about something. I don’t mind having too many chill jams on the set because I love down-tempo, chill stuff to listen to, so I want to make sure that’s represented on the record but I also want to make sure that when we’re creating a live set that we have stuff that can have more dynamic than just the same energy like that.
I love that. What’s your favorite artist as of now?
I’m trying to think of who I’ve been listening to a lot right now. Well, my girlfriend surprised me and sent me the new Beach House record and that band – I know a lot of people love that band and I’m one of them. That was one of the bands that inspired me, you know on the other side of LCD Soundsystem it was Beach House and Radio Department that I was listening to a lot when I was riding my bike and I was just like, “yeah I just wanna do something that doesn’t have a lot of ingredients and is something I don’t have to shout at the top of my lungs” if you’re falling in love and stuff like that then that band is just for you. Or even if you’re going through heartbreak or just like – I feel the way they convey emotion through music is, and I’m not just talking about lyrics I’m talking about the actual music. That music has such a heaviness and such a beautiful and gorgeous sorrow that also relaxes me somehow. It just devastates me and makes me so happy all at the same time. I got ‘Depression Cherry’ on vinyl and I had waited to listen to it and put it on my stereo speakers…I put blankets out upstairs and just rolled a joint, had a beer, and just melted into the floor on that record. There’s a lot of bands I’m listening to right now but I just need to shout out Beach House for being so consistent.
When it comes to your fan base, does your music draw in an assortment of people? I know you worked with The Starting Line. Do you see an assortment of fans that knew you from The Starting Line come to your Vacationer shows?
More now, I really didn’t put that on the forefront of it like, I completely hid my identity when I first started making music and you won’t find my name on the first record because I was just trying to let it be what it was and the label that signed us didn’t realize who I was when that happened. It’s funny that – well not funny, but it’s good that it got its own identity from the get-go ‘cause most of our fans seem to be coming in fresh on the stuff and then finding out about what I’ve been up to sometimes. Other people have picked up on this and to tell you the truth I think a lot of the people at the beginning that listened to The Starting Line and listen to this it didn’t quite translate for them. Obviously there’s some crossover fans but for the most part it’s just sort of been from that Bombay tour and everything we’ve been accumulating.
I saw that in 2013, The Starting Line got back together. At this point in your work, Vacationer was just starting out, were you still dabbling around in the old pop-punk genre or were you just trying to start something new? When I was doing my research I was kind of confused on the whole situation.
Right. The Starting Line hasn’t…like, I think we took one full year off and then we’ve played three shows a year ever since then. So, we never totally said goodbye to it like, we still always play a couple times so it does confuse people because they’re like, “well will you guys get back together?” and then I’m like…aren’t we? We’re still up to stuff so I never totally turned my back on pop-punk. I got burnt out on writing it for a while and I can’t do it every day because it just destroys my voice…but I’m also a 31 year-old man, I always like acting my age with the music that I make. I don’t like putting on something that doesn’t represent what I’m into, but I love Starting Line and I love playing with those guys but Vacationer is something that – it’s sort of a long term project for me because I can do this into my twilight years so it’s the type of thing that I feel like is ageless in the people that listen to it.
Vacationer put on a kick ass performance on the Jagermiester Stage on Day 2 of FMMF. Touching on hits from both their debut and their recent release, the band ensured the audience a great performance filled with extremely chill vibes and nothing but smiles to accompany the beautiful sunset closing over the Arena District.