You need not listen to Vacationer‘s music to understand that Kenny Vasoli is heavily influenced by the tropics. Vasoli, who began the “nu-hula” outfit back in 2010, has spent the last four years developing the project with Matthew Young and Grant Wheeler of Body Language. When he made the departure from The Starting Line in 2010, Vasoli had an idea of what kind of music he wanted to create, and from what he tells me, his goal has always been the same: to make something “chill.” While the band has grown to include four more members over the years, his direction and ultimate vision for the band has more or less remained the same. When I spoke with the Philadelphia-based musician a couple of weeks ago, I was rather taken back by his humble disposition—but given the relaxed nature of his music, I guess this is something I should have come to expect. In the short 15 minutes that we spoke, I gained a better understanding of his past, his writing process and got his take on tropical music as a whole.
Indie Current: Before you began Vacationer, you were part of a highly successful pop-punk band throughout the early and mid 2000s. I was wondering how the transition has been from that to Vacationer? More importantly, I was wondering how that transition came about?
Vacationer: It was really just aging I guess. I segwayed into Vacationer because the stuff I was doing in regards to post-punk was sort of all across the map. And as much as I respect that world and the fans of that project, I just wanted to purge every other influence afterwards and shove it into this project. When I took a zoom-out, I realized it’s not the easiest thing to gravitate towards your music when you have a band that is all over the map; it’s easier to get people on board when you have a cohesive vision of what you want to do. So, when I started Vacationer, I knew I wanted to make something chill; I wanted to enter the world of electronic production.
That was the big thing, I was such a fan of electronic music and dance music, but like chill dance music. I wanted to see how that was done, so I linked up with two guys in a band called Body Language—Matt Young and Grant Wheeler—who are now my cohorts in doing the Vacationer stuff as far as writing and recording goes. After I linked up with them, I conveyed what I wanted to do with the project and then we sort of just started throwing around some ideas. Very quickly we were able to put stuff together—and we still do.
Every time I go up there [Brooklyn], we usually start a song—even finish it at times—and start in on another one. In the beginning, I would go up there every other week and we would just keep turning out songs. This was really exciting for me because I was going up to Brooklyn to write and record, then I would go home and listen to the final product later that day. It’s a thrilling thing for me to be able to do, and then to be able to do it live is also great! Y’know, I’m 30 now and I don’t have the stamina to be yelling, screaming, jumping and sweating all the time. I guess I’m looking for a long-term life plan and Vacationer is a great fit for that; it’s a nice way to ease out.
IC: How have you found time to write and record two highly successful LPs between touring, curating mixes and producing remixes in the four years that you’ve been active? Do you, like many other musicians, write music on the road?
V: Y’know, Matt and Grant do so much of the heavy lifting. It may appear as though I’m really prolific, but it’s those guys that get me started so much of the time; often times, I’m the one dragging my feet getting lyrics finished. I tend to work very slowly, and even though I have an abundance of free time, that just goes to laying in my backyard with my dog. Motivation and inspiration are something that I just wait for, but when it does come, it usually floods in.
IC: Do you tend to start off with an electronic production and build off from there or do typically write instrumentals?
V: Those guys [Matt and Grant] work with Logic and they usually send me instrumentals of stuff they’ve been working on. They’re always putting together stuff for Body Language and their various other projects, so I think that just in them throwing paint at the wall all the time, some stuff gets framed more “Vacationer.” Usually, they’ll just say, “Hey, could you work with this beat?” Sometimes it’s just as simple as a beat, sometimes it’s more realized than that, but it gives me something to go off of. I like to describe it as a colouring book: they just give me this outline and I can sort of fill in the blanks; that’s sort of how it gets completed.
IC: When comparing your first album, Gone, to your most recent album, Relief, I noticed that instrumentals play a much larger role in your sound. Is this something that comes across on stage?
V: It’s all pretty in-line with itself live. Once it gets translated to the live band, it pretty much all has a common denominator. There is still just as many electronics on the new record—if not more—but I think we took more of a queue from the 60s/70s exotica production and actually got our hands dirty with that stuff. So, in that sense, there’s more of a dimension with the actual composition and ensemble arrangements on this record; we just wanted to go deeper with it on this one.
IC: Some of your songs, specifically “Dreamlike” and “Heavenly,” are quite musically-intensive and tend to transition from one space to the next quite abruptly. Is there any song that you find particularly challenging to play live?
V: Those two are perfect examples! “Dreamlike” took a while to get together and we haven’t even begun to attempt “Heavenly” because of that key part (*hums chorus*); I played guitar on that song and memorizing where to put your fingers makes it crazy to transcribe. We also started playing “Glimpse” on this tour, which is one that is kind of an undertaking. Some of them are crazier than others and those three are big ones.
IC: Music with a tropical influence, particularly electronic and pop music, has taken off in the past couple of years. Do you think this marks a change in the listening habits of listeners or do think this is just another fad?
V: I don’t know… I love the tropical tip and it stems as far as Beach Boys, Martin Denny and Esquivel. There’s a region of the world that does that non-stop and hasn’t stopped doing it. As to whether or not that’s a fad for America, I don’t really give a sh*t. To tell you the truth—and I’m not trying to toot my horn here—but I didn’t see a lot of people doing this before us. So, hopefully, we got in before the flood [laughs]. I mean, my finger’s not really on the pulse of what’s happening or not, but even while touring with St. Lucia I’ve thought, “Yeah they’re kind of on the tropical tip, too!” That’s why this seems to work so well. When we were starting this band, I listened to Washed Out a lot, but even then he wasn’t so much on the tropical end. Then, when he put out Paracosm—and I love that record—I was like, “Damn, this guy’s swerving into our lane right now!”
IC: What are you listening to right now?
V: There’s an EP that just came out from a band called Sego and we are just endlessly hyping them; I think they’re just the next big thing! I was so excited when I found out about this band because they make music that is punk-y—but danceable—and really just super raw. If you’re interested, they have an EP out now on Kitsuné. The new Bombay Bicycle Club album is fantastic as well! I’m so proud of those guys for what they’ve achieved with that record. I’ll also just name some classics: LCD Soundsystem‘s Sound of Silver is timeless, Beach House‘s Teen Dream is one I never get sick of and Radiohead‘s Hail to the Thief is another one that I can just flip on.