Vacationer’s Kenny Vasoli: From Pop-Punk to Chillwave.
Text by Beth Ann Downey. Image by Joe Perri.
The Starting Line’s song “Islands” hinted at what the band’s Philadelphia-based former frontman Kenny Vasoli is now going for with his new project, Vacationer.
“Let’s sail away, find our own country. We’ll build a house and beds out of palm trees,” sang Vasoli on the track, which was featured on the band’s 2007 album Direction, their last original release before disbanding the following year.
Written in a different time and place — and about a different girl — Vacationer’s debut LP Gone, aims to transport the listener to a place like that island described but with its chillwave electronic elements, lavish layers and catchy beats.
“We make very serene, for lack of a better word, chill music,” Vasoli says, acknowledging the departure from his pop-punk rock roots. “It’s just really hard to get yourself worked up listening to our music, I think. It’s not designed to make you feel sorrow really, or aggression. It’s more just very much like a muscle relaxer for your ears. It’s just like a sitting-on-the-beach, toes-in-the-sand kind of feeling, at least to me and the guys that I make it with.”
Vasoli’s foray into the dreamy, electronic sound comes after a rock-heavy career in both The Starting Line and his experimental/indie project that followed, Person L. But when Vasoli got his hands on albums by Beach House, Radio Department and Neon Indian, he quickly became interested in starting his own pop-sensible electronic act.
All Vasoli needed was the right team, which he found in Matthew Young and Grant Wheeler, both of the Brooklyn-based band, Body Language.
“I just liked the sound of it and I liked the songs a lot, so I was really pushing to work with those guys,” Vasoli says of hearing Body Language at the insistence of his manager and former Starting Line guitarist, Matt Watts. “I went up [to Brooklyn], and it was just like a blind date. We did one session together and a lot of good stuff came out of it. We actually wrote the better part of the song ‘Great Love’ that’s on the record. Then we just made a thing out of it every other weekend. It was really great. It was just such a natural progression. Working with those guys was like the most effortless experience for me. I can’t believe the product of what came out of us working for such a short time together.”
Though the band had already been touring, little news came out about Vasoli’s new project until the end of January, when they released the three-song Gone EP and the voice behind the smooth beat and bird calls of “Trip” or the soft croons and hand claps of “Gone” was unmistakably that of the Starting Line and Person L singer. Vasoli says he wanted his involvement to remain shrouded in mystery until people had the time to judge Vacationer for the music, not because his name was attached.
“I didn’t really want to ride the coattails of anything I’ve done in the past,” he says. “I think if you’re trying to do something truly different, then that’s probably the worst thing you can do because then people have expectations. There’s really nothing that annoys me more than people expecting something out of me.”
Along with a new sound, Vasoli shed his teenage angst in favor of the tranquil positivity of each Vacationer track. He admitted that much of the album was written about a personal experience with a girl (again, not the same girl that “Island” was written about) and has no reservations about chronicling his experience with her for everyone to hear.
“It’s really nice because that reflected on an extremely positive time in my life where I was feeling an intense love,” Vasoli says. “I’m glad that I have a bookmark in my life to really capture the spirit of that. I can listen to these songs and know exactly what was going on. It was a really beautiful memory.”
Vasoli’s new memories will be made on the road for the indefinite future. The rest of this year will involve “tons of Vacationer,” with new tour plans still in the works. But on the musical journey that spans multiple successes and failures, genres and decades, a few months on the road away from home doesn’t seem to scary for the singer.
“I’ve always just been on a journey to write the best songs that I can,” Vasoli says. “I’ve never really felt too comfortable with staying stagnant in the same type of sound. Just with my tastes in general, my tastes are always changing from year to year. I’ve never really been a slave or a purist to tradition or what I’ve been listening to. It’s always been kind of ever changing. It feels good to have people respond to the different things that I do because I definitely go out on a limb with a lot of the choices that I make creatively. The fact that people have still been staying along with me is a really good feeling. It’s very affirming.”