An Interview with Steve Hackett of Genesis

Steve Hackett (Photo: Jim Buninx)
We had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Steve Hackett earlier this week in advance of his two upcoming shows this weekend -- first on Sunday, December 7th at the Warfield (tickets here), and then the following night at the Regency Ballroom (sold out). Although not necessarily a household name like Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins, Steve Hackett was one fifth of the original prog-rock incarnation of the band, Genesis. He's been on tour throughout the year with 'Genesis Extended' -- performing classics from the core early Genesis albums. He took the time to chat with us about those early days, the challenges of writing by committee, and his departure from the band. Be sure to grab Warfield tickets while they're still available!

San Francisco Bay Area Concerts: You were 20 years old when you posted an ad in Melody Maker looking for a band to join and were contacted by Peter Gabriel for an audition. Can you describe that period of time in your life and what it was like to join Genesis?

Steve Hackett: Yeah, I've been advertising in the back pages of Melody Maker for about five years, and it was an interesting time. I was trying to form bands, I was trying to join bands — I think I would have done anything, you know, to get on the next step of the ladder. And I recorded an album with a band called Quiet World in 1970 — in that same year that I spoke with Pete. And I stuck an ad in Melody Maker after I had broken up with Quiet World. I’d done an album with them, so I had some recording experience but I basically stuck an ad in Melody Maker out of complete frustration. After five years of ads, the one that I put in said ‘guitarist/writer seeks receptive musicians determined to stride beyond existing stagnant music forms’ and there was something about the ad that Pete said that made him wanna answer it. So I think that's really what got me the gig — it was really the ad that got me the gig, and the fact that I played several different kinds of music. And I think also what contributed to me clinching the gig was the fact they'd already auditioned 40 other guitarists and settled on someone they weren’t particularly happy with. So it was that both Pete and Tony, who came to my family home, where I played them a few ideas through with my brother. So I wasn’t actually working on their music, but I was showing them what we could do. I suspect that because there were two of us, we were able to demonstrate a little bit of a musical act and it gave them some idea of what we could do, so I did something pastoral, which eventually ended up on Voyage of the Acolyte (iTunes). And then I played them something atonal, which was completely dissonant, and then I played them some blues — I played some blues harmonica. And Pete said “I think we might be able to use the first one, but the other two we probably wouldn’t be so interested in.” But as we did The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, there was some atonal stuff, and so, I was able to get that through. But sadly, I never got Genesis to do anything remotely bluesy. So I think that was what was happening at the time, and so I joined them at the start of 1971 and stayed until ’77.

SFBAC: So Genesis was putting out annual releases through the early ’70’s, and when you’re writing, recording and touring that much to support those albums, there’s not much time for yourself… Is that the source of some of the frustration that you felt at the time before recording and releasing your solo album?

Steve Hackett: Well, I think, you have to remember that although I advertised myself as a writer, I was really faking it to make it. I really hadn't written that much at that point, and it was a case of all the things I wanted to do that I was advertising of course. So yes, we were living cheek by jowl, and it was like a five-way marriage in a sense… I know I was spending at least as much time with the guys as I was in any other kind of relationship and so that does get pretty intense when you're traveling throughout the world together. Also, I think when you've got people in a band together who are all equally creative, the contest is on obviously, and some characters are more competitive than others and some are more receptive and communicative and others are more sullen and sometimes snappy… It runs the gamut of human experience, all of that. But it was a great time, and we had some wonderful moments and some terrible rows. What can I tell you?

SFBAC: What are you most proud of during that time?

Steve Hackett: The rows.. no, ha! What I’m proud of is all the albums that we did together, but probably what I’m most proud of is Selling England by the Pound (iTunes) where I got the guitar to do surprising things. But over and above that, some of the things that I wrote for the band as well, I’m still very proud of those, the pieces that I’ve written not only the playing. And I was very proud to be part of a band who started off playing clubs together, as we did, and ended up playing arenas, and sometimes filling out arenas for several nights running. And I felt when I left the band, the sky was the limit. But, politically of course, even though the band was extremely creative and we did great things together, nonetheless, there was the aspect of trying to unseat each other — not me of course, I’m a nice boy, but, you know, the aspect of complicated politics and all that and of course, when Peter left, the bands' future was by no means assured and most of us went off to do separate solo projects. Then we reconvened and I was the first to have a solo album released which became a hit and that made things a little difficult for me. I think some guys in the band were worried that would create another Pete, or another star within the ranks, especially not a new boy… so draw from that what you will… having a gold album when you’re still a part of a band, is probably not the best thing for band harmony. But I obviously I demonstrated that I didn’t need to be held ransom by the idea of composition by committee and that I could do it on my own. I wanted to continue to work on with the band, but the terms weren’t really acceptable. The terms were really that I should forget about having a separate parallel career and neither would I have a guarantee that anything I wrote for the band would be used by the band so if I don’t like it, you know what you can do kinda thing. So I thought that my allegiance at the end of the day, has to be to the music and not necessarily the worlds greatest band, even playing in the worlds greatest band wouldn’t be enough as far as I’m concerned because as much as I love the music — and I adore it — it’s survived so many decades and I’m back doing it because I love it, it’s my love of the music, but one detests the politics that bands are subject to.

SFBAC: Regarding your first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte (iTunes), do you think most of the tension that resulted from the release was a direct result of how well the album sold?

Steve Hackett: Yes, I think so, I think my only mistake was that it was such a success. If I’d done it, and it failed miserably, it would have been ‘well done, old chap’, you know what I mean? No one could be patronizing anymore!  Hahah!

SFBAC: Did Mike or Phil get any heat for contributing to the album?

Steve Hackett: Ummm, no. No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that Mike and Phil got any heat from contributing to the album at all. Nooo, no, no, no, no.

SFBAC: When did you realize it was time to leave the band?

Steve Hackett: I think this thing about Genesis starting to lose members, first of all it lost Pete, then it lost me, and then eventually it lost Phil. Now obviously if a band’s going to start hemorrhaging members, now that’s OK if you’ve got one guy who’s the star — funny enough, i was reading something about AC/DC today, and the fact that he’s the only remaining original member — and I understand why that works. But with Genesis, you have to remember that Pete was the star. He was the front man, and nobody really knew if the band would survive without him. The band was initially unwilling to have Phil take over as front man. Even though I said, why don’t we do it and get him another instrumentalist; the band had to go through auditioning 400 other singers — I was proved right, eventually. But so much about a career in music isn’t about being right, it’s about timing; so I was very pleased that Phil became the lead singer, and very pleased for his subsequent success. You can’t keep a good man down. All bands need to learn… the lesson is that you’ve gotta let people go off and do their own thing. There’s no point in trying to be controlling about it. It doesn’t really work. And at the end of the day, people are going to do what they want to do. Pete wanted to have a separate solo career, Mike and Tony didn’t want him to do it, so he left the band. And the same thing for me. You know, there’s only a certain amount that you’ll put up with in terms of being told what to do, and if you’ve got something to say, then you’ve gotta say it.

SFBAC: I’m assuming that’s what you meant when you said in the recent BBC documentary “Genesis was a very competitive band…no doubt about that…very gifted, but with those gifts, there’s a price.”

Steve Hackett: Yes, exactly. There’s a price for that, and I think that it’s a band with a very promising past, you know Genesis is a band that is no more, yet the music is extremely well loved, and I decided to take the bull by the horns rather than wait for decades for each one of us to slowly die off to prove a point that it was never gonna reconvene, even though I’ve been up for it for centuries. And the point is, that when I do this stuff live, this music, the music is the star of the show. It’s not about me, any more than anyone else frankly. It’s the quality of the writing that’s survived. It cannot be down to just the cut of the singer’s trousers or the color of the guitarist’s shirt. After a certain point, once you’re no longer the young blade that you once were, what you’ve got left is the experience of the playing and the quantity of songs and whether it’s a real dream or not. Why’s it going to survive? Why should people indulge it? So it’s been great to bring back the dream of the real Genesis that I loved.

SFBAC: Have any of the original members seen the revisited tour?

Steve Hackett: Um, no, they haven’t. No. No. They haven’t. And after June, I’ll be very happy for them to come and see it, but I won’t be doing it anymore. So… yeah, for all sorts of complicated reasons, I can’t really go there with that one.

SFBAC: For legal reasons?

Steve Hackett: Yeah, I’ll get into legal hot water. I can’t go there. But after June… Yeah, that’s another story. So if any of us do anything together after that point, then I’m in the clear. But I will be going back to solo work, I’ll be going back to my after-life. Imagine that? Returning to your after-life, which is your solo career… I’m returning to my after-life. My second, third, and fourth… I have many lives… Genesis was one of them. ha ha.

SFBAC: How did the recent BBC documentary film come together?

Steve Hackett: Well, the idea of that was in parallel to the album (R-Kive - iTunes). The album which features Genesis hits and solo songs as well. It was sold to me as the idea of a two-pronged thing, a sister project. So there’s an album that has 37 tracks. It has Genesis hits on it, it has 3 solo tracks from me, 3 from Phil, 3 from Pete; Mike and Tony… So on the same album you’ve got “In the Air Tonight” (iTunes) along with “Solsbury Hill” (iTunes) and various well known Genesis ones. It’s great to be part of that. The idea was that the documentary was going to reflect that as well. And initially it was going to be called “Together and Apart,” so it was the idea of… we were all interviewed for many long hours, but unfortunately it came out rather disappointingly as far as I was concerned, so I’ve distanced myself from it. I’m not selling it via my website. I think the album is representative of the five of us, but I don’t think the documentary is sufficiently representative of the five man team that comprised it between ’71-’75 and then in my case, extending into ’77. So, yeah, it’s disappointing. other than that, I don’t really want to belabor the point.

SFBAC: OK! How about your biggest regret during that time?

Steve Hackett: My biggest regret during that time while I was with the band? Well, I don’t actually have any regrets in the early ’70’s. I was thrilled that the band took on board sufficient of my ideas to equip ourselves with. Like the mellotron and the synthesizer. I realized that the band needed to have certain things to be able to present themselves theatrically. So in a way, I felt like an outsider at first. I said we need all of these things, and it all fell on deaf ears. but I knew that’s what we wanted, so I kept going like a mantra or Chinese water torture, and I got my own way over the big things, I think. Sometimes more difficult with writing. Sometimes I’d get a whole song through. Other times, it would be killed at the committee stage. And not just ideas I was keen on myself, but other people's other really great ideas too. Joseph was famous for putting things on the back burner, and then perhaps reviving from album to album. But maybe it was a little bit like that with Pink Floyd as well. There just seems to be a lot of the past cropping up in their stuff. They always seemed to realize it was starring them in the face some years down the line, what they should have done. I wrote one or two of those songs, like “Deja Vu” for instance, which Pete kicked off, and I said “look, I really liked what we nearly recorded, how about I finish the song?” He said, “yeah, let’s do that and split the publishing 50/50.” Deal done! No problem! Then there was a song, “Shadow of a Hierophant” (iTunes), with Mike Rutherford. Partly written by him, partly written by me. Something rehearsed by Genesis, but that was never performed by Genesis. But felt great in the rehearsal room, and marvelous that that got done. I learned a lot with Genesis. More pluses than minuses!

SFBAC: Because we’re based here in the SF Bay Area, do you have any vivid memories from touring here?

Steve Hackett: Yeah, I remember that the first time through we did Winterland! I think we could have been any band on stage at that point. I don’t think we impressed. I got the feeling that it was very much like, ‘we’ve had them all in here’, ‘we’ve had the Grateful Dead in here for god sake man!’ ‘What are you guys coming up with?’ And gradually, over time, we whittled our way into the affections of the locals. And it ended up being a stronghold, and particularly for me, I’ve done acoustic shows there, I’ve done electric things. And I’m thrilled to be returning to it with this Genesis show. Believe me, it’s got all the bells and whistles and it’s wonderful.

SFBAC: Yeah, we’re looking forward to your upcoming shows. Your Sunday show is at the Warfield which is a fantastic venue, and the show on Monday night will be at the Regency Ballroom.

Steve Hackett: Yes that’s right! I’m doing two different venues, which will be interesting because there’s so much interest in it. I think the last time through, Andrew Stanton of Pixar was there, and that was great. On this tour, in New York, Bruce Willis came to the show at the Town Hall, and it was great to talk to him. And it’s been extremely well attended, and it’s broken box office records in all sorts of places. And that’s been a thrill for me, that I can bring back the dream and that it wasn’t something that was purely a product of it’s time, I think it’s transcended its time and earned its spurs to mix a metaphor or two… There’s something about it that’s held deeply in the affection of fans, and no matter who disparages this genre or these songs specifically, it seems to have survived punk, and often survived the criticisms of the band members who actually wrote it, and who tried to draw a veil over it and distance themselves from it. But we realize that that’s all an aberration, and of course, completely magnificent, so the doors to the museum will be open once more. And the exhibits will be unveiled once more, and they’ve all been polished up and they look pretty good. They’re gleaming! It’s a bit like the mummy’s roadshow, it will always draw a cloud — crowd! A freudian slip. It’s great to be able to bring that to people again, but do it with a fresh coat of paint and different people to do it. And not try and make it look like 1973 again. We’re not a tribute band, I can’t be a tribute to myself. We reinvent it, there’s a flamboyant singer. There’s a lot of laughs on stage, it’s very funny. Yeah, it feels really great. This team loves doing it. Many of them grew up listening to this stuff, and I think it’s a dream come true for many of them as well. So, the music’s already proved itself. All I have to do is a fairly decent version of it, but I think we do more than that. I think we do great versions of those tunes, because we still feel it!

SFBAC: Well, I know we’re looking forward to it! When can we expect the Steve Hackett Revisited Tour?

Steve Hackett: Ah! Well, there’s a new album. It’s done, it’s mixed. It’s in 5.1 and in stereo, available in all formats — vinyl through to CD to download to bluray… It’ll be out at the end of March 2015, so I will be touring that. Whether it’ll be named Steve Hackett Revisited, I doubt that somehow, but it will have some revisited moments from my past, and new bits as well. It’s important to move on, and I do actually really love the new album. Thats been hard fought for in all sorts of ways. It does a lot of things that at one time I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do, but bravery is what it needs. Somebody has to be brave in music nowadays, there’s a lot of safe bets out there. Yeah, we need to shake it up a bit!

SFBAC: Does the new album have a title yet?

Steve Hackett: Yeah, it does, but it’ll probably change next week, so it’s probably best that I don’t mention that. There might be 50 prog bands out by the time they’ve read your article, and by the time they’ve heard this, there might be 150 bands all with the same title! hahaha.

SFBAC: If you’ve got time, I’ve got one last question for you… I wanted to go back to a story I heard about a hand injury that you suffered around the time of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Can you tell us about that?

Steve Hackett: Yes, certainly! I had just been to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in London as we were coming to the closing stages of the mixing of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway… And I was at a party, and I had a wine glass in my hand, and I was struck by something someone said… that they thought the Alex Harvey Band would be nothing without Alex. And I knew we were about to lose Pete as our lead vocalist, and I suddenly thought, yes, I can imagine people are going to be saying Genesis will be nothing without Peter Gabriel! And of course, Genesis was the sum of everyone’s input at that point.. And I tensed at that point, and I had a wine glass in my hand, and the damn thing broke, and I had a severed tendon and a nerve, and yes… It was an involuntarily surge of adrenalin due to stress…

SFBAC: And has the hand fully recovered?

Steve Hackett: Well almost, yeah, I’ve learned to compensate for whatever I couldn’t do beforehand, I can do much better now. Ironically, I end up using a more classical position. But yeah, I had physical therapy, and when I was touring on Lamb Lies Down the first time, I was having physio everyday, getting along to hospitals having electric-shock to make it work properly.. I was getting real AC/DC, at that point! Current going through my hand… and I did that a few times, and I realized that it wasn’t making a lot of difference, so I decided to avoid the bisexual nazi torturers and just go for playing… and that threw me into the deep end, and restored my strength right up to the present day. Those were some hairy moments!

SFBAC: Well, glad to hear that it’s regained its strength and once again, we’re looking forward to your upcoming shows and thanks again for your time!

Steve Hackett: Thank you very much, and all the best!

Genesis Revisited (Photo: Jim Buninx)

An Interview with Patrick Pentland of Sloan

Sloan (Credit: Missing Piece Group)
Canadian power-pop rock band Sloan hits San Francisco next week at the Rickshaw Stop in support of their new album Commonwealth (iTunes) and we had the chance to catch-up with Patrick Pentland earlier this week. Tickets are still available for the Oct. 22nd show and can be found here.

San Francisco Bay Area Concerts: I’m going to eschew any attempt to be unbiased—Sloan are the best live band, period. The stream of live “bootlegs” you’ve released recently (Australia ’99, “Is that all I get?” 1993, etc.), and Palais Royale, seem to prove me right. How do you guys do it?

Patrick Pentland: We have been playing live music, both in Sloan and with other bands/people for 25+ years. We have learned to entertain as much as simply play the songs. Not every night is a home run, but we try the best we can.

SFBAC: Your shows in San Francisco at both Slim’s and The Independent were fantastic. The Rickshaw Stop is a relatively new space in Hayes Valley—somewhat similar to when you played Kung Fu Necktie a little while back in Philly. How will the Rickshaw help you show off the dynamism of Commonwealth?

Patrick Pentland:  No idea, except that the venue has little to do with how we perform, usually. We play all sizes, and can adapt to restrictions if need be. But we basically just do the same show no matter where we are. There's no pyro, although there is a backdrop.

SFBAC:  The recent article in self-titled magazine about “Favorite Sloan Songs” was fantastic—reading it made me even more conscious of the different personalities in the band. Keeping a relationship fresh between two people is a challenge over XX+ years—I can’t imagine how the four of you make it work.

Patrick Pentland:  It's not necessarily a matter of keeping things fresh. We do what we do, and even if we may have different definitions of what that is, depending on who you're talking to, it's generally not that far off from each other. We're not interested in re-inventing the wheel, but there's a lot of music out there to draw from and absorb into what we individually and collectively present. 

SFBAC: Once you each write your own songs, how much input do the others have when it comes to composing and producing?

Patrick Pentland: For my songs, none. I'm not sure how much the others interact with each other, but for the most part it's individual writers and producers on the same album.

SFBAC:  The Twice Removed Deluxe Edition (iTunes) was a revelation—it still boggles my mind that "Same Old Flame" (iTunes) didn’t make the original album. How do you decide what stays and what’s temporarily shelved? And are we going to see this treatment for One Chord to Another (iTunes) or Navy Blues (iTunes) any time soon..? 

Patrick Pentland: "Same Old Flame," in the incarnation that you would be referring to, wasn't recorded until after Twice Removed was recorded and released. That is the case with most of our extra tracks.

It's usually pretty obvious when a song isn't cutting it, or isn't ready to be released. As a band, we're not super precious with songs, and are able to let them sit until the writer finds the "solution" or direction they want to take it in. Songs are mainly just chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics. It's what you do with those elements that give the songs currency or weight, and it can be hard to pull that out of the air.

We will be re-releasing other records in the future in the same way as Twice Removed.

SFBAC:  Many Sloan songs weave in and out between tracks—bend and blur. But I think Commonwealth is the first time you’ve intentionally separated an album into four separate cycles—why?

Patrick Pentland: We wanted to do something akin to 4 eps, with each "side" representing a chunk of real-estate for each member. There wasn't really a big reason for it, except it was something that we hadn't done before. After 10 records, you look for something to set the 11th apart.

SFBAC:  On Commonwealth, you can’t hear lines like “where’s the parallel” and “delivering maybes” without thinking of the Sloan back catalogue with a wink and a smile. Are any albums or songs permanently on the shelf, or is everything ultimately fair game?

Patrick Pentland: Nothing is shelved, but there are songs that we don't play, or don't know how to play if requested. Not everything sounds great live. We have a lot of songs, but in a live situation you're trying to represent a new album, plus please yourself, fans who want "deep cuts," fans who want singles and favourites, and new listeners you're hoping to draw in.

SFBAC:  It’s not hard to imagine you being influenced by Kiss, The Beatles and The Who. But what are some of the more hidden artists that make your top 5? Do you have “group” favorites, or are various musical influences constantly shifting for the individual members under the skin?

Patrick Pentland: Those bands would not be in my personal top 5, but they are, to varying degrees, interwoven into modern rock music anyway. You can't really call the Beatles an influence on rock music; it's like saying you like to breathe. It's a given that, in most forms of modern music, the Beatles can be found somewhere in there. Or George Martin.

I don't know if I have a top 5, per se, but Bowie, Sex Pistols, AC/DC, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr., Motörhead, The Smiths and a whole bunch of other bands would be name checked. I grew up in the 80s, so I have a lot of post-punk, pre-grunge influences.

There are probably bands that we agree on, like the Beatles or Who, plus bands like the Stones, Guided By Voices, or the Stooges. Hardcore punk was also big when we were young, so Black Flag, Bad Brains, or Minor Threat can make their way onto the stereo on the bus every so often.

SFBAC: That's great. Thanks so much for making the time Patrick and we're looking forward to the show at the Rickshaw next week!

A Conversation with Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer

Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer (Credit: Matt Schwartz)
Philadelphia-based, Vacationer, released their sophomore album Relief earlier this summer and hit the road this fall in support. They're scheduled to perform at Slim's on October 27th and we highly recommend catching this show. Tickets are still available here.

We were able to speak with Kenny Vasoli a few weeks ago about Philly, the new album, and the endless cycle of touring. Check it out in full below.

San Francisco Bay Area Concerts: Is this still a good time for us to catch up?

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah, it’s perfect. 

SFBAC: Excellent. Well first things first, I saw I’m calling a 215 number—are you a Philly boy?

Kenny Vasoli: I am, yeah. This is the only phone number I’ve ever had, and I’m still in the same Philadelphia area. 

SFBAC: Very cool. My friend checked out Dr. Dog yesterday at the Mann (in Philadelphia) — there’s amazing music coming out of Philly right now.

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah, I agree. It’s better than ever right now.

SFBAC: I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to the new War on Drugs album, Lost in the Dream? It’s been in constant rotation for me lately. 

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah. I love that band. 

SFBAC: Excellent. Well, let’s move from Philadelphia to San Francisco. So I found it kind of funny and ironic that you’re heading out to San Francisco – at pretty much the biggest vacation time of the year.

Kenny Vasoli: Oh yeah? I guess it would be out there. 

SFBAC: San Francisco in September and October is just absolutely amazing. The weather’s incredible, and there’s this literal influx of people into the city. It’s a real destination, I feel like. Given the nature of your music I thought that was kind of awesome and ironic. 

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah. It’s going to be a beautiful visit this time of year. We love that city and it’s always really beautiful.

SFBAC: Speaking of weather, and all the good stuff that you’ll be experiencing in San Francisco soon, "Paradise Waiting" has literally been in complete replay over the last couple of weeks for me. It’s this evocation of the season—with the background singers, you feel like you’re watching a crowd of people celebrating in the sun. Do you feel that this is a summer album? Or are there a little bit of all seasons mixed together? 

Kenny Vasoli: I think it’s been pretty appropriate for the summer, but we tend to make our records during the winter time. The last two in a row have pretty much all been made right around the holiday season. And I think it’s a nice escape from the cold weather over here. Being in Philadelphia and working up in Brooklyn, it can lay on you a little bit if it’s getting too cold. So we like to keep things up with the vibe of our music. And you know, I think the duality is – for us – it works as a year-round record. Because it’s sort of anticipation for summer every time we’re writing.

SFBAC: In "Good as New", you say, 'we’re in a new place.' Travel, exploration, touring – for you, it must be a combination of exploration, and at the same time, it is ultimately a job at the end of the day. How do you approach going to these new places? And how do you let it influence you, while at the same time, knowing this is kind of part of the process?

Kenny Vasoli: We try to – and this is something that I’ve learned throughout the years of touring and making most of my living on the road – is that you can’t really, or you shouldn’t treat traveling as a means to an end to get to the destination, and then just play the show and that’s the most exciting part of it. We try to make our routes as scenic as possible, and use the PCA’s when we’ve, when time allows it. But we really try to enjoy things, even if it adds a couple hours to a trip. Because then, we really try to adopt the lifestyle of vacationing when we’re on the road. We try to practice what we preach and have some fun wherever we go. And I made a habit on this last tour to bring a skateboard with me. My thing now is, once we get to a venue, and we’re all sound-checked and good to go, then I’ll Yelp the best record store that’s within skateboard distance of me. And then I’ll skate over there, and I’ll dive through the dollar bin. It’s a nice little adventure for me, an excuse to see the city. 

SFBAC: San Francisco is the perfect city for you to make your way around on a skateboard.

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah the pavement’s in good shape over there. 

SFBAC: Absolutely. I can easily see you making your way from Slim’s over to Amoeba, with no problem whatsoever, avoiding many of the major roads. Definitely give that a shot if you can. 

Kenny Vasoli: For sure. Anything to avoid traffic. A skateboard is a good way around it. 

SFBAC: So speaking of Slim’s—definitely a venue that I love; a  lot of history to it, with a lot of great bands. What do you look for when you’re trying to find a venue? What is it about a space that helps broaden, expand and compliment the nature of your music?

Kenny Vasoli: I think you can really see that in the history of the acts that have come through there. Even just by the monthly calendar, you can see what kind of vibe a place has, and we can see who our contemporaries are that we’d like to be playing in the same kind of ballpark as. And San Francisco is so rich with places like that. We have been impressed by pretty much every place that we’ve played there. We got to do the Independent a couple of times – beautiful theater. Then we got to play the Warfield with Bombay Bicycle Club, which was mind-blowing, and then we got to do a headliner at Rickshaw. And that place has such a cool punk/indie/dance vibe. And we’re all about that kind of thing. And every time we go there, the people combined with the atmosphere makes for a great time. 

SFBAC: That’s fantastic. And all of those venues represent a good cross-current of the different live spaces in San Francisco. Rickshaw is incredible—it has this amazing feel. In one sense it feels congested, but at the same time, when a good show is there, it just bursts open—it has an energy unlike any other place. Sloan are actually playing there on the 22nd. I know you actually won’t be in town for that, but that’s going to be pretty incredible. 

Kenny Vasoli: Oh yeah – that’s a blast from the past. I knew them from a very early age. 

SFBAC: You have to check out Commonwealth, if you haven’t had a chance. It just came out last week. It’s absolutely incredible. 

Kenny Vasoli: I appreciate that. I’m looking for a new thing to dig into. 

SFBAC: Getting back to Vacationer, I was trying to classify this type of music, and it’s literally impossible. It’s an explosion of R&B, electronica--you hear notes of Samba in there. When you try to explain to uninitiated people what the sonics are about, what do you try to, how do you explain this to them? 

Kenny Vasoli: To try to get too technical with people is sometimes not the right way to go about it for me. So I usually just boil it down to me by like, Beach Boys for today, or Beach Boys over top of hip hop. And obviously, I think that there’s a lot more going on in there in terms of influences. But Beach Boys and J Dilla are two of the primary influences that we go to, and they kind of rear their head in our music. 

SFBAC: That’s fantastic. Beach Boys – the evolution of their sound in popular culture – different decades, and different Beach Boys albums, which influence certain artists. Just like the Beatles, it’s something that never ever is going to go out of style. 

Kenny Vasoli: Oh man. There’s so much. The older I get, the more I appreciate the later years Beach Boys stuff. The 70s stuff, like Surf’s Up and Sunflower. Those records just blow my mind more every time I hear them. 

SFBAC: Absolutely. I was just listening to Love You last week, and it’s amazing the little nuggets you find in there, which you feel. Sometimes you might ignore it first. I feel like you have that in your music as well—there’s little crevices, little things that pop up. I’ve been listening to through Senheiser 600 HDs. And just hearing some of the ways that you’re panning audio, some of the little sonic touches here and there – it’s great that you guys reflect that subtlety in your music. 

Kenny Vasoli: I appreciate that. We’re very meticulous, especially in making this last record. We were raising the bar in terms of production, and there’s a lot of attention to detail and trying to capture the spirit of a lot of 60’s or 70’s soundtrack music. It was in a time where they had a lot of ensembles, and a lot of composition or orchestration that went into it. 

SFBAC: Taking a step back to live music, the first time I became familiar with Vacationer was through a session. I find it interesting how social media and this really unique crosspoint between what you’re seeing on Facebook and Twitter, and how artists are reacting to their fans. It’s becoming more and more of an important element in the mix. How do you see social media as a way to engage with your fans? 

Kenny Vasoli: I’m starting to embrace it more and more. I think maybe I had a little phobia of it at first – because I’m probably right on the cusp. It’s sort of riding a line of generations, where there was a MySpace thing happening early on when I was making music, and that was – the way that a lot of people made their bones when I was first coming up. And then to adjust to the Twitter and the Instagram and the Tumblr, and the endless channels of social media – it was really daunting to me at first, and I had this sort of punk rock mentality, where I didn’t want to be bothered with it. And the more I embraced it, the more interesting it is to me. And I’m starting to realize how powerful it is to be able to get in touch with your fans at the touch of a finger. And so I’m trying to implement it more, and find creative ways to use it.  

I’m trying to do a monthly or bimonthly series on Tumblr. I’ll record a set right inside my bedroom, for like 30 minutes, and do some live vocals along with it. So I can drop a mix for my fans, and keep them engaged and listening too, and also give them performance from the house. 

SFBAC: That sounds like exactly the right strategy. I feel like so many artists mess things up by over-communicating, or providing content that’s not really relevant or doesn’t feel heartfelt. The idea is to provide tailored content to people in the right context. How to Dress Well, he does it really well on soundcloud. And like you’re saying, providing these little remixes that people might not get access to, it definitely sounds like you have a good feel for that. 

Kenny Vasoli: Absolutely, and it’s like anything else. The same dynamic as a friend – you just send a little something to let them know you’re thinking of them. And if it’s something genuine and heartfelt and thought-out, that’s a powerful thing to pass between fans. 

SFBAC: Speaking of ways that you’re taking your sound and getting it out there to your fan base, the new album – it definitely feels like you’ve taken everything and brought it up a notch. The hooks feel even tighter. The production value feels more streamlined without feeling slick at all. What were you trying to achieve with this most recent set of songs? 

Kenny Vasoli: You described it perfectly, and I really appreciate the compliment. That’s what we’re going for. I like pop music, but I got a little disillusioned by a lot of the pop that was coming through top 40 in the last 5 – 10 years. But then when I started to revisit pop music from the 70s and even 80s, I’m coming across these hooks that just infect me, and make me not so scared of writing pop music. And so I think the challenge was finding an interesting delivery of pop music that isn’t just hitching our wagon to the trends that are happening right now. 

SFBAC: I think that’s a fantastic way of looking at things. The 70s epitomize a really interesting, daring attempt to take pop music in a different direction. Which is funny, because so many people see it as the inception of disco, and a lot of monolithic rock becoming more and more stale. But if you listen to a lot of great 70s music, particularly coming out of Philly by the way, there’s just some great stuff there. 

Kenny Vasoli: It was such an exciting time in terms of production, I’m discovering now. I think that experimentation, and also the technology of producing music, has reached this point. It has all intersected at a point in the 70s. When I go on these skateboarding trips to find records, often what I’ll do is look through a genre and an era, and go off of that. Because chances are, there’s going to be something cool, and trippy, and interesting about the tracks on that record 

SFBAC: Absolutely. You talked earlier about a punk rock ethos. I had a chance to speak with Steve Diggle earlier this year, and it’s amazing that you see some of those great punk bands from the 70s still really bringing it. And on the other side of the equation, you have something like Gladys Knight and the Pips. And I think having that variety of music in the mainstream—that was a fantastic time. Hopefully we’re moving back toward that level of eclecticism. 

Kenny Vasoli: Yeah, me too. And I keep seeing more and more stuff, and people that are pushing the envelope and not straying away from pop while wrapping it in some art, and that – yeah it’s an exciting time, and it seems to be permeating the mainstream a little bit. So I’m really hopeful in terms of that. 

SFBAC: I really appreciate you taking the time. We’re definitely excited to have you in town, and hearing the album live, seeing how people are going to react to it – it’s going to be a great experience. I’m sure. 

Kenny Vasoli: We can’t wait. This will be one of the most anticipated of the tour. And I appreciate the kind words. 

SFBAC: Well listen, take it easy and good luck with your shows. 

Kenny Vasoli: Thanks a lot man, see you out there. 

SFBAC: You got it. 

Kenny Vasoli: Take care.