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Schizophrenic Rock 'n' Roll And Madness
The Vanities
We'd rather have a smaller loyal fan base than the crowd that hops from one fad to another. We don't want to entertain the jocks that go to shows to start fights, high-five, and boo the opening bands that happen to be better than the headliner. - Rob Blake
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] The Vanities
The Vanities

The promotional materials for The Vanities are a tasteful white-on-black design. Matchbooks, bumper stickers, with the band name in an elegant cursive script. Their latest CD artwork sports a similar style, in a simple, classy, white-on-black. Take a look at the website address printed on all of this material and the first thing to you see is a guy vomiting into a toilet. Now, that's rock and roll.

There's your introduction into the band's style, tagged as "schizophrenic rock 'n' roll and madness", a combination of the elegant and the crude, the simple and the complex, the intelligent and, well, we'll ask about the orange spew later on.

Hailing from Asbury Park, New Jersey, The Vanities have played around the New York and New Jersey scenes since 2001. Their first CD, released in December of that year, revealed the early development of their inventive style, and offered foresight into what would follow.

The band matured over the next few years, honing their style and releasing a more cohesive and engaging release with a twelve-track LP, also self-titled, released in March 2003. While the band won't win any awards for innovation in naming their albums, a quick check of the song titles draws you in before cracking open the cellophane: "The Arabic Russian Disco Song", "It's not a Cookie Mother", "Prom Queen Pipebomb", "Incognito Mosquito" and, my, my, "Heroin Pie".

What matters is: do they rock? And, they do. Having proven, burned into aluminum, that they have the chops and the gift of crafting a challenging and different sound that you can still rock out to, they're setting their sites on the more traditional musical dreams, a label, an audience and more stages to conqueror.

The band's front man and primary songwriter Rob Blake did the duties talking with Chorus and Verse about music, recording and how world events sometimes get in the way.

Rob Blake of The Vanities

So, what’s the deal with the guy puking on the front page of your website? Who is he, what’s that orange stuff, and what is the whole thing trying to say about the band?

That's our buddy, Joey Daniel. After the release of our first CD we took a trip to Montreal. Daniel managed to vomit four times in three nights and Joe Connell was lucky enough to capture that Kodak moment in the Peel Pub bathroom. The best part about it was its neon orange color, although he drank/ate nothing that resembled it.

What is it trying to say about the band? Well, we're The Vanities, we should be glamorous, shouldn't we?

Let’s talk about the band a bit first. How do the members of the band know each other, and how did the group form? Has the band had the same line-up since you first got together?

Joe Connell, Joe Reilly, and I have been close friends since high school and have played in a few past bands together. We remained together through the undedicated bands and formed The Vanities. We struggled with a few drummers that didn't fit the part - but later met John Sancilio by chance in the parking lot of PNC Arts Center.

He noticed the new Dillinger Escape Plan/Mike Patton extruding from our vehicle and we got to talking. After about an hour of bullshitting, I realized my past band played a show with his, and remembered thinking "damn, that guy hits harder than Dave Grohl - we need him." We showed him some rough mixes of our new album, he came out to jam, and sure enough we have ourselves a new drummer.

Your website mentions that guitarist Joe Reilly was called up for service and was recently stationed in Qatar and Kuwait. Do you have any update on where he is now and how he’s doing?

Yes, Joe Reilly was deployed on January 23, 2003. He's currently in Kuwait doing Optometry and driving Ambulances. Last time I heard from him, he said there wasn't much going on and he's mostly just been playing guitar and recording new ideas on his four-track. He's expected back somewhere in the vicinity of late July to early September. We've been passing four-track tapes back and forth in hopes to finish a five-song demo with his parts recorded in Kuwait.

Another story that’s touched upon is how bassist Joseph Connell jumped through a glass security door in New York City. Care to elaborate on that whole story? It could be the start of a great “Behind the Music” piece on the band.

This question actually ties into the previous question. At the time of this incident, I was living in Manhattan and Joe Connell took the train up to meet me at a show. After we met up, we received a call from Reilly stating that he would be deployed in a week. This wasn't good news - so we hit a couple bars to temporarily forget what we had just heard.

Well, I guess Joe C must have been in a hurry, 'cause when we arrived back to the studio, rather than wait the extra three seconds for me to use my key at the main door, he jumps through the six-foot sheet of glass, shattering it and falling to the ground on top of the debris. We laughed for a few seconds, but quickly jumped into the elevator leaving the glass and blood behind. For the next couple days the glass was replaced with a sturdy piece of plywood.

Let’s turn now to your second album, a self-titled disc which you released in March. Only three members of the band are credited on the CD? Who played drums?

At the time of recording the album we hadn't yet met John. We had tried doing the tracks with our previous drummer but weren't getting the results we had desired. I knew what I wanted to hear on the drums, so I laid down the drum tracks and overdubbed my parts later.

You’ve recorded and mixed both of your albums. Talk about the recording set-up for the latest album. What equipment did you use, and how much time do you put into mixing each track? Do you enjoy the technical and engineering aspects of making music? Is there a benefit to a band that is able to take control of both the creative side of music, as well as understanding what goes on in the studio?

It can get pretty stressful, but I do prefer to engineer/mix our music. I'm not opposed to working with engineers and producers in the future, but for now this is the most economical, and I feel I'm comfortable enough with recording studios to match or exceed the results we would expect from other studios. Plus, it's nice not staring at the clock when you're doing a vocal track.

I'd say it's definitely beneficial, if not mandatory, for a band to know their way around the studio. Engineers often get lazy and aren't always open to suggestions - even though it's your music.

We recorded the album on three black face ADATs that would fuck with me to no end, constantly breaking down and spitting the tapes out. I have a few effects units and a couple compressors, certainly nowhere near a commercial studio; but the studio is still growing and, hopefully, so will my knowledge of recording. We recorded the intro and interludes heard between tracks 8 and 9, 10 and 11 on a boombox.

We would have preferred to record the tracks live, but due to our drummer situation which we previously discussed, it wasn't possible. Once the tracking was done we spent a week getting sounds, then pumped out three mixes a day. We took the 12 tracks to Joey DeMaio at Shorefire Recording Studios and inserted the intro and interludes.

We will be doing the next recordings live on an Otari 16 track 1" we obtained from Elvis.

Songs from both albums have gotten airplay on WRAT 95.9 radio. How has the radio exposure been for the band? Have you founds program director to be supportive, or it is difficult to get people to understand what they’re listening to when you’re shopping around such an original sound? What are your plans moving forward to promote the new CD and gain radio play?

The radio exposure has definitely been to our advantage. The guys at the WRAT seem to be open-minded to our sound, and when they throw us in a mix of Nu-Metal and Pop/Punk we tend to stand out a bit. We've been using the time Reilly's away to promote ourselves and get the word out - just sending out press kits and trying to make as many contacts possible. And, if that doesn't work, maybe we'll just do what The Lone Rangers did.

Any reason you haven’t published the lyrics to your songs either in the CD booklets or on your website? Your lyrics have been described as “visionary poetry”, which is pretty heady praise. Do you write lyrics separately from the music, and put the two together to make songs, or does the music come first and lyrics to accompany it come later?

Lyrics are a strange subject for me. I've always enjoyed a CD more when the lyrics weren't available to me. Occasionally, it's what develops my own ideas. Hearing things I know aren't said, therefore making it mine. Plus, I think the melody is equally, if not more, important than lyrical content anyway; so, if you actually want to know what I'm saying, have fun figuring it out.

Hmmm, visionary poetry. I'm serious half the time and just talking out my ass the other, or sticking my hand up it. Often, I don't realize the meaning of what I'm saying 'till I sing a song 30 times. Sometimes there just isn't a meaning, and sometimes the message is blatant; but, luckily, not often.

Lyrics come second for me. First, I write the music, then vocal melody and lyrics. If I have a poem I want to use in a song, I'll change some lines around to fit the melody. But, I don't write music to fit to lyrics.

A few of the reviews of your previous album compared your music to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Is that an accurate description of your sound, and do you consider innovation and being different an important part of what you do?

A few reviewers have related us to Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and I suppose I can see some resemblance in the vein that we're not straight-up rock. However, I don't see a direct influence in our sound, especially since we don't listen to much Zappa.

I'd say keeping things different and innovative is an important part of our writing process, although I don't necessarily go out of my way to make it complicated; I just sit down and noodle around. Writing 4/4 four-chord songs can get pretty boring to listen to, not to mention performing them day after day. We realize this weakens our chances of becoming rich rock stars and being on TRL, but we write for ourselves and if people like it. that's good too.

Besides do we really want New Found Glory announcing our video? I suppose it could be entertaining.

How do your think your sound has evolved from the first album to this one?

I'd say our sound has evolved greatly from the last CD, mostly because the first CD was a collection of tunes that had been lingering around for a while. So, this CD was written totally as a band and is much more defined to the route we're headed.

How are things progressing in your search for fame and fortune? Is there a possibility that you’ll sign with an indie label at some point in the future? What are the next steps the band needs to take in order to make it a full-time gig for everyone?

Well, with our sound it's not really about fame and fortune. I don't know if I could necessarily see us on MTV or hear it regularly on mainstream radio, but probably wouldn't mind. That's a different world, though, a disposable one.

We'd rather have a smaller loyal fan base than the crowd that hops from one fad to another. We don't want to entertain the jocks that go to shows to start fights, high-five, and boo the opening bands that happen to be better than the headliner.

We have hopes of signing with an indie in the near future. I think that'd be a more fitting route.

Let’s finish off by talking about the Asbury scene. As a local band, how easy or difficult has it been for you to find places to perform, and get fans and industry types to take an interest in your music? Are there outlets around that have helped you to promote yourselves?

It's fairly easy to book shows in the Asbury area, but it's not always easy to get people to pay the steep cover/alcohol prices. We have a loyal crowd that come to our shows and usually get a good response from the new faces, but right away found it hard to get on an appropriate bill. We've had many show where we've been gauged between four or five pop/punk bands, and fans of our music don't want to sit through that in the same sense that their fans don't want to look at our ugly mugs; although, their fans often take a liking to us.

Lately, we've started booking whole nights, doing the line up ourselves; that way you and your fans will enjoy the whole evening. We're close with some local bands such as FO the Smack Magnet, Sunshine Flipside and Low Flying Jets. Our last show in Asbury at the Saint, we set up the bill with the Jets, Flipside, and ourselves. Scott [Stamper, owner of The Saint] was nice enough to give us the whole night and it was a success. The place was packed and it just ran a lot smoother. We've set up a handful of shows with FO and that's always a good time, too.

What about other bands? Is the local scene supportive, where musicians are looking out for each other and turning each other on to places to play or people to talk to, or are things more competitive?

It's half and half. Of course, a lot of bands have ego problems, but we've also met a lot of supportive bands and try to be supportive as well. My studio is open to local bands that are looking for quality recordings and want to save money.

How have things changed, or have they, over the past few years of the attempted resurgence of the Asbury Park area? You’ve played The Stone Pony, for example, how does it rank among the venues at which you’ve played? What are some of your favorite venues, and what makes one place stand out over another one?

The Stone Pony certainly looks a lot nicer, not to say that's a good thing. It felt a little more homely before the restoration. It sure is a lot easier to get people out to the Pony than any other music venue in the area, mostly because of its new appearance, reputation, and sound system.

We enjoy playing everywhere around here, Jacko from the Brighton and Scott from the Saint don't have the Pony's reputation, but they're fair and do their best to put on a good show. It's gotta get just as frustrating for them as it does for the bands. Perhaps lowering cover charges could get a bigger draw/alcohol sales, resulting in larger profits.

What’s in store for the band for the rest of 2003?

2003 will be a busy year for us. We have enough material for a new album, but may just record an EP. Joe Reilly will be back around early August in which we'll shake the rust off of him and do a mini tour in the surrounding states, colleges, and the local venues.

We're shopping four tunes from the current CD to some indie labels and hope to get some bites. We've been receiving interest overseas and will pursue that to the fullest.

And, to finish off the year, we'll each marry a supermodel, develop a heavy drug problem, and kill ourselves.

[ Website: www.thevanities.net ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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