A Conversation With Vinnie Caruana
Vinnie Caruana has been an active member of the music scene for going on two decades. Whether as a member of The Movielife, I Am The Avalanche, Peace’d Out, or as a solo performer, his voice always adds a unique spin that is immediately recognizable as his own. His most recent project has been his debut solo record, Survivor’s Guilt, which is out now on Equal Vision Records and features an all-star backing band. Vinnie took the time to sit down with 36vultures on the first leg of the tour in support of this release to discuss the album, his extreme work ethic, and his love of England.
Hi Vinnie, how’s it going? How’s tour been treating you so far?
Tour’s been great; playing with my buds, got a bunch of close friends backing me. Hearing all these songs, feeling it on stage, and feeling for the first time this feeling of my solo record being played with a full band is a really nice feeling so it’s going well.
You’ve played a lot of solo shows in the past where it was just you and an acoustic guitar – how is it now playing solo, but with a full band?
It’s cool I mean we reworked some of the songs I’ve been playing for a while – some of the solo stuff. It just feels good; it feels like we’re a rock band.
I know you had a few dates with The Movielife and then also with I Am The Avalanche that kind of overlapped a bit, along with some solo dates. How was it for you getting into the right mentality between the three different bands so quickly?
There were solo shows, Avalanche shows, and Movielife shows all happening kind of close together for the first time in my life and it’s cool. I mean if anything I’m just sitting there going “Wow, life’s cool. I get to do all this – I’m a lucky guy.” I think if anything the transition of going into this tour has been the most kind of different, maybe the most challenging because I’m not used to playing guitar and singing in a rock band and that’s what I’m doing for two weeks. Preparing this tour was kind of as soon as I got home from Europe with Movielife. I immediately turned my focus to this and made sure that this was the mindset I’m in.
How has it been different between playing the solo stuff over in the UK before it was out to now a few shows into this one?
Very different. When I was playing the songs in the UK I could hear the music in my head and I wished that everyone else could hear it. You know, because the record wasn’t out yet I only played them a few new songs. When I go back to the UK it’ll certainly be a lot more new stuff just because the record’s had some time to marinate. This tour is heavier on solo material than anything else and that’s really important because you know – Avalanche and Movielife play plenty. And we do play a few Movielife/Avalanche type songs, but it’s nice to put the emphasis on the record at hand.
I saw that you mentioned you kind of felt a little constricted when you were doing the “City By The Sea” EP. You felt like you had to fit the solo genre.
Right, exactly right.
And then this time around you just let the songs take whatever form they needed to.
Yeah, exactly – I think that’s really important. I’ve said it a million times; there are no rules to it. It’s not like “Oh, it’s gotta sound like a singer/songwriter,” that’s the thing. I did it and I was like “Oh, okay, well that’s not what I want to do again.” I want these songs to sound the way they sound in my head and that’s exactly the way they came out.
How did that sort of influence the recording process? I know you had a kind of immersion in the studio and Steve phoning in his stuff from out in California. How did that affect the record and the way the songs sound?
Well let’s hope he wasn’t phoning it in. We honestly gave Steve like a finished record aside from spaces for little leads and some directions – this is what we’re looking for here, this is what we’re looking for there. And most of what he came back with was like exactly what we wanted to hear or better – most of the time better. It’s really easy working with a guy like him; total professional and he’s got a ton of good ideas. It was no coincidence that we wanted him to be a part of it.
I know you basically had the record written before you went into the studio, but you ended up changing a lot of the lyrics while you were in there. How did the environment of being in the studio affect that?
I think it was just that I was starting to hear the songs full on and I was starting to hear how the record was sounding and I think there were just lyrics that needed to change. You know, once you can sit back with it before it’s actually completely done and you can’t go and fix anything, it’s always good to sit there and listen to what you have and make sure you’re not going to regret anything. I think just some of the lyrics here and there needed some tweaking and some love, it’s just a natural thing. Sometimes it happens before the studio, but this time… And it wasn’t a coincidence either that the songs that I did change ended up being the songs that I wrote last so I wasn’t as used to them, they weren’t as completely worked out as the other ones.
I know you’d written a bunch of other songs too that you ended up tossing for one reason or another. Should we plan on seeing any b-sides or demos down the road?
Um, I’ll probably start fresh. I poached a bunch of parts from songs that I didn’t like that had good parts or ideas. So no, I mean, I’m always writing. I’m already writing my next solo record just because I’m a musician and if I have a guitar in my hand I’m going to write. So I’d rather start from scratch with new ideas and a new mindset for a new record rather than use ideas that would totally fit on this record because then we’re starting from the same place we started from on this record. That’s never what you want; you always really do want to progress and you want new ideas.
Could you talk a little bit about your relationship with England because that’s something that’s come out in both of the solo records and something you’re obviously really into.
Yeah, England… I have a deep connection to England. I’ve gone to England like 30 times in my life. I’m obviously like most of us who are in love with English music. The culture and history is very interesting to me – I’m not a historian so… I just feel I have English blood and I feel the English blood that in my veins, I just feel it. I’m obsessed with English football, English music, the English countryside, the English landscape, the sea, the rain, the greyness, the feeling that it gives me, the sun when it shines… I don’t know, it’s just something that it’s like “yeah,” you know? It’s a vibe that you fall in love with, just like anything else.
Could you ever see yourself relocating there?
Yeah, me and my fiancé have discussed possibly moving to England. I could do it easily! Not in any old city, there’s probably one city in England I would actually consider living in and that’s Brighton. It’s a great town. I had two days off on my last tour and I went and spent them alone in Brighton because I wanted to go get a feel for if this is really a place that’s that awesome – it really is. So, yeah, I could live there… if they’d let me.
How do you think that would affect things going forward – would it be even more of a focus on solo stuff?
I would spend a shitload of money flying back to New York, I would tell you that! But I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t make the decision to leave the country unless it made sense for a lot of other things and reason. It certainly doesn’t make any sense right now.
I know you’ve mentioned before that with the break you had between the first two Avalanche records you regretted that and wanted to keep on the cycle of album-tour-album. So after this tour what’s going on next?
Me and Brandon have been writing some Movielife material and Avalanche plays shows and Mike he was telling me like “Yeah, we should write a few songs” – probably some new Avalanche stuff, some new Movielife stuff, and certainly another solo record.
I know you’ve been talking recently about the Peace’d Out full-length finally coming out, do you see anything going on around that?
I hope so. We have a record completely recorded and it’s been recorded for like two years. The label that paid for the recording folded so basically we were like, “Alright, we’ll get it put out.” But then myself and Steve Choi were both very busy so it kind of took the backburner. We got the creative part out and then when it came time to release the record obviously the record label folded so we just put it on the backburner. And then RX Bands made a record, toured for a year, Avalanche made a record, toured for a year, and, you know, life kept happening. So it’s just sitting there. It’s really good; it’s a really trippy, heavy record. People will hear it somehow, we just haven’t figured out how yet.
Is that anything you think you’d revisit before releasing it to the world at all?
I’d have to hear it again. I don’t think we would change the songs, but maybe listen to the mixes and make sure we like them, since we have that luxury. I think last time I listened to it I was like “Holy shit!” The fucking thing is a monster. It’s really heavy and really interesting and unique.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me! Is there anything else you wanted to hit on that I missed?
Really it’s just like I’m going to be touring all year on this and I’m stoked. I always come back to this area in many different incarnations. We’ve been here a bunch, we’ve had some great shows in The Space – the people in Connecticut have always been great.
Upcoming tour dates:
Date Venue Location
Jul 12 Funhouse Seattle, WA
Jul 13 Hawthorne Theater Lounge Portland, OR
Jul 15 Thee Parkside San Francisco, CA
Jul 16 The Catalyst Santa Cruz, CA
Jul 17 B Ryder’s Bakersfield, CA
Jul 19 Slidebar Fullerton, CA
Jul 20 Los Globos Los Angeles, CA
Jul 21 Soda Bar San Diego, CA