Interview: Vinnie Caruana

Vinnie Caruana

This past week, I was able to chat with I Am the Avalanche and The Movielife frontman, Vinnie Caruana, about his upcoming solo tour and new record Aging Frontman. The record will be released October 4th via Know Hope Records and pre-orders are currently live. In this interview, Vinnie shared his passion for songwriting and how he continues to motivate himself as an artist.

Thank you, Vinnie for granting me the chance to chat with you today. Can you tell me a little bit about how the preparations are coming along for your North American tour?

Well first, I’ve been working with a couple of band friends on getting a benefit show going for Dayton, Ohio. We were kind of just brainstorming a few minutes ago but it should be a really sick show, with a lot of good bands flying in to raise a lot of money.

That’s awesome that you’re doing that!

It’s fucking awesome and everyone is saying “yes” so far, but yeah we all ended up in a park talking about it for awhile until I saw your text that this interview was tonight. But as far as this upcoming tour, I have a small little practice space and I’ll be there getting everything ready during the day rather than at night, and so I’m gonna be in that space like five days a week, preparing for about 40-50 songs so that I can have most of my material ready if someone decides to shout out a request, or something like that. So now, I just gotta get my voice in shape and have about 50 songs ready for the tour. I’m not going to play all of them, of course! (Laughter)

Did you take any different approaches to organizing this solo tour than you would have for a full band effort, such as your time in The Movielife and I Am the Avalanche?

It’s really different for this tour, since it’s really just me in a room. I get to choose what happens, and none of my bandmates are involved and kind of do what I want to do. Also, I don’t have to ask anyone where we’re eating lunch, like, we don’t have to stop at Wendy’s and Taco Bell, and maybe Subway too. (Laughter) It’s really on me to get myself and my voice in shape and ready to play a show every night.

Tell me a little bit more about this benefit concert that we started off talking about. What details can you share today?

I got a text about four hours ago from Anthony Raneri from Bayside, and he said I’m going to go do this thing, do you want to be a part of it? Of course, I said yes, then we started talking to the promoter in Dayton who is putting this together on the fly and I texted a bunch of other friends of mine. Ya know, like a bunch of dudes in bands who write songs and who I think would fill a room and would help raise as much money as possible. As we speak, they are all texting me whether they can do the benefit or not. With these guys, it’s never a question on if they want to be a part of it, it’s more if they are home or on tour already. So really I’m just reaching out to all my buds. There’s a pretty sick bill that’s forming. The “acoustic solo singer dudes in bands show,” you can put that in quotes, that’s what we’re calling it right now. It’s gonna be really fucking cool and we’re gonna raise a bunch of money and see all my buds again. We become friends from touring together, and then we get back together for a sort of festival like this, and we become friends all over again. It’s gonna be awesome!

What are some of the challenges, and/or benefits, to writing as a solo artist versus in a band?

For solo, I obviously write all of the music, so the way it works is I know what I’m writing for.  Like, I can kind of map out a record by how much time I have to record until the album is due. Like, this is the time to tour and since I don’t like driving around in the snow, the plan was to record this album at the beginning of this year and really I didn’t want to drive around in the winter, since I’ve had some really bad experiences traveling in winter weather over the years. So that’s the plan. get the record ready this summer, then go play some shows in the fall.

Where did the album title for your forthcoming solo record, Aging Frontman, come from? I assume it’s a play on getting “almost up there in age,” like I believe you’ll be 40 this September? I’m 36, and I feel it every day…

Yeah, we all feel it. (Laughter) I think the musical content is kind of heavy, as far the lyrical content, but I thought the title of kind of joking around a bit would offset the heaviness of the lyrics and I didn’t want to…take myself too seriously, I guess? I just thought it would be a cool to throw a picture of myself from JC Penny on the album cover in 1982 and call it Aging Frontman, because you really do feel it after a six-week tour. Sometimes, you just need to draw the shades and not talk to anyone but myself. And my body is falling apart, because I’ve been touring since I was a teenager. Aging Frontman is what I’ll know I’ll feel like in about two months. But, at the same time, I get to sing and play in front of people every night and it’s what I love to do. Playing new material to people whom have been responding positively to the new material and the way it’s going, it’s been really cool. It will be amazing to play these new songs that I truly believe in. I just got done with the Movielife tour, and I’ve been singing those songs for forever. With the new material, some of them, I’ve never sang all at once besides in the studio. I’ve never really played the guitar and sang these new songs live, so I’m really looking forward to it. I get to keep enjoying what I’m doing and just showing people where I’m at in my life, career, and hopefully some people will still be able to get down with that.

I have always been a big fan of your songwriting and lyrics in particular. Even when the whole Drive-Thru Records movement was coming through, The Movielife always drew me in with the post-hardcore and melodic elements, so my main question is: what tends to come first for you when you write a song: the words, melody, or the instrumentation of the song?

It should probably be, everything. But sometimes I’ll just have some words, music, or the instruments. But for me, I always like to have the music done first, with the structure the way I think it’s going to suit the song. Because as you’re writing it, you can kind of hear how your words will sound over it, so almost all the time, I write the music first.  Then I’ll hum the melodies, then I’ll put words into those melodies that feel like they make sense for the song. It’s one of those where subconsciously I know I’ll be singing about something petty or negative side, or even on the flip side of writing something happy, I have to be fully aware of what’s going on in the song for it to make sense. For me, it really starts on the guitar, then the words will come through.

Take me through the process of the songwriting approach on your recent The Movielife record Cities in Search of a Heart, in particular songs like “Ghosts in the Photograph” versus “Pour Two Glasses.” Did anything stand out to you on these songwriting sessions?

Well for The Movielife, it’s been me and Brandon Reilly in Brooklyn. And really, for this past album it was just us writing together. That has always been very productive for us, like Forty Hour Train Back to Penn was really just me and Brandon. So when we got back in the room again, we’re hanging out and doing our thing, and a song like “Mercy” was actually the first song that we wrote for that record. And I switched around a bunch of the melodies, especially the chorus was completely different. So when Brandon picked me up from the train in upstate New Jersey, I told him I had this new melody while we were driving. So I told him what if we changed around the parts and it did this.  And he was like, “Holy shit, hell yeah!” And “Pour Two Glasses” was really the opposite, it almost always happens this way, I live in a small apartment in Greenpoint, and the songs that I’ve written since I’ve lived here, like I’ll do this three minute song and finish it. For example, my wife was in the shower and by the time doing her thing, I was like, “Hey, I wrote a song.” And by the time I recorded and showed Brandon, he asked, “Is this a solo song?” And I said, yeah yeah! Because I’ll text my friends and share songs with my songwriting peers who I respect. So, Brandon said I’m going to be so fucking pissed off if this doesn’t make a Movielife record. (Laughter) So that’s how that one worked out.

What motivates you as a songwriter?

Mortality. I’m well aware that when I get to play shows and travel, basically what I wish I could do forever, I never take that for granted. I love what I do, and I know that this is not going to sustain me forever. I’m not a rockstar. I don’t get paid tons of money to do what I do. But, I still get to do what I want to do, and I still love it. And I can still do it while I still can do it. So there’s definitely an urgency there to do my best work now.  Also, still feel young while I’m still able to do this. It kind of all ties back to the whole Aging Frontman thing but at the same time I’m definitely going to need to do something else. I’ll never stop writing, I’ll never stop singing, and I’ll play shows whenever I can but I know that this kind of the time when I need to go hard. I mean, this is the time, I’m gonna be old and others around me are going to be old and have newer responsibilities, and so do I. I really just want to enjoy it while I still can, so really that’s my real motivation.

That’s great to hear. After this tour wraps up in early-November, what will you work on next? Any plans for other collaborations much like you have done in the past with bands such as Set Your Goals?

I don’t think so <Editors note: for collaborations>. I think it’s pretty set in stone that I Am the Avalanche is definitely going to be doing some stuff in 2020. Myself and Mike are going to be writing some music. We’re going to feel the need to make an important record that stands apart, and we’re really hoping for a classic. It should be a bunch of great punk songs to make everyone feel good. It all really goes in a circle, my whole life. The Movielife just did a lot of stuff with a new record, and a bunch of shows, so next is I Am the Avalanche fun.

How do you tend to pass the time on tour?  How would you describe your overall mood while on the road?

I love it, and that’s why I keep doing it. Really, my main pastime is driving. I have a real control problem, or issue. So I just get behind the wheel and see how far I can go, as long as I have a podcast and some good music. Or even when I’m traveling with my buds, I’ll listen to a movie while I’m driving. Anything to pass the time.

How do you expect the reaction to be for these collection of songs on Aging Frontman

Kind of like I mentioned earlier, I share a lot of music with my buds, and say hey check out this song I wrote, what do you think? That’s mostly the only people who have heard these songs, so really their feedback from my peer group is honest and they felt like I made some really special songs. It’s been overwhelmingly positive in the peer group, and from everyone hearing “Better” last week, it’s been really overwhelming. I don’t remember there ever being this kind of response to a song. People like the old songs, and I’m not hating on that at all. Like we just did a Forty Hour Train to Penn and Gambling Problem tour, and it all still makes me stoked. But, yeah I think I have some great tunes here that I’m really proud of.

Yeah! One of the tracks that stood out to me on the advance copy your management provided was a song called “Alone.” What was the basic inspiration behind this song?

Well I got married at a really young age, and it wasn’t a good idea. And so, I knew it wasn’t a good idea for me at the time and I knew what it felt like to feel that rejection and feeling of failure combined with love, and loss of love. So I know that feeling, I’ll always know that feeling. So these lyrics were me kind of just daydreaming about my wife. We’re so tight, and we love each other so much, but I’ve been through this before. So it’s really just daydreaming on if the upside down happens and you’re gone. I have a happy life and a wonderful wife, but it’s daydreaming about what if the opposite happened. So, it’s really just thinking about what it means to be alone and it can be really difficult. The human experience can be really rough.

Yeah, and I think people in our age bracket in particular will really identify with this song, going through different relationships in their life, so I think that’s going to be one of your deeper cuts that people are going to come back to.

(Laughter) That would be cool, because it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s a different kind of song for me, and it’s the one track I’m most excited for people to hear.

Last question: What advice would you give for young bands on sustainability in the music business?

My advice would be to come up on a grassroots level. Make a bunch of buds who you respect musically, all look out for each other, create a scene, create your own scene in your own area, and do it that way. Be a part of a positive scene that supports each other, and some of my most important lessons on songwriting have been from watching friends on tour. Like, wow, that just opened up a whole new avenue for songwriting for me. Make friends, talk to people, your friends’ bands are touring with other bands and the next thing you know you’re playing shows in the next state over. Then, you’re headlining the show and you have all your buds’ bands supporting, that’s the way it should happen. If you play a great set with songs you believe in, the crowd is going to feel that and get down with it. That’s my advice.

That makes a lot of sense, and I think a lot of people reading this interview will take that advice to heart. Have a great night, and thanks for your time!

Take care, hope to see you at one of the shows!