Analogue Music | Vacationer


By Matt Conner

The distance between knowing what you should be doing and actually doing it can seem quite vast.

For myriad reasons, many of us will live and die without ever spanning that distance with our efforts, never allowing certain dreams or hopes to be realized in whatever time we're given.

If that sounds a bit morbid, I apologize.

It's just that the story of Ken Vasoli is the story of all of us. As the man at the controls for Vacationer, he faced some important questions—a crossroads, really—as familiar faces gathered to write and record what would become the collective's newest album, Mindset (Downtown Records).

We'll let Vasoli tell the story below in his own words, but suffice it to say that you'll find yourself in it. We all face the same fears that stand in front of the same hopes. It takes different forms, but we hope you're heartened by both Vasoli's direction and talent. Mindset is all the more infectious and beautiful for the chances he's taken.

Analogue: I read that you completely reset your creative approach on this album, and I'd love to start there. What prompts such a seismic change?

Ken Vasoli: Vacationer did encounter a sea change as far as the dynamic of how songs are produced and written this time around. I did take a little bit more ownership and front seat with the production. Doing that led to a lot more solitude when writing this time, which is just a lot more comfortable for me.

Early on, I went about it the same way. I started doing sessions with Matt and Grant from Body Language, which is how we've always done it. Those first two records were done completely at their studio, a full collaboration between the three of us. For some reason, this time around I wasn't getting as inspired through that process. We were doing a lot of music together and I was trying to break through on some ideas I was really excited about. It just wasn't happening for me.

I think with that dynamic, my place in the band was writing the top line for a lot of instrumentals, so when that happens, the instrumental is already there and creates a mood I have to fit. For whatever reason it became more of a challenge for me. I didn't feel enough of myself in those instrumentals to really be inspired with some lyrics. It was no fault of theirs, since that music is still great. It just didn't have my personality, if that makes sense.

So I took some time to learn the ins and outs of Ableton, because that's the primary music program I was familiar with. I wanted to learn to do certain things on my own and try to capture a sound I had in my heand that I wasn't doing a great job of desribing to others. It became this learning process of getting back to basics or square one with a song and then build on that. In order to be so picky about instrumentation, I really had go into my head and figure out what it was that I wanted it to sound like.

Analogue: Did that lead to some difficult conversations?

Ken: For sure, and I'm still trying to be diplomatic in how I talk about it, because it definitely got a little uncomfortable with me doing that. It's not only a working relationship but it's also a friendship with these guys. It was getting uncomfortable because there's things that can be taken personally that aren't meant that way. It's personal when you make music with people for such a long time. Then when you want to do something different or independent, it wasn't easy to navigate. Hopefully we can move past it and that there won't be negative feelings about the new music.

I also want to give credit where credit is due. I wouldn't know the majority of what I know about making music if it wasn't for those guys, if it wasn't for the sound that those guys found on those first couple records. So it was a difficult thing emotionally, but it was important for me, because otherwise I would be painting myself in the corner trying to please people and putting my own influences on the back burner. That's not a great thing to nourish my artistic side.

Otherwise I would be painting myself in the corner trying to please people and putting my own influences on the back burner. That's not a great thing to nourish my artistic side.

Analogue: What's fascinating to me is that you've been able to free yourself in a way that most people would dream—to stop listening to fears, to stop pleasing others in order to follow this internal energy toward what you know you should be doing. Was there a turning point that enabled you to silence everyone's voices but your own?

Ken: I wish I could say that there was one "Eureka!" moment for that, but it was just easing into the water. It was scary at first. At first, it felt like I was alienating myself from these people who have helped me so much. It felt really selfish on some level to give in to whatever my impulses or instincts are telling me to make.

It was a really slow gut-check time, and I was still pulling my hair out trying to write to other instrumentals to make that relationship where it was. Then I found myself making more instrumentals which would complicate things. I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop making beats. I couldn't stop watching YouTube videos of MadLib and Onra making beats. I became obsessed with the production side of it.

Then I started making some really crude or simple beats that scratched that itch, that I could hear an idea in my head and it could become physical. The point where I started to feel the confidence, which is maybe what you were asking about, came after a dozen beats or so with this new process of really going for it where I heard some improvement with it. I heard flashes of people I was influenced by. Once I got that, that was the juice. It was like a video game that I was getting good at, where I could get to the next level.

I would go upstairs to my music room and watch a new video. If there was something I didn't know how to do, I would watch a video on how to do it. Then I realized that I could route this MIDI to this, ideas I'd never thought about. Songwriting was the furthest thing from my mind. It just reinvigorated my love for the process and let me be intimate with making music again. There'd been a bit of a separation.

Analogue: How much of what you were hearing in your head is present on the new album? Are you able to say you translated 100 percent?

Ken: I wish I could. I would say 90 percent, but that being said, I am 100 percent satisfied with this record. It was the best effort I could put into this sound. That 10 percent is just wanting to write mor songs like the ones I wrote at the very end. I never feel totally satisfied with what I'm doing and I think that's a healthy thing. That's the part of the drive that keeps the engine burning to want to do better next time, to keep pushing further.