Kenny Vasoli’s musical journey has been nothing short of fascinating. Starting out as the teenaged face of pop punk legends The Starting Line, he graduated to more experimental work with his side project Person L before arriving at where he is today: the ultra-chill Vacationer, a dancey musical adventure that’s more Coachella than Warped Tour. Through all the genre shifting (and even more hairstyles), one thing has stayed at the core: pure, honest songwriting, led by his instantly-recognizable voice and unshakeable earnestness. idobi managing editor Eleanor Grace caught up with Vasoli in Toronto to talk about everything happening in the world of Vacationer, his songwriting approach on their most recent record Relief, navigating heartbreak and anxiety, his history with The Starting Line, and more.
You’re on tour right now with St. Lucia. How’s that been going?
Really well! They’ve been so sweet to us and we’ve all increasingly become big fans of their show. It’s been a good time. And it seems like a good fit, ‘cause they’re sort of on a tropical tip too. It’s a little more like, dance party than us, but we seem to be a good warmup for the show.
You’ve been to Toronto tons of times over the years with various projects. Do you have a favourite story from this city? That’s favourite with a u, by the way, because Canada.
[laughs] Nice! I’m trying to think…I mean, I’m a horrible short term memory guy, and I’m also not a great storyteller, so, you know–
Like you said onstage, you tell the stories through the majesty of song.
Exactly. I need weeks to write a story, and then it just comes out as fragments. But we’ve always had a good time up here. A few of our friends live up here. There’s nothing crazy–we’re not like, crazy magnets. We don’t really get ourselves into too much trouble. So most of our nights are just knocking back a few and smoking joints and inviting friends out. But we have our friend Dean who lives here and his wife and they’re pretty much our go to hang when we’re here. It’s always just a nice friendly reunion with them.
You guys are touring right now in support of the new record, which came out back in June. And I know you said that when you were writing the first record, it was really inspired by being “super in love,” and that was really the muse for the record. But for this record, you weren’t in that relationship anymore, so you were kind of writing from a different place. Talk a little bit about the shift that happened in your approach to songwriting.
I had to really dig deep for inspiration on this one because, you know, love is a great go to inspiration for songs–it’s almost like an urge to write a song when you’re in love. And then for this one, it took nearly a year to get the juices flowing and put pen to paper in a serious way. This record is more of a mindset record than a moment in time kind of record. So it’s really nice singing these songs because it’s all about just getting myself into the space where I’m present with my life and I have evident inner love. It’s sort of more of an attitude and a motivational record for me, because it’s all about putting myself in a space where I can explore and love, and also relax. Relaxation is the big key to this record. It’s something that I constantly need to remind myself of because it’s easy to turn into a ball of stress for anything in life. If like, there’s a line at the supermarket, it can set you off sometimes [laughs]. So I sort of flipped a switch going into this record. I lost a lot of the tension that’s been in my mind and in my heart. That’s what it was about.
It’s really great that you were able to kind of use the record as therapy, because, you know, someone could listen to the record and think, “This guy must experience no anxiety at all,” because the record’s so chill that you’re able to shake off all of that tension.
Yeah, it’s the opposite [laughs]. I experience tons of anxiety. I’m sure everybody does. Just…it’s hard to be a person.
And you know, I heard somebody say that, and it was one of the most comforting things I’ve ever heard. Because some people act like they have it completely down. And I may seem like that to some people, but it’s confusing and it’s a weird thing to navigate, being a person in life. So, you know, the word relaxation and the word relax and even just the word chill, as much as we abuse that word, it really is a nice touchstone. Just chill vibes–what else do you need?
Other than trying to shake out the tension through music, what else do you turn to in those anxious moments?
Exercise and my dog. Those are like, the two big ones. Cooking, exercise, and my dog are the best stress relievers.
Do you have a go to meal for your comfort food?
Yeah, breakfast tacos. If I don’t have much time and I’m just throwing something quick together, that’s like, usually two meals out of the day.
Breakfast tacos for dinner!
Totally. More times than you would believe [laughs]. And also stir frys because whatever’s lying around, whatever vegetables and proteins I have, I can just throw some rice in a wok and just go crazy.
Is it bittersweet for you to revisit the songs from the first record because you were in such a place of love, digging back into that?
It is, yeah. Cause like, I can’t help but think about it, you know? That’s why I wrote the record. And I’m glad that I did–I love that record and it’s a really special place. But it’s bittersweet because she’s like, married and has a baby on the way. And it’s just like…that’s just the way the ball bounces. And it’s beautiful, and it’s beautiful for her, and it’s something that I don’t think I could’ve given her. I just don’t have that, at least not yet, to be married with a baby. So I’m super happy for her, but losing that is a hard thing. And I’m sure that everyone’s experienced some sort of equivalent to that.
It’s interesting, because when you’re in those moments you can either turn to music that really expresses that tension or you can turn to music that relaxes that tension and eases it. And the latter is what I think your music is great for.
Exactly. Yeah, that’s where the road kind of forked for me. I wanted this band to always be optimistic and the sunnier side of things, and you can either write a heartbreak record and brood in those feelings or you can write a record that’s like, well, what am I gonna do to improve myself from this situation? How about I gonna live a happy life beyond this? And I feel like I’ve done that.
Musically, where were you drawing influence from for this record?
Lots of Talking Heads–I love that stuff. Beach House has always been a big one on me. I love the way that she simply puts things, you know? She’s poetic sometimes without being shrouded in hidden meaning. I like to be relatable, and I also like to be a little bit broad with the way that I write lyrics, cause I want people to relate to it outside of me and I try not to get too specific about things. And then LCD Soundsystem is also a huge influence on me. I just love their sense of rhythm and their sense of build and the dynamic in that band.
I feel like you’ve been a musician so long that we’ve really heard your influences shift and change over the years – obviously I’m sure you’re listening to way different stuff now than when you were writing those first Starting Line songs all those years ago. But over the years, what have you found to be the most pervasive influences–artists that you can turn to no matter what and draw inspiration from?
Beach Boys and Radiohead are two of those perfect examples. Radiohead’s one of those bands that I always dug, especially once they started doing the OK Computer and beyond stuff, because they started marrying electronic music with rock and roll music, which I was instantly–I was really young when OK Computer came out, but I was instantly like, “This is the way that the future of music is gonna go.” Even like, Refused did that. I feel like the best bands can use every little bit of technology, old and new, and really join them together in a way that’s thought-provoking and inspiring.
I feel like when you’re part of a project so long the way you were with the Starting Line, you’re always tied to it–like, in a way, you’ll always be “Kenny from The Starting Line.” Does that feel like a blessing or a curse to you?
You know, being in this band, I know that it can seem like a lot of people frame me that way, but the people that wanna refer to me as Kenny from The Starting Line don’t really come to Vacationer shows. I’m Kenny from Vacationer here. And more times than not, people aren’t coming because they’ve heard of me from Starting Line and then checked out my new project, but people find out about Vacationer, they come to the show, and then they realize that I’m the same guy–even though they’ve listened to both, but didn’t put two and two together till the show. Which I really like, because it’s not like I have to play to that–to the bands that I was in in the past. I look at it like a director. A director of movies doesn’t have to make sequels his whole life, or even make the same genre of film his entire career; they could make a western or a noir or a comedy. Guys like P.T. Anderson make all sorts of movies and nobody’s really looking–or at least I’m not looking for him to keep making the same movie over and over again. So I think by this point I’ve driven the point home that I’m constantly shifting my influences and people are on board with that, that wanna hear it.
Was there ever a conscious attempt to “become” Kenny from Vacationer rather than Kenny from The Starting Line?
You know, I never have that concern. Even when I was in Starting Line, I just didn’t really like…I don’t know how to put this without sounding like an asshole [laughs]. I’m just me. I always just want to act my age. That’s my thing. I don’t have anything against Starting Line. I still love it. And I also love it when people come to the shows and tell me how much Starting Line meant to them. It’s not offensive to me in the least. I just, I try to dissolve that side of the ego. Even just being “Kenny” is a weird thing. I’m just a guy and I’m just my own camera seeing the things that are happening in my life. And it’s a cool, crazy, beautiful life. So I just sort of ride the wave. I am who I am and it takes me to really different places once I let go of the past and don’t really try to predict where the future will go.
You have your regular Starting Line holiday show coming up…and sorry for all the Starting Line questions, by the way!
Oh, it’s chill! Yeah, I could tell by your [Early November] sweatshirt that I was in for it! [laughs]
You guys have the holiday show coming up in a month. What’s it like for you to revisit those songs, being in such a different place now?
It’s like an old hat, the old standards. It’s really fun getting to do that just once a year especially because there’s an anticipation that happens between us and the fans. So it’s just sort of like this family reunion, this one party that we have once a year and it’s really cool. People go off for it.
Hell yeah. It’s their yearly Starting Line celebration.
Yeah! It’s really fun. Depending on the song–I’m more thrilled to play some than others, sure–but I still really enjoy playing with that band. The problem is just that I can’t really speak for a week after. It’s so taxing on my voice to try and sing that shit.
You guys have played at least one new song with The Starting Line. Is there any inkling that you might do a reunion record in the future?
Yeah, we’d like to. We have some unfinished ideas, and I’d really even like to get one together for the holiday show. I just don’t know if time is gonna allow it with how much time I have when I get home.
Playing music professionally is really all you’ve ever known. But if tomorrow, you found out for some reason you couldn’t…like, there’s some reverse genie or something that denies your wishes instead of granting them, and he told you that you could still play music but you couldn’t make a living doing it anymore and you had to find another way to pay the bills, what do you think you would try to pursue?
I would like to be a coffee brewer. That’s like, my twilight years plan, to start a coffee company.
Nice! If you weren’t on tour right now and you were just at home hanging out, what do you think we’d find you doing?
I’d probably be…well, the weather wouldn’t really permit it right now, but I love taking my dog on walks. I have a little cruiser skateboard, and there’s this paved trail that’s like five miles by my house, and I’ll just take him there and cruise on my skateboard and just have him on the leash.
Final question: I’ve noticed that you’ve really refined your dance moves over the course of being in Vacationer. I saw you guys about a year ago in New York and the dance moves were there, but tonight they were like, on another level.
Can we expect moves like that at the Starting Line show? Your old pop punk songs with you vibin’?
[laughs] I mean, I don’t know, probably. I’m sure that I will. I just don’t even really realize what I’m doing when I do that [laughs]. I just vibe out.
Personally, I’m really hoping we see some hip gyrations to like, Bedroom Talk.
There’ll probably be a little bit of that. I’m a creature of habit, so I’m sure you’ll see some of it. [laughs]