Cincinnati/Columbus combo aims big and hits the mark on new double album
In the first five days of February 2016, Vacation convened in Cincinnati with the goal of recording 30 songs.
“It was an outlandish number. I figured there was no way we we're gonna do it, but we tried,” said singer/guitarist Jerri Queen by phone from Cincinnati's Ultrasuede Studio, the recording space run by Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley; the studio has doubled as Vacation's practice space lately.
“We had a big list on a big piece of cardboard with all the new songs, and we just went down the line,” said Evan Wolff, Vacation's only Columbus resident. (Wolff moved from Cincinnati about five years ago and also plays in local act Pretty Pretty.) In the end, the band met its goal — and then some. Vacation's new double album, Southern Grass: The Continuation of Rock ‘n' Roll Vol. 1 & 2 (Recess Records), boasts 32 tracks in all.
Last time around, when making 2015 LP Non-Person (Don Giovanni Records), the punk-pop four-piece labored for months. “The last album we spent way too long on,” Queen said. “I wanted this one to have a completely different feel, and I think we got that.”
Songs were learned, rehearsed and then immediately recorded with minimal overdubs, with multiple band members contributing songs (drummer Dylan McCartney and guitarist John Hoffman round out the lineup, though the bandmates often switch instruments). Vacation will soon embark on a month-long tour in support of the double LP, starting with a pair of release shows in Columbus on Friday, Aug. 25 (Used Kids hosts an early show, followed by a late show down the street at the Summit).
On the mosh-inducing “El Bako,” one of Southern Grass' best tracks, Queen sings about kleptomaniacal tendencies and eating spicy foods. “I tried to be a little more humorous with the lyrics, because I felt like the last one was so sad and pathetic,” Queen said. “With ‘El Bako' in particular, I think it's funny, but it's also completely honest and true. I tried to be less cryptic.”
“It's less serious, but it's not like a joke where you don't give a shit,” Wolff said. “It's kind of like Replacements songs. ... There's stuff that's funny, but there's also stuff that's like, ‘Damn. That hit home.'”
Vacation has always had an experimental streak, too, so while plenty of the songs inspire sing-alongs with power-pop melodies, others, like “Coffee Shop Window” and “Teenage Fool,” incorporate spoken-word sections with near-atonal guitar and hiccupped rhythms. On both monologues, the band handed a friend a microphone and hit “record.”
“I was apprehensive about even putting ‘Teenage Fool' on there, because I think it's ridiculous,” Queen said. “We really embraced the imperfections and spontaneity.”
“I feel like the quality is higher than anything before, but [we didn't] freak out and stress about the work,” Wolff said. “You can have your cake and eat it, too, once in a while.”