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Vacation: "Most Bands Break Up or Change Names A Few Years into the Game, But I Think With Us, a Listener Gets a Key to the Time Capsule That is Our Band"

Cincinnati rockers Vacation don't need much of an introduction. If you've ever seen them live, then you're familiar with their Ramones-like velocity and reckless intensity, which serves as the sonic structure to their newest album Rare Earth, out May 3rd on Feel It Records (Sweeping Promises, The Cowboys, Sugar Tradition). Nine albums into their discography, the four-piece remain impeccable and true to themselves with their "grit pop" ethos right at the frontline of the attack, delivering their most explosive album yet. Ahead of their run of shows along the East Coast this week, we caught up with guitarist-vocalist Jerri Queen, bassist Evan Wolff, and guitarist John Hoffman who spill everything regarding the making of their new album and what's it been like preserving their legacy through Cincy's current music scene.

Photo by Jamie Morrison

Paperface Zine: Asides from the tour, what have you been listening to, reading, watching, or spending a lot of time doing?

Jerri Queen: I've been busy, very busy. I'm about two years deep into a project of building a recording studio, so that occupies most of my time when I'm not working. I've also been helping Sam and Kat do construction on their new Feel It Records shop, which is set to open in late April. I listen to all sorts of things while I'm working on these projects ranging from music to interviews/podcasts. Stand outs lately have been the Nikki Sudden discography and the rarely noted, but highly recommended late-era Circle Jerks album Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities. It's my favorite from the band, a solid rock 'n' roll album with surprisingly good lyrics. They even do a cover of the Soft Boys classic "I Wanna Destroy You." I've also been reading (very slowly) a book called The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City. It's a really cool collection of accounts from those who dwell in the forgotten tunnels of NYC, written in the early '90s.  

John Hoffman: I've been spending pretty much all of my time in the studio producing records or touring. I've been really lucky in the last year and got to fulfill my dream of traveling for studio work. So far made records this year in Oakland, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Upstate New York. I'm in Hudson, NY right now doing an LP for an awesome band called Dauber. I just co-wrote and co-produced a new LP with my friend Maura Weaver that I'm very excited about too. I've been listening to a particular gospel record by George Jones called Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The nastier and more fucked up a George Jones album sounds, the better. Also, I was really enamored by a live performance from the Philly band Florry back in January. Their LP is even better and it's called The Holey Bible. It rocks so hard. I'm also digging this 2020 S/T LP by Working Men's Club, "Clear" by Cybotron, Kath Bloom's and Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves. So basically I've been listening to alt country, techno, and pop more than anything, I guess. I'm reading an awesome Joyce Carol Oates book called My Life As A Rat. It's super sad and fucked up.  

Evan Wolff: I got married this past weekend (4/20) so I was just getting ready for that. Also had a couple art shows this past late summer/fall, one solo and one with our friend Yusuke Okada. It was the second show we'd had together. His stuff is so amazing and always inspiring to see. Otherwise pretty much just been making art and getting geared up for the record to come out. Been listening to a lot of Behind The Bastards podcast, kills a lot of time at work. 

PZ: Before we discuss your upcoming album Rare Earth, tell me how exactly did you all meet and decide to start playing music as Vacation?

JQ: The band started in late 2009. I was 22 and living for $100 a month in a 3000 sq/ft warehouse with five people in Cincinnati's Over The Rhine neighborhood. I didn't have to work much because my living costs were so low, so you could say I enjoyed myself and did what I wanted to do. We called the place Bike Haus; we hosted 4-6 shows per month for bands from all over North America. Most of the people that lived there played in bands, so even when there wasn't a show, noise was being made. One of my roommates was Peyton Copes. He had a really unique style of playing guitar and we naturally started making up songs in our free time, which we had a lot of. Guitar was my first instrument however, but being as Peyton was far more skilled than I, I began teaching myself the drums. We fumbled through a few original numbers and decided we needed a bassist so we reached out to Evan Wolff, a friend and regular at Bike Haus shows. He fit perfectly and Evan has been my musical brother ever since. The original trio (Peyton on guitar, Evan on bass, me on drums/vocals) lasted until 2014, when Peyton left to pursue the tour management side of the business. At this point I had been living with a young chap named Dylan McCartney who was very keen on the drums. Around this time I was working on demos for what would become our third album Non-Person; Dylan would sit in on the kit and help structure the ideas into songs. He officially joined Vacation a few months before we recorded that LP and I made the switch to guitar. John Hoffman also came into the fold with the recording of Non-Person. John was an old friend from Bike Haus days, he was getting his chops up as an audio engineer at that time and took on the recording and mixing duties. He began adding secondary guitar parts and organically joined as the fourth member during the process and has been with us ever since. Dylan stepped down in late 2021 to pursue his own musical endeavors with The Serfs and The Drin, which have really been taking off and I couldn't be more proud of him. We now have Dayton Ohio's Zach Brennaman behind the kit and he's really been holding it up strongly! 

JH: I met Evan and Jerri from booking shows in Cincinnati. My band couldn't get on any punk shows back in the day, because we were only 16 years old and no one wanted kids at their shows or at their bars. So, I just had to find out of town bands I liked myself and book 'em a gig so that my band could play shows I was excited about. I booked a band called O Pioneers!!! in 2008 or so and Evan hit me up to see if he and Vacation's first guitarist Peyton's old band You'll Get Yours could hop on the gig. So, I met two-thirds of Vacation that way and we played a show together. Then I met Jerry at a house show I booked for a band called Like Bats. Then I met Zach through a cold call recording inquiry email. He had asked me to record his solo music, which ended up not happening. He would later play a Columbus, OH gig with us in his (awesome but not defunct) group Hydrone. In the summer of '23 Vacation found itself looking for a new drummer in after our last two bailed on us after they both committed transgressions. We were racking our brain for someone new and Zach came to mind. He showed up to our first jam with him and knew about 20 songs perfectly. We could have left for a tour with him the next day. It was insane.  

EW: What they all said [laughs]. I would see Jerri play in bands when I was like like junior high/high school. At the time I would've never thought we'd be friends and make music together. The Greater Cincinnati area is like that, a lot of the folks doing stuff have been here for a long time. I've always thought that was cool, growing up, and evolving through the years and having a lot of good friends for a long time. Cincinnati isn't so big that all the scenes can be isolated, there tends to be a lot of crossover. 

Photo by Alexzandra Roy

PZ: Nine albums into your discography, what has the journey been like so far as a band? What are your thoughts looking back on your past records and how do you think you've grown musically over the years?

JQ: Vacation grew from the seeds of the DIY punk scene; we hosted shows for others, booked our own tours, recorded our own records, made our own artwork, and built lifelong friendships all without ever really knowing how to do any of it "properly." We've grown immensely since 2009 and that's very present when going back through the catalog. We didn't know what we were doing on the first record and you can hear us start to figure out our sound with each album that follows. Most bands break up or change names a few years into the game, but I think with us, a listener gets a key to the time capsule that is our band.  

JH: Honestly, the band has been a wild and emotional ride for me. I've literally lived so much of my life's experiences as an adult through this band. When the band started in 2009, before I was a member, it was my favorite band and I would go nuts at shows and anxiously await new music and more shows from them. Then, I got to work on their third LP in 2014. Then I got to join the band in 2015 and start touring with them, playing bigger shows than I could have ever imagined, touring with bands that I never assumed I would, trying all different kind of weird things in all kinds of new cities around the world. Literally, half of my life has been entirely accompanied by the band Vacation at this point. I've had my highest highs and my lowest lows of life with Vacation, for better or worse. I used to look back on our old records with fondness, but now they are emotionally difficult to take in due to interpersonal things that have affected our band's history for me personally. But, in a practical sense, looking back on old records feels like both a photo album and a blueprint at the same time. Hearing it takes me right back to the moments and memories I hang onto from those times, but they also lay out how we should approach the next one. I get to see what's already been done and contemplate what should be done for the next one. For example, before going into the sessions for Rare Earth, I realized that Vacation had never made an album that sounded like we do live. So, I made that the goal for that LP: Make sure it sounds like a snapshot of our live shows. So we tracked it live, with no headphones, everything bleeding into the room and we were successful.  

EW: It's nice to have the sonic and visual markers. When you're able to sit back and listen or look at stuff you've created over the years, it feels good when the newest thing is more dialed in than the last. At least that's the goal [laughs]. I've always felt our band was a place where we could kind of try whatever we wanted. 

PZ: Following up 2021's Existential Risks and Returns, what is it like returning with a new album and tour this year?

JQ: ERAR was recorded in late 2018-19 and released just after strict Covid times. Given the circumstances, along with some personnel changes within the band, we didn't get to tour as much on that record as we had hoped. So with that said, I'm very excited to have this new one drop and get to do some touring on it! I'm very happy with how Rare Earth turned out, I think it's a very good representation of our band and of how we sound live.  

JH: It's exciting and scary. It's always exciting because it feels like Christmas to create any new piece of art and give it to the world to do with it what they will. It's scary because you don't know if they're gonna treat it like candy or like a dog toy. I suppose it doesn't matter at the end of the day, though. I love it and had a blast making it.  

EW: Yeah excited to have the record come out and get to play shows in a more timely matter than last time. In the past, we've just toured a lot whether or not there was a new record, so having the release and playing shows coincide a bit more will be nice. It can be easy to forget that you, as the creator, are so close to the nucleus (if not just the nucleus itself) and it takes longer for the rest of the world to hear or see what you've made. As Tom Petty said, "the waiting is the hardest part." Definitely worth the wait. 

PZ: What can you tell readers about the new album's recording sessions and how it all came together at both The Lodge in Dayton, Kentucky and Checkered Flag back home? 

JQ: Vacation records of the past have checked every box of fidelity ranging from mid to low. We wanted this new record to be our first big-sounding studio production with maintaining the feel of our live sets. John Hoffman is the main engineer at the Lodge, so naturally we recorded there in the old Masonic hall. The live room is giant and makes for amazing drum sounds. We set up and tracked everything live to 1/2" tape aside from a few minor overdubs and mixed everything in my temporary Checkered Flag basement studio setup.  

JH: We did it at The Lodge because I would take on the role of engineering the LP and that's where I keep all of my equipment/work out of every day. This is the first time we expressly requested someone (Sam Richardson of Feel It Records) to assist as a proper co-producer for the LP. It was super nice to have a fifth party member to give us hard definite answers to things that we would find ourselves in disagreement about. Sam's got a keen ear and holds a special talent for giving acute and quick answers to studio conundrums, which I was able to learn in November '22 while he and I produced our band Beef's LP. Our other friend Cole Gilfilen was recruited to be the tape operator for the record and he crushed it. His intuitive knowledge for studios and gear seems so natural and I'm sure of it that he may one day be a righteous recording engineer. He's doing demos for bands now out of his warehouse art space in Cincinnati. We ended up doing the mixing at The Checkered Flag because my studio schedule was absolutely insane in the summer of '23 and I had to move in temporarily to my sister's house while waiting on a new place to live. So, it was more efficient for Jerry to be at the helm of getting the mixing done. I got the first round of mixing done at my sister's kitchen table and then Jerri, Evan, Sam and I got 'em sounding finalized at the Checkered Flag. 

Photo by Alexzandra Roy

PZ: What were you listening to or (inspired by) when working on the album? 

JQ: I was reading and listening to quite a bit of Carl Sagan while writing this album and it definitely showed itself as a common theme lyrically. Sonically, I wanted to attempt Vacation's version of The Replacements classic Pleased to Meet Me. I love how that huge that album sounds, yet you can still tell it's just three friends soulfully playing their scrappy songs.  

JH: My inspiration was just making sure it sounded like we did live and then Jerri's request to make it sound like Please To Meet Me. So I made sure to do some nerdy shit, like getting the gated snare drum reverb sound on the input side of things, before it actually hit the tape machine. 

PZ: Which song from the record means the most to you (and why)?

JQ: I'd say "Kink." It's the tragic-yet-triumphant coming of age story of our band. Like many of the songs on Rare Earth, the verse hook started out as a whistle which I built the song around. I tried recording the whistle for the album but it sounded shitty, so a guitar lead stands in its place. 

JH: I've got a few answers. For an emotional quality its "Kink" because its basically a story about the aforementioned transgressions within our band. For a "single" quality its the title track, which is a total barn burner. Then, for the actual artistic presentation, it's "I Was A New York Ranger." That one showcases the classic quality the band has always possessed in be able to turn the studio into an instrument and create something hyper contextual.  

EW: What those guys said. Maybe "Life Beyond Enceladus" for me. That one came about during the lockdown when the fate of the world, and to a lesser extent our band, seemed up in the air. I had the chords and showed them to Jerry one evening and he had some words that almost seemed made for the music. We called up John and then we demoed it. We all lived really close at the time and getting together to record songs quickly has always been something I'm grateful for with our band. It just felt like a righteous, uplifting kind of song and during that time that felt like a nice reminder to keep on pushing through. They really all have a special quality to them, especially getting in the studio and getting to bring them to life. Each one has it's own personality and comes together nicely for a whole listening experience. 

PZ: Let's dive into some of the songs here. What can you tell readers about the pounding opener "Worlds in Motion"? 

JQ: "Worlds in Motion" was originally an art piece, a collage that Evan made with the same title; flocks of swans gearing up to fly. I loved the collage and wanted to make a song to accompany it. It's a song about uneasiness of growth and change, denial and acceptance. I thought it was hilarious to try and use the term "rock and roll" as many times as possible in a song. Rock and roll is (clearly?) a place holder for tension/sex/love/art/drugs/frustration/settling. Or maybe I've fried myself to the point that rock and roll is all I know?  

EW: As a bit more of a sidebar, the collage can be seen in motion in the music video I did for "Decaying." Back in 2015, I had an art show with a ton of collages I made from the paper for said music video and the "Worlds in Motion" piece had been around. It's fun to create your own little world to pull ideas from or call back to no matter how subtle or not. 

PZ: I can see why the title track was released as the album's lead single with its surging melodic power that's reminiscent of '90s pop giants like Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, and The Super Friendz. What were the inspirations behind this one? 

JQ: We imagined that one sounding like our take on a Cars song and I think we pulled it off. Lyrically it was written from the perspective of me at my construction job; hastily constructing in a decaying culture and planet.  

JH: There is a really cool antique store here in Cincinnati called The Riverside Antique Mall that has a malfunction with its stereo system the causes the speakers of their system to be delayed from one another just a little bit. It adds a really interesting delay effect to the music therre. I've always wanted to mimic this defect on record and that was my jumping off point for the vocal delay on "Rare Earth."

PZ: I really like Pete Townshend/Velvets energy that drives "Cheap Death Rattle." What can you say about this one?'

JQ: "CDR" is our prog song. It's a three-part movement that comments on modern humanity's reliance on technology that they have no clue how to maintain and operate.

PZ: I see there was some additional help on songs from Dakota Carlyle, Corker's Cole Gilfilen, Motorbike's Jamie Morrison, Cowboys singer Keith Harman, Megan Schrorer, and Feel It label head Sam Richardson. What was it like working with them in the studio? It sounded like a multi-generational affair. 

JQ: We wrote "Psychic Gasoline" as a band when Dylan was still with us, it's definitely one of my personal favorites and has been a live staple over the last few yearsSam was present just about every step of the way in the making of this record and from tracking to mixing, we couldn't have done it without him. In the control room, Sam and Cole operated the tape machine and made notes on which takes were the keepers while we were laying it all down in the live room. Jamie played all the tambourine parts on the record — he's really good at doing that. Cole and Megan played drums and guitar respectively on the song Sailing. Dakota came to a mix session and set the vocal delay on "Cheap Death Rattle." Keith used to live upstairs from the Checkered Flag and one night he ventured down while we were mixing "Worlds in Motion" after having had some drinks. In classic Sleepy Keith fashion, he passed out almost immediately and began snoring. I recorded his snores and faintly mixed them into the break right before the guitar solo. Thanks Keith! 

JH: Cole played the perfect drum part for the closing track "Sailing." Dakota added his signature and reliable delay throw on "I Was A New York Ranger," Jamie added aux percussion quickly and with ease, Keith got drunk and snored, Megan added a haunting guitar lead to close out the album and Sam answered every question that we couldn't answer ourselves. 

Photo by Alexzandra Roy

PZ: Evan, what were the inspirations behind the cover art and what's been the pairing like between your collage work and Vacation artwork? 

EW: I made the piece back in 2022 and it's called Look 'N Listen. Based on the themes of the newer songs but there wasn't anything set in stone. I was just flipping through magazines, making collages and once I made this piece, it just felt right for the next record cover. The past few album covers have been like that. It never feels good trying too hard or trying to force idea. Sometimes the pieces just make themselves, and you just gotta go with your gut. I think the album art pairs nicely with the Rare Earth concept and looking inward and outward. Whether it be illustrations or collages for album art, merch or all the music videos I've done for the band, I'd like to think the art brings to life Jerry's lyrics and vice versa. That's what's always drawn me to illustration and collage art, the surreal aspect of those art forms. It's real life, but it's distorted, fucked up or "out there" and real life is actually like that. The inner struggle and the grand vastness of the universe combined into one.

PZ: You'll be kicking off your spring tour with a show in Chicago tomorrow. What are you most excited about getting back on the road and playing these new songs live? Also, what shows are you looking forward to the most?

JQ: We've only done about ten shows with our new drummer Zach. I'm looking forward to traveling with him and honing in our set. The show I'm most looking forward to is Milwaukee, my friend Eric of the band Tenement started a new project called Evinspragg and it will be their first live full band performance.  

JH: I'm also most excited to just get our chops up with our new drummer, Zach. 

PZ: Cincinnati is arguably the best city in America for primitive rock 'n' roll right now. Can you paint a picture of what exactly the scene is like, especially with labels such as Feel It and Future Shock providing the goods, and what it's like being part of it all? To me, it feels like Vacation spearheaded much of what's been happening in the city. 

JQ: It's really strange to go from living in what most people would consider an armpit of a city for the majority of your life to all of the sudden have it be considered "cool" and a destination spot. Cincinnati has always been home to me, a cheap, centrally located blue-collar Midwest city on the cusp of Appalachia. It's got great architecture but also has garbage in the streets. Aesthetically, I've always loved it here. We've definitely gotten lots of new life in the city recently and it truly feels like a hub of creativity. The scene has been great, young, and old working together to make great art. John Hoffman and I are trying our best to document it all by recording the bands.  

JH: It's really funny to me that people hold Cincinnati in this light at the moment, because to me nothing is different here. Our community has always harbored independent labels, bands, artists, etc... and the city has never really slept at any point, so to speak. We were major players in the record industry with King Records back in the day, we had awesome alt-bands in the '90s, and now a lot of people are looking to Cincinnati as a flagship for punk music. I would agree that Vacation has been one of the longest running curatorial institutions/ambassadors for DIY culture in Cincinnati. But it would be short sided to not acknowledge that the DIY community in Cincinnati runs deep and is multi-generational. Every generation of punk in the city is still doing its thing and mingling with one another. If you wanna hear what clans are doing in Cincinnati you can check out the following bands and tap into their scenes. All of the following groups make concerted efforts to be curatorial for our city: 

  • Slutbomb/Stall - Hardcore/Grind/Powerviolence for the freaky children.

  • Piss Flowers/Fleshmother - Hardcore/Doomy Hardcore right in the middle of the Capitol H and Lowercase h. 

  • Fruitt LoOops - Art Punk Performancece Art/Noise/Free jazz.

  • Scenario. - Screamo.

  • Serfs/Drin/Crime of Passing - Post-punk.

  • Metric Ton - Psych-rock heads.

  • Suffocate Faster / Your Disease - Capitol H Hardcore Coner of the City.

  • Fairmount Girls / The Dents / Spiderhand - The folks that started the DIY punk scene in the city back in the early 80's who are still doing stuff with bands. 

  • Patterns of Chaos - Very inspired Hip Hop with a lot of teeth when it comes to performing live.

  • Corker/CDE/Axed - Little bit of post-punk, little bit of noise rock, little bit of rock n roll, hardcore, etc.

PZ: Lastly, what else is on the horizon for you guys following the tour? Any big shows later in the year. Jerri, what's been happening lately over at Checkered Flag?

JQ: We've got the record release show coming up May 17 in Cincinnati at the Northside Tavern. Joining us will be The Drin and The Missed (Cleveland), it should be a good one. After that we have some festivals to play in the summer time and a tour supporting Generacion Suicida in July. But yes, most of my time this summer I will be focused on finishing construction for the future and permanent location of the Checkered Flag recording studio. A few years ago, my studio partner Kevin and I found an old dilapidated building in Cincinnati and decided to take on the project of structural rehab and studio build out. It's very expensive and time consuming and there have been several unforeseen issues along the way prolonging the process, but that's on par for projects like this. I'm hoping to have it to a point where I can move the studio gear and start recording by fall or winter. Eventually, there will be a finished apartment upstairs so bands from out of town can have a home base while recording with us. I cannot wait. Come make a record with me! 

JH: I'm just going to keep recording bands, riding my bike, and trying to travel as much as possible. Hopefully I make time to practice guitar. Probably won't, though.  

EW: We got a fair amount of new songs cooking for a new record, perhaps we'll get that rolling this year too.

Rare Earth is out May 3rd on Feel It Records.


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