Tales From the Acoustic Basement Tour:
An Interview with Vinnie Caruana
Words by Bill San Antonio
Vinnie Caruana is one of the more revered veterans of the Long Island punk scene, fronting the pop-punk outfits the Movielife and, more recently, I am the Avalanche. Last month, Caruana put out his debut solo E.P., City By the Sea, through I Surrender/Run for Cover Records and co-headlined the winter leg of the Vans Warped Tour’s Acoustic Basement tour with Thursday’s Geoff Rickly. We caught up with Caruana during tour to talk about City By the Sea, the Acoustic Basement and IATA’s future plans.
What made you want to work with your pal Steve Choi from Rx Bandits to produce City by the Sea?
Vinnie Caruana: I know how talented he is and what he can bring to the table. He understands my music, and we are like brothers. I knew the final product would be better with him in the picture.
How has the response to the EP been so far from people who’ve heard it?
VC: It’s been absolutely incredible. Seriously.
You’ve certainly been around awhile, with your time in the Movielife and now with I Am The Avalanche, and some of the tracks off City by the Sea have poked their heads at solo shows in the past. Why was now the right time to record and release the EP?
VC: Avalanche ended our touring cycle for “United” and I saw a window of time where I could properly write, record, release, and tour in support of it.
What are your feelings on kicking off Warped’s Acoustic Basement tour, having played on a number of dates during last summer’s Warped Tour and being pretty vocal in your support of acoustic tours like Where’s the Band?
VC: Feels great to be a part of it again and with these solid dudes. I’m truly blessed to be on this tour with the new record out. I’ve never played Wheres the Band.
What do you enjoy about playing those smaller, intimate settings?
VC: I love how much the bare bones of the songs shine through. The crowd can really connect on the ground level. Its really special.
What kind of relationship do you have with Geoff Rickly, A Loss for Words, Koji and Brian Marquis, with whom you’ll be sharing the Acoustic Basement stage?
VC: We’ve been in the same van now for a week and it just clicks. We are having a blast together. Ive toured with a lot of these boys before so there wasn’t any ice to break.
You’ve got a very powerful, aggressive vocal style that fits perfectly with the full-band work you’ve done over the course of your career. Are there any challenges to writing vocal parts on some of these softer, folk-ier songs that aren’t necessarily meant for a punk band to play?
VC: No it’s coming to me pretty easily. In my spare time when I’m playing guitar at home I’m not yelling and screaming and bouncing off the walls, so it feels natural.
You’ve touched briefly on the impact Hurricane Sandy left on the tri-state area. What influence, if any, do you think the event will have on your writing in the future?
VC: I’m watching the rebuilding of the city take place in front of my eyes. Every time life knocks us over we get up and rebuild. That will stay with me as I move forward with my writing.
How do you feel about acting as an elder statesman – you’ve even referred to yourself as Uncle Vin – for kids in the Long Island music scene these days?
VC: Hah I think its cool! I’m just glad I I don’t look my age yet. Gotta stay fit and sharp.
Geography aside, what responsibility do you think the bigger Long Island acts of recent years – you, Taking Back Sunday, Bayside, Brand New, Glassjaw, etc. – to play the occasional Long Island date as opposed to solely booking New York City tour dates?
VC: Bands can do anything they want. But for me, I m always looking to please my hometown people. Those are my people. I’m one of them.
You’ve dabbled as a producer from time to time as well, recently working with the LI-based Bellwether. What are some of the challenges of changing your mindset from working toward your own material in the studio to trying to channel the talent, nuance and potential of another band as a producer?
VC: For a band like Bellweather I have a lot of ideas for them. From the outside I can look in and ask the questions. ‘Why is it happening like this? Maybe we can do it like this.’ It also helps if they listen to me and Ratt. Like ‘trust us – we know what we are doing’ kinda thing.
The idea of paying homage to your friends and family appears frequently on I Am The Avalanche’s Avalanche United—songs like “Amsterdam,” “This One’s On Me,” and “Gratitude”—and even has its moments on City by the Sea. How does that theme keep you drawing back to that well creatively so frequently?
VC: I often think about how lucky I am to be surrounded by some of the best people on earth. It’s always on my mind. The fact that I travel so much is probably why its always on the tip of my tongue.
What did it mean for you to finally release Avalanche United, seven years after its debut record?
VC: It meant the world to us. I think we made an important punk record for our generation.
Even before Avalanche United was released, there was a really positive buzz around it from the local music scene. Was this something that resonated with you and your immediate circle, and how did it feel knowing that not only was there still a demand, of sorts, for the band’s music after such a long wait, but an excitement for it as well?
VC: It felt great. We have extremely loyal fans and they knew we’d finally give them what they needed.
After the Acoustic Basement, you’ve got a handful of shows in the U.K. and parts of Europe. You’ve expressed interest in releasing another I Am The Avalanche full-length sometime this year. What would you consider a reasonable timetable would be for that?
VC: We will record in May and release sometime in the fall, then hit the road after that. The writing for the new IATA record is going really well. Gonna be a classic.