Vanna are one of the heavier bands that Epitaph has signed recently. With their new album “Curses” hitting Australian shelves this week, vocalist Chris Preece was kind enough to chat to Killyourstereo’s Cameron Chambers…
Chris was definitely one of the nicest and most friendly dudes I’ve spoken to so a massive thanks for the interview time and thanks Emily Kelly at Shock Records for setting the interview up!
Hey Chris, where are you at the moment? Hopefully we haven’t woken you up at some ungodly hour.
Not at all man, we finished up a tour last night so just hanging out. It’s mid-afternoon over here so it’s all good.
Australian listeners probably aren’t too familiar with Vanna so give us a bit of a history lesson about the band and what you guys are up to at the moment.
I’ve been in the band for a little over a year, but the band itself has been around for close to 4 years. We’ve been on tour for the last 12 month pretty non stop which has been hectic but we love it. We just finished a tour with Lovehatehero last night so it’s back to Boston for a few days and then back on tour.
Tell us a bit about the tour man…
It was such an amazing tour. We bonded with all the bands; it was such a sick line-up, especially Lovehatehero. Those dudes have such an awesome live show!
Yeh, I’ve heard their newer members are real shredders…
Man, their guitarist Kevin is like 18 or 19 years old and just kills it. I’m pretty sure the dude invented guitar (ha ha).
New England is renowned for producing particularly heavy bands, with everyone from Killswitch Engage to Unearth cutting their teeth playing shows throughout your home state. Given that the last 2 years has seen the “New England” style of “metalcore” reach saturation point, did Vanna originally set out to play something a little different to what everyone was expecting, or do you feel your sound was simply a bi-product of the different members in the band?
We just set out to write music that we want to hear. Whatever felt natural and we were comfortable writing was what came out. We didn’t really set out to write a set style, it just kind of flowed that way. I think we have a pretty good perspective of how saturated the whole metalcore thing is at the moment, so we knew we didn’t want to do that.
It must feel great that then that so many kids are siked on what you guys are doing?
Yeh man. These are the songs that WE wanted to hear, so having other people like what we’re doing is just a blessing man.
Your EP “The Search Party Never Came” came out in June 2006. Was that something that you had recorded prior to your signing with Epitaph or did the label get the band into the studio fairly soon after your deal was all sorted out?
I wasn’t actually in the band at the time they signed which was in November/December 2005. The rest of the guys pretty much hit the studio right away to do the EP and get something out there.
Was the EP done to test the waters so to speak?
It was more to get the name out before doing a full length, you know, so people knew who we were and start some buzz before the full length. Think of it as a buzz generator, you know? (ha ha).
There was a bit of delay with the recording though due to a member change…
A line-up change just prior to recording???
Yeh, Vanna’s original singer left just before recording so our guitarists (Nick and Evan) handled all the vocals. Then I jumped in pretty soon after that.
Was it intimidating knowing that the guys in your band were capable of doing the vocals for the EP, and that you had to match – or better – what they could do?
Yeh, I was a little nervous but I didn’t feel like I was being scrutinized or anything like that. All the guys in the band were really supportive and encouraging which made it pretty easy for me to fit in.
Is Vanna your first band?
Not my first band, but definitely my first serious band. I’d done a few things before but this was definitely a step up from anything else I’d been involved with.
Were you nervous about hitting the stage in front of decent sized crowds?
Nah, I never really got stage fright. I’m pretty good at keeping myself distracted (ha ha).
I still get butterflies when we play to big crowds – especially hometown crowds – coz they seem to know the words better than I do! I think it’s just the high expectations of a hometown show that can make me a little nervous.
You guys began the recording process for your debut full length “Curses” in October last year – were you expecting to have to record so soon after releasing the EP?
Yeh man, like I earlier, the EP was done as a way to get our name out there so we always planned to do the full length pretty soon afterwards. If anything, it felt like a long time before we recorded again! When you’re in a band full time you can feel like your on the clock 24 hours a day so I feel like I’ve been in Vanna for 10 years already, ha ha. After saying that, the rest of the guys were glad they had the time to write the album’s material, so we were really prepared.
Did the band feel any pressure having to come up with an album’s worth of material so soon after “The Search Party Never Came”?
Nah man, we’re always writing, so it wasn’t like a rush job to get songs done. We already had a few songs in the work (or at least the skeletons etc…) so it was all good. We recorded a lot of demos over summer so we were definitely prepared for it. We’ve already starting throwing around some ideas for new tracks!
Do you guys have the set up to write in the tour van or is that what sound check is for?
I’ve got a laptop but I just use that for other stuff. We definitely use the sound check to come up with some riffs. We wrote something the other night that was really heavy so we’ve been using that to intro the set. I don’t know if it’ll end up becoming a song but it’s a pretty cool way to start the show!
Vanna were lucky enough to record with esteemed produced Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon, Norma Jean) at Robert Lange Studio (Seattle). Tell us about the recording process. Did you guys have all the album tracks written before you arrived or was there some last minute jams which made it on to the record?
Matt did pre-production with the band in Shawn’s basement for a week, so we were definitely prepared for the tracking. That’s actually where the instrumental (on Curses) came from. Matt helped us to shorten parts in certain songs which cool.
By the time we hit the studio all the music written but I did write all the vocals in the studio.
It sounds kind of cheesy to say it, but recording in such a professional studio with a real producer was like a dream come true! I was definitely star struck in our initial meeting with Matt.
Matt Bayles has worked with some of the biggest names in modern metal and hardcore, were you in any way intimidated about doing your record with such a scene heavyweight?
Maybe a little at first, but we broke him in really quickly to our sense of humour so that helped get us past the awkward stage. I mean, the dude was in Minus The Bear (who we love) so it was just awesome to be there with him. We’d always ask about working with Norma Jean and bug him about Underoath, so we were all pretty cool with each other.
Did you find having input from a seasoned producer gave the band a better understanding of how your record should turn out?
Totally man! The main thing Matt did was that he knows how things should sound sonically. He’s in touch with what’s tasteful and definitely wasn’t afraid to tell us an idea or encourage us to run with our own ideas.
We learnt so much for him. We’d love to work with him on our next record but even if he’s unavailable we’re going to take a lot of what he taught with us, regardless of who produces.
One thing that Matt feels is really important is being able to capture live intensity on record, which is a big part of what Vanna’s about. Matt has a great understanding of translating a band’s live sound to record. He’s definitely the man in the studio!
Given that your debut full length has just hit stores world wide, it’s safe to safe that you guys will be spending a lot of time on the road in 2007 (and probably 2008) – fill us in on your upcoming tour plans?!
Yeh man, we’re home for 3 days (in Boston) and then start our tour with Bloodjinn, Silent Escape and Twelve Gauge Valentine which runs right through to June. After that we don’t have anything set in stone but we definitely plan on staying on the road til the end of the year!
Are you guys going to be playing any of the big summer festivals?
We did try for Warped tour but we were pretty late in the game. We definitely would’ve loved to have done that tour but I think we’ll try for it again next year.
Yeh man, Warped would’ve been crazy! The US tour has 100 bands per show!
Yeh, Warped is just huge these days. It can get pretty hectic with like, 50 bands playing at the same time and the venue just turns into one massive dust pit but it’s still awesome none the less.
The Australian Warped Tour only get 10 – 15 bands so I can’t even comprehend a festival of that size!
It’s just a monster festival these days!
You guys have spent a bit of time in the van before, what’s the craziest shit that you guys have got up to on tour?
I dunno man, there’s crazy shit happening all the time on tour but I can think of one story you’ll like. We brought fireworks and thought it would be a good idea to set them off inside the van. Shawn was driving, with Nick, Evan and Brandon lighting fireworks and me hiding to save my life! They tried to fire a bottle rocket out the window but Shawn had shut the window so it bounced back, him me and set my shirt one fire! (ha ha)
Oh yeh, last night Brandon tried to steal a bottle of alcohol to celebrate the end of the tour, but it wasn’t alcohol, just random brown liquid, ha ha.
It’s not everyday that Epitaph organizes Australian press for one of its newest bands. Is overseas touring something that’s on the cards for you guys?
Definitely something we’re pursuing, but nothing’s locked in yet man. . We toured with Parkway Drive in the US so we’re hanging to get down to Australia and do some shows with them again, as well as hitting the UK and Europe.
Tell us about touring with Parkway Drive?
Dude, the crowds loved them and we all got along so well. It sucked because we toured with them just long enough to bond with them and then the tour was over. We miss them heaps!
Did Parkway go down well in the US?
US kids loved them man, they’ve definitely got a fan base in the over here. They are easily one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live!
It must feel pretty amazing to know that one of the longest running and most respected indie labels in the world is backing you guys that heavily – did Epitaph go after you guys or was it the usual story of a band looking for a label?
For sure man. Epitaph approached our old vocalist. We’d been on Purevolume for about a week and had a bunch of plays. Brett (Epitaph owner) was looking for a heavy band at the time so he signed us.
A lot of bands talk shit about other groups not paying their dues – sounds like you guys have a fairly quick and painless “discovery” process?
We definitely got our fair share of shit to begin with but we’ve been paying our dues ever since!
Who are some bands from your local area that Australian kids should be checking out?
All our top friends on Myspace page are our friend’s bands so just check out the page man, they’re all amazing bands.
Are you guys in a position yet where you can start to hook up friend’s bands and take them on tour?
Maybe soon can take friends bands on the road and try and help them out but we don’t even have a booking agent yet. But you know, that all comes with time.
Who’s been your favourite bands to play with/tour with and why?
Lovehatehero and Blinded Black as far as bonding with bands and having an awesome time on tour..
We love Escape The Fate and our friends in A Stained Glass Romance.
The lack of rock star ego in all those guys is so refreshing!
Have you heard any Australian hardcore or metal bands? Any friends or friend’s bands told you about our fine country?
I Killed The Prom Queen one of my favourite bands so we’re pretty bummed that they’ve broken up coz we had a massive show scheduled with them next month. One of them is in Bleeding Through now yeh?
Yep. Jona’s joined Bleeding Through.
Didn’t their singer join Bury Your Dead as well?
Ha ha, long story. You’re thinking of Crafter who joined a band called Carpathian after Prom Queen and then joined Bury Your Dead. We’re all about musical chairs here in Australia.
Ha ha. Yeh, well if Parkway and Prom Queen are anything to go, we’ve got a lot to live up to when we come to Australia.
We’re going to finish up with a few short questions man if that’s cool man?
Yeh man, go for it.
Top 3 all time records?
Dude, that’s such a hard question. I’ll just tell you what I’ve been listening to lately. It’s all mellow stuff so the other guys in the band will probably give me shit.
Digging “The Spill Canvas” and the new “Bright Eyes” record right now.
The new Bright Eyes CD is awesome man!
Top 3 live shows you’ve ever seen?
The Chariot, Parkway Drive and Explosions In The Sky. They’ll change your life man, ha ha!
Man, I’m going to get beaten up if I say the real one so I’ll say Gladiator.
Come on man, you can tell us the truth…
Ok, ha ha, The Notebook.
That’s cool man, you’re not the first dude to say they liked The Notebook, ha ha.
Favourite thing to do to kill time in the tour van?
We’ve all got sidekicks, so just sitting on AIM.
Which member of Vanna has the most annoying habit in the van?
Probably Brandon and Shawn. They play the “stupid game”. Probably the most annoying thing ever! Ha ha
Which member of Vanna does the best with the ladies?
Evan, whenever I’m not available of course, ha ha.
Any final words Chris?
Keep an eye on our Myspace, we’re definitely keen to head over to Australia.
Thanks for your time mate…
Vanna’s debut full length “Curses” is available now through Epitaph/Shock.