Vanna were in the right place at the right time, but can Boston’s newest metalcore sensations live up to the hype?
By: JULIA KAGANSKIY
They’re 22. They live in Allston. They’re heavy like Norma Jean and pretty like Motion City Soundtrack. They signed to Epitaph, after being together only eight months, when an A&R scout stumbled over a song on PureVolume. Some people call Vanna the luckiest band in town — not least of all the band members themselves. But even such modest success comes with consequences. Since signing with Epitaph, the boys of Vanna have been faced with resentful peers and cynical listeners. Choosing to part ways with their original lead singer only weeks before they were scheduled to record their debut EP only added to the bad blood. And yet throughout they’ve managed to stay positive and optimistic, confident that they will win over the kids with catchy, melody-laden hardcore and an energetic live show. With that EP, The Search Party Never Came, coming out this week, the Phoenix got founding member, Evan Pharmakis and new singer Chris Preece on the phone. They were already in the middle of their first-ever tour.
JULIA KAGANSKIY: What’s up with the name? Are you guys like die-hard fans of Wheel of Fortune?
EVAN PHARMAKIS: We really wanted something simple, and we decided to have it be one word, because you’ve got all these bands out here now with too many words. Vanna is just such a pretty name, we love it. We love Wheel of Fortune too. Vanna White is one hot lady. I don’t know if this had anything to do with it, but I’m a fan of Vanna White.
JK: I wonder if she’s a fan of you.
EP: I was wondering that too when I was watching Wheel of Fortune the other day.
JK: Everything’s been happening so fast for you guys.
EP: Well, it makes me feel a few different ways. Ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to be in a successful band. I’ve been writing music for a long time. We’ve all just been in so many bands writing, playing shows. Regardless of which band it was, we’ve always been putting our all into it. This band, I think it just clicked right off the bat. It was really luck that we got picked up by Epitaph, we were in the right place at the right time. I’m sure there’s tons of bands out there that do what we do better [and] that aren’t discovered, so in that respect, I’d say it’s luck. There’s so many bands out there that have been around longer than us in Boston that bust their asses. We do get a little bit of jealousy and weird vibes from some bands and we catch a lot of flack. And you know, we take the good with the bad and try to stay positive, and let people know that we love what we do and we put our all into it and we really appreciate it and really love this chance that we’ve been given.
JK: Where the hell did you guys come from?
EP: Nick and I had both been writing and playing in bands since we were about 14 years old. We met through a mutual friend and instantly hit it off and started writing in the dorms of MassArt. The next year we ended up becoming close and got an apartment together and started writing what would become Vanna material. We originally did all the screaming and singing ourselves. It was just the three of us – Shawn, Nick, and myself. Eventually, we wanted to start playing live shows and a drum machine is a little impractical to do such things, so we started hunting for a drummer. We came across this guy, Brandon Davis, who was actually a guitar player for another Boston band called Therefore I Am. He met up with us and practiced with us, and loved it, and we loved him, so that instantly worked out.
JK: So what exactly happened with your first singer, Joe Bragel?
EP: Once we got picked up by Epitaph it seemed like he lost his drive to try his hardest and put the most that he could into it. His screaming just started to go downhill. It just didn’t seem to us that this was something he deserved, to just get handed a free ride. Right before we left to start recording our EP, we were in the studio with him and our producer was even like, “This really isn’t good for you guys. Everything is so good, everything is so solid, he’s the only issue you have.” And we were already having problems with him so we just sat down and talked it out and were like, “You know, he’s definitely not going to work out for us. This isn’t going to cut it.” Chris here was going to be the original singer before Joe even started screaming for us, but he lived in Texas at the time.
JK: How did you hook up with Chris, with him in Texas and you living in Boston?
EP: A good friend of ours, she’s from Austin and she goes to BU. We met him through her, just hanging out while he came up to visit. We loved him instantly. Then, after a while, once we started to get this band going, I saw her on the T in Boston and I started talking to her about him: “We’re getting our band going and we really want to get a screamer instead of just doing it all ourselves.” We really like having an energetic live performance and really be able to move around and if you’re playing guitar and you’re pinned to a mic the whole time you don’t really get the full effect. He came down and we practiced with him, and it was amazing, and this was still before Joe. The only problem was that he still lived in Texas . . . But we took Joe as a fill-in until Chris got here and we had him for a while, and Joe was doing pretty good towards the beginning, so we were like, we’ll just keep him. Chris didn’t get too upset, he was really cool about it. He was at all our shows and once he moved out here he was very supportive of us. Everything just worked out. Everything’s been working out for us in these really lucky ways. It almost feels like it’s destiny sort of.
JK: As far as the local Boston scene goes, how have you been accepted, or maybe even not accepted, because of the success that came so suddenly to you?
EP: Towards the beginning I’d say it was kind of strange . . . All the bands in Boston that we play with are awesome people. Who knows if they say anything when we’re not around? All I know is, we trust them. As far as we know, everyone’s great. We do everything we can to help other bands out. We’ve been given this chance and it just opens the door for us to be able to help our fellow friends in other bands from Boston and get them known.
JK: Do you feel a certain amount of pressure to live up to expectations with this new EP and your first tour?
EP: I could say yeah, we definitely do feel a little pressure but we’re very excited and wide-eyed about it. We know that we’re gonna have a blast. We’re very happy with our performances and we’re not overly confident, but we are confident in ourselves.
CHRIS PREECE: More than pressure, it’s like, we have so much fun that it’s hard to feel anything but really good energy and excitement all the time.
JK: You guys have a pretty even-handed blend of melody and aggression, power and pop. Why is that balance important to you?
CP: Honestly, I think it goes back to influences for everyone. Because we love a lot of really heavy mosh bands, but we listen to really melodic stuff like American Football and Motion City Soundtrack, bands with no screaming at all. We like stuff from the heaviest, most trashy Southern rock to really pretty indie rock with pretty harmonies and stuff. I think it’s more or less our influences naturally coming together. We just write what we like and what feels right. We don’t try to plan out that this is going to be a hardcore song and this is going to be a melodic screamo part, we write our stuff. And we kind of realize that all our songs are kind of different but we like that. We don’t want to be this band where every CD we release sounds exactly like this CD because that’s what the kids want. We write what we love and what we enjoy playing and what we can put our heart into live. We hope that people will follow and will enjoy it and will come to the shows and will find their own meaning in the songs.