There’s nothing quite like seeing Vanna play live. Whether it’s at an outdoor festival like Warped Tour or in the dingy basement studio of Webster Hall, Vanna is easily the most all-inclusive, interactive and genuine hardcore band on the market, though they’re probably too humble to ever admit it. With these Boston rockers, the entire venue becomes their stage, and when I say “their” I mean everyone present, because Vanna is much more than five guys in a band. Vanna is a community made up of musicians, fans, families and friends alike.
I recently had the pleasure to chat with Vanna vocalist Davey Muise right before the band’s last house show date on the Hold On Pain Ends Tour with The Color Morale. Check out the interview below to get a no-holds-barred glimpse into the world of Vanna and their latest record VOID, the massive success that came from the track “Digging,” what playing a house show is really like, and everything the band has planned for the upcoming year.
HXC: How are you doing?
Davey Muise: I’m good. I’m currently in Boise, Idaho. We’re going to play a house show tonight.
That’s great. So you guys are doing a kind of mixture of venue shows and house shows, right?
Yeah, we did a couple venue shows with My Ticket Home and then we did a couple of house shows with Beartooth. We’re going to do this house show [tonight], and I think this might be our last house show on the tour that we do. We had a couple days off and we’re by Boise and know some good bands from here and people from here. We just kind of thought we’d do a house show and here we are.
Doing house shows is so old school. How’s the experience been?
It’s cool. We grew up going to shows in basements and in Boston there’s a lot of punk and hardcore shows in basements and stuff, so it’s always nice to take it back to that. It gives all these kids that normally pay 20 bucks to come up to a tour the chance to pay five bucks to come in and be with you in a very small room. It always makes for a great night and cool stories and every single house show that we’ve played so far, on this tour at least, has been awesome. We’ve had crazy stories from every single one of them. Like one of the ones we played some kid from a band lit himself on fire while he was playing, which is like absolutely insane. Then another one we played, the dude’s dad was like a roadie for Buckcherry or something, so he built a huge stage outdoors, like Warped Tour; it was less of a house show and more of just a festival. So yeah, doing house shows, they’re always interesting; they’re always fun.
That’s crazy. How are you finding people to host these shows?
We just knew some bands from the area. They were coming through and there’s this house called Android House out in Boise that does shows out here and we were just like yeah, cool, let’s do it. And so we’re doing it and here we are.
“The whole point of hardcore and punk and metal is that none of us are cool.”
Do you prefer playing a show like that to a venue show?
I like playing them all. I always get asked if I like small venues or big venues. Each one is different. Small club shows are awesome considering the intimate and personal aspects: stage diving and just kids losing their minds. It’s great. And then playing big venues is cool, too, because as a band you feel accomplished by like “Wow, look at all the people that we’re playing to.” It’s really cool and you can share your music with more people. Then house shows are to remind you why you started playing in a band to begin with. So I like to run the gambit with shows; we really enjoy doing it all. I feel like Vanna, as a band, shines a lot more in intimate venues because that’s kind of the vibe of what we do, but we like to do it all.
That’s great. Is there any particular place you are looking to play?
Well, we just did our California and Pacific Northwest run, which is always our favorite. Playing in Seattle, playing in Portland, Oregon, and LA, and all the California dates are great. We’re playing Denver pretty soon, which we’re like really stoked on. Salt Lake City is going to be good. We just like getting out and getting to other parts of the country being from the east coast. We do a lot of east coast runs and it’s nice to get out and do other things. We’re also looking forward to Metalfest which is coming up back home at The Palladium; it’s going to be insane. There’s so many great bands like The Color Morale, For Today and then Motionless In White. It’s going to be awesome.
Vanna is known for very intimate, interactive shows. There’s always kids jumping up and grabbing the mic and stage diving. What made you guys want to have that kind of environment?
I just feel like growing up, going to shows, whatever we would do, to be able to get on stage and grab the mic for Converge or any band that we really liked growing up, that feeling that you got when a band included you in the things was something that we don’t forget. So being a band, that’s what we want to do. These kids are why we’re even here. They’re the whole rhyme and reason why we’re even a band. If we didn’t have these kids we’d have nowhere to go, nowhere to play, so not including them is just kind of really ludicrous to us. So we always say, “This microphone is yours. This stage is yours.” Get up, do whatever you want. There are kids that if I see them screaming I just pull them up and give them the microphone and I’ll just go hang from the ceiling somewhere. We throw our guitars in the crowd and we just want those kids to have a good night because ultimately it might be the only night they get of freedom in the entire month. So we always have our thirty minutes that we’re up there, we always just try to like give them that freedom, give them that space to just lose their minds and have a really good time. It’s awesome to pass some kid a microphone and watch him just do his favorite song. I play that song, whatever song it is, I play it every single night of my life; it’s awesome to see them do it because then they tell all their friends about it and they make sure they come back to these shows to feel included because they are included because this is about them. Handing that off and watching a kid, it just brings me back to when I was a kid and that’s something that we always try to keep at the heart of this band. We love music and that’s why we play it, and we love to see other people love music, especially the music that we play.
My good friend actually met his girlfriend at a Vanna show back in Jersey.
That’s awesome. We’ve had a few people meet that have gone on to get married and have kids and we have a couple kids named after the band because of that. I met almost all of my best friends at shows. I met my wife at a show. They’re just so much bigger than people really think about or people that are not in this scene give credit for. Shows are just like a really, really big way of life. It is what it is. It is the way we are. Our lives revolve around it, so it makes sense that people meet other people from it, and I love to see that, that’s my favorite thing.
And just going off of that. You always join the crowd whenever you play “Digging” live. What’s the mindset when you go into playing that song live?
“Digging” is a very personal song for me; it’s probably the most I’ve ever stepped out of my comfort zone and just spoke about things in my life that I guess previously I wasn’t ready to speak about. The whole reason I did that was because I felt so alone at that time in my life that I just want kids to know that they’re not alone, that I wish I had someone that I looked up to at the time telling me “Yo, you’re supposed to be super messed up right now, this is the way life is, but you’re going to get through it, you’re going to be okay, there’s a future for you.” So with me, I feel like music saved my life and I feel like I owe it to music and these kids to give them that message, but what a better way to receive that message than standing right next to them. Stages are constructed for a reason and they’re great, and they’re awesome and I love playing on them, but there comes a time when you have to get off that stage and make sure these kids know that I am literally the same person as you. There’s no difference between you and me. I hold the microphone, you’re singing it, it could just as easily be you if this is what you want to do. Just like there’s no difference between you and somebody in movies or television because there ultimately really isn’t. So if you want something just work hard for it. The first time that we ever played that song live, I just went down in the crowd and I’ve never done that whole song from stage, ever, even at Boston Warped Tour when we played at home and I almost thought I was going to die down there with all those kids, I still didn’t want to play it from stage. It’s just something that the kids need to know. We’re band members, la di da. Who cares? I feel like the world of band members has been so dehumanized in the sense that kids hold all these bands up on these pedestals as if you can’t interact with them and talk to them and be in their lives, and that’ just not the case. We’re all people, so getting down there is just part of our whole thing. We’re here for you guys, this is why we’re here, this is why we committed our lives to playing music, to just hopefully help you through some shitty day that you’ve had. So it’s no different in when we’re playing live. We just want to make sure that the kids know that and just literally get right on their level and just speak right in their faces.
The song even helped lead to your “Find Your Shovel” school conferences. What led you to want to start speaking at schools?
I have a really nice, really great team of friends when it comes to a lot of that stuff. They kind of made me realize I have a lot to say and what I’ve gotten out of everything transcends the band world. Those few minutes in between songs, in those shows, that can extend to other kids who don’t necessarily get the chance to go to a show. I spoke at a leadership conference in Colorado, just a bunch of kids signed up and just wanted to learn how to be a leader and I just kind of gave this sort of speech. There’s a guy by the name of Mike Smith who’s one of the biggest youth speakers in America right now, he was there and he just was blown away about what I said. I spend so much time doing the band stuff that I’ve let any careers that I could have or anything that I’ve gone to school for fall to the wayside and he was like I believe that you can go to schools and do this and I’m going to help you. And I have agencies that book me now and it’s like turning into a whole thing. I have curriculum that I’ve like written and I just look at it as another stage, another form to reach other kids. Like going to schools, 20% of kids at that school know what hardcore and metal is and 10% know who Vanna is, but it’s not the point. The point is not about what I’m doing. To be fair, what I’m doing is I’m living my dream, the thing that I’ve always wanted to do my whole life. So I could be a major league baseball player, a firefighter, a whatever your dream is, I’m doing that thing. So it’s not about the what, it’s about the how and the why. And I just kind of go into schools and colleges and conferences and stuff where there’s a broader spectrum of kids who I can speak to. It’s just more people to be like “Hey, you are not alone. Check out the craziness that I went through in my life and I’m standing in front of you today to tell you that you can make it through anything really. Now in the past you’re suicidal, you’re whatever, you’re this, you’re the outcast in school, I’m living proof, in front of you, telling you that you can make it through this and do exactly what you want to do with your life.” And then on the flip side I get to have little one on ones in small group discussions with teachers, too, and be like you have to look at kids a little bit differently because it’s really hard being a teenager right now. It’s so difficult with the internet age and internet bullying and everything. When we left school, everything would at least chill out, and now you take everything with you everywhere you go. So it’s my way of giving back. I’ve loved music my whole life and music is the dream that I’ve wanted to do my whole entire life, and I’m accomplishing that and I just want to give back to those kids. It’s not just kids who like music, it’s kids who like everything. You like basketball? Dude, play frickin’ basketball as hard as you can and make it out of your town and go to college because of that. You might not play NBA, but you’re going to make it, you’re just continuing your dream. It’s just another stage for me. It’s another extension of exactly what I’m doing with this band.
That’s incredible. When you wrote “Digging” did you have any idea that it would have such a positive response?
Well, I mean, I don’t know. To be fair, the contents of that song, no one knew that stuff about my life other than my wife and I’ve had to kind of talk to my band about the things that I went through a little bit and was just like “Is it cool if I talk about this stuff?” because I feel like there’s lots of kids out there that feel the exact same way and they need to hear this; they need to know. And the band supported me fully and they shared stories about their hardships that they’ve had and not only did that song bring the band closer together, but I think it focused us into a cool direction with these kids. When we first started playing it, we started playing it right on Warped Tour when the record came out and the response was so overwhelming, like two weeks into Warped Tour with that song. The music video, Journeys picked it up and put it in their stores and it just went everywhere. I didn’t expect it, but I’m really happy that it did, not because a song of my band got popular, but because that song with that message is something that kids are hearing. And when we play live, on tours, for the most part we close with “Digging” and everybody knows it and everybody is literally just screaming and crying as hard as they can because they feel every word of it. I never thought it would get to the point that it is, and now that it has and I see the effect that it has on kids, I want that to grow, I want that to be bigger, I want kids of other countries to understand that, I want to go to as many places as we can to spread this kind of stuff. But yeah, it’s kind of trippy to see how far it’s really come and it’s funny because that song almost never even happened. That song’s been written for a couple years and it just sat in my notebooks and it almost never happened. I think everything happens for a reason, and I think it was the right time for that song to come out and I’m glad that kids are connecting with it.
How has the overall response been to VOID as a whole?
“Digging” is kind of the prime example of the record. That song has touched and spread through so many kids and been out there so much, and the same goes with VOID in general. We put a lot of work into it, and it’s really personal. The band in general, personally and professionally, were going through a really weird spot, and we wrote that song, and we wrote that record and I think we got a lot of our troubles out on that record. When it came out, with fans and with kids, it just kind of exploded to the point where when we play live now, kids just want to hear VOID songs; that’s all. And that’s great for us. We’re really excited that you get the kid that comes to you at the merch table and is like “Hey man, I got a question about the set,” and I kind of wince in pain because I’m like is this kid going to ask for a song from like eight years ago? And then they just ask you “Hey are playing…” and they just start naming songs off VOID and we’re like “Yeah! Hell yeah!” And so I think that overall this record has connected with kids, fans and people who already liked our band, but more importantly this record has grown us to people that have told us “Yeah, I’ve never really been into your band before, but then you released this record,” and in no way is that insulting to us. We’re so flattered that this is the record that hit your life at the right time, and I understand that. We’re just stoked; the record has been doing so well and the response to every song live is incredible and the response online with kids writing us and writing me and just talking to me at shows. And I’m like man, this was the record that needed to come out right when it did. I’m really glad it did, so it puts a little bit of pressure on the next record for sure, but we’re looking forward to that.
You guys released like a really cool, super local video for “Toxic Pretender.” What was the concept behind that?
Yeah, well that song kind of really hit. We started playing it and every night the kids were louder than all of us and we were just like “Okay, this song is apparently a banger.” And it was one of our favorite songs, and all the online plays were going up a ton and we were like we should shoot a video for this. So I shot and idea over to Jake from Pure Noise, and he dug it and was like go with it. We did a four day New England run [when we shot it]. It’s funny because if you look at that video, it’s in the city, Portland, Maine, and the night before we shot the video we got a nor’easter, so if you look there’s like literally snow up to our necks everywhere; it’s pretty insane. The video almost got cancelled. But every single person that you saw on that video is a friend of mine, all friends of the band. One of the bands, Like Pacific, that are on Pure Noise, they’re in the video, and we just wanted to convey that mentality of togetherness, just grabbing all of your homies and going to a show. All the show footage, all the live stuff is from all of the shows [on that tour] spliced together, and then when I leave the venue, it’s the last venue of the tour. So the whole time we walked there, the venue is the first one on the tour and then when I leave, it’s the last one of the tour, so it’s kind of like the culmination of our entire weekend hanging out and playing shows. We always have to give love to New England; that’s where we’re from. We are where we are as a band because of everyone here in New England and everyone holding down for our band back home for us. We know every time we get a tour and there’s a Massachusetts show or Rhode Island or Maine date, we know that date is going to go off, like these kids are going to be insane. I’m biased, but I think we’re from one of the best parts of the entire country for heavy music. Growing up in the Boston hardcore, punk and metal scene, there’s just nothing else like it. You can tell the people who grew up in Boston and the people who didn’t grow up in Boston, so you know, we always have to throw it back to the homies at home. It’s something that we would never, ever forget and we will continue to play the New England scene because all we want is for that place to thrive as much as it can. So we shot the video there and it was my first video that I directed. I just had an idea and was like let’s try it and see what happens. It ended up being pretty cool and my friend Eric, he also directed it with me, and he did an amazing job. That whole video took like a couple hours.
That’s great. It turned out really well. You’re a band who has a very old school hardcore aesthetic. You travel in a van, you play basement shows, you’ve even self-released an EP. What’s your opinion on modern hardcore and the modern punk scene?
Um, you know, I’m 30 years old and I hate the whole “I’ve been around for a while,” but our band has been around for a while, and all of us have been going to shows since we were in high school. This is going on like year 18 for me going to shows. I think that there’s a lot of really good modern bands that are coming out now, a lot of really cool stuff. I don’t have beef with anything, to each his own, everyone has their thing, and I love it. My thing is that I just feel like as all of these new hardcore bands come out, and it’s not their fault, I feel like kids who are going to shows are more concerned about buying a beanie and crew neck than listening to the actual band. I feel like they’re more concerned with the fashion behind it all and the reblogs and the Instagram likes rather than the actual music. Like, we were watching Expire play a couple days ago, and that band is incredible. I think that they are doing things for hardcore that hardcore needs. As they were playing there were kids just walking around wearing Expire beanies and hoodies and I’m like “Yo man! Expire is playing right now. You should go watch them play.” And they were like “Ohhh I didn’t even know.” I just feel like, and it’s no fault of any of the bands, I feel like a lot of times kids are so worried about being cool and the whole point of hardcore and punk and metal is that none of us are cool. That’s why we listen to metal, that’s why we listen to hardcore, that’s why we listen to punk, because we are the not cool kids. We are the weirdos, we are the outcasts, and that’s what our music started on. I feel like a lot of kids might not know that, that’s what this is all started on, is being different, is being different, but together. I always have to tread that line of like active supporter of your scene and crabby old guy, and I try to tread that line as much as I can. There are so many good bands making so much good music right now. I think music is in an all time high, especially our genre, that alternative side of things. I just really, really want kids to understand where this music is coming from and why we do it. And as long as that mentality is there, I back it. Not every band is my cup of tea, but it doesn’t matter, their passion is there and they’re doing it for the same reasons I am. So I just want these kids to realize like dude, who gives a shit what beanie you’re wearing, who cares if you’re wearing high top Vans, or low top Converse. Like no one cares, man. It’s not about that. It’s about the music that’s coming out of the speakers and how you connect to it, and that’s literally it. Period. End of story. So I just want kids to realize that. I think a lot do, and a lot don’t. I feel like that probably happened in my generation when I was younger, too, and those people got weeded out. But you know, we, as old grumpy men, we know it’s hard for us to bite our tongues sometimes. If you’re reading this interview, your beanie sucks, your hoodie sucks, nobody cares. Just listen to the music you want to listen to.
So then, what can we look forward to in the upcoming months with Vanna?
This tour is another whole month, we’ve already been on it for a month. The summer is unclear as to what’s happening, but I will tell you that we are writing a new record. We actually just bought some new gear for that today so that we can write on the road a little bit more. And then, we’re going to go up to Alaska at the end of this month. which is blowing my mind. It’s going to be state number 49, so we just need Hawaii. So, Hawaii, if you’re out there, Aloha! Get me over there! And then we’ll be doing another full US tour in the fall, and we’re trying to get back to Europe before the year is up. But before the year is up, we will be recording the record. This year is big; we’re doing a couple large tours and then we’re going to be writing and recording a new record for release next year. My life is already starting to be planned out two years down the road. We’re also trying to release some music that is not ours. That’s all I can say right now. We’re going to be working on releasing some cool music that is not our music. We will be playing it, but it will not be ours.
Describe Vanna in one word.