Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, The Vacancies music is honest, and their shows are non-stop high energy. From Billy Crooked's rough-edge powerful vocals, to Michael James' driving guitar, coupled with Bo's powerful bass and Angelo Merendino's relentless drumbeat, The Vacancies are a commanding force thats here to last.
The Vacancies have been described as exactly what the music industry is missing right now raw, solid powerful bass lines and riffs combined with lyrics that are infectious, unpretentious and completely relatable. The band's influences range from The Ramones, The Clash, The Stooges and The Dead Boys to The Beatles. The Vacancies have shared stages with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, The Buzzcocks, The Hives, Stiff Little Fingers, The Casualties, Rise Against, The Supersuckers, The Dwarves along with stops on The Warped Tour and this year's Bamboozle Festival to name a few.
Their debut record "Gutpunch" was released on indie, Smog Veil Records. The band was recently signed by Joan Jett to Blackheart Records. The band was recently signed by Joan Jett to Blackheart Records. Joan and Kenny Laguna produced their new CD, A Beat Missing or a Silence Added.
The Vacancies Interview by Roya Butler and Hannah Wagner
How did you guys start out?
Billy: In 1998 Michael and I started out. We met though a mutual friend and started playing together. That was the early formation. The band we started originally, I wasnt singer. I was playing guitar. We had a different singer and bass player and drummer. Eventually I started singing, and one thing let to another. So, the last couple years its been the four of us with Bo and Angelo, me and Michael. But thats basically how it started with Michael and me meeting though a mutual friend and just gradually finding our sound and finding the right people.
How would you describe your sound?
Michael: Were influenced by a lot of early CBGB punk rock bands. We get labeled a lot as a punk rock band, but we always call ourselves a rock band. So I think to call ourselves a punk rock band is wrong because it gives the wrong impression.
Billy: Well, we try not to label our selves as a certain sound. We listen to all kinds of music. Old rock and roll. The whole spectrum of rock and roll, great bands that have influenced us over the years. And I think its easy to just call us a punk band because we play songs that are faster and somewhat aggressive, but really we just try to play songs that we like. We try to write the best songs that we can. We dont try to write a certain genre, or a certain band. We just really try, and I know were not reinventing the wheel, but we just try to do our own thing. Everybody borrows from influences from other bands, but we really try our hardest to just be our own sound. Which is sometimes harder. If you fit a certain style of music. Easier road. If you sound like a band that is already big, its a hell of a lot easier to create fan base or tour.
Michael: (laughs) So to answer the question: Greenday.
Billy: No, everyone has a different opinion, which is what we like. And well read a review on our album and one person will say that we sound like pistols, Ramones, and Black Flag. Then well read another and itll list totally different bands. I guess theres just a little bit of everything in there. Its up-tempo and melodic. We definitely try to make a chorus that you can sing along to.
Bo: Its New York City Hardcore meets the Beach Boys.
Tell us about your new album.
Its called A Beat Missing or a Silence Added. Kind of a long title, but whatever, we liked it. Its on Blackheart Records. Its produced by Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna. Kenny Laguna is Joan Jetts long time producer/manager. He also runs Blackheart records and plays in the blackhearts. So they produced it. Fifteen songs and it was actually and album that we worked on for a few years. Our first record was on a smaller more independent label. It was like in 2002. So we had two or three years of just writing and lots of time to find the right label to put the record out.
Michael: And we had no money. So we just kept practicing and doing local shows. Thats when we did a show with Joan Jett and she asked after the show if she could put our next record out. And we were like, yess! No questions asked. So that was it. We didnt worry about contracts. It was all handshake deals. We just wanted to hang out with Joan Jett.
What was it like meeting Joan Jett.
Michael: It was pretty nerve racking. When you first meet her you have this idea of what shes like. You know, rock star legendary and famous. And then when you meet shes such a cool person. No ego. And shes like a buddy now. Shell call you up on the phone just to see how youre doing. She just wants us to have fun. I said to her one day, This records probably not going to sell anything. I feel bad that youre paying for us to do this. And she said, I dont care. I just like you guys and want to see you get your name out there. So it was cool like that.
When you made it, was it a pop, or was it gradual and a lot of work.
Billy: We had struggled for a long time. We had all been in bands before the Vacancies. Officially I think that we were the Vacancies in 2000. So we had been doing it for so long. But definitely when we hooked up with Blackhearts things got a lot better. They did a lot for us. With a couple of movies, and that failure to launch song coming out. We never dreamt that we would have a song in a movie let alone a sound track. Weve been able to do some cool things and tour but it doesnt feel like weve arrived yet. Were still at a stage in our career where were just trying to get our sound out there.
Michael: We really feel lucky that all these things our happening to us. Were really thankful. We would all do this whether anything happened or not. There hasnt been a moment where were like, finally we have arrived! (laughs). We all go home and we all work jobs. We dont make money doing this. The moment when I will feel like I have arrived is when I dont have to go and punch a clock when I go home. So I would say that I think that were still struggling towards that.
Billy: But a lot of cool things have happened in the past year and a half. With college radio and just being able to be out on the road. Things are definitely looking up. But well just ride the wave until whatever.
Wheres your home base?
Michael: We all live right outside of Cleveland. Angelo lives in Cleveland. So thats basically our home base, Cleveland Ohio.
I heard youre writing a new album.
Billy: Well, we started writing right away, even before A Beat Missing came out. So we went in the studio and laid down a bunch of drum tracks and had a bunch of rhythm guitar stuff that we had done already. So a good chunk of its done, but we had to put a stop to it to come out on the road for five weeks. So as soon as we get back from this were going to try and bust ass to get it done. Were saying maybe a fall release. So if thats possible thatd be really cool. Were really excited. Were really happy with the material. We think that its going to be a strong album and are just really excited to get it out there.
What inspired your new album?
Billy: Weve pushed ourselves with song writing. The sound is the same, but were definitely writing better songs. But as far as influences, its the same. Not a whole lots changed in the world since we were writing the last record, sadly. Were still pissed off at shit (laughs). Same kind of topics.
Would you qualify it as an extension of your previous work?
Billy: It has a different vibe. Its hard to say. Were still writing and not sure what will end up on that record. But we have enough right now to put out a pretty solid album that wed be proud of. As far as still be frustrated and just wanting people to get along its the same. But we touch some different topics. But still the same watching the news and getting mad.
Michael: Well do better.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Michael: Check our website. Thevacanciesmusic.com.
Billy: Myspace.com/thevacancies and blackheart.com
The Vacancies are:
Billy Crooked Vocals
Michael James Guitar & Backing Vocals
Bo Bass & Backing Vocals
Angelo Merendino Drums