"The Lost Demos" was a nice surprise release last year. We interviewed the man behind it - David Vaccaro.
1. Okay, give us a brief history: who is David Vaccaro?
That is always one of the toughest questions I can think of. And not just for me, but I think for anyone, and we all get asked that question at some point too. Don't you just dread it when your sitting there at a job interview and the interviewer asks, "So, tell me about yourself?"
But to get back to your question, since I could play guitar, (which I started doing when I was 12 or 13) I've always considered myself a guitar player/songwriter. Although I've always worked a day job, I've never defined myself (as many people do) by what I do for income. My "day job" is PC Support/NT Administrator. I'm the guy who gives you your computer account and password etc and keeps all your software running. Computer support has to be one of the most boring and unfulfilling careers a creative person could be in...but it pays the bills. The day job has always been a means to support my real habit of playing guitar and music. Maybe that's why I don't like the "Tell me about yourself?" question in interviews. I feel like I have to act excited about something I have no passion for.
Anyway, I grew up in a town called Wayland, which is a suburb about 20 miles west of Boston, Massachusetts. My oldest brother had a Sears Silvertone Strat style guitar and a little Kent amp with an 8-inch speaker in it. I think it was like 2 watts or something. He also had some Ventures records that I thought were cool. They were all instrumental surf music and I've always liked the sound of the guitars on those records. Tunes like, Walk Don't Run, or Ghost Riders In The Sky, Pipeline, Wipeout, that's what I wanted to play. The song Wipeout was extra cool because it had "the drum solo." One day I just started messing around with the Silvertone and learned a few cords from a Mel Bay "teach yourself guitar" book and that was the last thing I can remember! I've never taken guitar lessons or anything like that so most of what I learned on guitar and about song writing came from learning songs for cover bands. No wait, I'll take part of that back, I've taken one guitar lesson in my life. It was around 1994 while I was living in L.A. It was with guitarist Carl Verheyen of Supertramp and master session player fame. When I went to the lesson, (which was at his house) I knew that he had played with Supertramp and that he did studio work but I had no clue as to just how amazing a guitar player he is. He showed me some scales to work on (which I did for awhile) and we jammed a little so he could get an idea of where I was at technically, and that was it. I'll tell you, I felt so intimidated because he was such a good player I never went back. I know that sounds dumb, but I figured I'm never going to be able to play like that no matter how much I practice, so what's the point.
My "lessons", have always been taught to me from the more mainstream commercial rock bands. Bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, Humble Pie, Boston, Foreigner, Deep Purple, The Who, Journey, those are the bands I grew up listening to and trying to play like. They are the masters as far as I'm concerned. My musical tastes however swing pretty wide. My record/tape/CD collection has everything from Allman Brothers and Sting (both Police era and solo) to Classical and Bluegrass. (My cousin, Curtis Birch is a Grammy winning Dobro player and was in a very popular and modern Bluegrass band called the New Grass Revival. They were kind of like the Grateful Dead of Bluegrass. I have most all his records so that's where the Bluegrass comes from. ) I like to listen to a little of everything as long as it's got melody to it. For me, if a song doesn't have some kind of melodic quality about it, be it guitar riff or vocal line, whatever...."click"...next, thank-you very much. Another thing that turns me off (and what seems to be the current hip guitar tone these days) is this over processed, bass heavy dirge rhythm guitar. I find it really sterile. It's big, there's no denying that, but it's lifeless in my opinion and grows old really fast.
The other thing is the "tin can" snare sound. What's up with that? But I'm getting side tracked here, so... In addition to the name bands I mentioned above, there were many Boston area bands (some who went on to be major acts like Aerosmith and Boston) that inspired me as a guitar player. One of these I really liked was called Johanna Wild. A band I had put together called Oz (Chris Post on vocals) often opened for Johanna Wild, who later became known as The Jon Butcher Axis. As it would turn out, I ended up working with drummer Derek Blevins of Jon Butcher Axis in the first version of The V-Project. I also had singer Chris Post doing vocals. We had some interest from Epic Records on a 5-song demo tape that we did, but like so many other things, it just didn't come together. So guitar wise, that's kind of where I'm coming from.
2. "Lost Demos" were recorded quite a while ago, but only released recently. Why now?
There are several reasons really. Probably the biggest is the Internet. Now that the Internet and email have become commonplace, it has opened up access to so many resources it is just amazing. And to everyone, not just privileged insiders. Before now, you really had to be working in the music industry full time to know what was happening in music scenes of other states, let alone other parts of the world. Where do I promote? Who do you contact? What will this cost? How will I get currency exchanged? All those questions disappear with a "search" command and a few emails. In fact, it becomes a question of, where do I begin? Also, the Internet has empowered people to find entertainment the way they like it. Not how and what some corporate entertainment company says it should be. If you went by that you would think that the only thing happening was boy bands and dance pop artists. With the Internet, whatever your thing is, there's a website somewhere just waiting for you. I for one never realized that AOR/Melodic rock was still as big as it is, especially in Europe. Another reason for releasing the CD now is that 3 of the songs on Lost Demos, Only Friend, I'm Feeling it Now, and Can't Wait Any Longer were going to be on a solo record that Robin McAuley was working on. Getting all the material ready and recorded etc takes time. This was in 1996. Then for one reason or another Robin's solo record was never completed. Everything was recorded but never finished. All of us (Chris, Robin, myself) were all disappointed that it didn't happen.
Before you realize it, a year and a half has already gone by, just like that. So there I was with these songs, six with Robin McAuley, one with James Christian (recorded years earlier), dozens with Chris Post, and so on. I tried shopping 3 of the songs that had Robin on vocals. And many of the others as well for that matter, but grunge was all the rage at that time and no one was interested in my AOR songs and what I had to offer.
Another year goes by... I had been living in L.A. since 1989 and after ten years of living there, my wife and I decided in 1999 to move from L.A. back to Boston. I know, why'd we do that? The most important reason I can give you is that in Boston, the ground does not move. This is a good thing. Also I think I'd had enough of the floods, the fires, the collapse of the Aerospace industry, the Rodney King riots, the Northridge earthquake (I lived about 2 miles from the epicenter) and then there was that O.J. Simpson thing.... Anyway, now back in Boston I finally decided after reading about bands successfully selling their CDs via the Internet that I was going to do the same. I knew that the demo tracks I had would work and I felt they were good songs too; they just needed to be made more presentable.
I decided to remix The Good Times at a real studio to see how much better it could sound. I went to a studio called Prism Sound Recording Studio in Acton MA (www.prismsoundstudio.com) and Owner/Engineer John Ellis and I remixed the track. The remix sounded great all things considered, so then it was just a matter of time and money to complete the rest. Since I have more time than money (and I was footing the bill) it took about another year to finish all the tracks. With the exception of Rattle Your Cage, which was already recorded and mixed, everything was remixed at Prism Sound. At the same time the remix was going on, I was doing all the artwork and liner notes for CD. After playing around with several ideas I finally settled on the Raiders vibe for the cover. It took about 3 or 4 months to get it right.
3. The cast of characters involved is pretty impressive. How did you get those big name vocalists to take part?
For James Christian it was just luck I guess. James sings the closing track Rattle Your Cage. The original singer on Rattle Your Cage is Arthur Micheev, vocalist from the Russian band Avtograph. At the time (1991-92) I was working with Arthur in a band I had put together called SIBERIA. SIBERIA, like other bands, were playing around the L.A area clubs and had already done a 4 song, 24-track demo that we were using to shop for a deal and get gigs. One of the songs on it was Rattle Your Cage. One day Nancy Krasn, (who wrote the lyrics) calls up and says she's got the song into an HBO production. Very exciting. She goes on to tell me that they've been using the song for a while to get a feel for how it goes with the scene etc. The only thing they would like us to do is re-record the vocals because the singer's accent is too strong. We quickly booked a small studio and went in to overdub new lead vocals. Nancy said that she knew this guy James Christian and could call and see if... Later that afternoon, James was there singing the track. It took about an hour for him to do his vocal. All he had to do was the lead. All the other background vocals are Arthur Micheev's. James was totally pro and went with any ideas that were asked of him. And we didn't have to ask much because he picked up the feel of the song very quickly. So that was it. I've had the tape sitting around ever since. As for the HBO movie, the music supervisor was dumped last minute and Rattle Your Cage was never used.
Robin McAuley I met through singer Chris Post. Chris was buddies with Robin and Dennis Gresham, and as mentioned earlier, I've been friends with Chris since my cover band days so I just got to know everybody from hanging out and such. Robin had just left MSG at that time and was putting together a band, if I remember correctly, was called McAuley. I asked him if he would be up for listening to material that Chris Post and I had written. He said sure, but mentioned he didn't want to do anything similar to MSG. He said he was looking for something more "earthy" and "organic", maybe some Celtic flavoring in there too would be good. Not wanting to waste any time, I took several acoustic based songs that Chris and I had written and pulled Chris' vocals. I sent those to Robin. He would tell me the ones he wanted to work on so I could get them ready. Sometimes we just re-recorded the vocals. Other times Robin would have changes in rhythm or arrangement he wanted to make. In that case I had to re-record the entire track, guitars, drums, bass, everything. Sorry, dude, no Pro Tools here. One song that had the biggest make over was Can't Wait Any Longer. The original version of that song was called Take It Like A Man with Chris Post singing lead vocal. It was much, much slower. When Robin heard the music arrangement he said, let's do this one, but I want it to be much faster and really aggressive rhythm guitar. I said, "like this?" and I play a section of the verse. "No, more edgy and faster, almost punk", he says. So I kept bumping up the tempo. I think Robin would have gone even faster with the song than it is but the drum machine begins to sound really cheesy with a beat like that if you go to fast. The drum machine sounds cheesy enough as it is. I think extra cheese is better on pizza and not so good on drum tracks maybe.
Somewhere during this, Robin's solo record project started to form, so now, instead of just laying down ideas, Robin was collecting songs to use on his record. This was very exciting news to me. When I learned that, I tried to make sure that every time Robin came over to work on a song, I had something new for him to listen to. The tracks with Chris Post and Dennis Gresham were selected out of the demo library, if I can call it that. I've got racks of demos and ideas that I've never done anything with. Some of it is too dated to use. Some of it should be left where it is, on the shelf. But some of the songs could be revamped or completed and could turn out good. I'm kind of eye balling those revamp jobs right now.
4. I guess these songs are only a fraction of what you have written. Have you recorded or has someone else recorded your other songs?
Like most songwriters I have lots of other material I've done. The more you write the better your chances that you might actually write something good! I must admit though, when you do not have a singer to bounce ideas off of, it gets difficult to write sometimes. As a guitar player/songwriter I don't write vocals, just the music. I have to be careful of not writing for guitar. By that I mean it's very easy to put lots of changes into a song when you're writing and listening to it without vocals. The song can sound like its not going anywhere. So you start putting in riffs and fills and time changes to make it interesting. When you do that you take away room for the vocals to breath. Let's face it, as cool and expressive as guitars and guitar players can be, in the end, it's always the vocals, the human element that people relate to most. As far as other artists recording my songs, I wish I could tell you that Lou Gramm or Robert Plant have done some demos with me, but no such luck! Now wouldn't that be something. I can see it now..."Kimmo buddy, I'm gonna have to get back to you a little later, Robert and I working on some ideas this afternoon so I'll call you tomorrow...Bye".... and then I woke up.
5. The songs on "Lost Demos" represent a few different styles. There's the AOR stuff, the somewhat Beatlesque stuff, an Irish-sounding drinking song and a song ("Coup De Ville") that reminds me of the likes of Matchbox 20 or Train. What kind of songs are you writing these days?
Mostly straight ahead rock, but it depends what instrument I'm writing on. If I'm playing electric guitar, I usually end up writing more rock. When you start crankin the amp it's only natural to want to rock out. With the acoustic 6 and 12-string I usually write things that end up having more mood to them. More traditional or "folk" oriented but with an electric attitude. I just picked up a Casio WK-1630 keyboard. It's a nice entry-level keyboard. It probably has more features than I'll ever use but it gives me another way to write. I just need some time to set it up and start using it. Which brings me to another way of writing... Phone machine and Voice mail! I've been so busy working the Lost Demos CD that I have no time to play guitar and write. (I have no calluses on my fingers! Gone!) So now, if I hear a riff or an arrangement, I call my house and wait for the phone machine to pick up so I can sing the idea over the phone. Then, when I get home, I take the tape out of the phone machine and copy the idea onto another tape. Hey, sounds goofy but it works. As far as what kinds of songs or styles am I writing? What ever comes out. These days, I just write what ever I hear. I figure just because I write it does not mean I have to perform it. I think it's better to just go with the flow and not pigeonhole yourself into one way of writing or style of music.
6. You being a talented songwriter, I'm going to ask you the same question I've asked several other songwriters: if you could get a song of yours recorded by any artist of your choice, who would that be?
That would be Aerosmith.
7. What will be your next move? Is the V-Project going to continue? And are you going to settle for just one singer the next time?
Yes, the V-Project will keep going at least for one more CD. I have several songs that I did with singer Chris Post and drummer Derek Blevins in the first version of the V-Project that I think people will like. Plus they will sound better because they are 24-track recordings. I just hope the recording tape hasn't gotten to funky from sitting around all these years. I've heard horror stories of what can happen to tape when it sits too long. Settle for one singer? That would ruin all the fun! Doing something out of the norm is what the V-Project is all about. I can go places with it that a regular band can't because it's not really a band in the traditional sense. I think if the songs are good, that's all that matters in the long run. Not so much how they're presented. What's great about doing the V-Project is, it allows vocalists a chance to experiment with something outside what people usually expect from them. And it's risk free to them too because the V-Project is associated with me really. The vocalists are more like guest appearances in a way but more involved. I think it's a winning situation for everyone. For the next CD, in addition to the early V-Project material I just mentioned, I'd like to put some new material on there as well. Of course I'd like to work with Robin again. Chris Post too. At this time I'm trying to contact a few other known singers to see if they would be up for it but I don't want to jinx my self so that's all I'm going to say about that.
8. Another funny "what-if" question: if the call came, for what band would you be willing to put all your other projects on hold and join? Or do you see yourself more as a bandleader than a member?
To answer the second half of your question first, I do see myself as a bandleader. I've never joined another band. I've always run the ads and auditioned the people, and for the most part paid for everything. I tried to join a band once but I just didn't like being told what to do. Especially when I thought the songs were lame. For the "what-if" question...aside from any of the name acts I mentioned earlier, I think Page/Plant or Aerosmith would be my pick.
9. "Lost Demos" was recorded on primitive equipment, but still it sounds pretty good. Did the post-production take a lot of time, or did you re-record some parts with more of Hi-Tech equipment?
As it mentions in the CD liner notes, all the original tracks on Lost Demos (except Rattle Your Cage) were recorded on a Tascam 688 midistudio. A cassette based multi-track tape recorder. It's 8 tracks but one track gets used up to control the drum machine. So you really only have 7. When I decided to do the CD the first thing I tried was having the existing mixes mastered at one of these "we do mastering too" tape places and quickly realized that I'd be selling myself short if I tried to release the songs with out remixing them.
Having been out of the Boston area for 10 years I didn't know what studios were good so I started making phone calls. One place I contacted was the mastering house I used for the CD called Northeastern Digital. I figured they probably see tapes from all the local studios and could recommend one of the better ones. That's how I ended up at Prism Sound. Unlike most of the studios I contacted, John Ellis (Owner/Engineer) understood what I wanted to do with the tapes that I had. Most of the studios I contacted all kept pushing me to re-record everything, which was impossible. And, I didn't want to replace what I had because I liked the performances on the demos. You can never duplicate that stuff exactly.
John recommended transferring all the original tracks to Pro Tools and then feed the signal through his SSL board to take advantage of the EQ and outboard effects he had at the studio. The only new things we recorded were some drums in one song and rhythm guitar in one song. The drum machine I used is an Alesis SR-16. For the most part it's fine but when we were mixing I'm Feeling It Now, John had these Bob Clearmountain drum samples he was messing with so he mixed those in with the Alesis. It made them sound a little fatter and smoother.
The guitars we re-recorded and that was on All Over Again. The rhythm guitar just sounded really bad and no amount of EQ was going to fix it. I used a Line 6 combo amp direct into the board to re-do the rhythm guitars. It sounded fine and took all of about 3 minutes to get a good guitar tone. I believe I did 2 tracks of new rhythm guitars. So there you go, Lost Demos was remixed but not re-recorded. Time wise, remixing took about a year, mostly because I did not have the money to book the place for a week steady. Some scheduling issues pushed things out as well. If I'd had a budget for the project I can easily say the songs could have been made to sound even better.
10. Where can our readers buy your CD? Is there a site where you can buy it online?
At this time Lost Demos is for the most part, only available online, (unless you live in Tokyo, where it's available at Shinjuku Records). You can always get a copy through my website (www.dmvmusic.com) but there's other online stores selling Lost Demos as well and I'll tell you some of those in a sec. For those interested, the web site is worth a visit as I've put some background about the V-Project, everybody singing on it, and myself, and as well as some sound samples and lyrics. Each vocalist has a page on the site, a short Bio, and a few paragraphs about how they got involved. Discographies for each are included as well. The discographies are not complete I'm sure, but the major records are there. That's it for me. Thanks to all at AOR-Europe.com for letting me tell your readers about The V-Project. It is truly appreciated. Until the next time, peace.
a few other sites you can order The V-Project: www.cdbaby.com