(Photo: Dan Newman)
“That’s where my heart is, and what every bone in my body is telling me: ‘Do this last Movielife show.’” -- Vinnie Caruana makes his intentions clear.
August 26, 2011. Mark the date, punk-rock historians, because that’s the night Long Island, New York, pop-punk legends THE MOVIELIFE will perform their last show. Although the unit reconvened this past May at the Bamboozle in front of an incredibly passionate crowd, the band will cease to exist following their one-night stand at NYC’s Best Buy Theater. Lead singer VINNIE CARUANA talked with Jason Pettigrew about readying the new record from his band I Am The Avalanche, managing the expectations of the fan-artist relationship—and how making a clean break with the past is the only way to let the future do its thing.
Let’s talk about right now: What’s the status of I Am The Avalanche?
The status of I Am The Avalanche is I’m finishing tracking my vocals tonight. The record will be completely done being tracked [and then we’ll] do gang vocals, which is party night. Everyone drinks lots of beer and yells into a microphone together. Gang vocals are definitely the most fun part of recording.
Who’s helping you crack open a few?
It always happens last minute: “Oh shit, we need a gang if we’re going to have gang vocals.” We’re going to have all the guys in the band, some close friends. I’m actually waiting to see who’s coming. We’ll probably have some of our friends from Brooklyn. We’re trying to get a few girls in the mix. I think that always adds a nice touch to gang vocals, just so it doesn’t end up sounding like a Hatebreed-type gang vocal. I’ll share that production tip with bands who can’t quite seem to get their gang vocals sounding right. But we get done, we send it out to mix and then we start to set up our record.
Are you putting it out yourselves?
No, we’re going to have a new label putting it out and that hasn’t been announced yet either, because that ink is not dry. It’s a little tough right now for specifics for you, because we haven’t signed it yet. It’s going to be coming out on a new label, and then we are going out on tour in October and November in the U.S.
Avalanche did four shows after the Movielife played Bamboozle this past spring. What was the response to that? Did the Bamboozle appearance do anything to affect what you’re doing in I Am The Avalanche, in terms of perception?
Well, it’s funny: I Am The Avalanche have become a lot more popular since we went away for a bit. It kind of makes sense, actually. I saw it happen with Hot Water Music, I saw it happen with Lifetime, I saw it happen with the Movielife, you know? We’re really lucky there’s still a fire and that people really care. We’re lucky because we put out a record so long ago [2005’s I Am The Avalanche] and people are still interested and excited. We had our first sold-out show this year. It’s very strange: We played at Webster Hall in New York City and [the promoters] were like, “Yeah, it’s sold out.” We were like, “Wait, has that ever happened?” People are behind us, for sure.
Describe the new Avalanche record.
It’s super-energetic, really aggressive, very urgent and very anthemic. We’ve been looking at the sequencing and trying to put all the songs in the correct order—it’s pretty relentless. If it’s not amazing and incredible, a 10-out-of-10 kind of record, we didn’t achieve our goal. We just feel like that’s what’s owed to the people that care about our band. It needs to be perfect in our eyes.
In this scene, the people that support these bands get what they want. They see a band four or five times a year if they want to, because that’s what bands do: They just go out and they tour and they go nuts. The reality for I Am The Avalanche [was] different. We were in a little bit of a spot where we couldn’t quite release a record yet. We were living in New York City: It’s very expensive, we all needed to get back to work. It wasn’t really a hiatus because we continued to play shows—but unless you lived in the Northeast or [near] the odd show that we would show up playing, we were kind of on a hiatus to a lot of the people that weren’t seeing us. Once we’re standing in front of you, then you feel like, “Okay, they’re here. They’re alive.” I think it’s a thing where you get taken for granted and then once you’re gone people… It’s like when you fall in love, when you realize how much you love that girl that you took for granted and she bounces and she’s out of your life. Then you spend the next year of your life with the shades drawn, wearing a cape and scribbling poems about how you love her with charcoal on the walls, you know what I mean? [Laughs.]
Sometimes you’re just forgotten, but there’s something about I Am The Avalanche that stays with people, and I’m glad, because they’re about to be rewarded. “Why aren’t you coming here?” that’s always the question. “Why aren’t you guys here? Why haven’t you come here? Why haven’t you toured?” [Fans] have to understand that we can’t just go out there out of nowhere, after years of touring, without having a new record.
Why did it take so long to jumpstart Avalanche in the first place?
Basically, I Am The Avalanche pretty much found ourselves in a state of hibernation and a little bit of complacency, being home, working, being around our families and friends and writing a record slowly. Touring became a thing where we just kind of knew that until we were ready and until we recorded a record, until we had someone to release it we really just need to stick to the home life. That’s what we’re doing now.
Were the members feeling a little too casual about the band?
No, I mean everyone is still hungry as they’ve ever been to do this. We recorded this entire record and produced it on our own. Well, that’s not true: Our drummer, the Ratt [aka Brett Romnes]—who is an extraordinary producer and engineer—has been handling this entire record. And you know, making this record, we announced, “Oh yeah, we’re going to drums.” And then kids are like, “Oh, cool. So, when’s the record going to be out, in a few weeks?” And it’s like, “No, no. We’re doing drums this month; we’re doing guitars next month.”
I think a lot of music fans think the process of making a record happens overnight.
Every record I’ve ever made, you go for a month and you make the record. That’s all you do for like 16, 17 hours a day. You wake up, you do it again and within a month, you’re done. That’s not the way we did this record. We started this record like four or five months ago, slowly recording it because we all have jobs, lives and responsibilities. We made this at our own pace: You can’t live in New York City, go somewhere else for a month and take off work because you’re going to have to find a new place to live. It’s very hard to survive here, but this is where we live. So the way it worked for us was we would write, we would practice when we could and we would play shows when we could. You know, as a band it becomes really hard when what you’re doing starts getting dictated by what people want you to do. But everything’s going to go really fast now, trust me. As soon as this mix is done and the record is delivered, that’s when I’m going to kick back and sit on the beach for a month. Because I know I’m not going to get the chance to do that for a while.
Is this last Movielife gig a huge gesture toward going forward? In a sense, you’re saying, “This is it. You’re either here or you’re going to lie about being here. The members of the Movielife need to get on with the rest of their lives.”
It is definitely not a coincidence that August 26—the date of the last Movielife show—is before everything gears up for I Am The Avalanche. Everyone in the Movielife has their own thing going on. I Am The Avalanche is what I have going on. This is the most important thing in my life. It’s all I care about doing, and it was really important to me that if we were going to play one last show as the Movielife, it was that it got put to rest before I Am The Avalanche got busy and released a record. A lot of it is my doing, saying, “Hey, if we’re going to do this, it’s got to be done this way and it’d be perfect to have it after I’m done with my work on the Avalanche record and before I do my work touring with I Am The Avalanche.” My way of thinking is, if it’s going to happen and we’re going to play one more show and give the people what they want one last time, it needs to happen in this time period. It’s too much. I don’t have a big enough brain—I can’t be in two bands. I want to be in I Am The Avalanche. I need to focus on one thing, and I Am The Avalanche is my thing.
Given the success of a lot of bands doing the reunion thing these days, are you approaching the last Movielife gig and the new Avalanche album as the makings of a clean slate?
That’s exactly what it is. I Am The Avalanche are about to release this amazing punk record. What am I going to do, stay in the Movielife and be in two punk bands that the same singer sings for? I can’t do that—I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be in the Movielife: I want to be in I Am The Avalanche. It just seems really strange, completely impossible and unlikely anybody should ever do that.
Do you think Avalanche, even after all this time, are somehow perceived in some fans’ heads as a side project? Do you think there’s a perception issue?
There’s a whole perception side of it and then there’s my personal side of it. I mean the perception thing is I Am The Avalanche is not even remotely a side project. I Am The Avalanche is 100 percent my life.
Every band talks about how great their current record is going to be and how, “you just wait and see.” [The Avalanche record] is going to need to come out and people to hear it. The record is going to be insanely good, the best record that I’ve ever made. Sometimes people will span that mindset and be like “Movielife, Movielife, Movielife.” And that’s fine—they can listen to Movielife records. But the fact is, if people want to listen to my music they need to listen to I Am The Avalanche. They need to be open-minded because me, as a music fan, I’d be like, “Oh shit, I need to get that dude’s record. I loved the Movielife and he just said that he’s going to put out this amazing punk record. That sounds right up my alley.”
That’s the perception thing. And the personal thing is, after this last show, there is no Movielife.
Never say never? Or are you seriously saying, “This is it.”
I said, “I will do this last show, I will do one more show, under the conditions that we say this is the last show.” That’s where we stand right now.
That sounds like you can’t move forward without getting rid of the past, entirely. You have an understanding of how the fan-band dynamic works.
I completely understand it, and I’ve been living with it ever since I started a new band. This is me doing it the way I want to do it, and if that’s selfish, then that’s fine. Because this is my career, this is what I want to do. What I want to do is play I Am The Avalanche shows all around the world and make great records. We just made a great record, and that’s what people need to understand. It’s not like, “Hey, if you like the Movielife, fuck you, and you don’t like Avalanche as much, fuck you.” It’s more like, “Listen, Movielife haven’t been a band since 2003. Listen to this I Am The Avalanche record and tell me it doesn’t smoke anything I’ve ever done.” I have a lot of pride with this stuff. I’ve worked really hard writing this record and the band has worked really hard to make a name for themselves. That’s something that, come October when we put out the record and go on tour, will speak for itself. We don’t have to run around being like, “Hey, we’re I Am The Avalanche; we aren’t the Movielife.” That’s how much confidence we have in ourselves and in this record that we just made. The world is ours and we just need to put in the work and everything’s there for us.
If I were to have this chat with another member of the Movielife, would the tenor of the conversation be significantly different?
I’m sure they would be, because we all have different priorities and we all have our different things. None of those guys are in I Am The Avalanche. This is coming from a guy that, minutes after we hang up, is going to take two trains to New Jersey and go and sing the last song on his new record.
Everyone’s heart is in a different place; my heart is in finishing this I Am The Avalanche record, presenting it to the world and watching it take its own life and succeed. If you called up Brandon [Reilly, Movielife guitarist, co-founder of post-ML band Nightmare Of You], he would be like, “Well, I’m sitting here holding my two-week-old son and yeah, I’m stoked to play a Movielife show.” It’s always a tough thing. There are five guys in the Movielife and they’re all going to have their different opinions. But what I really need to worry about right now is my goals and my aspirations and all that revolves around I Am The Avalanche. I’m not giving any salacious [attitude], like, “I hate the Movielife. Those guys suck.” It’s nothing like that. It’s a personal thing where I know what I want to achieve in life.
Punk rock is supposed to be about doing things on your own terms. Plenty of bands who have been at this for a while end up phoning it in.
On this last Movielife show, nothing will be phoned in. It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be huge and it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to feel really great for me to close the door and move forward because right after that, I’m a month away from getting on this huge tour and doing what I really, really want to do.
The whole revival thing is easy to get caught up in—it’s a very lucrative thing for bands to get back together when they have accrued thousands and thousands of fans over the years. But I’m a grown man: I’m over 30 now; I was 19 when we started the Movielife. Continuing to do the Movielife and making money—and obviously, it would be fun because those guys are old friends and stuff—but that kind of takes a backseat once you really sit down and get the big picture. For my own mental health, everything points in the direction of, “You don’t need to be doing this; you need to be doing I Am The Avalanche.” That’s where my heart is, and that’s what every bone in my body is telling me, “Do this last Movielife show.”
I think a year from now, I Am The Avalanche will already be at the level that the Movielife achieved when we were a band. That’s how much I believe in the music, myself, my band members and what I set out to achieve. I’m not worried. As long as I stick to what my heart wants to do, I think everything will work out.
It’s good to see you immersed in that confidence.
It’s all up to me. It’s all up to the band. We just need go and do what we need to do. alt