This feature originally appeared in AP 266, as the members of Pierce The Veil were putting the finishing touches on what would become their second album, 2009’s Selfish Machines. The story sees band mastermind Vic Fuentes going through a lot of travails, from coming out of a charged relationship to helping his parents to getting the record done. Through all this, Fuentes’ positivity shines in ways that feel downright superhuman. The story may be nearly a decade old, but the picture of perseverance that Fuentes paints here is something we can learn from right now.
Right about now, it seems pretty crowded in Vic Fuentes’ headspace. The frontman for post-hardcore unit Pierce The Veil spent months agonizing over the songs on his band’s sophomore album, Selfish Machines, and now there’s a bunch of other stuff on his mind. He split with his girlfriend. His parents are losing their home. He’s about to go on tour. He’s intimately involved in every aspect surrounding Pierce The Veil’s new release, from overseeing the artwork to figuring out how to get A Day To Remember singer Jeremy McKinnon—currently on tour in Europe—in their new music video.
But if Fuentes is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, he certainly isn’t showing it. Opening the door to the small San Diego house he shares with his brother, drummer Mike, the frontman for one of the scene’s most progressive post-hardcore bands seems downright carefree. The all-smiles and handshakes demeanor the Fuentes brothers put out can’t be an act. If it is, it’s Oscar worthy. “We try to make the overall vibe of everything around us positive,” Fuentes says with a warm grin.
That positivity is unabashedly infectious, even when he’s talking about his difficulty maintaining a relationship, his deep family bonds or the painstakingly long period it took to make Selfish Machines. The type of eye-candy singer who is more pretty than handsome, Fuentes is dressed in black skinny jeans and a T-shirt, his longish hair tucked neatly under a knit cap. He guides his truck along the I-5 freeway to the hip Day Of The Dead-themed El Camino restaurant, where once inside, he’s noticeably unguarded in conversation. This guy sweats charisma, but in terms of cockiness, he’s certainly no rock star.
“We made every mistake you could with our first band,” Fuentes explains, freely confessing to the bad reputation he says was earned by a couple of the guys in Before Today, the pre-PTV group he started back in 1998. “So when we formed Pierce The Veil, we had a lot of vision about what we wanted this band to be about. None of the other old bullshit mattered: partying, getting drunk, going to find chicks or whatever.”
The Mexican-Irish Fuentes brothers formed Before Today—initially called Early Times—with a couple of high school buddies, playing parties and every local gig they could get. Early Times passed out CD demos everywhere they could, one of which eventually found its way to Equal Vision Records. Label owner Steve Reddy flew with some of his staff to San Diego to watch them play and take them to dinner.
“I remember I did this thing where I looped my vocal with a pedal and did this whole harmony thing to start the show,” Fuentes recalls. “I remember Steve telling me it was one of the most amazing things he’d ever seen. At that point, I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is actually going to happen.’” It wasn’t long before a deal was on the table. (“I remember having cigars in our living room, signing the contracts.”) Unfortunately, it also wasn’t long before the band—who changed their name as to not ruffle the feathers of the Early Times whiskey company—fell apart.
“We had every single problem a band could have,” Fuentes says of the year spent touring behind Before Today’s only album, fittingly titled A Celebration Of An Ending. “A couple of the members would get drunk and fight each other. We burned a lot of bridges with other bands and earned a bad reputation.” The Fuentes chalk this up to forming a band with buddies (bassist player Mitch Ballatore and guitarist Joe Tancil) who didn’t share their dedication to music. “We decided to form a new band with members that were very good dudes, but were also talented musicians who wanted music to be their lives,” Fuentes says. “Thank God EVR was well aware that Mike and I were the heart and soul of [Before Today] and that we were writing all of the music. It was amazing that they kept us and allowed us to make a new record with a new band.”
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With guitarist Tony Perry and bassist Jaime Preciado in the fold, Pierce The Veil released their debut album, A Flair For The Dramatic, in 2007. Driven by Fuentes’ creative vision, the album is filled with melodic vocals, progressive instrumentation and anthemic choruses. Pierce The Veil could be best described as a heady mix of the pop sensibilities of Saves The Day and the experimentalism of Thrice, two of their biggest influences. A touring history including Warped Tour, Bamboozle Left, Taste Of Chaos and treks with Chiodos, the Devil Wears Prada and many more took PTV on a whirlwind through 2009. All of that touring greatly enhanced the songwriting on Selfish Machines.
“We’ve been really inspired by the people at our shows, seeing what they react to, what they like to move to and sing along to,” Fuentes says on how PTV’s live experiences informed the making of the new album. “I would ask myself, ‘Why do people go crazy for this part more than others? Why are people singing along to that part?’ I want the whole set to be like that! When I started writing, I tried to remember what people liked the most about the old stuff and used that to make the new stuff better.”
Recording the album with producer Mike Green (Paramore, Set Your Goals) took a long time, as Fuentes constructed, deconstructed and rebuilt songs with a meticulous intensity bordering on the obsessive. The Los Angeles studio PTV were using is at least two hours from San Diego—even more with traffic. To save time, Fuentes slept in a friend’s garage, with only spiders and a space heater for company. At other points, he was riding his scooter to and from the studio in the rain. All of these nonmusical experiences were worth it to him, but more importantly, he’s quick to show appreciation for being blessed with having a very understanding band.
“They have a lot of respect for the way that I do things,” he says. “Nobody really knows what’s going on in my head, so they are cool enough to let me do my thing and be supportive. They’ve never given me shit for it. They’ve always had my back, and that’s really, really nice to have supportive bandmates.
“I always have a picture in my head of what I want,” Fuentes begins about his personal creative process, “whether that’s a song, a lyric, a sound, a setlist, a shirt. I’ll literally do anything to make it happen. I will kill myself: I will run myself into the ground to make it happen how I want it to happen. I think it’s just in my nature to want to do that. It’s just my personal nature to work my ass off to get what I want.
“I can be hard to work with sometimes. I’m pretty sure that producers hate me,” he continues, laughing. “I always want things to be perfect, the way I envision them in my head. I’ll do a take of a line 50 times, and they won’t see a difference, but I’ll know in my head when it’s right. I don’t think it’s about getting something perfect, but I think it’s about getting something the way I picture it.”
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That need to control the creative side of PTV and the Fuentes’ determination to stay together as bandmates against all odds is almost assuredly a product of their upbringing. They still rehearse at the studio in their parents’ house down the street from where they live, a place that’s also owned by their parents and where they never have to worry about stocking the fridge. Unfortunately, this arrangement won’t last much longer: The elder Fuentes’ painting business has been devastated by the economic downturn. Soon, they will lose the big house where the kids grew up and be forced to move into the smaller one, and the boys will have to go elsewhere. “Million Dollar Houses (The Painter),” one of the songs on the new album, is Fuentes’ profession of love to his parents.
“The song is a gift to my dad and my mom,” Fuentes says. “Money has always been a problem—I hate money. I think it’s such an evil thing. One of the lines in the song is, ‘Fuck money, we want love.’ My parents have been together for so long. They’ve never let money break them or tear the family apart, even though they’ve gotten so close to things falling apart. The song is about how beautiful I think their love is.”
As much as Fuentes admires his parents’ love for each other, his dedication to his band has prevented him from maintaining a meaningful relationship of his own, which another song on the album, “Caraphernelia,” addresses directly.
“It’s almost impossible for me to hold any sort of relationship. I’d really love to have a girlfriend someday and just do normal things: go to the movies, have her call me and say, ‘Come on over and hang out with me.’ It’s just impossible when you’re traveling so much. I’ve tried doing the long-distance phone calls and long drives, but it becomes unsatisfying after a while. I wrote a lot of the new record about that whole scenario, attempts at real relationships.”
For now, Pierce The Veil will maintain the relationships they’ve formed with their fans, as well as other bands—all strong bonds, thanks to their reputation as some of the world’s nicest guys. The Fuentes contributed to the short-lived scene supergroup Isles & Glaciers convened by former Chiodos singer Craig Owens, and Vic makes an appearance on Chiodos’ forthcoming new album. (“I’m super-excited for their future with Brandon Bolmer. They have very, very good things to come.”) They’ve known A Day To Remember since their VFW hall days: Fuentes wrote “Caraphernelia” with McKinnon in mind for the chorus, and the singer was happy to oblige.
Going forward, Pierce The Veil want to stay on tour and continue to make progressive, risk-taking music. Fuentes is certain they won’t take nearly as long between albums again. (“I’d be worried if our next record took three years. But with these two, I mean, the first record started [the band] from the ground up.”) Following this year’s Warped Tour, the band will hit Japan for the first time and team up with Attack Attack! for the Australian Take Action! tour.
While seeing fans around the world reacting to their music is a huge deal to PTV, doing something positive with all of the attention means even more. Like their heroes in Thrice, PTV are working to shine a spotlight on various causes and organizations (Keep A Breast, PETA, Invisible Children) whose work they believe in. “We’ve gotten to the point in our band where we feel that showing support for these things can be super-beneficial to their causes,” Fuentes explains. “I’ve always looked up to bands that have done this kind of stuff.”
Family? Charity? Come on, Vic. Aren’t you going to give us some full-on smack talk? Don’t you have anything the least bit sketchy to say? “We have a full-on, positive attitude about everything,” he says, smiling. “We are super-appreciative of everything that has come our way.”