Here’s how Vic Fuentes is still making dreams come true with his nonprofit
After years of dedicating himself entirely to music, Pierce The Veil vocalist Vic Fuentes was yearning for a new purpose. As fate would have it, he was about to find a monumental one by way of the Living The Dream Foundation. Now, he’s extending the company's capacity to make dreams come true even in light of the pandemic.
After serving as an ambassador for three years, Fuentes stepped on as the CEO and co-chairman of the foundation in 2019. The charity, which provides music-related “Dream Day” experiences for terminally ill fans, had recently stumbled on some financial hardship. Though the frontman had never expected to run a nonprofit, he hoped to use his platform to raise necessary awareness.
Of course, he was soon presented with a challenge no one saw coming. With COVID-19 hindering live music events and posing considerable risks to the immunocompromised, the team had to rethink their approach. The result? Virtual Dream Days that give guests the opportunity for one-on-one, distraction-free conversations with their favorite artists.
Fuentes caught up with Alternative Press to talk about the unique approach and its implications for the company going forward. Prepare to have your heartstrings pulled as he describes the incredible emotional journey he’s found himself on.
You’ve been put in this interesting position as a relatively new organizational leader. I think it’s pretty easy to assume that hitting a pandemic during your first year posed some challenges, but have you found any advantages in your individual situation and unique perspective? It seems like this could be one of these scenarios where not being firmly rooted in the industry and operations could create some windows for innovation.
I just try to bring in whatever I can, whatever I’ve learned over the years while building my band. Whatever I can offer to Living The Dream, I bring it in, whether that be connections with artists or just knowing the touring world and marketing. So when the pandemic hit, it just felt like a natural shift to try out Zoom. [For] what we do, it’s super simple and really easy. These are just texts and phone calls to friends that we’re making, [requesting] little favors here and there to meet these people and make such a huge impact. To us, it’s no-brainer, easy stuff to make these connections. That’s what’s so amazing about Living The Dream. It’s not difficult to understand. It’s not like it’s rocket science. We get people requesting that have had a super-rough ride and are going through a lot. Then, for the most part, it’s usually pretty easy for us to make it happen.
We didn’t expect the Zoom thing to be as special and amazing as it’s been. We’re used to bringing kids out to concerts, and they get to stand on the side of the stage and see the fire from Slipknot’s production. It’s this extravaganza of a moment. But as we started doing this, it was almost more special because there’s no hustle and bustle of the backstage. There’s no, “I’ve got to be here in two minutes, and we can do this real quick.” They get to full-on hang and have a one-on-one conversation with somebody that they love and are inspired by. It lifts everyone up, not just the guests. It’s an all-around positive, cool thing.
You told Alternative Press last year that your go-to question for a tricky situation is, “If we were starting over today in 2019, what would we do? What would our first steps be?” Did this equation factor in at all with your response to the events of 2020?
Yeah, I think that question is [one] that I ask for everything, not just for Living The Dream or Pierce The Veil. It’s a good question to ask yourself for anything, and I think about it a lot. Like, “What would I do if I were to not do any of this and become a carpenter tomorrow?” I think it’s a great question because it really makes you think pretty critically and very down to the root about what you’re doing.
I think when I jumped on with Living The Dream, it was a restart for the whole thing. The Zoom thing was definitely a pivot as well. I wouldn’t even call it a restart. This is an addition that we didn’t see coming that we probably should have been doing years ago. I think it’s a new advantage for Living The Dream to help more people and to do more work because now we can do these faster and all over the country without having to fly anywhere. And it’s safer for our guests because they’re the most at risk, especially during the pandemic. Moving forward, I don’t know how comfortable a lot of our guests are going to be getting their sick kids out to shows. So this is probably going to be, for the foreseeable future, the way that we do things.
Do you anticipate that this approach will change operations at all going forward? I’m sure many fans will opt for in-person experiences where possible, but do you think this will open the door to those who may be more limited by their illnesses?
Yeah, I think this is going to open up a lot of doors for us, honestly—a lot more opportunities and ways to help people that we didn't think about. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a moment in your life where you figure something out, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I’m such an idiot! Why didn’t we do this years ago?” I think that having this new way to do this is going to expand everything that we do. It allows us to reach anyone now, like people who can’t leave their houses or are in the hospital. I’ve got my head turning right now.
It sounds like it could greatly cut down on the associated expenses. Do you feel that this approach may allow you to extend such opportunities even further in terms of helping more fans?
Totally. That was the big thing about it from the beginning. The reason that I had come on was because LTD had lost their main sponsor. They were surviving off that, so now it’s all been about, “How do we survive moving forward? How do we self-sustain?” And this is for sure a much cheaper way to do things. It’s a blessing in disguise that this is the way that this worked. It allows us, especially during the pandemic, to save our money and get ready for when touring does happen again so we’ll be able to cover flights and stuff like that. It is a much more effective way, money-wise.
When you came on last year, your goals seemed to largely emphasize raising awareness and public name recognition for the foundation. How have the events of 2020 influenced your approach?
It feels good to do something positive, obviously. A lot of these kids that we’ve talked to have been living this way for years because of their condition. I remember talking to this one boy that 3OH!3 met, and he was like, “I’ve been quarantined since day one.” So I think it’s just nice to have something uplifting for our guests and everyone following Living The Dream. It’s just about inspiring from a very real place that makes you look at life a little differently. I think this whole pandemic has made us all look at life a little differently. It’s nice to put something like that into the world right now.
At the same time, it feels like a difficult time to ask for donations and stuff. Asking people for money is a difficult thing for me that I’m trying to work on. [Laughs.] To be completely honest, I think that’s where the difficulty of the pandemic is for a lot of nonprofits and businesses in general. Everybody’s just trying to stay afloat. I’ve been doing cameos to basically bring in income for Living The Dream, which has kept us alive pretty much this whole time. So that’s been a real blessing for us. We’re still building this whole thing. We want to bring on more people eventually, probably pretty soon. We’re trying to build this team up slowly but surely.
Do you feel like coming in with all of your industry connections has been significantly beneficial to the foundation?
Yeah. I’ve hit up all my friends that I know can help me, like my manager and tour manager. Anyone I know that can help me get in touch with someone. It’s just a couple of texts or emails away. For example, we have [an upcoming Zoom] with [Deryck Whibley] from Sum 41. He’s meeting this girl Andrea, who has Marfan syndrome. I just hit up our tour manager, Dave Shapiro, who I think also booked for Sum 41. So the connections are definitely a huge advantage in what we do by [giving us] the ability to reach these people. That’s the easy part for us because we already have a lot of these friends. We’re confident that we can at least get a hold of anyone out there.
How many of these virtual experiences have you done since you started coordinating them?
I think we're about to do our eighth. We’re hoping to ramp that up. I would love to get to the point where we’re doing [a Dream Day] once a week. That’s my goal. It’s been slow trying to figure out all the logistics of it, but I think we have it pretty much down now. We have a good system [with] the way that we get the video, send it to the videographer and get it all edited right online. We’ve got the process down now, so we’re going to do more.
Have you noticed increased efficiency compared to what you were doing in person?
I think we were doing more live because we were very linked in with the festival circuit. For example, the Danny Wimmer festivals. He puts on these rock festivals and we’d go out [with] a new guest every single day. So we were really able to do a lot of work, especially during festival season, and then a lot of one-offs during regular touring. We were really on a roll, it was great. We were very locked in with our friends at Danny Wimmer because they really support what we do and they gave us full access. They know we’re going to be backstage and doing contests and all kinds of stuff to raise money. So that kept us really busy up until the pandemic. We’re already locked in to start up again with them once they start doing shows again. So, when the time comes, we’ll be ready to get back out there. Yeah, this new shift is still building but I think we can get to a point where we’re doing even more than ever.
Do you feel like people are more comfortable talking over cameras than they inherently would be seeing someone face to face? Is there less of a shock there, so to speak?
I think every person is different with the way that they interact, but the focus is there. There's no distraction. On tour, everybody’s [living a] very fast-paced life. Everybody’s got to be somewhere. I think that’s where a lot of our skill comes in as a company. We are very familiar with that world, and I think that’s a huge advantage for us. We know how to navigate backstage and talk to the tour managers and artists and not get in the way of the guitar tech and stuff like that.
It’s very intense when we’re on tour. It’s a lot of moving things. This is so much more simple and focused, and that’s what really [showed] us how special this was. It’s an elevated version of our Dream Days [with a] completely different vibe, but the goal is [the same]. We still appreciate the meeting of the two people and the inspiration from both sides. All the elements are still there, just in a different way. I think it’s a more special way now.
How were you able to formulate a virtual Dream Day experience that you feel lives up to meeting your favorite band in person?
We watched it unfold naturally, honestly. All we did was put them into the Zoom together and watch it happen. The whole thing blew our minds. We were like, “Oh, my God, this is so special. This is very emotional on a new level.” Just because of the intimacy of the conversation and how they can share life experiences. We’re in the background, muted, and crying and laughing and watching the whole thing happen. It’s just such a nice moment.
We really want to show the world these moments so we can get some more submissions from people around the world that we can connect with their heroes. That’s what this is about. I want to let people know what we’re doing so they can spread the word. If they have a friend or something who’s sick and wants to have a cool experience, we can totally make it happen.
Has this pivot changed the balance you struck between the Living The Dream Foundation and Pierce The Veil? You previously confirmed work on the next record, but it seems like you’ve got your hands pretty full at the moment.
I think it’s a good balance right now. It feels good to do something besides music in my life. I think that I had focused 100% of my life on Pierce The Veil for so long that I was really yearning for something else with a little more purpose and something more to stand for. Living The Dream was like fate. It literally fell into my life in such an organic way where I think we both needed each other.
Obviously, it’s been an adjustment of figuring out [how to] work on two things now. They’re so different, but they also intertwine in such a beautiful way that it’s been really nice. It’s all happened the way it was supposed to, I guess. I didn’t have any intention of ever running a nonprofit or getting into this world. It just presented itself to me, and I had a choice. I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I didn’t want them to disappear. I wanted Living The Dream to be around forever. That’s our founder Scottie Somers’ dream—that Living The Dream will outlive him. He has cystic fibrosis, and he knows he’s not going to live forever, and he wants this to live on. So that was his goal as well.
I’ve often thought about what a mental and emotional challenge the pandemic must pose to the terminally ill, given that traditional bucket list experiences are now so difficult to come by. What message do you hope to send to these people right now?
I learned a lot from our founder, Scottie. He’s been like a mentor to me as far as knowing this whole company and how it works and living with a life-threatening illness like cystic fibrosis. They told him he was going to die at 16, and he’s like 53 now. He’s lived way past what he was supposed to. I like to watch him talk to these kids because he’s got great advice for them. He’s been through what they’ve been through. He’s been in the hospital for weeks and months at a time. And he really instills in them the fight. Like, “You have to fight. You can’t give up.”
The people that he’s seen that don’t make it, they give up their fight. He’s always like, “You’ve got to keep breathing. You’ve got to keep walking. You have to fight.” His saying is, “The dream is today.” He’s all about the moment, and the dream is about every single day being a celebration and a goal to keep going. He’s very adamant about that. [Laughs.] He has a tattoo on his chest that says “Terminal.” It looks like somebody stamped him. He’s got a lot stuff like that and so much strength inside of him. He’s going to outlive all of us. That’s crazy. So he’s super inspiring to me.
They deserve to wear it like a badge of honor, right?
Yeah. He tells them that they are heroes to other people even though they don't even realize it. We look up to them because of their strength and how much they go through just to get through each day. And he reminds them that they're inspiring people and that people are watching this and thinking about them. I think that lifts them up a lot and reminds them of how amazing they are.
Do you tend to echo similar sentiments even though you're not in the same situation as Scottie?
Yeah, I’ve definitely learned a lot. This whole experience has changed my life a lot just from being so close to these people, hearing them speak and forming relationships with them. It puts things in perspective and makes you value each day. In the beginning, it was actually a little difficult for me emotionally to do this. Especially when you’re in person because some of them are terminal, and it’s a lot to take in. So many of them are just such rad people.
It’s super sad, but at the same time, it’s such a happy experience. That’s what it’s all about. It’s supposed to be inspiring and uplifting. I’ve definitely had some conversations with our team like, “How do you deal with this?” This is each and every day. How do doctors do what they do, dealing with all that stuff? So that was something unexpected that I didn’t really realize that I had to experience and figure out. It can be pretty intense, but it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. We all feel on a Dream Day that it’s the best day ever. It just feels good.
Did you get a full sense of that while you were involved as an ambassador?
No, I didn't. At that point, we were just a band who they worked with quite a bit. Pierce The Veil worked with them for years. We’d be playing shows, and [Living The Dream] would come up with some kid and be like, “Hey, do you want to meet Johnny and his family?” We’d take some photos and hang out, and we fell in love with doing that with them. So that’s when I knew that there was something special going on with Living The Dream. They became our favorite charity, our No. 1 nonprofit that we loved to work with. And then when we heard that they were going under and were maybe about to stop, I was like, “There’s no way. We have to save this because this is too awesome.” So that was when I jumped on and tried to do whatever I could.
Do you mind if I ask you what one of your more profound experiences has been?
There was a festival called Back To The Beach that we did. We had this guy named Kelvin, and I think he had some sort of brain cancer. His head was shaved, and he had all sorts of scars from his surgeries. He had his whole family there, his daughter and wife. We got him onstage for the full festival. He got to meet Travis Barker, and it was a really cool thing. And then Bert McCracken from the Used brought him onstage, and they got to sing together. So, moments like that, which happen organically, are the best. Our girl, Casey, who does the actual Dream Days and takes care of our guests, is super good at making things happen in the moment that we don’t expect. I can’t wait to start doing those again. I just feel like I’m along for this ride. I’m loving it. I’m like, “Oh my, God, this is so amazing.”