The Vacation plays a gritty, swaggering brand of rock and roll that recalls the visceral punch of punk, the anarchic energy of turn-of-the-‘70s garage bands, and the monster hooks of such vaunted outfits as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks and The Clash.
Based in Hollywood and fronted by singer Ben Tegel and guitarist Steve Tegel (TEE-gul), The Vacation put itself on the map with residencies at The Kibbitz Room – where members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses, among other now-famous acts, cut their teeth – Spaceland and The Silverlake Lounge. The band quickly built a loyal following before launching an assault on the U.K. with They Were The Sons, an EP on indie label Fierce Panda (Coldplay, Supergrass, The Thrills). This was followed by the full-length Band From World War Zero on the Echo Label UK. The Vacation also earned slots on the esteemed Reading and Leeds festivals sharing stages with the likes of White Stripes, Green Day, and Supergrass and won the affection of peers such as Jet (drummer-singer Chris Cester even wrote a column about them for the NME).
Band From World War Zero and They Were The Sons, were both produced by the acclaimed Tony Hoffer (Beck, Supergrass, The Thrills). No less than Rolling Stone gave the EP three and a half stars, remarking: “The brash four-piece uses irresistible snake-charmer bass lines to glue together Detroit scuzz, hook-y retro punk à la the Damned and shout-along glam choruses. Bad attitude never felt so good, dude.” L.A.’s trendsetting Indie 103 quickly took notice; the station added four different songs from Band From World War Zero. Leading the Indie charge is Steve Jones, former Sex Pistols guitarist and host of the “Jonesy’s Jukebox” show, who has personally championed the band and their album.
Band From World War Zero will be released in the States on the Echo Label via World’s Fair Label Group April 26. (It already released in the U.K. on September 27, 2004}
Ben and Steve Tegel recently sat down to talk about Hollywood, The Vacation, consumer culture, and how to outsmart one’s parents. Following is their conversation.
Q: Where did you grow up?
Ben: Around St. Louis.
Steve: We’re from southern Illinois, Granite City. We went to high school in the suburbs of St. Louis
Ben: We moved to Missouri when we were 10.
Q: Despite the Midwestern upbringing, The Vacation sounds like something that could only have come out of Hollywood. How does the city factor into your music?
Ben: As an outsider, somebody who moves here, you have this idea about the city. But when you come here, you face the reality of the city. That’s what the song “Hollywood Forever” is about; it’s about the idea of Hollywood, the difference between the dream of Hollywood and the reality of Hollywood. The actual place is a grungy, dirty little town. Then you have this word Hollywood, which connotes fame and wealth. And we live right around the corner from the cemetery [Hollywood Forever, formerly Hollywood Memorial Park].
Steve: Hollywood itself is kind of like a cemetery, for that dream so many people have that never comes true.
Ben: It’s funny because the one cemetery that exists inside Hollywood is one of the few bright spots in the city. It’s kind of like a park; it’s green and pretty. But I really love the old, dirty part of Hollywood.
Steve: We grew up in the suburbs, which are green and clean and boring. Our whole thing when we were kids was that we wanted to live in a city; our idea of a vacation would be to go to a city somewhere.
Q: Speaking of which, why did you call the band The Vacation?
Ben: It seems like a bright and sunny kind of name, but we don’t look that way and our music can be pretty dark. The name is just a reminder that things aren’t exactly what they seem. It’s also an acknowledgment that music is a vacation; the entire rock and roll lifestyle is a vacation.
Q: You’ve been compared to Iggy And The Stooges. Would you consider Iggy an influence?
Ben: The Stooges are one of my favorite bands of all time. But one of the most influential records we had when we were kids was a 45 we got from our uncle. It was a record by The Jimmy Castor Bunch entitled “Troglodyte.” When we were five or six years old, we played that record over and over and over again. It’s an early-‘70s combination of garage rock and funk. I was also really into The Dead Boys.
Steve: And The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground.
Ben: I love T-Rex a lot.
Steve: We listened to a lot of Captain Beefheart, early Funkadelic, War. Bob Marley, Fela [Kuti] – those guys were great songwriters who talked about political issues in their songs.
Q: How did The Vacation evolve?
Ben: When we moved to Hollywood, Steve and I had the idea of starting a band, but we didn’t have a drummer; we were using a drum machine and doing kinda corny white-boy rap.
Steve: It was kind of experimental. But then, when we’d do live shows, we always found that we really liked rockin’ out and putting on a good show.
Ben: We started writing more rock-and-roll-type songs. As we got better at songwriting, we were more interested in melodies. It happened kind of organically.
Steve: It took us a long time, though. We’d just sit and try to come up with as many songs as we could.
Ben: I’d get an idea for a song in my head, or I’d write down some words and sing ‘em to Steve and he’d come up with some music. Or we’d sit down with nothing and Steve would start playing guitar and I’d start singing something. Or I’ll write the words and melody in my head and Steve will kind of translate those to the guitar.
Q: Have you been writing together a long time?
Steve: I remember coming up with stupid songs in my head when I was real little. I had a keyboard and we came up with really dumb songs. I was playing in school bands and learning about music before I started playing guitar, when I was around 13. Then we had a band in high school and we always did original songs, so yeah, we’ve been writing together a long time. But we haven’t really been happy with the stuff we’ve written until now.
Q: What kind of guitar player are you?
Steve: I’ve actually learned to downplay my playing and be a more song-oriented player. Keith Richards is a great guitar player to me because he’s all about the rhythm, the groove of the song. I’m also really into blues players, like John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and those guys aren’t showoff guitar players; it’s all about feel.
Q: How did you meet [Vacation bassist Eric] Dutch [Suoninen]?
Ben: We met Dutch at The Kibbitz Room. They used to have open-mic nights on Sundays. We were playing one of our songs and he just came up and played bass on it; we just jammed with him. We got his number and he came over a couple of days later and that’s the end of the story. He just stuck with us.
Steve: That was really easy but unfortunately, the drummer situation has not been so easy. We’re playing with a drummer now who does a real good job, but he’s in another band. We’ve gotten used to playing with these professionals, but they’re really in-demand and they’ve got these other things they’re workin’ on. We’re spoiled now. The other drummers we’ve seen just aren’t as good – they just wanna play loud and too fast and too showoff-y. It’s so important to have a good drummer.
Q: How did you go from playing The Kibbitz Room – a lounge at the back of a Hollywood delicatessen – to the Reading and Leeds festivals?
Ben: We got really lucky. This booking agent from England just happened to see us at the Kibbitz when we were doing our residency there last year. He said he wanted to book us for Reading and Leeds. It just came out of the blue.
Q: Had you ever been to the U.K.?
Q: What did you think?
Ben: England’s a lot like America, except the bars close earlier and the food’s not as good. A lot of our favorite bands are English, though. Mid-‘60s to ‘70s rock and roll bands. We love The Kinks. We love The Stones. The Beatles, obviously. The Clash.
Steve: The Sex Pistols.
Q: What was it like being in front of those big audiences?
Ben: We were a little bit nervous, but once we got onstage, the crowd was totally with us for the whole show.
Steve: Those were probably the best-received shows we’ve ever done.
Ben: Most of the people in the audience were teenagers, and the thing about teenagers is, they’re not afraid of letting themselves go. There’s none of that cooler-than-thou vibe.
Q: Did you hobnob with the stars?
Ben: We hung out with Jet quite a bit. We were staying in the same hotel. We’d done a couple of shows with them over here, at the Troubadour and Spaceland. They like to party.
Q: I know a lot of the excitement about you guys in the U.K. is also due to the EP you had out over there, which came out on Fierce Panda. Tony Hoffer produced it, as well as the full-length album. What’s it like working with him?
Ben: The thing about Tony is that he has a great attitude in the studio. He diffuses whatever stress you might be feeling and makes everything fun. And he appreciates the sloppiness of rock and roll. He’s a really big fan of The Dead Boys, for example. He worked hard to get that feeling into the sound. He kept saying, “It’s gotta sound like it did when I heard you guys playing at The Kibbitz Room.” Like when we did the background vocals, he said, “You gotta sound like you’re drunk and you barely got to the mic in time to sing the lyric.” He kept it loose and didn’t try to make it too perfect, yet he understood that we were making pop songs. So there was a very fine line between polishing it and getting the harmonies right and keeping the roughness of it.
Steve: It felt really collaborative; we worked together to figure stuff out. Tony really encouraged us to experiment and let us do it until we felt we got it right.
Q: It’s unusual to come across a band fronted by twins, but you guys don’t make much out of that.
Ben: Well, we don’t want to appear, like … remember that band Nelson? We don’t want to come across like Nelson. Being twins isn’t something we’re trying to hide, but it’s not something we want to present as a gimmick. We don’t want people to be, like, “Oh yeah, The Vacation – that’s the band with the twins.”
Q: But I have to ask – is there some kind of twin telepathy at play?
Ben: I think our situation is similar to the brother relationships you see in other bands. It’s really just a highly sophisticated and nuanced sense of empathy – you’re able to anticipate what the other person is feeling. In terms of songwriting, I’ll come up with a lyric or a lyric and a melody and I’ll come to Steve and sing it to him in my own way. Probably, if I sang it to anybody else, they’d be, like, “What the hell are you singing? That doesn’t sound like anything.” But Steve will hear it and see what I’m going for right away and carve out the actual chords and refine the melody and take it to the next part of the song, come up with the bridge or the chorus.
Q: Are there other musicians in your family?
Ben: Our mom’s side of the family were all musicians in bands in high school. One of our uncles plays in a blues/country band. The uncle who gave us the Jimmy Castor record was a DJ for a long time. He passed a lot of his records on to us when we were kids. He had some Cheech & Chong records that were pretty funny. There was also this Frank Zappa album, Sheik Yerbouti. I remember one time, we were about 12, we were upstairs listening to that album, and there’s a track on there called “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes,” and I think it may contain a few vaguely obscene words [“Don’t fool yourself, girl – it’s going right up your poop chute”], and we were listening to that pretty loud and I remember my dad comes into my brother’s room one night when my mom was making dinner. He’s, like, “Guys, your mom doesn’t really want you listening to that; I think we’re gonna have to take it away from you.” So they confiscated the record, but then one afternoon when they were at work we realized they had just hidden the record in their closet in their bedroom. So we took the vinyl out of the sleeve and just left the album cover in there and kept on listening to it.
Steve: They weren’t really repressive, but that record is pretty dirty.
Ben: It’s really funny, though. I think junior high is the ideal time to be listening to Zappa. There are a lot of potty jokes. Comedy has also been a really big influence on us.
Steve: We were as into “Monty Python” as we were music. And Mel Brooks, “Blazing Saddles.”
Ben: Even Weird Al Yankovic was a big influence. We try not to be too serious about ourselves.
Q: Ben, tell me a little about your lyrics. Did you write poetry first? Did you study literature?
Ben: I studied painting, actually, but I never really did poetry. I’ve always loved poetic imagery, though. I’d read Rimbaud or something and think, I wanna be like him.
Q: One of my favorite lines is, “You stand on the edge of a paper cut,” from “White Noise.”
Ben: I really like that one because I have no idea what it means and I really don’t know how I thought of it.
Q: Let’s talk about the songs. We’ll do a Rorschach test: I’ll say the title and you tell me what it makes you think of. We already talked about “Hollywood Forever,” so let’s start with “White Noise.”
Ben: Somebody said that was about bad communication in a relationship, which I thought was really cool. That actually makes sense, and now when I sing the song I think about that. When I wrote the lyrics, I’d just seen “Bowling For Columbine” and I was thinking about all the anger and hatred and fear out there and this sense that you’re helpless. There’s so much confusion. The constant white noise from the media makes it impossible for you to think clearly; it’s impossible to get a moment of silence and clarity.
Steve: It’s about being overwhelmed by media and images and advertising – the oversaturation of people’s daily lives with information.
Q: “Destitute Prostitutes.”
Ben: I had a dream where I heard a dance song, and I heard the phrase “destitute prostitutes.”
Steve: It’s about the idea of prostitutes being outsiders in society.
Ben: Sometimes there’s a certain pride associated with being marginalized by society, taking it back, owning your outsider status: “We’re fuckin’ insects, but you know what? We’re the fuckin’ dirtiest insects in the world.” I guess I should also say that the corner where I live is the transsexual prostitute capital of the world.
Q: “Cherry Cola.”
Ben: It’s about desire, and how desire can be manufactured. There’s a line in there where I say, “I want the freedom from wanting beauty.” Because of advertising, you’re constantly in this state of coveting something, and it’s perpetually unfulfilled; it’s unattainable. Even if you had the most beautiful woman in your bed, you still wouldn’t own her; you can’t possess her. And once she’s gone, you’re left with nothing.
Steve: Everybody wants to be something else, some idealized image that doesn’t exist.
Ben: Like when you sell soda these days, you’re not selling the soda; you’re selling the image of teen sexuality. The product is secondary; what you’re selling is the image of it, the clean, healthy, attractive, smiling, sexy, young people on the commercial. That’s what you’re really buying, but you can never really have it.
Steve: The singer of that song identifies with a girl the same way he identifies with a product. Everything is just a product you consume nowadays.
Q: “What’s In It For Me.”
Ben: People feel it’s okay to be self-interested. We’ve lost the sense of altruism that was part of the ‘60s counter-culture. It’s become acceptable to take advantage of people for the sake of a dollar. People have accepted the fact that either you’re a huckster or you’re a sucker. And if you’re smart, you’ll con as many people as you can – you’ll make as much money as you can selling ‘em junk. And if you’re dumb, you’re the one getting suckered and it’s your own fault. I don’t think that’s right. The song is also about the futility of rebellion. There’s a line in there, “I fought the man with guerrilla tactics/ I’m talking back when I’m watching TV.” Sometimes it feels like your only real weapon against the onslaught of consumer culture is irony; you distance yourself from it by saying, “Oh, I’m cooler than that.” But what does that really amount to? It feels like there’s no real basis for substantial change.
Q: “No Hard Feelings.”
Steve: This may be the most straightforward, literal song on the album.
Ben: It’s a kiss-off. It makes me think of that Bob Dylan song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” I’ve had a couple of experiences where I’ve felt that way.
Q: “Liquid Lunch.”
Ben: This is very L.A. I was thinking about a businessman, like back in the ‘50s, taking his liquid lunch, the three-martini lunch. What about the guy who somehow drops out of that world, escapes? It’s almost like saying you’ve given up.
Steve: The guy who makes his identity from not wanting to do anything or be anything.
Ben: It’s the idea of dropping out of society as the ultimate rebellion. There’s that line from “Barfly,” where Mickey Rourke says … it’s something like, “I’m so tired of thinking of all the things I don’t wanna do and I don’t wanna be.” “Liquid Lunch” is about freedom – let’s put it that way.
Ben: That’s our thesis song, the basic summation of our worldview. The problem is people being sold down the river because we’re so greedy.
Steve: Everyone thinks that if it makes a profit, then it has value.
Ben: There can be no political change without cultural change, without people reclaiming their culture from corporations. Yet you can’t even call it culture anymore – it’s only commerce. Steve and I believe that music, movies, TV – the arts – are so important and that their role in society has been denigrated; trash rules. People think of it as just entertainment. We, personally, never think of it as just entertainment. The real source of humanity, and the redemption of humanity, is in culture, and it’s just not given a high enough place in American life anymore.
- Artist: The Vacation
- Title: Band From War Zero
- Label: Echo
- Release date: 4/26/05
- click to download CD cover
- Track Listing:
- White Noise
- Make Up Your Mind
- Destitute Prositutes
- Cherry Cola
- What’s In It For Me
- I’m No Good
- Hollywood Forever
- No Hard Feelings
- Liquid Lunch
- WM Video: 56k 100k 300k