Interviews: Vinnie Caruana talks I am the Avalanche’s new album
It’s been six years since their last album came out, but I Am the Avalanche are back with DIVE. Punknews Max Qayyum called vocalist Vinnie Caruana over Zoom from a wet and windy England, while Caruna was outside in the California mountains. They discussed what it’s like to release music during a global pandemic, how the band has evolved over the past fifteen years, as well as balancing I Am the Avalanche and The Movielife. Check out the interview below.
How does it feel to be releasing the album during the pandemic? It’s a bit disappointing because we’re used to being on tour and getting out there and playing shows as the record hits. You know, it’s a different kind of feeling, but none of us expected this year to go this way. This record was written in 2019 for the most part. We didn’t want to hold onto it for another year. I think the people who need this record really need this record, and I’m one of them. Everyone in the band is just super stoked to get the music out and just not really worry about it not being an ideal situation. Life has taught us that it’s not always gonna be that way. If anything, I’m just overjoyed that people are definitely responding to the record in the way I hoped they would. The best part about it is that for us in the band, we’re like ‘oh they haven’t heard anything yet.’ There are some big, important tunes, and we haven’t even debuted either of my favourites. It changes week to week, but there are songs I’m so excited for people to hear, so this is a nice serotonin boost for us to share the record with everyone.
I suppose it is a bit of a double edge-sword and a bit of a debate about whether it’s better to release music when you can tour again, or at the moment when people can’t go to shows and are stuck inside listening to music more than ever. I certainly am listening to more music than I normally do. When I’m home, I should say. When we’re on tour we listen to music all day in the van while we’re driving. It’s a different set up. We all fell in the thing we take part in because we’ve witnessed our first live show or the scene or the community around everything and we’ve thought ‘this is me. This is what I’ve been waiting for.’ So the fact that we can’t all come together is tough. I equate it to sports teams playing in empty stadiums. Professional sports didn’t exist without crowds watching them, and now that’s happening. So we’re all just getting used to it, without getting too used to it, because we’re all looking forward and hoping we can get back sooner than later.
Did you have anything booked that you’ve had to cancel? I Am the Avalanche were coming to do shows in the UK in May. We were playing Slam Dunk Festival and we had some headliners too. I was going to Australia on a solo tour, then I was supposed to be flying to Budapest, Hungary for my brother-in-law’s graduation from medical school. We had Movielife weekends booked. We had Avalanche weekends booked. There would have been an Avalanche tour this fall/winter.
Does it concern you about what the music landscape will look like after all this is over? Yeah I am concerned. I don’t think any of us know what it will look like, but what we all had together is really special and I hope we will figure it out because our souls need it. This is part of who we are. We’re gonna figure out a way to carry on. It might not be the same kind of way, I don’t know at all. But I know that everyone cares about this music thing that we all do and take part in and care about enough to breathe life back in.
Then of course you’ve had the backdrop of the past few weeks, with the election… Yeah, it’s been very loud over here. I speak on behalf of myself and I Am the Avalanche… We are so happy that Donald Trump is unhappy and we are so happy to be seeing all these shitty people losing their jobs come inauguration day. That doesn’t mean everything’s fixed. Almost half of our country voted for Donald Trump which is really fucking terrifying to me. So, there’s a lot more work to be done. I find kindness and doing things without thinking about yourself can really help. That sort of energy can bridge the gap. I feel like if I did something kind and generous for somebody who theoretically hates me and people like me, it might make an impact on them one day, I dunno. I’m just talking out of my ass right now. I just have hope.
Do you think we will see the landscape change, and be able to move to a post-Trump America? Not within the next few years. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime, but I hope it does. The country is extremely divided. A lot of grown-ass people joined a cult, led by Donald Trump. Hopefully some of them wake up and go ‘wait a second. Life’s too short for this shit. What am I doing? Why am I driving around flying a Trump flag? This is it?’ You’re gonna spend the rest of your life yelling at people and getting behind a bad dude? Seems like a waste of time, so hopefully some people wake up.
Moving onto the music side of things, it has been six years since Wolverines came out. How does it feel to be doing I Am the Avalanche again? Yeah it feels good. We would play shows here and there and that’s what our existence was because we all have such different lives. Mike Ireland suggested we write a record together, and we did. It was just me and Mike. A lot of the guys in the band didn’t really hear the songs until way later. We were both living in Brooklyn at the same time last year, so we were able to get together on a regular basis. Nobody else lives in the city anymore, some of the guys live pretty far away now. It was just me and Mike drinking beer and playing guitars… Definitely with a goal though. We set out to write an Avalanche record and we surely fucking did.
What was it like when you brought those songs to the other members? It was awesome. We had put so much work into this stuff. We didn’t really jam together on the record. Me, Mike and Ratt went into the studio, and those guys heard a lot of these songs for the first time right before they were tracking them. We all just vibe out in the studio together and come up with ideas. Kellen is a nasty bass player and Aggro is sick. We basically just hang out as brothers and fellow music makers and just make cool shit. Me and Mike laid down these songs but they began to sound more and more Avalanche as the dudes spent time with these songs. We all understand each other and where we’re coming from musically, so that’s the easy part. The hard part is the hangover.
Party vibes while you’re recording then? Definitely. A lot of beer, lot of whiskey, lot of tequila, lot of joints going around. That’s just what it’s like when we hang out, regardless of whether we’re recording or not.
Do you think it makes it a bit more exciting as it’s a bit more infrequent now? Yeah. And the older we get, the more we appreciate that when we get the time to do the thing we love to do together. Any of those creative moments we get to spend together, we definitely cherish that.
I’ve listen to the whole album and to me it felt very immediate. It’s nice and short, and it doesn’t really let up start to finish. That was the goal. The goal was to make ten Avalanche anthems. Those could be all different types of songs. We were just like ‘let’s just make a record with 10 songs and just have them slam in and out of each other.’ And hopefully at the end of it, somebody who’s into the band and been waiting for it will think ‘yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted.’ I think we have a good idea of what people want from us, and I think we gave it all on here. Every good flavour of Avalanche is sprinkled in.
I can definitely hear that. I was surprised when I looked and saw how old your first album is now. It came out in 2005. How much do you feel like the band has evolved during that time? As far as the song-writing goes, a lot of it has been myself and Mike Ireland collaborating or bringing music to the band and then we jam on it. I’m confident that Mike and myself have gotten better at songwriting over the years. Not that we’re trying to fine-tune it and make it this pop thing, which we’re obviously not doing. The easy part is writing the music, the hardest part is making it Avalanche. Sometimes that comes super easy and sometimes it’s harder. There were songs that we passed on for this because it just didn’t feel like an I Am the Avalanche song. We can just feel it when it is. The confidence is there. We’ve been working on it so long and we’re such close friends. When we bring this stuff to the other guys they get it immediately. It’s all ingrained in our DNA at this point.
How are you balancing the projects at the moment? You’ve got two main bands between Avalanche and The Movielife, then your solo stuff as well. Is it hard to know which projects ideas will be used for? I usually have a pretty clear picture of what I’m writing for and the plan for the year with touring. I kind of switch gears. It’s really helpful to have Brandon Reilly be my songwriting partner in Movielife, then have Mike Ireland be my songwriting partner in Avalanche. That helps a lot. We make different stuff together and it’s very easy to differentiate that kind of thing for me. Then solo stuff is always being written throughout all of that. That’s like an undercurrent of ‘oh yeah I’m gonna write today because there’s a guitar on the couch’ you know? So the solo stuff is kind’ve always being written, and then the Avalanche stuff or Movielife stuff is sporadically happening.
We’ve kinda talked about the sound of the new record and how immediate it is. I wondered what you’ve been listening to and what your influences were for it? There was a fantastic band I grew up listening to called Seaweed from Tacoma, Washington. Some Descendents, No Use for a Name, The Beatles, The Libertines. That kind of vibe. Honestly, those are the things that we kind of channel. Punk music, you know? Jets to Brazil, Jawbreaker, Nofx, Lagwagon. Out music never comes out sounding like that because we have our own way of doing it. It hasn’t had that much of an influence on the new album but I’ve been listening to a lot of Belle and Sebastian, The Lemon Twigs, Magnetic Fields and The Breeders and The Grateful Dead. So you know… I’m able to turn on that Avalanche vibe. I can get into a room with those guys or with Mike and we start writing and whatever I’ve been listening to has no bearing on my approach. I snap into Avalanche mode.
Have you got into any new hobbies during the pandemic and lockdown? Being in the city, it’s been a little bit difficult… A lot of the stuff I’m into is like outdoor stuff. We bought like an old Nintendo NES console with all the old games we grew up with. So we revisited all this Nintendo stuff like playing Super Mario like Excitebike and stuff like that. We’ve been dancing a lot, I’d say that. I barely ever dance but when we were in real lockdown it was definitely a daily dance in the kitchen while I’m cooking. I’m becoming a fantastic dancer [laughs]. I don’t think that’s true. There’s definitely a few slow dances. Or just goofy party dancing.
What production are you working on out there in California? Right now I’m doing pre-production with some friends, they’re a hardcore band out of Tehachapi California called Ill Communication. My speciality in production is in vocals and vocal takes, so that’s what I’m up to right now and it’s been a blast.
What are your plans going forward, if at all? Are you hopeful for the future? I think it’s gonna be at least another year until touring is back. Everything is so uncertain. I’m sure that we will be back. It’s a bum-out. Since I was 18 this is the longest I’ve been home. I’m not right now, but I just took my flight to come out to California three days ago. But overall, that’s been difficult. Something’s missing from my life. I’ve always been travelling and recording and now I’m just kinda stuck. But it’s like everyone… I’m not the only one who’s fucked up from this shit. There’s people who have lost lives, there are families that will be torn apart forever because of this. So as much as we want shows… We’re gonna have them, but it’s definitely not the most important thing in this world. There are people suffering right now, and all of your favourite musicians are just gonna be older, fatter and balder than you remember them and you’re just gonna have to accept that [laughs]. We’re gonna be alright. We’re gonna do what we gotta do. Keep the lights on, keep our bellies full and be patient. In the meantime, everyone should be creating. Every songwriter should be mastering their shit, and anyone who’s always wanted to write a song but doesn’t know how to play guitar… Just get a guitar. It’s gonna be a long winter, learn the piano, write yourself a song. It feels fucking amazing to let it all out and have that outlet. I think it’s really important. Whoever’s reading that is worried about what to do this winter if lockdown continues, just borrow your bud’s guitar or buy yourself a cheap guitar or get a little keyboard and teach yourself how to write a song. You’ll be so happy.