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Interview: Kenny Vasoli of The Starting Line

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In 2001 they hit the scene with an EP entitled With Hopes of Starting Over. Perhaps the title is a little more poetic now-a-days for the Philadelphia quartet The Starting Line.

Fans flocked to them early and have stuck by their sides, propelling their 2002 full-length debut, Say It Like You Mean It, to sell over 300,000 copies and spawn the pop-punk anthem “Best of Me.” Signing on with Geffen records, they released the follow-up Based On a True Story and were sent reeling when it received little label support and didn’t rush off of the shelves.

Now with Virgin Records, The Starting Line (Kenny Vasoli, Matt Watts, Mike Golla, and Tom Gryskewicz) is on the cusp of a make-it or break-it year. Their new album, Direction, drops on July 31st and I had a chance to talk with lead singer and bass player Kenny Vasoli about how they got where they are and where they want to go.

Well, I should start by saying that I had the opportunity to interview you about four years ago and you ended up being really sick that afternoon, so I sat down with Matt and Mike.

No way!

Indeed, so I’m glad to be talking to you now. So, big summer for you guys – new album, Warped Tour, videos. How are you feeling about the finished product of Direction?

I’m really happy with it. I’m kinda just anxious for it to get out there now. We’ve been working on it for so long that it’s old news to me.

I know that you had a bit of a disappointing relationship with Geffen Records. How are you liking being with Virgin now? Is that more the kind of partnership you’d been hoping for?

Oh, absolutely! Resigning with Virgin really saved our band. I was pretty low after what happened with Geffen. They were cool enough to realize what the situation was and give us our freedom. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Geffen now.

Nice to have that resolution.

Definitely.

Well let me say, I was able to listen to the new album recently and, as a long time fan, I really love it. It’s fantastic.

Thank you very much!

The title track is a bit harder sound than you’ve had on your past albums. It seems to have some of the more mature elements of Based On a True Story with some of the patented The Starting Line hooks. Can you talk about how you guys got to that point for this album?

I think that was us trying to bridge the gap between the two records. Show people that we are going to try new things and you shouldn’t be scared of the progression that the music takes because we’re the same band that everyone knew. We’re just getting a little bit older. I think that overall the record is really a marriage of the two records together and something that fans of the first and the second record can live with.

Talking about your evolving sound, your voice in particular has changed and grown quite a bit in the past six years. Is that something you’ve worked towards or has it happened naturally?

It has a lot to do with getting older and a lot to do with singing so much. No matter whether it’s playing or singing or writing in general I’m always trying to improve myself and make myself a better player and get to new places with my voice.

Who would you consider some of the biggest influences on this album?

For me a giant influence, even though it doesn’t really sound like it, is James Brown. Before I was a little bit confused with song writing because I like so much experimental music and non-formulaic music that I wanted to stray from the formula of writing pop songs. That’s part of what made Based On a True Story such a confusing record for so many people. Once I started listening to James Brown I realized that you can basically have one part the whole time and as long as it has a really good groove, you can make that the best song ever. He has so many songs that sound really well written, but when you get into it it’s really just one part. That made song writing a lot simpler for me.

Are there any new bands out now that you’re listening to? Other than The Almost, because I know you guys are big fans of theirs.

Yeah, yeah! I like anything that Aaron [Gillespie] does. Oh man. I listen to so much stuff. I listen to a lot of the Roots. And there’s this guy Cornelius, who’s this Japanese guy who makes rock records and I’m really into it.

Excellent. So, as you guys have grown up and as your sound has gotten older have you found that your fans who were with you in the early days and are now in their late 20’s are sticking with you, or are you seeing a new group come out as they learn of this genre through bands like Fall Out Boy and Cartel?

That’s the cool thing about our band. We just played a show last weekend in Jersey and I met one person who’s been to 19 of our shows and some girl who’s been to over 40, I think. We definitely have a lot of hardcore people who have stuck with us. But then I also meet really young fans, like 14-years-old, who are just finding out about us. We are kind of all over the board with our fans.

Well, that’s really what you hope for, right?

Yeah, totally.

So you guys are making a video for the song “Island” this month. Can you tell us anything about it?

I’m actually leaving this Thursday for LA to start shooting for it. I’m not too clear on the concept but I’m pretty sure it’s us playing in some kind of wreckage on a beach and rummaging through the ocean for things we can put together to make instruments.

Sounds interesting. Any idea when we’ll be able to check it out?

I’d say probably early July.

You guys are jumping on the Vans Warped Tour in early July [the 3rd]. Are you looking forward to playing all of the new songs for such a big audience?

Yeah. We only have four or five of the songs worked out. We’ve got to kind of ease into all of the new stuff, and the record’s going to be released half way through the tour. But yeah, I’m super pumped. I’m really curious how people are going to react to the new songs live.

They seem like songs that should translate well into a live show.

I hope so. We’ve been practicing and they’re coming together really well so I’m juiced!

So, can we expect a headlining tour anytime soon?

Yeah. I think the rumor is… I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be talking about it… but I think the rumor is that we’re supposed to be going out with Paramour in the fall.

Excellent. Well, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with me today, Kenny. Looking forward to the tour.

Absolutely. Thanks a lot!

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