Summerfest Sessions: Vital
With an album coming out this Fall, the band Vital has already begun to make a name for themselves on the West Coast and are looking to start making headway on the East Coast. Formed by former hip hop artist Vital in San Francisco, the band also has members from North Carolina. Unhappy with the current state of popular music, Vital looks to set themselves apart from the mainstream but still bring a sound that is palatable to nearly every musical taste. Taking influences from Radiohead, Mutemath, and Coldplay, they would describe their sound as alternative if begged to do so, but the guys in Vital like to think that their music is a mixture of what every guy in the band brings to the table when recording and performing live. We were fortunate enough to have them come track an acoustic version of their song “Stupid” from the Vital EP.
For the session we used the Sennheiser e935 Cardioid Dynamic Microphones for the vocals in the tracking room. The guitar was tracked using the Sennheiser e914 instrument microphone. All of the microphones were running into the Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2 FireWire interface and live sound mixer. The StudioLive was then routed to Pro Tools 10 via a single FireWire cable. Within Pro Tools 10 we used their extensive sets of plug ins but generally stuck to their phenomenal reverb plug ins to bring out the sounds of the acoustic guitar and vocals.
After the session I sat down with Vital and John Briggs to talk about their new album, touring stories, and what they think thought about the bus, Sennheiser microphones, and Taylor guitars.
Here is the full interview:
So let’s start with introductions. Who are you guys?
Vital: My name is Vital and this is John Briggs. He’s actually the bass player. Amazing guitar player though. I’m the lead vocalist. We have three other members of the band but one of them is not here right now, so I’ll tell you about two right now. Chris and James Clark, they’re brothers. One plays the drums and the other plays the keyboard.
Where’s the band based out of?
Vital: I’m from San Francisco, the Bay Area, and the rest of the band is from Raleigh, North Carolina.
John: Actually I’m from this tiny little town in North Carolina and Chris and James both grew up in the same county as me. When we started playing together we had no idea, so we knew about the same crappy BBQ joint and that kind of stuff.
What are you guys doing in Milwaukee?
Vital: We’re actually here performing at the Summerfest. We were on the US Cellular Stage. They gave us 45 minutes so that was cool. We got to do about 10 or 11 songs.
John: We have about 45 minutes worth of material so it worked out.
Vital: It was good. A good crowd, good energy, a good synergy between the band. Everything was on point and I can’t complain. It was good. We had a few people dancing over here, a few people dancing over there. We have USB bracelets. It reads my website on it when you connect it, and then when you put it in your computer it’s six songs from my new album called the Vital Album. We brought those and we had about 300 of those and passed them all out.
I’ve seen a lot of bands doing that recently.
Vital: It’s crazy man! Well actually SoundExchange had the idea. We went to the Grammy’s last year, and they had these USB bracelets, and got the idea like, “Yo we should do that.” It’s so much easier than carrying around boxes of CD’s like here have my CD. It’s a bracelet you put in your computer. New age. It’s like CD’s have become like records now like vinyl. We had vinyl then we had CD’s then we got…
John: Hey no love for the cassette tape?
Vital: [laughs] Exactly! You know the thing with the tape at the top and if it messed up you had to get a pencil and rewind it.
How would you describe the sound of the band?
John: Well we get asked that a lot and I guess it’s a good thing that it’s hard to describe. My answer usually is imagine Coldplay with Bob Marley lead singing.
Vital: That’s crazy because the music is on a level of this high but I’ve done so many genres of music that I can’t help to sound the way I sound it’s weird but a good weird.
Who are some of the artists that you are influenced by?
Vital: We’ve got Mutemath, we’ve got Coldplay, Radiohead for sure, those three, Peter Bjorn and John. The music that we listen to is so massive, that we’re like, we are radio heads. We listen to so much music that we put it all in one pot and it just comes out the way it does.
So would you call it alternative rock?
Vital: Yeah! That’s really all that I listen to you know. I love it I mean it’s cool. My daughter can come to my show, my grandmother, the whole family. I used to be a hip hop artist a long time ago, and they never came and supported anything I’ve done until I started doing alternative rock.
John: Well there’s something there for everybody and I think that’s helped us out a lot, but I think we’re all equally embittered by everything that’s on the radio right now. We call it alternative but it’s just music.
Vital: You have to put it in some type of genre, but we just play.
John: We call it alternative because we’re not rich.
Vital: Exactly! Stadium rock don’t call it anything else [laughs].
John: We’re total pop.
Vital: Because it’s all over the place in a good way, you might hear one song and it will sound like this but you might hear another song and you’re like, “Where did this come from?” Our influences they come out in our music but there’s not just one song that sounds like the same song. We definitely don’t have a set idea in our head like, we should make a song that sounds like this. We just kind of do what we do and hope other people like it. We just make the music. That’s it. If it excites us then we don’t care.
Tell me about the recording experience when you guys are in a studio.
Vital: Chris Clark and James Clark they are the producers. They play the music and then I come in and I’m like, “Oh is this for me?” Then I start writing. Then John comes in and Derek Odes, the other guy that’s not here right now. That’s the other guitarist. When we all come together and play a song, we all play it after it’s done, put the song down as a creative process, and then we lay the song down and jam out after the song’s done. The recording process, it’s really easy. It’s not difficult and it’s not complicated. It’s not hard at all. There’s no special things we do nothing like, “Oh yeah let’s huddle up.” We just record the music, lay it down, play over the music, jam out, rehearse, and boom it’s done.
John: Yeah it’s one of those things where I’ll go out for a sandwich or whatever, and then get back to the house and they’re like, “Oh we’ve got these five new songs.”
Vital: It’s that crazy. We’re constantly making music. I’m always writing wherever I go. We’re just musicians man. We love to play music.
Sounds like you guys have your own home studio?
Vital: Well we had a band house in San Francisco and recently everyone separated because of family. Because we were living in a band house for like six or seven months, it got crazy. People had to visit their family, see their kids, but when the album comes back together we’re going to try to get everything sorted out. We’re trying to move more towards the East Coast. New York is where we want to be. We had a band house and we recorded actually the whole album there.
John: I layed down some of the bass parts in the RV while we were on tour.
Vital: We went on a tour two months ago. From San Francisco to Austin, Texas to Miami, Florida to Tampa, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia. Then from Atlanta all the way back to California. We went through thunderstorms, tornados, snowstorms, everything. It was a long drawn out drive. Although I had the master bedroom in the back, it really wasn’t comfortable. Anyone who slept on that bed you had a bad sleep, and if I was trying to sleep you would go over a bump and I would literally jump and I’d be like, “Watch how you’re hitting them corners man.” [laughs] We don’t care though, that’s part of music. If you don’t go through that you wouldn’t appreciate it after you get there.
John: And I only feared for my life maybe 8 times. [laughs]
Vital: Atlanta was a good show. It was a fashion show for Georgia State, so we did two shows, one for Georgia State the college outside, then we did one inside their basketball arena. The auditorium there, they’ve got this catwalk and we performed there. They let us do two songs, and dude we killed it. This is how the crowd went: before we got up there they were like, “What is this guy going to do right now? Is he going to rap? Is he a hip hop artist? He’s got a band so I don’t know.” But then after the first song they were like, “Okay”, and then they were jumping up with it and after the last song there were standing ovations. Man it was crazy.
John: That’s true. People are really confused when they see our band.
Vital: There’s a black guy with dreadlocks and you see a caucasian guy on bass, and then you see two other black guys one on the drums one on the keyboard. It’s like, “Who are these guys? We don’t know how to feel when we hear these guys music.”
So what do you guys think about the UniqueSquared Mobile Studio?
Vital: I’m thinking about buying one of these. This is like so convenient for me. If I had one of these I would never be unhappy. I would always have a place to sleep and I could always record. What more do I want?
John: I mean really this is what we were doing on the road but it was not nearly this nice.
Vital: We’ll record anywhere. We’ll set up in a hotel and record if we have to but this right here is really nice. It’s a good experience to be playing at Summerfest, our first festival as a band. Then to come in here and do an interview, everything is perfect man. I’m at a loss for words I love it man. I’m really really excited for the future.
Have you guys used Sennheiser microphones before?
John: Yeah live actually, and I’ve been using Sennheiser headphones in the studio for years.
What about the Sennheiser wireless guitar packs? Do you guys use those?
John: Well the guitar player actually does, I’m so old school, I already treat the cables like shit so I don’t know what I would do with an expensive wireless system. It will last about a day.
What’s the future look like for Vital?
Vital: The tour ends right now just for a second and then we’re going to be moving towards the East Coast. We’ll still play some shows on the West Coast. We have an album dropping in October and we’ll have a release date soon. It’s called the Vital Album.
To learn more about Vital, check out their website.
To purchase the gear used to track the session, check out our website: www.UniqueSquared.com