Photo by Kris Fuentes Cortes
By Shandana Mufti
Last year, Vinyl Theatre won a contest to open a show for twenty one pilots. Today, the Milwaukee band is just over halfway through the Quiet is Viølent tour, opening for twenty one pilots every night on a national tour. It’s been a big year for the four-piece: in addition to the tour, the band members recently announced their signing to Fueled By Ramen and released a new album.
Read on for drummer Nick Cesarz’s thoughts on the past year. The band also features vocalist/guitarist Keegan Calmes, bassist Josh Pothier, and keyboardist Chris Senner.
ABScream Media: In the past couple of months, you’ve announced your signing to Fueled By Ramen, released Electrogram, and started your tour with twenty one pilots. What’s been the highlight through all these events?
Nick Cesarz: I think the biggest highlights for us have been playing so many different cities as well as being able to see one of our biggest influences perform every night. Twenty one pilots is a huge personal influence; I had Vessel in my car for all of 2012. In addition to playing with them, it has been incredible experiencing firsthand how welcoming and supportive their fans are.
ABS: You’ve actually opened for twenty one pilots before, after winning a battle of the bands. What’s that shift been like for you guys – going from winning a contest to open for them to opening for them on a full tour?
NC: It’s been a great shift, that’s for sure. Winning that battle of the bands gave us a wonderful opportunity that has led us to where we are today. After opening up for them in Milwaukee in 2013, we became more motivated than ever and built an extremely hard-working team around us, wrote tons of songs, and played as many shows as we could.
ABS: Are there any pre- or post-show rituals you run through before or after playing a set?
NC: Sometimes Josh and I do pre-show push ups to help calm some nerves, but we always have a band “pow-wow” meeting before every show. There is a very specific ritual that happens during this meeting, but it’s a secret! Some fans may know what it is.
ABS: For a while after the group got together, you were writing and working together over the Internet because you were in different states. Was going through that process over the Internet conducive to songwriting? At what point was being in different places no longer viable?
NC: It was a great starting point. Keegan would send me guitar and vocal tracks while Chris would send me piano and synth parts. I actually had taken over one of the drum practice rooms at the university to record drums in. It’s not as conducive to songwriting as our current method because we can’t all be in the same room at the same time. Back then, most of our ideas would start on Skype and then we would record them. When Keegan would come home for holiday, we would spend practically every day at my house writing and jamming as a three-piece band. We would work so many hours, but we always had a blast. I was finally able to convince him to move home and transfer schools, and I feel like we really became a band at that point.
ABS: What’s your writing process like now? Is it pretty evenly split up, or do some of you prefer doing the lyrics or the music?
NC: It really depends on the song, but most of the time, it is a group effort with everyone in the same room. A lot of times we start with an instrumental idea and work around that, or we start with a melody and a few chords. For us, rhythmic elements and instrumental parts are just as important as chords and melody.
ABS: Your name used to be Alchemy, which you switched because another band had it and because, as Keegan said in an interview, it’s not great for SEO. Where’s the line between thinking of the band as a way to put out art and thinking of it as a business, or is that line completely blurred?
NC: There was definitely more than one band that had that name at the time, and that was a huge factor in the name change. There is a very blurred line between thinking of art versus business. It’s also extremely important to be able to be found in today’s search realm. I think I read somewhere that 48 hours of video is uploaded everyday to YouTube. Anyone can record music at his or her house at a very inexpensive cost and thus the amount of content available on the internet is so vast, one must stand out. I think if you can manage to be creative, unique, and think from a business standpoint as well, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
ABS: What’s the Wisconsin music scene like? According to this map made from Echo Nest data, Jack Johnson is the state’s signature artist.
NC: That’s very interesting! I didn’t know this existed! I don’t have an entire knowledge of the state’s scene, but we’re pretty familiar with the Milwaukee scene. It’s a very tight-knit community, and if I had to pick one genre to describe the majority of bands, it would be indie rock/folk. I hope that the Milwaukee scene will get more attention in the future. Yellow Phone Music Conference and K-Nation Entertainment are beginning to change the landscape in Milwaukee and are helping to bring in a lot more local bands to shows.
ABS: What’s the biggest compliment someone could pay Vinyl Theatre?
NC: Listening to our music is compliment enough! But, I actually read a tweet yesterday that said we were, “nothing like any other band I have ever heard.” That meant so much to me because all four of us are doing our best to do our own unique thing.