A few weeks ago, L.A. quartet Vista Kicks stopped in Toronto to play Adelaide Hall (Check out our photos and show review here). Comprised of Derek Thomas (vocals), Sam Plecker (guitar/vocals), Trevor Sutton (bass), and Nolan Le Vine (drums), the band delivered an hours worth of original material, enthralling all who happened to be in the room in charming fashion.
After their set, all four band members chatted with PureGrainAudio candidly about their band, their early days delivering Sinatra and Patsy Cline covers at corporate shin-digs, along with their ultimate music goals as musicians down the road. Take the time to put the band’s debut album, Booty Shakers Ball into the queue of whatever music streaming service you frequent, and treat your ears to some damn fine straight-up, old-school rock and roll. This interview is with all four members. The audio is above as a SoundCloud embed if you’d like to listen along. Derek, Sam, and Trevor did most of the talking.
When I got the press release for your album, I don’t know what it was about the verbiage, but I expected something a little different than what your sound actually is. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It just came across like it was going to be a harder rock album. When I played it, and I heard all of the retro funk and some of the new wave of British sixties and seventies music, I really dug that.
Vista Kicks: Thank you.
Watch the official “Gotta Get Away” music video below.
I’m curious how that music is translating to a younger generation. I wouldn’t think that music is anything you would be particularly interested in performing.
Vista Kicks: Yeah. That’s what we are interested in performing and listen to for the most part.
Oldies but goodies.
Right on. I’m assuming you started out in high school? Doing covers and whatnot?
Vista Kicks: Sinatra covers. And Sam Cooke.
Get out. Really?
Vista Kicks: Really oldies. That’s what everybody said too. “What? A bunch of 17-year-olds doing Sinatra and Otis Redding? Patsy Cline?” Old school stuff. Then we thought we’d come into the future with a little bit of classic rock.
When did you start writing? Original material. I’m assuming the covers were for the first year or two.
Vista Kicks: I know Sam’s been writing longer than I have. (Sam) Once we all got comfortable with our instruments. And once we got tired of learning other people’s songs. You start writing your own stuff. Not to say they were good. I mean, I wrote some pretty bad songs when I was in 6th or 7th grade. You start writing better ones as you start experiencing life. We were writing in high school when we were doing the cover band. We’d try to sneak them in there, but they were very jazzy. Very old-school crooner kind of stuff. That only got you so far, you know what I mean? We were kind of stuck in that Wedding / Corporate Party / Restaurant thing. Around that time we were writing original music. We actually have an album from then.
Is it available anywhere?
Vista Kicks: YouTube. We’re not trying to promote that stuff. The Booty Shakers Ball is all you need to know. If you put Derek and Sam’s last names together, you’ll find them. Go down the rabbit hole.
There’s a six song EP before Booty Shakers, right?
Vista Kicks: Yes. Chasing Waves.
None of those songs made it onto the full-length?
Vista Kicks: No. There was so much time in between. We’d really exhausted that EP. We probably squeezed out every drop we could get for it. It’s still there for people. We still play all of the songs. They are some of the most popular songs that we have now. It’s still really new. All of the music is. We did that. We toured shows on that for over a year.
So if you were going to do a cover now, what would you drop? What kind of song would you play?
Vista Kicks: It would be randomish shit. We just did “Try To Find Another Man.” It’s by Tommy McLain. He’s this swamp pop legend from the fifties.
That’s his title. He’s a swamp-pop legend. I’d never heard that before. You know, we could do anything. Contemporary through to… I’d love to cover Alabama Shakes. Arctic Monkeys. The cool stuff that’s going on now. But we like the old stuff too. We have too many songs too. We can’t even fit all of the songs from this past record into the one set. So we just get out to have a good time.
I like that your album doesn’t sound over polished. It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of studio trickery. it just sounds like it’s a rock album. Was that intentional?
Vista Kicks: That’s us. Yeah. That’s kind of what we were aiming for. That’s also kind of all we had. Like Sam said, we recorded the record ourselves at our studio back home. And that’s kind of how it came out. We wanted to catch that raw live sound. When you go and see us live, you’ll get that. It’s just ROCK.
So, I’m assuming the last thing you guys every expected to be doing was to be sitting in a studio with Tommy Lee. How did that come about? That’s just crazy.
Vista Kicks: (laughs) We have the same manager. It was just a nice little thing. After enough time begging our manager, right? “Can we meet Tommy?” We actually were writing “Gotta Get Away,” and Derek brought it to the group and we were finishing it up and cut a pretty loose demo for it, and we asked our manager if maybe Tommy Lee might be interested in taking a crack at this? He’s got a studio in his home. A really nice one, too. He said, “I dunno, I’ll send it to him.” Tommy replied and said to come on over. We couldn’t believe it. It actually sounds awesome – the one that he did of “Gotta get Away.” It’s on the vinyl. Side four. With the “Extra Goodies”. (Side four of the Booty Shakers Ball vinyl contains three bonus songs, including this Tommy Lee-produced version of the song.)
Did you get any pearls of wisdom from him? Aside from “don’t do drugs”?
Vista Kicks: (laughs) That was a big one. He had plenty of advice for us. He’s just a fun guy. It wasn’t hard to be around him. I wasn’t uncomfortable. He was very welcoming and warm and fun. And just full of ideas. He was just shooting out ideas left and right, which was really cool. Very open minded. And intense too. We were tracking hard. He was pushing us. It was good. It was a lot of fun.
What was the first inclining you had that this might be a full-time gig? Pursuing music, and not going after the corporate chit?
Vista Kicks: Our first song that we made was “Make It Real” and it got remixed. We wanted it to be remixed, and we had a guy in town named Vestige. He got it somehow. This guy is awesome he got it on Majestic Casual which is a YouTube channel. Before then, we’d never heard of it. Once it got on Majestic Casual it was like overnight, it got like 2 million plays. And we were just like “whoa.” This could really be something. Even though it wasn’t really ours. It brought people to our page. The original now has caught up to the remix. I dunno. I haven’t checked in a while It’s probably close to 2 million now on Spotify alone. So it’s leveling out now, and people are listening to the original.
We love the remix, and it really did a lot for us at the time. They are of the same vein, you know? It’s cool to see it leveling out. It put the wind in our sails I guess, you know? It got us to move to L.A. We dropped out of college, and that was a big disappointment to the family. We lived in a car, and then a one bedroom – all four of us for two years – in Hollywood. We lived in our studio and showered with a hose. We cooked with a propane burner. I think we knew we were all in when we were showering with the hose. The hose was like this shitty little coil hose, and the pressure out of it was so hard it had to be done really quick. I’d have to spray Trevor down, and then he’d have to spray me. (laughs).
Check out our shots of the band from their show at Adelaide Hall in Toronto on February 25th, 2018.
There’s a lot of bands who can boast that story. Let’s get together and literally squat somewhere.
Vista Kicks: Yup. Taking care of business. It was at a rehearsal studio where we recorded the record where we squatted. No bathroom.
What are you finding the demographic of people who are attracted to this music is? I mean, I love it. I’m fifty. So I’m thinking you are going to attract some oldies.
Vista Kicks: That’s my favourite. That’s the cool part. We’ve been lucky enough where a kid might want to go to the show. It’s all ages, and the parents are kind of chaperoning. And then you’ll go back to the bar and have a beer post set, and they’ll say “hey, you know, I took my kids out to see you, and usually I hate all of the music they listen to – I love you guys.” That’s really neat, to have such young and such old fans. And sometimes we’ll have posts on Twitter that say “My dad showed me you guys.” The older generation is enlightening their young. But I will say that we are very lucky that our biggest demographic that makes up the majority of our listeners is female – 18 to 24 years old. that’s the biggest demographic. But then they bring their parents and sometimes parents even bring their parents. We’ve had grandparents in the audience. We’re trying to be everybody’s band. Everybody is welcome. The stuff that we used to do, we were only playing to older folks. We know how to keep them included.
How different are your demos compared to the sound that’s done in studio?
Vista Kicks: Some of them are very different. Some of them are very similar. It just depends on the song. I guess all of the demos, especially for our newest record that’s coming out, they are all pretty much there. Because we did a tour last December and once we got off the road we did a little bit of holiday pow-wow, and that last week of the year before 2018 we were just in our studio finishing up all of the songs. We put a mic in the middle of the room and pressed ‘Record’ and started finishing up songs, arranging it and playing it. We’d go to bed and then listen to those demos and say “half that verse, double the chorus there and skip the intro and add an intro here.”
Bryan (tour manager) was saying that you have sixteen or seventeen songs down.
Vista Kicks: Seventeen. Yeah. In a month. Including four videos for Booty Shakers Ball. We did a big fundraising campaign for the Booty Shakers Ball, and we had to ship out all of those as well. It was over 200 orders. It was a minimum of twelve hours every day this past month in the studio. Just record and record and record. It’s getting mixed right now. We are getting the songs back right now, and we’re going to release that in July.
You’ve been utilizing PledgeMusic haven’t you?
Vista Kicks: Yeah.
Watch the Vista Kicks video for the song “Give Myself To You” here.
Can you talk a little bit about that interface? And what it means to bands who are starting out?
Vista Kicks: It was great for us. Booty Shakers Ball, it helped. I think it allowed our fans to really get involved. They got up closer, you know? We were able to do special things for them. Which was great. We really enjoy connecting with our fans as much as we can.
Can you name a band right now who you feel is doing things right? That you aspire to be like or emulate?
Vista Kicks: I think Twin Peaks is doing things really well. They are just trucking along, and they are making a shit-tonne of music. They are just going, and they are doing things they way they want to do it. They are repping their city. People fucking love them, you know? I think they are rad as hell and I really dig what they are doing. Aside from that The Growlers, are really killing it. They are doing festivals all the time. Any opportunity they have to do something, they are doing it. That’s something we aspire to.
Sam Cohen is really great too. He’s from New York. He released an album called Cool It. We really like that one. Alabama Shakes is doing it right. They are killing it, as far as making great music. Mac DeMarko. He’s cool too. Another great one. All of these guys pretty much are inspiring to us. That’s kind of what we figured out. We sat around for a lot of time between Chasing Waves and Booty Shakers Ball because we were expecting somebody to like do all of this work – when really we looked around and realized that most of our biggest influences just do it themselves. They make the music. They run the company. They do the brand. They make their own festivals. They are the ones that control their stuff. That was really inspiring to us and really kicked our asses into gear.
You’ve done some touring now. What are some of the mistakes you’ve made on tour? THings you’ve learned?
Vista Kicks: Uh, left the trailer open. I’ve run out of gas once. Parking the trailer. Don’t sneak people backstage at the Fox Theatre. Yeah, we got kicked out of there. Yeah, that. Uh, be careful with cannabis in your traveling. Anywhere where it’s not legal. Just don’t bring it with you. It’s everywhere. Just don’t bring it with you.
They legislate it here in July.
Vista Kicks: I heard about that. Yeah. That’s great. It should be legal everywhere. It’s about time. It’s slowly crawling from the west coast to here.
What’s your favourite live venue back home to play in? And why?
Vista Kicks: We just played the Trubador. That was legendary. We sold it out. That was crazy. It was a lot of fun. For me, I think that’s the place. I’d love to play there again. It just depends on the show. It kind of always changes. We decorated it up too. So that was nice. We try and do that at our hometown shows. We go the extra mile and decorate it up and make it a whole experience. We go all-out. Yeah, it’s hard to haul all of that stuff up over the border. It’s hard to even get it into our own vehicles. We bring a shit-tonne of props. It’s two carloads. We really like to make it an experience for the listeners and fans. It really gets them there, in the zone. Aside from just the music and them being there and connecting, it kind of makes it a huge event – the Booty Shakers Ball thing. We did that at the Echo. And that was an awesome show too.
The experience was really special. We had people dress up formal like it was prom. People came in dresses. Suits and dresses. It’s all over our Instagram and website. We didn’t have any openers. I remember two weeks before We’d only sold 75 tickets, and then we ended up selling it out. We just pushed really hard with a bunch of videos and we DJ’d beforehand. We had a dance competition. It was cool. In L.A., it’s hard to get people to really relax, because it’s such an uptight environment. Any big city can be pretty uptight. Just having people dress a little bit different coming to the show gets them into a different headspace. And they are more likely to enjoy themselves, you know? And just have a really great time.
That’s the biggest thing. It’s less about the venues and more about the people and how they respond in the situation. We could be at the best venue ever, but if the people aren’t with it, then it’s not as good of a show as if 50 people are just getting down. We’d rather have that. The audience really gives us the show, as much as we give them a show. That’s what we’ve figured out. Usually our hometown ones, the last one at the Trubador and the one before at the Echo, or even in our hometown of Sacramento, Harlow’s. Anywhere where it’s like our tribe, they really push us to be the best band. New York too. New York gets down.
How active are you guys on social media?
Vista Kicks: Too active. Very active.
Vista Kicks “Marceline” – Adelaide Hall, Toronto, Ontario – February 25th, 2018.
Vista Kicks: Yeah. Painfully active. We, kind of in the last year to a year and a half, have really started working on our social media. And just pumping it with content as much as we can. Making videos.
I like that you just called it ‘working on it.’ Because it really is work.
Vista Kicks: Yeah! Yeah, you’ve gotta fuel the fire, man. It’s like going to the gym. You’ve got to constantly do it. You feel goofy at first, making videos and promoting shows. But then you start to learn to really like it. I have a lot of fun doing it. You just have to make a joke out of it. The work is really relaxing. We can just decide to post it. Whatever it is. It’s not the end of the world. People see a million things every day on Instagram. We try not to think about it too much. It’s just stream of consciousness, you know? That’s all it’s supposed to be.
Have you talked about what ten years down the road might be for your band? Do you have a pie in the sky – I’d like to be here ideal?
Vista Kicks: Stadiums, muthafucka! Stadiums. Buses. Records. Lots more records. Money. I think to be able to continue to do whatever we want without being like a slave to a record label or some sort of investor. Just really having full control over what we want to do in whatever creative aspect is where I want to be in ten years. Keeping a roof over the head. Turning on the lights. Eat good food and not McDonald’s. Just being able to do that and make a living. Go to Whole Foods and get whatever the fuck you want, I think that would be great. And not worry about the money and not feel bad about it.
Are you finding the songs that are catching on are the songs you figured would be popular? Or are you surprised by the songs people are gravitating to?
Vista Kicks: You know, it takes a while for people to listen to the record because we don’t have a big machine pumping it out and shoving it in peoples’ faces. So when we have a crowd that’s our crowd, like at the Trubador, they sing along to every song. That’s huge for us. That’s the most gratifying thing as a songwriter and a band – people singing along. That’s the biggest thing I think. When we get into the cities deeper into the country, they are more keen to the EP. And they know about three or four songs from the record that they will sing along to. But that’s just kinda how it works. It’s always whatever you did last is what people love the most. We’re about to put out another record. Everybody is going to be begging for something off of Booty Shakers Ball. Right now they are all begging for a deeper cut. It’s like the epicenter is in California and the waves make their way out and eventually people catch on.
Have you been featured on anything like a video game or a movie or a television show? Anything like that?
Vista Kicks: We got on Teen Mom. And like an indie flick, Marceline got on, I think. Still trying to get those syncs. We try and encourage people that they can use our songs for whatever they want. Please. If they are making their things, you know, it’s all good. We got to listen to so much music growing up for free. With Limewire and all that. We never used it. But we don’t have the right to charge people to listen to our music. Because nowadays there’s so much music we don’t want to put anything in the way of people finding it. We’ll sell merch. And we’ll sell tickets. But as far as music, we’re giving it away. We’re putting our stems for the Booty Shakers Ball on SoundCloud. People can make remixes. Whatever they want to do with it. We’ve used it as much as we’ve wanted to use it, it’s for other people to use too.