“I always want to strive for more” — Vanna talks about ‘ALT,’ Billy Corgan and new music

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Boston’s post-hardcore outfit Vanna has been around for more than a decade and within that time period has put out a five full-lengths across three labels—Epitaph, Artery and their current label Pure Noise. Their latest releaseALT, is an EP full of songs from the ’90s.

We sat down with Vanna frontman Davey Muise at Vanna’s recent tour stop in Cleveland. As we sat at the bar in a bowling alley/venue known as Mahall’s, Muise told me about the roller coaster ride ALT has been for the band, Billy Corgan tweeting about their cover of “Zero” and Vanna’s next album while he waited for his fried chicken Mahall’s is known for.

Why did Vanna decide to an EP full of covers?
DAVEY MUISE: I feel like this is an idea we’ve been talking about forever. We’re always jamming songs in the van that we’re like, “Aw man, we should cover this.” It came down in the spring time, we were on that Color Morale tour and we knew that we were going to be taking the summer off to write our new record, focus on some family stuff [and] just kind of regroup ourselves after the last 18 months of solid touring. [While] jamming all these songs, I’m like, “Guys, why don’t we pick some covers and why don’t we just film the covers in my studio and put on YouTube and like see where it goes?” Then our label [Pure Noise Records] ended up being into it and [owner Jake Round] was like, “Well, let’s do videos, press it and put it out on iTunes where kids can hear it.” So it’s this idea that kind of started as fun blossomed into a whole other thing. It’s still more fun that our label was into it. Basically that’s what we did the whole summer. We jammed these songs, recorded them, made videos for them [and] I produced all of it. It was just a really fun project that was made into more fun because other people are going to hear it. We just wanted to have fun with something because at the end of the day, that’s what music is. It’s fun, that’s why we play it. There’s so many songs that I feel that there are songs we loved growing up and helped mold us into the musicians that we are. We wanted to pay homage to it.

How did you narrow it down to only five songs?
We had a list of, like, 40 songs then we started crossing them off by ourselves like, “No, this one wouldn’t be that good,” and, “This would be cool, but I don’t think enough people would know it.” The whole point to a cover is to have everybody sing along to it, that song means something to them. The other point of a cover is if a kid has never heard of that band, they get into that band. So we’re like, “What [are] great songs that we can narrow it down to?” When we looked at the list, about 15 of the songs spanned from the year 1998-1999, so we were like, “We should keep it in the ’90s.” Then we brought it to our label and [they] helped us narrow it down because they love music too and grew up in that time period as well. So they helped us narrow it down to those five tracks. We kind of saw [Round’s] email versus our email and it was the exact same five songs. All five of those songs are the songs that we feel broke those bands to a mainstream crowd. They were all very well-known bands before that, but those songs are the ones that controlled radio airwaves for so long. Those are the songs that really did it for those bands and did it for us too.

Did you guys want to keep it as the five songs instead of doing a full album?
Yeah, we didn’t want to take on too much, because when doing other people’s songs, you really have to concentrate. They’re other people’s songs, they already exist in the world, so you don’t want to mess that up. You want to pay homage to it with giving your own kind of flare. So instead of doing, like, 10, we figured why not concentrate on five, do an EP and put some work into these songs. We wanted to keep it low and not take on too much.

Do you think you will put more cover songs on your future albums?
We have discussed doing like an ALT 2.0 and moving into the 2000s. Right now we’re focusing on the full-length. There have been discussions of more covers. Obviously that list of 40 songs, we’d like to cover all of [them]. It’d be cool to have some tour or some special event to do an entire set of just covers.

Why call the EP ALT?
We were just kind of searching for a title that encompasses [it]. ALT is just alternative. When I was a kid, I labeled myself as alternative. I’m not normal. I’m an alternative kid. We’re all the same age, we all kind of grew up that way. We’re all alternative kids. In high school, we stood out, we looked different. We still stand out and ALT is sort of the brand of the kids that go to shows. It’s an old word, but it’s an appropriate word for us. We kind of wanted to keep it simple with that. All of these bands are alternative bands, because back then there weren’t all these subgenres of music like metalcore, metal, post-rock, post-whatever. It was all alternative.

What did it mean to you to have Billy Corgan tweet about your cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero”?
It was intense. I was in the airport flying back from speaking at a high school; all the guys were at their day jobs doing their thing and my friend texts me a screenshot of Billy Corgan’s Twitter. I was like, “What is this? Who is @billy?” She’s like, “This is Billy Corgan’s Twitter. He posted your video.” I freaked out. I kept looking at my phone like, “That’s not real.” I screenshotted it. I sent it to the band, called the guys and was like, “Billy Corgan saw it. Not only did he listen to it, he didn’t retweet it, he posted it. He saved the video [and] posted it to Twitter.” I was freaking out in the airport. I was calling the guys, I was calling my wife being like, “Billy Corgan knows I’m alive.” It’s a true testament to how cool that guy must be that he took the time out of his day. I always say to these kids that love bands that everyone’s just people. We’re just people and it’s cool that Billy Corgan remembers that he’s just a person. He took the time out of his day to listen to our version of his song and he didn’t get pissed that we did it. He didn’t get mad or went, “Where’s my money?” He said, “You guys did a great job, so I’m going to tell the world about this.” It was so humbling and flattering that he took the time out of his day to say anything to us. That solidified that we did the right thing here, that was a cool move for us to do. It’s pretty unbelievable having him acknowledge us. I immediately [told] our manager to get ahold of his people to see if we could perform it together, because of course now I want more. He’s heard it, now I want to play it with him. I want to be onstage with him. That would be the ultimate dream would be him coming out to one of our shows and coming out and playing “Zero” with us. I could die happy. But then of course he would do that and then I would be like, “I want to tour with him.” I’ll always want to push it. That’s just who I am. I always want to strive for more.

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Like record an entire album with him?
Yeah, and then he has to produce an entire record for us. It would insane. The fact that he listened to our song and watched our video, means the world to us. I’m sure he gets stuff sent to him constantly. I was talking to my wife about printing out that screenshot from Twitter and framing it and putting it in my house. That’s my most prized possession I have right now.

Will the songs you covered influence Vanna’s next album?
One-hundred-and-ten percent. Our next record sounds like a good combination of Void and ALT. It’s Vanna, but it’s moving in that direction of alternative rock. It’s still heavy, because all those songs are heavy as hell. It’s definitely moving toward that direction and we really like it that way. That’s kind of one of the reasons why we recorded this before our full-length. [To] give us a, “Let’s see how we do with this. Let’s see how we like this.” I know for me, my vocals had to develop on that record. I did things I never thought I could do, so for me, on the next record I’m definitely trying a lot of new stuff. It’s a big influence.

When will the new album be out?
The music is written. We have four more days on this tour, then we have five days at home then we go to the studio for a month and record the [album]. The songs are done, for the most part. Obviously we’re going to have our producer Will Putney [who also produced Void] get in there, mold it a little bit and help us out with it. I can’t wait for him to get his touch on it. I’m almost intimidated to write lyrics to it because it’s so good. I almost wish it wasn’t my band who wrote it so I could listen to it all the time unashamed. The guys destroyed it. It probably won’t come out until late spring [2016]. We’re already rolling on a lot of stuff, getting the artwork and that ready to go. The reaction for Void was so big and now the reaction from ALT has carried over and it’s making us so excited for this record. We have a lot of exciting things coming up in 2016 that will help us push the record. I hope everyone’s ready for a little bit of a change in this record. You got to grow. You got to move forward.