Jon Walker of The Young Veins
When Ryan Ross and Jon Walker started writing new material for the follow up to Panic! at the Disco’s 2008 album “Pretty.Odd.” they had no idea the journey they were about to embark on. After two successful albums it was evident that their writing was evolving into something that didn’t really fit the scope of Panic’s distinct sound. Any true artist knows the value of following one’s own instincts and that’s exactly what Ross and Walker did. Making what had to be one of the biggest decisions of their lives the two cited creative differences, left the band and continued writing new music as a duo. While the critics questioned them quizzically and fans responded (sometimes) erratically, the two never looked back knowing that they had done exactly what they needed to do.
And oh what a difference a year makes! On June 8th Ross and Walker are set to release their debut album “Take a Vacation!” under their new band name The Young Veins (joined by Andy Soukal on bass, Nick White on keys and Nick Murry on drums). For anyone looking for Panic! at the Disco revisited, this probably isn’t the band for you. However, if you’re a fan of vintage sounds, catchy choruses, short upbeat ditties and a guaranteed psychedelic trip in a time machine from track to track then you’ve hit the jackpot. Clearly influenced by Southern California culture The Young Veins wanted to write a collection of songs that each had their own style and story. The 29 minute long album will conjure up images of old and undoubtedly remind you of many past greats from The Beatles to The Beach Boys.
While many might think that this band is doing things the hard way by trading in packed arenas for tiny little clubs and throngs of screaming teens for new audiences that they have to win over night after night (okay who am I kidding, the screaming teens will undoubtedly still be in tow), The Young Veins wouldn’t trade this for the world and it’s that kind of determination and dedication to their craft that will undoubtedly win over new fans.
I recently had the chance to talk to Jon Walker about The Young Veins, the new album, and everything in between.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
I wanted to start out with talking about the direction that your sound has gone since your departure from Panic! at the Diso. I think even on Pretty.Odd. we heard a lot of the influences that you’ve continued to develop with this new project but now they seem to be more focused…can you talk to that point and how the writing process was for the new album?
The writing process really wasn’t that much different than the process for Pretty.Odd. I guess after getting done with that album we just wanted to sound more like we actually sound live as a band. We wanted that to come across a little better, that was one thing that both of us were really unhappy about with our previous recordings, we didn’t feel like they sounded much like a real band. We had that in mind when we were writing the songs for this album and keeping it in the vein of being a live band.
Yes, that seemed like a common thread. Ryan also mentioned that he wanted to write music that would translate live and “sound like a band”. Now that you’re out there and playing these intimate venues, do you feel like you’ve accomplished that goal?
Yeah, definitely. It’s been weird for us because this is the first time in the last four or five years that we’ve gone on tour playing songs that no one really knows. It was interesting to get people’s reactions and I think it went fairly well. I know just playing live for us in general gives us motivation to do the kind of songs we want to write and even more focused on wanting to have it translate better live than songs we’ve written in the past.
The Young Veins started out as more of a duo with you and Ryan, can you tell us how the rest of the players fell into place and what they bring to the band?
It was all pretty organic, we didn’t really have tryouts. We just wanted to find people that we enjoyed spending time with and who were good musicians. I went to high school with Andy (bass) and Nick and Nick (keys and drums) are both from Los Angeles. I had met both of them out there and they were the first people that we found that were open and able to play with us. It ended up working out really well. We did our first tour with them and they’re all great, they’re definitely a great addition to the band and will be included on the next record which will probably be a big improvement.
More of a collaborative effort with everyone involved?
Yeah, just the fact that we just played live together, we’ve already toured for six weeks and we have more tour plans coming up so I think after that we’ll be very well equipped to record together.
The overall sound of “Take a Vacation!” has a very vintage feel yet is still modern…was that something you were conscious of when you were writing the album or do you think they just evolved on their own?
We didn’t think about it much. All of the influences and everything that’s reminiscent to the vintage, 60s, throwback vibe was all pretty subliminal for us. It’s just been music that we’ve been listening to a lot, more than anything else. Some of the bands from that era are our favorite bands. We were more focused and more open to different kinds of arrangements and different kinds of songs than your typical normal pop songs. In the studio we just tried to work with whatever fit the song and the lyrical content. I think being out in California and being close to the beach had a lot to do with the way the record sounds and it’s how we felt recording it last summer.
One of the things that I find really compelling is that you are both so young but still have such a connection with the styles of music that came before you. Were you introduced to these genres growing up or did you find them later on in life?
The Beatles are the first band I ever remember liking and my parents were always playing their records so they were definitely the building blocks for me. Ryan actually got into that stuff a little bit later but I think now, he even more than me, has dug deep into a lot of different kinds of music from that time period. There’s so much great stuff made back then and it was such a monumental turning point for music where bands were all able to do their own things because that’s what was cool at the time where nowadays a lot of bands are trying to do what’s cool, not necessarily what they want to be doing or what a rock and roll band should sound like.
I think for everyone that’s followed your career and has now heard the songs on this new album – it’s clear that this is a very personal album for you in the sense that you wrote and recorded the album that you wanted to make without being pulled in adverse directions by any outside influences. When you sat down and listened to the finish product, what was your feeling and did you feel like you had made the record that you wanted to make?
Totally, even before the record was finished that was the overall feeling the whole time. When it was done I was really proud of it but I was more excited to see where we’d go next. It was a rough process from where we started until now and we persevered through it and came out with something really great. I’m excited for the future.
I know that one of the goals you had going into this was for each song to tell its own story and to have its own theme, do you feel like you accomplished that?
I think we did, I think that’s in the writing. The majority of the songs were written while we were on tour across Asia and Europe and South Africa so I think just being in those places and writing songs while traveling like that and going through personal things lends its hand to making each song stick out as its own little moment in time. And then in the recording process it was that much easier to embellish those ideas.
Since this is your debut album, do you feel that there is one song on the album that sort of encompasses the sound of the band or do you think it’s hard to define you by one song?
I don’t really know, there are so many different kinds of songs on the album and they all kind of fit us in their own way. “Take a Vacation” was the first song that we wrote for the album and I think that ended up being the overall theme of the album so I think that song is a great introduction to the band.
You worked with Alex Greenwald on some of the production of the album. A lot of us know and love Alex from his days with Phantom Planet so what did he bring to the table for you?
He was amazing, he’s an amazing musician and a really good friend of ours so it was great to have a guy like that on our side. Hhe was very helpful with the arrangements. He plays some guitar and bass on the album and did some backup vocals and help with some harmonies. We actually split the album into two halves and Rob Mathes who we worked with on Pretty.Odd. worked on four of the songs and then Alex did the other seven.
Overall the production on this album was pretty minimal compared to the Panic albums?
Yeah, it was more of a conscious thing for us to want to pull it off live and sound a little more like we do on the album.
I know you also incorporated some instruments to give the overall vintage feel?
We really didn’t use much, we got an old Wurlitzer organ, we had never used one of those before. Getting the real thing instead of using a synthesizer really made a difference and gave off that old 60s beach vibe that went along great with a few of the songs. Besides that Ryan’s got a bunch of old great guitars and we worked with some old amps but that equipment just sounds so much warmer, back when they actually cared about quality control. Even with recording the album, we recorded live.
Oh you recorded it live?
We recorded the main tracks live on analog tape, prior to the vocals. Doing it that way, especially the way it sounds on vinyl is so magnificent. It comes out so much warmer and more present than anything recorded on a digital computer. Too bad that most people won’t hear it on vinyl but I highly suggest it!
The music industry is a tough one and it’s hard enough to become successful with one band, never mind two. Did you have any fear going into this new project that you’d be starting from the bottom and working your way up again or did you really feel like you didn’t have a choice and this was the path you had to go down?
It definitely didn’t feel like a choice, you can’t really be in this business if you’re worried about being successful, you just have to be honest with yourself. I don’t think either of us ever stopped to think about that, we just moved forward with it because we knew it’s what we wanted to do. Whether it’s successful or not I know that we’ve had more fun than we’ve ever had and continue to have more fun, freedom and creativity than we’ve ever had. No matter what happens I already feel successful.
You’ve been touring smaller clubs leading up to the release of the album. How has that experience been for you going from huge arenas to more intimate venues and being more in tune with the audience?
It’s been so much fun playing these venues. We’ve scaled back on the way that we’re touring. We’re back in a van and we’re actually able to experience what we’re doing and where we’re going instead of just being on someone else’s schedule and being told where to be and when. This last tour we just finished with Foxy Shazam was just so much fun. We had more time to hang out with fans and the venues sound better, it’s so much more intimate, I really hope that we can continue and maintain playing in smaller places for awhile just because of the fact that the sound is so much better. Once you get into the bigger places it really makes a difference.
The packaging for the album offered up something pretty unique. Fans can order a package that includes an old-school Viewmaster. Who came up with that brilliant idea?
That transpired long ago when the whole idea of naming the album “Take a Vacation!” and the whole theme fell into place. Ryan had these old Viewmasters at his house and we came up with the idea of incorporating that into the artwork for the album. We really had no idea that they even still made Viewmasters but of course, if it’s out there you can find them on the internet and that’s what we did.
In wrapping up, what are you hoping that first time listeners will take away from your new album?
I just hope that they give it an honest listen and not judge it based on the band we used to be in and what’s different about it, I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for us. As a new band it’s a huge blessing to have fans already but at the same time I feel like some people have preconceived notions about our music based on our time spent with Panic at the Disco.
But at the same time, this album opens you up to a whole new fan base and the opportunity to provide them with the new soundtrack to their summer.
Yeah, we finished recording it in the fall and we were hoping to get it out sooner because we were so anxious and ready to but here we are releasing it on June 8th and I think it worked out really well because it is a summer album and I think it’s the perfect time for people to hear it.
The Young Vein’s new album “Take a Vacation!” is out on June 8th. The band will be hitting the road with Rooney so check them out on tour. Full dates here.
Order your copy of “Take a Vacation!”
The Young Veins on iTunes
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Visit the official website of The Young Veins
View live photos of The Young Veins in Chicago, IL
Watch The Young Veins performing “Change”: