In no time at all, they’d revealed the title of their new album, offered up headphones for a first peek at a new track, and shown us a just-captured tour video that involved eating a live worm on a dare. Needless to say, L.A. rock & roll band Vista Kicks were as down to earth as it gets, and more than willing to join us for some whiskey-doused Q&A during their recent stop in NYC. While they clearly didn’t need much loosening up, a round of their favorite – some good ol’ fashioned Jameson – in the treehouse-like upper level of Nancy Whiskey Pub got the stories spilling.
While a lot of bands can boast long-running collaborations between certain members, Vista Kicks are a rarity in that all four guys have known each other since kindergarten. “You know when you can read somebody’s mind in a look?” asked frontman Derek Thomas, describing their bond. “It comes in handy when playing live, if somebody gets off or somebody wants to go somewhere else, we can really understand each other without even saying it out loud; without thinking. The communication within the band is so much stronger having those deep roots. And it feels like no one’s going anywhere. Because we’ve known each other for so long, and our families are all friends, and it’s a whole Vista Kicks family. I mean, the shit we’ve been through. We all lived in a 1-bedroom in Hollywood – the four of us – for two years. And then we lived in our studio in Highland Park for like four months, showering each other off with a hose, cooking with a propane burner. Just the kind of shit we’ve been through…I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”
While the four friends first became known for playing jazz and soul music together around their hometown, they confessed that rock and roll was always their first love. “Jazz and soul was actually the switch,” explained bassist Trevor Sutton. “We were always about classic rock growing up, since we were five years old. Then learning Sinatra and stuff, it was like, ‘Oh! We can play restaurants, weddings, corporate parties…’ Then we got stuck in that hole, and were like…nope,” he said, his bandmates laughing in agreement. Guitarist and vocalist Sam Plecker, who also engineered their 2017 debut record, Booty Shakers Ball, told us about the events that prompted them to become the band they are now. “We disbanded once. We all went to college for a bit, but we kept coming back to our hometown on Thanksgiving breaks, Christmas breaks, summer breaks, and we would make songs. We just didn’t have the shackles of jazz and soul anymore, because we were kind of far away from it. It was like that was over with. So when we came back to our instruments, it was a little more free. It was more like ‘Okay, what influences you right now?’ And then we started writing in that vein. We just recorded a few songs for fun.” After exposure online suddenly brought unexpected attention to their work, they decided to drop out of school, move to L.A, and do it for a living.
With a sizable vinyl collection that keeps them ever-inspired, Vista Kicks are now pursuing the trails blazed by their biggest influences – “Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, The Doors, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley,” Derek listed with reverence, as if he could go on for days. And when it comes to their new record, which is 17 songs strong and already well underway in the studio, the influences stretch even further. “There’s a ton of rock and roll. But there’s also lots of funk, lots of soul,” said Sam. “There’s a little more of a country aspect and some hip-hop aspects that are being infused with what we do. And there’s always jazz. Jazz never really gets away from us.” “It definitely has a blues foundation too,” added Trevor. “A lot of the songs have a blues base. We’re going to call the record Twenty Something Nightmare,” he told us, acknowledging it’s the first time they’ve revealed it to the press. “That song in particular was kind of the pilot song for this album; it was one of the first songs that was written, and it’s kind of paved the way for the record.”
Given that Booty Shakers Ball just debuted in October 2017, the sheer fact that Vista Kicks are 17 songs into a new record, while touring, is pretty wild. “That’s our motive; the more time we spend in the studio or on the road, then we don’t have to get jobs,” Derek summarized with a smile. Affirming that Twenty Something Nightmare is due for release this summer, they dove into the inspiration behind the new work. “I think the record is not only about the struggles of being young 20-year-old,” said Sam. “After listening to a lot of the songs, I think it’s not just about the struggles you go through in a one-to-one relationship, but the struggles that you have with the world, and the times that we’re living in, and how hard it is. I feel like we’re very proud to be from America, but I think that it’s a place of confusion right now. Because we’ve grown up being told that it’s such a great country, and I do believe it’s a great country, but we live in really crazy, hectic times right now, where you don’t really know what’s happening. You don’t really know if you’re being taken care of. And I think of a lot of the songs stem from that uncertainty.”
“I think the feminist movement is the best thing we’ve seen in a really long time,” commented Derek as they discussed the present climate. “With the help of the internet, just putting a light in all these dark places, being able to see what’s going on in places in the world where people have just done what they’ve done. They didn’t check in with anybody; nobody weighed in on what they were doing. So it’s really nice that the internet has allowed people to see themselves in other places in the world and go, ‘They shouldn’t be doing that. We shouldn’t be doing that.’ We’re starting to see each other as one people, you know? We’re human beings, we’re all doing the same shit here, we’re just trying to live on earth. And it’s important that we can see what’s going on in different parts of the world. Because things that are awful… people sometimes don’t even know they’re awful, because no one’s ever told them that. That’s what I love about the internet and the movements now; I don’t think they have to be violent revolutions. I think that there’s already been so many revolutions in our lifetime, like acceptance of gays and transgenders. It’s amazing how much has changed in such a little amount of time. I honestly think it’s because of the internet. We’re able to see what’s going on.”
When asked if they could instill any one message in people with their music, Sam knew the answer without hesitation. “People should love each other more. Love themselves more. Freedom of expression, too. Just not feeling tied down. Coming from Sacramento, California, it’s the capital of California, but it’s really a pretty small town. Most people kind of grow up there and they stay there. For us to pack our bags, move to L.A. and pursue the impossible – that is, being a professional rock band – it’s kind of daunting, and it’s almost laughed at, I’m sure, by some people. They don’t take it serious. But I think there are a lot of uptight people who are our age that kind of get in the cattle line… who go out to school and get a degree in something they’re not interested in. And then they just go out to live these unhappy lives, not because it’s something they want to do, but because it’s something they’re told to do. And we’re kind of pro- do what you want to do.”
“…as long as it’s morally right.” “Yeah, unless it’s like…eating people,” clarified Nolan. “We do not support cannibalism.” The band broke into another big laugh. From every possible angle, it was evident that Vista Kicks were way more focused on the music itself than the spoils of fame or fortune – and Nolan captured their whole perspective on this with one quick comment and a grin. “I just want a Big Mac every time I go to McDonalds. Not the dollar menu.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley