interview by eric
In the Lake Erie-sized music industry, where every band represents a single drop of that aqua velvet abyss, what are the chances of pulling out a decent cup of music? Thousand to one? The Movielife is that aqueous material, the broth off of many notable New York hardcore and punk acts, and the elixir for music fans now looking for something with a punk, pop and hardcore mix. “Sick of it All was a huge, huge, huge influence on me. It made me want to do this. At the same time, I was totally into Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today… they really molded me and made me into a person that loves punk rock and hardcore music” says Vinnie Caruana, the voice of reason in Movielife. From an outsider, the east coast hardcore scene is quite alien, even after growing up in Southern California where punk acts like Circle Jerks and Bad Religion auscultated their ways into our ears and propagated thoughts of rebellion among the youths trying to fight off rumors of ‘Generation X’. Out of nowhere, at least to the west coast, the east coast underground exploded with acts defining genre lines before they could finish albums. Sick of It All was the New York hardcore scene, as far as anyone was concerned. Also in the kids hands were other bands like Gorilla Biscuits (who later fell apart, then formed Civ and Quicksand, and then fell apart), Judge and others. Music like Quicksand, slow tempos with menacing guitars given life by the thinking voice of Walter Schreifels was spawned.
Is it surprising to see a surge of indie bands making names for themselves come out of New York? Growing up in New York, you get a flavor and influence that you can’t get anywhere else. You just grow up with it, whether you like it or not. Look at the bands that come out of the same area, Long Island. Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, Glassjaw, From Autumn to Ashes and more. All these bands are doing well for themselves and they all come from the same place. We all live within 10 miles of each other. We all grew up in the same scene, and we’re all influenced by the area.
Seeing your friends in bands with similar success make you jealous, or happy?
It makes me very happy.
Listening to Movielife’s first album, “It’s Go Time,” it displays the regional influence with the sounds of Quicksand enveloped inside songs about girls and friendships. Definitely. It definitely had a New York influence. This new record that we just did, it has that same influence. It just tastes good.
From their birth in the very late 1990’s, the band put out a few demos before landing their first album on Fadeaway Records. After that record, they moved onto Revelation, releasing “This Time Next Year,” a moderately successful album that put them on the radar, creating hits like ‘Self Destruct’ and ‘Single White Female’, a song about a real friend of Vinnie’s (now ex-) girlfriend who steals everything, literally. I often thought of that girl. What were her thoughts about the song? Was she aware of its existence and, if so, that it was about her? Did the song make her ponder reconciliation with the victims, or seek retribution for Vinnie’s out casting? Does she haunt Vinnie’s girlfriend, like the girl in the movie “Single White Female”? Or maybe sulk in the alleys of New York, mumbling nonsense about the price of ostrich meat and how she wished she could meet Ronald Reagan? He laughs, “No, never. I don’t even know her, she was a friend of a friend.” Still, I would probably hold some obvious grudge, and maybe pop a tire, if I was a crazy girl. Not one word? “If anything, I think it just made her more intimidated, ” Vinnie chuckles. Damn, no cool stalking stories.
After their second release, Movielife returned to the road hitting small and large showcases with the likes of Thursday, Midtown, Glassjaw and others who have created a definite notch of fans; I can immediately tell the difference between the 2001 show at the Che Café in San Diego (a bad example of Movielife, as Vinnie’s voice was hampered by the flu) to last years tour with Thursday. It’s all about the first two rows. Sure, Thursday may attract a large crowd but everyone except the two rows up front stands around with their hands in their pockets. Row one and two are the true fan base; if they aren’t with you, you haven’t made it yet. When I saw Movielife opening up for Geoff’s maniacal band, Thursday, he had the first two rows. Fuck, he had the first five. Of course, I’m sure there were Movielife fans who wouldn’t move when the set changed to Thursday. With so many bands out there, is fan sharing inevitable? “I think we can share. There’s always going to be kids that want nothing to do with us, but that’s how it is with every tour. It’s cool that the open minded fans will give us a chance, though.”
As a fan, that tour created some of the best two hours I’d listened to in a while. Must have been a great tour, yeah? “Amazing!” exclaims Vinnie. “Thursday is so cool to us. We had the opportunity to take them with us to Europe, and they had the opportunity to take us through the US. It was an awesome tour.”
Certainly, it has helped them now that they share a label with some of those with the shared fan base. The Drive Thru EP release of “Movielife has a Gambling Problem” was a different train then the one they were used to riding on. More pop lines mixed with the same lyrical styles of “This Time Next Year” came to welcome arms of some fans while others harped at the lighter sound, creating vibes of ‘This is what happens when you sign to Drive Thru,’ as if there’s a pill they make you swallow. Obviously, that’s not true but something was very different. What happened on that album? “Well, okay, we were on tour for about a year.” Explain Vinnie, (a bit disturbed by the question). “See, we wrote about five songs, ran and recorded them, and then ran back on tour. That’s not the way to make an album. You’ve got to sit down, write songs, and throw songs out. You know, really do an album. We know that now. Our last full release was in 2000. It’s 2003 now, and so much stuff has happened as a band since then, you know?” Yeah, but does quick song writing make things poppy? The album was quite different then the faster, harder Movielife fans had originally embraced. “That shit came out really poppy. I liked it, but after the fact, after we made it, I wished we didn’t come out like that. This new record, this is the record we meant to make. We spent a lot of time writing it, and a lot of time recording it to get it right.” Were you happy that the Gambling CD was an EP, and not a full-length album? “Oh, yeah.”
If there’s one thing that the Movielife is well known for by their peers, it’s touring. Practically non-stop touring. Currently in Cleveland, Vinnie and I quickly chatted after immediately finishing their set. What do you do now? “First thing I do is just sit here, like, the total opposite of what I do on stage. I just give every ounce of my soul on stage, and then I get off and just sit, like a vegetable. Everyone’s like, “You okay?” I’m just like, “Yes”. I just want to sit here and be normal. I like to sit there and relax, just for a second or two.” How did you feel your set went? I mean, can you gauge doing well? “Yeah, it was fucking amazing,” breathes Vinnie, still trying to get his wind back. “This tour has been insane. Seriously, this is the best tour experience we’ve had. Our record is coming out really soon, and we’re really starting to feel the energy from the kids and how excited they are about the record, and you can feel that energy. It’s so cool to see people rallying and getting as excited as us.” Hopefully, the rest of the tour will be this exciting. You’ve got a few more shows left; then what happens? “We go home, and then were back on tour again.” Which, for those on the west coast, will include Finch and Static Lullaby.
Speaking of touring, nothing pleases the food concur like exotic food. While Cleveland may not be exotic, it’s certainly a change of palate compared to other cities. (Which town makes an immediate impact as a good place to eat?) “Any place that sells egg sandwiches is my favorite place in the world and” Vinnie laughs, “any place that sells hot dogs and egg sandwiches is good with me.”
Hmm. You mean hot dogs AND egg sandwiches, combined? “And/or man, and/or.”
And what about the latest trend of fucking the fan? I’m not talking about groupie sex, although Vinnie swears off that, even with the heavy female fan base of The Used mixing in with the Movielife crowd. “There definitely is. It’s really about half and half, though.” defends Vinnie. Plenty of dudes moshing it up though. But I don’t play that rock star game, you know, hooking up with groupies. All that shit is fantasy, and no one on this tour does it either, trust me. I know there are girls that love our band, but it’s for the same reasons that guys do, you know?”
But the groupies, Vinnie, the groupies. Don’t you break them off with some love? That band look is all the rage; tattoos and heartbreak and shit. Vinnie laughs, “Um, well, that’s what you say. But that groupie shit is beyond us; it’s bullshit and has nothing to do with me. It’s a different world to me.” But going past that, the screwing of the fan often takes place at the record store, where fans fork out heavy bills for a piece of plastic (.25 at Frys Electronics), piece of paper (.10 cents) and a CD (.21 cents). Hell, even without Frys, you can’t help but notice the prices for CD duplication in advertisements catering to bands. So who is making that $16.99 price? Are the bands greedy? Is it the label? The store? Or is it something else all together? “Okay, this is what I think,” explains Vinnie, laying it out for the rest of us. “The more people download CDs from the Internet, the higher CD prices are going to be. Record companies are trying to over compensate for the fact that people are stealing from them. As far as I’m concerned, yo, if you love the music, love the music. I don’t care how you get the fucking music. As long as you come out, have a good time at the shows, I don’t care.” He pauses, reflecting on his own words. “I think everyone realizes we don’t make crazy money off this stuff; the only thing that’s important to us is that people come to our shows, have a good time and relate to our music, you know what I mean? If they don’t have the money… I mean, we’re lucky to be on Drive Thru, because they keep the prices mad low which is real cool because sometimes I go to buy a CD and it’s $18.99, you know what I mean? I don’t think a CD should be over $12.99, which is cool because I wouldn’t be buying a CD for more then that. I mean, everyone knows you can go get shit on the Internet, but you might not get all the songs, but whatever. Either way, you can get the music, so it’s cool.”
So, should we start a protest outside the office building of the huge cooperate CD selling website Amazon.com when you find them selling the Revelation records release for $14.99? “I knew that was coming,” laughs Vinnie. “I know, it doesn’t need to be that much. I know how much those CD’s cost. Record stores mark up shit like crazy, and smaller labels can’t really control that. It seems like stores need to make as much as they can, I guess, and they mark shit up. And a lot of times record labels have a hard time regulating that. We don’t have much to do with it. Kids have to realize, they can come to any of our shows and buy any of our CD’s for $10. You can buy our EP for $5. Come out to the show, chill with us, meet the band, get our music cheap.”
Do you go record shopping, spending your hard earned cash on other artists? Is there a limit? “When I pick up a CD that’s $18.99, I put that shit down, you know? We’re lucky enough to be in a situation where our CD’s are at a reasonable price, so people that don’t rob banks can afford us.”
True that, my friend. I like the record industry concept that they’re overcompensating for downloads, meaning that yeah, maybe they should be doing something but, with the prices now, they’re going way overboard. With the internet, music availability and corperate greed, radio has all but disappeared as a meal to serve the hungry consumer; does radio airplay factor in Movielife’s vision? “Right now, no.” says Vinnie. “We’re touring, and that’s how we’re supporting the new record. I know we’ve gotten play on college radio stations, which is way cool, but right now we’re on a small level and radio just isn’t’ a concern. We haven’t even made a video yet, although we’re going to.”
But wait, this wouldn’t be your first video, yeah? I remember seeing an older video on the Internet, which looked like it was filmed in a tiny apartment. ” Well, yeah we did make one before. It was low budget. Too low budget, really. This new video is going to be out first real video.” Commenting about the current video Vinnie explains “We’re shooting a video for’ Face or Kneecaps’ that’s going to be made in England, for England, but it might get some airplay in the US.” Is there an expected return from videos your label expects? “We’re a touring band. That’s how we sell records. We’re not trying to be radio stars, but if something gets on there we’re cool with it.” With his stance obvious, Vinnie reiterates, “We have never written a Movielife song with the intention of radio play, or to be big rock stars. That shit usually never happens anyway. We’re a touring band and that’s what we’re going to keep doing, you know?
We brought up New York’s Gorilla Biscuits earlier, who later broke up and semi-evolved into Civ, a decent group who made one track, “Can’t Wait One Minute More” completely different and ‘radio friendly’, as compared to the other songs on their debut album, creating cries of “radio song!” and proceeded to make some decent sales off the moderate airplay on MTV. Do you think there is any truth to a band that ‘makes’ a radio hit? Is it that easy to sell out? Is it even possible? “That’s bullshit” shrugs off Vinnie. “I wouldn’t even know how to write a hit song. It’s so weird these days. Thursday gets on MTV. They’re selling all these records and the music is clearly not commercial. Kids are just feeling the music. It’s one thing to have a shitty song and have radio/mtv play for it, but the kids can smell that (cooperate) shit from a mile away, you know?”
We talked about Glassjaw earlier, who, for those that don’t know, you/Movielife are good friends with. Will the Movielife ever take that friendship on the road on a serious tour with Glassjaw? “Daryl’s (singer of Glassjaw) a really good friend of mine. I’m sure one day Movielife and Glassjaw will be out together on tour.”
For band friends, you’ve got pretty different sounds. “Glassjaw’s in a niche genre of their own, doing all sorts of crazy shit” compliments Vinnie. “Daryl listens to zero type of music that Glassjaw plays. 99% of the music he listens to underground New York shitty hip-hop. It’s bizarre, the sound that Glassjaw makes when you listen to what Daryl does. But that’s what makes them Glassjaw.”
Speaking of band friendships, you’ve got a good voice. Would you ever do guest vocals for other bands, Glassjaw or otherwise? “Actually” Vinnie whispers, “me and Daryl have a band together, and we plan on making a record and doing a tour. We wrote some music while I was home, so people should keep their eyes and ears out for that.”
Whoa, that’s fucking cool. Too bad Vinnie wouldn’t elaborate, but he did pass on the band name: “It’s H.A.”
Remember watching shelter with Daryl and me at the Warped Tour, after the Glassjaw interview? For those that didn’t see, and not to pick on Shelter, as they were a great band in their prime and shall not be missed, but their set was less then memorable. Only two original members were in the band, and you could tell. The crowd didn’t seem to feel it though, even for the older songs where I caught myself singing along. But anyways, not to bring that shit up again, but let me ask a question: do you think bands should play forever, or should there be a set limit on a bands age? “I think a band knows when they need to stop, and a lot of times they do,” explains Vinnie. “You’ll see bands run their shit into the ground, and you can tell they’re going to break up any second. Yeah, I remember watching Shelter at the LA warped tour. I have all the respect for that band. When you lose members, you have problems with fan base, and, I don’t know, when that happens to me I’ll be, talk to me then.” Vinnie laughs.
Speaking of ex-members, I remember the last member that ‘went through’ Movielife seemed to get off on a bad note, at least from the vibe I felt. Not to talk shit, but does your ex-guitarist have a band? What happened with that? It sounded like you guys weren’t getting along with the direction of a band. Was his leaving the only solution? Does he have a band yet? “I have no idea. We left on good terms. Well, we left on good terms, those terms didn’t stay that way for a while. But now we’re cool with him. I honestly haven’t heard anything from or about him for a while.
Our final conversation involves something everyone should be concerned about: our impending war with Iraq. Not since the Vietnam War have there been this many protests in America against war. And that’s AFTER a possibly Iraq-linked terrorist attack hit out soil (although the ‘link’ connecting that to Iraq is shoddy at best). Not to mention the protests in other countries. Luckily, our non-majority elected president isn’t stirred, and is determined keep fucking with the whole middle east. As long as it means securing that black gold. Yeah, it’s all about oil, people. Not to go on a rant, but do you honestly think that, aside from the ‘problems’ we should be correcting there (like civil rights, Hussein, etc) it’s NOT about the oil? Would we give two fucks about that entire area if we weren’t oil dependent? “I don’t think we would give a fuck at all. And when I say we, I mean the US government” theorizes Vinnie.
And he is absolutely right. “You won’t find me talking about politics ever, but when it gets to this point, it effects us all.”
And the media hasn’t been too helpful, with talks about color levels and duct tape feeding peoples anxiety. (Do you pay attention to the news?) “I do read the paper every day, and I got to say, I am not in support for this war” Vinnie firmly says. “It’s real tough, because I love being American, which is something many people take for granted. I think the people that attacked us on September 11th need to get fucked, but at the same time, it’s turning into some oil fight. I don’t want to go to war. I don’t want my loved ones getting hurt. I want love. I’m always on tour, and I don’t want shit to happen while I’m away, you know? If shit goes down, I want to be home. I am against the war, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Here’s a tired question, and probably something that’s always in the back of your mind. Are you worried about an attack on NY? “It’s funny, because people do ask me that shit. You have to understand; every single week we get issued warnings and shit. People don’t know about that because they don’t live in New York, but it’s constantly there. There’s a terrorist threat, something’s going to go down in the next few days, and it doesn’t happen.” Vinnie pauses, then sighs. “I think shit is going to go down, and I don’t want it to. It sucks, but it’s going to happen. I really don’t want it to. It’s nothing new though, the threats. Every week, another bullshit warning.”
Where were you, on that September day? “We were on tour in Connecticut. We saw that shit on TV, piled in the van, and drove to Long Island and was back in the house by like, 2 in the afternoon, and tried to get in touch with our loved ones. It was a tough time, tough. Really difficult.”
Well, enough seriousness. Turn off the television, remove the duct tape from the door and go see the Movielife when they come to town. Hell, maybe buy a CD or something. Vinnie, you got a final message you want to get out? ” Thank you for taking the time, man. Everyone check out the record, it’s going to be a good thing.”