Lineup changes lead to opportunity as Cincinnati’s Vacation develops a more multidimensional sound

The band's latest effort, 'Southern Grass: The Continuation of Rock ’n’ Roll,' is a double LP.

Aug 23, 2017 at 11:11 am
click to enlarge Vacation - Photo: Rachel McNeal
Photo: Rachel McNeal

Vacation might be the most inappropriately named band in the Cincinnati music scene. 

Three years after the formation of one of the city’s most vibrant Punk/Pop outfits, the band’s Jerri Queen (drums) and Peyton Copes (bass) joined guitarist/vocalist Bridget Battle as Tweens, juggling both bands’ gigs thereafter. That pathological desire to make music remains strong for Queen. He moved to the guitarist role in Vacation and left Tweens when Copes decided to become a tour manager, but Queen has since joined three other bands — Mardou, Black Planet and The Switzerlands. 

Vacation’s other current members are also multi-banded. Drummer Dylan McCartney fronts Mardou and also plays in The Switzerlands, while bassist Evan Wolff fronts his own hometown band, Pretty Pretty, in Columbus, Ohio. Guitarist John Hoffman moonlights with Swim Team and records and performs as a solo artist.

“We love the punishment,” Queen jokes.

Much of that “punishment” involves the recording studio. Queen and Hoffman are also among the most notable recording engineers in Greater Cincinnati, working with some of the area’s more widely known bands, including Leggy, The Dopamines and Wussy. On top of that, Mardou just issued a new album and Vacation’s double album, Southern Grass: The Continuation of Rock ’n’ Roll Vol. 1 & 2, is on the verge of release. 

Southern Grass is Vacation’s first album since Hoffman became a full member — though he contributed heavily to 2015’s Non-Person — so the creative process was vastly different. But Queen says some of that was also due to a wobbly motor on the 8-track cassette machine the album’s sessions began on. With Wolff’s time in Cincinnati limited, plans were reconfigured on the fly and the digital machine the band used for its first demos was redeployed. 

“We ended up doing it in our basement on that,” Queen says. “It wasn’t fancy and we probably turned out my favorite stuff.”

Southern Grass offers an interesting pastiche of styles, as Vacation gathers Pop, New Wave and Classic Rock elements under its Punk umbrella. Some of those stylistic shifts are indicative of all four band members contributing songs to the process. 

“It may sound collage-y because all four of us write, but I feel like we all have defined styles,” Queen says. 

The idea for a diverse double album arose when Queen and Hoffman were in the studio with a band that didn’t rely on just one or two writers for material, resulting in a disparate and varied sound.

“All these people contributed these different songs to this one band,” Hoffman says. “I realized, ‘Oh man, we can do that.’ ”

“We’re kind of like Fleetwood Mac,” Queen adds.

“The new Vacation record is like Fleetwood Mac does Use Your Illusion 1 and 2,” Wolff clarifies.

The seeds of Southern Grass — which will be available on cassette and as a two-vinyl set with a download code — were planted when Vacation was working on Non-Person. McCartney had become roommates with Queen and they were playing together with McCartney on drums, leading Queen back to the guitar.   

“(Previously) I was writing most of the songs on guitar and showing them to Peyton — he and Evan would add whatever and (then) I’d play them on drums,” Queen says. “Dylan and I were playing tunes and I was like, ‘Hey, you do all these parts better than I do.’ ”

With McCartney on drums, Vacation played some shows as a quartet and started the sessions for Non-Person. But Copes left shortly after recording began. Hoffman, who was working on the album behind the boards, ended up contributing more to the sessions musically in Copes’ absence. 

Non-Person was more production and a bit higher fidelity,” Queen says. “This new one was, ‘Let’s get together and see what we can do when we play live.’ It was more bare bones and the songs were short and sweet.”

Hoffman became a full-fledged member of Vacation after Non-Person was released and the newly forged foursome began a grueling tour regimen. That tour galvanized the lineup’s chemistry and sparked ideas for a new album. All four members quickly compiled an impressive song archive, and between the equipment issue and Wolff’s time restraint, Vacation recorded Southern Grass’ 32 tracks in just four days. 

“A lot of them, we learned the tune, hit record, played until we got a good take and moved on,” Queen says. “We did leave the imperfections in, because that’s how we play live.”

Even with that warts-and-all attitude and lo-fi approach to Southern Grass, Vacation’s dynamic has grown immeasurably with the lineup’s shift and expansion. Both McCartney and Hoffman came in as fans. Though McCartney says he didn’t consider his impact on the band to any great extent, Hoffman was nervous. He didn’t want to screw up Vacation.

“Which is funny, because I’m usually the guy that pretty much consistently fucks up,” Hoffman says. “But I knew I could make a bunch of noise if I fucked up because I saw Peyton do that constantly.”

Queen notes that the current version of Vacation has been doing considerably less “spazzy noise stuff,” with the interplay between the musicians providing a new sonic palette.

“I do think that dynamic shift finally clicked once we started playing these new songs,” Hoffman says. “Instead of me just being given songs to play, there were songs where I had come up with my own parts. And that’s when it turned into a guitar band.”

Although Vacation is solid now, Queen admits that Copes’ departure could easily have ended the band if not for McCartney’s arrival. When he considers his role as Vacation’s savior, he offers a Zen-like observation.

“I feel like glue,” McCartney says. “I feel like the extra glue you peeled off your hands when you’re 7.”

“As a wise man once said,” Queen interjects, “ ‘I don’t want to be the glue that keeps us together, I want to be the glue that gets us high.’ ”

So much for Southern Grass.

VACATION plays an album-release show at 6 p.m. Saturday at Shake It Records with special guest Chuck Cleaver. More info: