From Mountains to Mainstream

HM’s Sean Huncherick takes an honest look at the band, From Indian Lakes, and its brainchild, songwriter Joey Vannucchi


I’ve got a confession: I really like sad, introspective music. I’m not talking about whiny break­up songs or overly depressing bands like Xiu Xiu that sing for shock value. I’m talking about songs like “Casimer Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens or “Funeral” by Devin Townsend. Anyone can write a sad song, but few can write a genuine one, one worth learning from.

When a band can see a problem and reflect on it in a meaningful way, I’m sold. Joey Vannucchi, the man behind From Indian Lakes, sees the beauty of melancholy. The band’s new album, Absent Sounds, shows the Californian singer wrestling through the joys and sorrows of death and life. All sides are painted with careful thought and precision. He took the time to talk with HM about his stressful times as one indie music’s newest breakthrough artists.

HM: How are you doing?
Joey Vannucchi: I’m great, just hanging out up in the mountains. No big deal. Just the mountains.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. You said you’re from California?
Yeah. I’m up near Yosemite National Park.

Do you ever miss (the mountains) when you go out on the road?
It depends on where we are. If I’m in Colorado, I don’t miss it that much. If I’m in Chicago, I don’t miss it that much for different reasons; there’s so much good stuff to distract me. But sometimes, if I’m in New York or somewhere in the Midwest, yeah. Those are the times when I (miss home).

Is there a reason places like Chicago stick out more than New York?
I just really love Chicago. New York is more of a love-hate relationship because (my) only experiences are from tour. The shows I’ve played there come with a lot of baggage (laughs).

How is a show in a city like New York different than any other show?
It just depends on the night and the staff. Our first time through New York City on (a) big tour was just very (stressful). Load-in was insane.

I’m sure.
You’re in traffic for a couple hours once you get into the city. The staff at those bigger ballrooms and theaters can be very harsh if you’re not that important.

Also, those memories I have in New York City were (from) when we were desperate for the right people to come see us play. We had 30 people on our guest list and they were all industry people (laughs).

So you have this show where you went through all this and then the staff might have been pretty harsh. Maybe you had the worst sound you’ve ever had.
I remember playing a show at the one of the nicest venues in the whole city. It was such a big deal for us at the time. There were a bunch of labels there and all these people from Sony and MTV.

We only had 25 minutes in this opening slot on tour and the bass wasn’t even on for two of the songs.

Oh dear.
It was really harsh. Then, after 15 minutes, they were like, “Alright. You guys are done,” and they ended our set. Apparently, there was a typo in the sound guy’s set time schedule. Instead of thinking, “Oh, there’s no way this band on tour is only playing for 15 minutes,” he just (said), “You guys are done.” We only played three, maybe four, songs, and we didn’t have bass on two of them.

I remember our bass player was so upset at that point. Normally, we get along really well with tech and sound guys because we’re a quiet, technical band. We really care about being friendly.

Our bass player was visibly upset as we were loading off. Then the sound guy (said) to our bass player, “Hey, you guys are scaring off my interns. Don’t be pissed.” We found out that everybody running our set were all just interns. Everything about it was horrible (laughs).

Have you been to New York since then?
Yeah, that’s the thing. Since then, we played at the Best Buy Theater to 1,800 people. That went really well. We came back through and headlined a packed out Webster Hall. Everybody at Webster Hall was so great. Everybody that worked there was awesome.

How would you explain From Indian Lakes?
OK. I don’t know. What do you know about From Indian Lakes?

To be honest, I’ve actually followed you guys for a while now, probably since Cornerstone 2010 or something. It’s been a long while.
Wow, that’s crazy.

I remember seeing you on generator stages. So personally, I know a little bit. But for readers that aren’t as familiar with From Indian Lakes, what would you say about them?
I would say that From Indian Lakes is … umm … Me?

(Laughs) How about some background information?
Basically, I’ve been writing and recording music for the past several years. My best friends help me do band stuff and play music. That’s how it’s been since the beginning. Now we’re on a label and we’ve been on some cool tours.

Actually, one of the first cool things we ever did was play Cornerstone Festival.

When was that?
It had to be 2010, I think, like you said.

That’s what I was thinking.
It was interesting because we’re not a Christian band. I’ve never really been a religious person, but it was one of those things where we’ve always liked to play where we’re invited.

When we got there, it was all screaming bands. We pulled out of our shuttle hippie bus (and) screaming was coming from seven different directions. It was crazy.

Metalcore everywhere.
It was cool. Some bands, at first, don’t want to do stuff with Christian bands or events like that.

That led to the next tour. The first legit tour we did was with a Tooth and Nail band and a band on Goatee Records, which is a Christian label. We were like, obviously, this is going to gain us a lot of people who think we’re Christian. But at the same time, fans are fans. Do we want to be snobs like the bands who aren’t on tour because they’re too cool?

We started there. I’m really surprised how we were able to come out of that since then. I’d say the majority of our fans now don’t associate us with (Christianity). Not saying it’s bad or anything, but it’s a weird place to be in if you’re not interested in it.

You don’t want to make it seem like you’re something that you’re not.
Totally. That’s why even when they told me about this interview, I was like, “Is that cool? Do you think that’s the right thing?” I was a little worried. I don’t want to (act) like we’re Christians and have people who like the band go, like, “Oh! I knew they weren’t Christians!”

If it helps, we cover a wide variety of artists. We had The Used on the cover and they are by no means believers.
(Laughs) Oh yeah?

I’m probably more pessimistic toward a lot of Christian music than I should be, but something really cool about this magazine is that we talk with bands that make good music and a message relevant to faith. A lot of them happen to have a faith-based background and that’s great. Some of them don’t, but it’s cool. I’m glad that you guys are able to make yourselves known for who you are. It’s really good to see. Actually, that same year you played Cornerstone, are you familiar with David Bazan?
Oh yeah, I love Bazan.

I believe he played that year as well. At that point, he was outspokenly atheist or agnostic but was playing at Cornerstone anyway. (Editor’s Note: He played 2009, not 2010.)
Crazy. I don’t know why I didn’t know that he played.

It was a really good show. I love Bazan.
I love him. I was just listening to him on the Nerdist, which is my favorite website of all time. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. Chris Hardwick started it. He’s this comedian, nerd guy. He interviews everyone. The last one I listened to was Patrick Stewart and Tom Cruise.

There was an interview on there with David Bazan that was incredible. It was, like, two hours long.

Dude, that sounds really cool. Is that a recent one?
Yeah, that’s a recent one. It’s with Pete Holmes. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him; he’s a late night comedian. It’s him interviewing David Bazan. The insight was just crazy. It was so cool.

Sure. As soon as I’m done with this interview, I’m probably going to check that out.
Check it out. It’s one of those things that I put on in the kitchen while I was doing other stuff. It was really cool to hear both of their stories. David Bazan. He’s a really interesting guy.

Am I correct that you started out as a solo artist?
I think people translated it as I was a solo artist because I didn’t have a band to play it with me. (But) I never really was a solo artist. I wrote and recorded music, then when I was invited to tour, my friends played with me. We haven’t stopped (playing together). When I say that I “started writing, recording and then I got my friends to play with me,” people usually are like, “OK, you were solo artist.” Not really. Because we tour so often, the focus is on the full group of friends.

Did you do all the songwriting for Absent Sounds, or was it a collaboration?
No, I did all the songwriting.

Cool. Tell me about Absent Sounds. I know it’s coming out in early October. What do you have to say about the release?
I’m really excited. I’m surprised at the reaction to everything so far. It’s kind of unbelievable. I don’t think most bands get such a great reaction from people with new music that’s different than previous music.

Definitely, and this is praise by everyone from Huffington Post to Paste Magazine.
Yeah, it’s really strange. It’s cool. When you write and record a bunch of new stuff, no matter how good you think it might be, if the first comment is, “This sucks,” you just assume that it’s going to spiral out of control (laughs).

Especially if you’re doing anything even slightly experimental.
Yeah. I mean, a lot of our fans are in bands. They don’t realize they want to hear what they want to hear. You can just see that. It’s really cool for those guys and all the other types of fans that we have to love this get excited for the new record. That’s awesome.

You’ve got a pretty diverse fan base. I remember checking up on Facebook the day before interviewing you. The first comment I saw was from the drummer of Rings of Saturn, which is a metal band. It’s pretty cool to see random band members from different bands get excited about this project.
That’s awesome. It’s very interesting to be associated and to know people from a lot of different bands. I mean, we went on tour with Rx Bandits and the Deerhunter, but we also went on tour with Lydia and The Maine.

And you’re going on tour with Relient K throughout November.
Yeah, that was so random and cool.

I’m excited for that. I’ll probably catch the Columbus date of the Relient K, From Indian Lakes tour.
The other band that’s on that tour is so crazy good.

Who’s the other band?
They’re called Blondfire. I love their record. It’s really, really good. It’s a cool tour. I’ve always thought of Relient K from hearing them on the radio every day when I was in high school. I thought they’re a pretty good band. They have some really good songs. For them to come out and see us play in Texas and then a little bit later have Hoops text me, “Hey, man. You want to go on tour?” That’s so great. (It was) a very weird (situation). It’s the most casual tour situation I’ve ever been in.

Tour stuff is usually really annoying. You end up on tour with people and you’re like, “Oh, man. These are, like, the best guys I’ve ever met in my whole life,” but getting to that point and dealing with people’s teams can be (difficult). You usually have to jump through hoops when you’re getting started. It’s whatever.

Now that we’ve done a headlining tour, we realize that we’re the band making other people jump through hoops. It’s not that fun.

Now that you guys are signed with Triple Crown Records, are you still doing the booking or do you have someone else doing the booking for you?
We have a booking agent in the States right now, and then I’ve been talking to a couple different international booking agents.

We’ve been working with our American booking agent for over a year, maybe two. I don’t remember.

It makes it a little bit easier as far as booking tours, I’m sure.
Oh, man. It’s a lot easier (laughs). Booking tours is really awful.

I know a handful of people that find some kind of enjoyment in it. It doesn’t sound enjoyable.
I don’t know why anyone would ever enjoy it.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same people that find enjoyment in working out taxes. It’s a puzzle.
Totally. It really is just dissecting numbers and paperwork. When you’re starting out and you’re booking your own stuff, it’s just awful. Justin, our guitar player on tour, started off booking shows.

When you think you’re going to draw five people, trying to get a promoter to cut you a break and give you some money is impossible. You can’t blame them. Why would you do that unless you just like throwing shows and you like our band?

Exactly. Other than that, you don’t expect them to lose money on getting you guys over and then give you extra money. It’s difficult starting out.
It’s pretty rough at first, but having a booking agent, getting more popular, playing shows and actually making money helps make it easier. Sometimes it’s still very surreal, even if it’s not that big of a deal to some people.

You guys came from being independent for a number of years. Now that you guys are signed to a label, have you noticed that affecting the band?
That’s one of the things you just decide to jump into. You’d like to think that everything that’s happening is because of the label. We’ve been getting a lot of really great press and a lot of cool features and different stuff. I’m assuming that it all comes from being on a label. I could maybe think that we’d still be getting that stuff if we were independent, but I find that hard to believe.

Do you think the label has influenced you guys musically?
Oh, no. Not at all. Fred, who owns the label, called me one time during the six weeks I was in the studio. I only showed him and the rest of the guys three or four crappy demos.

It was actually a scary time at that point because I had a lot of good stuff in my head I thought was just going to be amazing, but I couldn’t figure it out in time to make any decent demos. I was just like, “Well, it’s studio time. Let’s just work it out with the engineer that I’ve worked with for every release.”

Fred called me after a couple weeks and was like, “How is everything sounding?” I just said, “Everything is sounding awesome.” He replied, “Cool. Can’t wait to hear it” (laughs).

That’s good.
I don’t think that would ever happen with most labels.

No. The structure of a label has changed. That’s really good to hear, because that could have been problematic for sure.
Totally. I’m definitely lucky to be in the position I was in because I thought maybe they’d upset. Even a lot of my band guys were coming into the studio and saying, “Oh, this song sounds really good. I like this song.” It was weird, because before we would have all been in the same town hanging out all the time. I would be showing them things every day.

It’s such a different situation that we’re in, now, with (From Indian Lakes) turning into a career. The label and everybody that I work with didn’t want to put any pressure on me or something. I don’t know, it’s weird. Everybody was just like, “Well, do whatever.”

The writing became organic. They let me do my thing. Like I said, I’m glad that everybody’s reacting so well to everything. I’m free to do whatever I want. Once it was done, it almost added twice as much pressure because I was like, “Oh, crap. What if I was blinded by freedom?” You know what I mean?

You don’t want to let them down.
I didn’t want to let anybody down. The fact that everybody’s been so cool and everything’s going so well has been a huge weight off my shoulders.

Good! I’ve heard a handful of songs off the album while preparing for the interview. I love what it sounds like so far.
Thanks, man.

What songs standout to you on the album?
I’m particularly happy with this one song called “Awful Things.” It’s kind of a slow song, but not really. It’s slow in tempo, I guess. It just has this Death Cab, Shins feel. Drew (our producer), ran the whole drum kit through a reverb tank and one of my amps. All the backup vocals are really low-fi, ghostly sounding. It just has this cool vibe and I get to do this cool guitar solo that I was really proud of. It just has a lot of stuff that I’m really happy with. I just think it’s cool. We’ll see what you think.

The video is really good too; we have videos for most of the songs, which I’m really excited about.

(The videos) were really hard. Most bands don’t spend the money and put in the time to have a different director for every single song on the record and all that. And if they do a music video, it’s a crappy video of them playing a song in the woods or something.

Totally. So far, all the videos are amazing. I’m so excited.
For sure. The concept of a music video is a brilliant thing when it’s done well. At this point, I don’t see very many bands using music videos to actually tell a story. Instead, it’s just a clip of them playing.

The video I was drawn to was the one for “Ghosts.” I enjoyed it. How do you think the video helps show the song’s meaning?
I think the whole album deals with a lot of death and ghostliness, and the song “Ghosts” is one that has a lot of lyrics that are very literal. The director, Matt Palmer, is incredible.

If you want to see, he has this documentary called Friends of Mine. It’s great.

He’s super creative. When we were discussing the story and the shots (for “Ghosts”), it felt right to shoot really beautiful ways of everybody becoming ghosts, sort of a prequel of ghostliness. I don’t know how to explain it. You’ll see the rest of the videos when they come out. All the videos are connected in different ways, which is really exciting, because it’s all different directors. It’s all very cool.

(For) this one, it was cool to be so blunt about people dying, I guess.

Definitely. Who puts together the concepts for the music videos?
I do.

Cool. I’m thrilled to see all the other ones coming out. You mentioned that one of the main themes on the album is death. What message do you want people to get out of it?
I dealt with a lot of death in the last couple years, so that affected me and my writing greatly. I think part of the record is finding happiness in death. There are (also) songs that are not sad that still deal with questions about life, death and all that sort of stuff.

Trying to write a record around those themes (that’s not) some super heavy record (is hard). I’m dealing with the darkest themes I’ve ever dealt with and trying to write the most beautiful music (I can) — and not always sad songs. Hopefully people don’t have to be depressed to enjoy the record (laughs).

Have you ever found it hard to write happier songs in your genre?
Oh yeah, for sure. I’ve written songs about having a hard time writing happy songs (laughs).

Some people write happy songs but they’re depressed, and I think for some people, it’s an outlet. Personally, I feel that I keep coming back to writing sad songs and getting out negative thoughts through art. I guess that’s just my personality. It’s what comes naturally.

There’s something beautiful about that too, though.
Yeah, totally. I definitely think it’s a struggle for me, because I see a lot of kids who tag us with all these different emo bands they listen to. I really don’t like most of the bands that are putting out emo or sad music now.

Personally, I want things to be beautiful. I don’t care about being raw for the sake of being raw, and I definitely don’t want to write two lines that are depressing for the sake of being depressing. I want it to be as poetic as possible, and I think a lot of bands and songwriters sometimes forget about the poetry. So yeah, I strive to reach that melancholy and sometimes ethereal vibe and be very poetic.

One of my favorite bands of all time, which a lot of people would never realize, is Deftones. It’s funny, because people who aren’t fans of Deftones just see them as this nu-metal band who went on tour with Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit. To super fans like me, I think Chino is a genius and they’re one of the most beautiful bands. He has a way of writing stuff that you can interpret 50 different ways, but everybody winds up with this feeling of staring out the window at the sky and focusing on sad things, but in a beautiful way. I don’t know how to explain it better.

I totally agree. There’s a huge difference between melancholy and depressing, especially when you’re being depressing for the sake of being depressing.
I think emo and indie artists can feed an audience depressing lyrics the same way any pop artist can feed an audience sex or whatever is selling. A lot of bands kids are big fans of, I’m not really a fan of. When I hear their music or I see what they’re doing, I get this weird feeling they’re not that genuine.

From Indian Lakes was posted on October 6, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .