With the Vans Warped Tour now in it’s 19th year, we’ve assembled a few unique features that open up the general community to artists considered influential and must-sees on this summer’s trek. Both ALLISON WEISS and VINNIE CARUANA (I Am The Avalanche, Peace’d Out) will be joining this year’s Acoustic Basement alongside the likes of Ace Enders, William Beckett, and The American Scene, hoping to further kick out their love for testing new ground. We connected the two via a phone call to highlight their personal inspirations, how festivals are creating their own acoustic stages and why honesty really does go a long way when it comes to being a singer-songwriter.
If Warped Tour’s on your checklist this summer, make sure to catch both Allison Weiss and Vinnie Caruana at the Acoustic Basement. You can find a list of dates and artist/lineup info for this year’s stages at the tour’s website.
Acoustic music is often stereotyped as being about love or heartbreak. Do you think this is fair?
VINNIE CARUANA: I think it’s ridiculous that it is. I think acoustic music is the same as all music. The content can range from anywhere that music would normally range from.
ALLISON WEISS: I think the people that think acoustic music is only about love are people that don’t really listen to a lot of music in general. In the past there was the whole folk movement of the ’60s and whatever, and that was not a lot of love songs, you know? I think music is just music, and just because something’s acoustic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about love. With mainstream music nowadays, if there’s an acoustic song on the radio, it’s probably a love song.
VINNIE: There are a lot of stereotypes. Some of them just make me thing of that scene in Animal House where John Belushi smashes that guy’s guitar (laughs).
On the flip side of that question, is there an ideal subject for an acoustic song?
VINNIE: I don’t approach it any differently and I don’t think an acoustic song has to be about something specific. I approach it like I approach any sort of music that I’m working on.
ALLISON: I agree. There’s not an ideal subject for acoustic music. I feel like most of us play acoustically because either we don’t feel like we need a band for a song or we don’t have a band for the song. The style has never really been big on songs lyrically.
In what ways is playing a stripped-down set different from playing with a band?
VINNIE: Playing a stripped-down set is just a completely different feeling. I’m like a different frontman when I’m away from my band. I’m like two different people. I get very talkative when I’m playing solo and then it turns into story time, and with the band I’m way less like that. Not to sound redundant, but it’s definitely way more intimate. It’s got a different feeling where there’s nothing to hide behind, and that’s good as it makes you a better musician and it makes you write better songs. Because there’s no noise to make it sound like something different. You have to write great songs to be successful playing a guitar on your own on stage.
ALLISON: I agree completely. For me, I started out playing acoustic and now I have a band, and again, now I’m going out on my own on Warped Tour. I’ve just found that an acoustic show is a lot more like free-flowing if that makes sense. Like when I play with a band, we have a setlist and we follow it, and we have transitions between songs, and there’s some talking but for the most part it doesn’t really change. When I play an acoustic show, I don’t have to stick to any sort of formula. So if somebody in the audience wants to hear a song and I can remember how to play it, then I can go for it. As a result, I feel like acoustic shows are more intimate and spontaneous, and there’s definitely more talking. I’d say they’re fun, and they’re not less fun than playing with a band. It’s just a different ballgame.
As you’re both on Vans Warped Tour this summer, do you think the intimacy and spontaneity of a set is what makes the Acoustic Basement special?
VINNIE: I think so. It’s pretty rare to have this kind of stage at a punk festival. These days it’s becoming more common as I just got back from Europe and even the total punk festivals over there are getting into acoustic side stages and stuff, which is really cool. I’m really stoked that’s happening.
ALLISON: Yeah, totally. It’s awesome that it’s happening and it’s cool. You said in the first question about how acoustic songs being about love has become a stereotype – I feel like the fact that Vans and other festivals inviting acoustic musicians to perform is going to help teach more people that just because a song is performed acoustically, it doesn’t mean that it’s sappy or like a folk song. It turns out that you can be in an acoustic punk band and I think we all need to see more of that.
I remember I was at Warped Tour in Toronto last year and I visited the acoustic stage to see Anti-Flag play their set, and it was definitely a different experience.
VINNIE: The fans just love it. It’s a different experience, man, especially if it’s your favourite band or your favourite artist. Last year, I was playing with my band and doing the acoustic stage so I was playing two different sets a day, and for the people that really love your band and your music, they get to see you twice and in two different kind of vibes. As a music fan, I would love that if I went to a festival or a show.
When you guys are writing songs, is there anything you attempt to do to set yourself apart from different singer-songwriters?
VINNIE: I’ve never fought what comes out, as I always just let it come out. I think it’s worth it to not try too hard to be anything. Honesty goes a long way and hopefully what naturally comes out is good.
ALLISON: I don’t really write or try to sound a certain way or not sound a certain way. I feel like it doesn’t matter because if you try to do that, then you probably are trying a little bit too hard.
Ten years ago, could you ever imagine yourself experimenting with an acoustic set?
VINNIE: Probably not. I was singing in a band and I didn’t play guitar, and I was very dependent on other people to make music for me. I think ten years ago, I definitely didn’t have my shit together.
ALLISON: For me, I was in high school ten years ago, just learning to play and write acoustic songs on guitar (laughs). This is exactly where I imagine I would be (laughs).
Considering you both look up to songwriters of the past, who would you love to see covering one of your songs or taking inspiration from your material?
VINNIE: Tom Petty for sure. If he was like, “Hey Vin, what’s up? I like that song,” I’d be like, “Yeah!”.
ALLISON: Fuck yeah, Tom Petty – 100 per cent. I’m going to have to agree on the Tom Petty front. He’s the man. Somebody like Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional would be cool. I recently met him when I was at SXSW, and I gave him my new record and he really liked it. That was amazing for me because when I was 16 and I first started playing acoustic guitar, it was because of Dashboard and bands from that scene. I feel like if anybody who I listened to when I was teenager liked my record, I’d be dying inside (laughs).
In what ways does stripping down the aggressive and electric sounds allow you to be yourself in front of an audience?
VINNIE: I think it shows the true colours in a song. It really shows the listener the words and the bare bones, and that this is the most organic thing that they’re going to get from you.
ALLISON: If a song still rules and it can stick – that’s really the tell-tale rules of a really great song. Like Vin said, I love plenty of songs that sound cool just because of the way they sound and the way they’ve been produced. For me, the best songs are the songs you can play in an acoustic tent because that’s so amazing in itself. Like I love the fact that you mentioned Tom Petty because you can play any of his songs on acoustic guitar and they’re fucking perfect. An acoustic setting is where you get to hear all the words and you get to actually listen to the song.