The band that gained traction by delivering high-energy performances à la James Brown shortly after forming in 2010 is back with a new EP on November 9—but this isn’t the same Vintage Trouble most fans have come to know. The aptly-named Chapter II shows the band moving in a new direction genre- and production-wise, embracing the kind of pop elements under producer Jeeve’s stewardship that made credited influences like Amy Winehouse and The Weeknd rise on the charts and trading the single-take live recording style for individual in-studio tracking. This isn’t to say that Vintage Trouble is becoming a pop band—far from it. There are more pop elements in Chapter II, but there’s also more funk, more reggae and more hip hop mixed into the rhythm and blues style that the band sought to embody on The Bomb Shelter Sessions and 1 Hopeful Rd. It’s a new chapter for these musicians who’ve had success with the styles that first inspired them to create but who are eager to explore beyond those genre bounds.
Even so, Vintage Trouble is proceeding delicately. The band members realize that this new EP has the potential to ostracize some fans, and that’s really the last thing they want to do. “I love that music can be something that fuses people together,” guitarist Nalle Colt recently told Blues Rock Review. “We’re a band that very much tries to incorporate our audience into our music.” To do so, Vintage Trouble decided to record acoustic versions of each new song that would serve as a bridge between the old style and the new. While the goal was to provide fans with “bare bones” versions of those recordings, what resulted was more like entirely new imaginings of each track, almost as if the band was attempting to cover itself with imaginative, all-acoustic spins. It’s a daring pivot for a band that’s gained critical acclaim for its musical chops and performance style—but then again, a move like this could be just what Vintage Trouble needs to avoid being pigeonholed into a genre that no longer rules the world.
The sound and texture of Chapter II is vastly different from past Vintage Trouble releases. I’ve read that this EP was far more influenced by pop music than past albums. How would you say your approach to this EP differed?
When we got together as a band, we all four came from very different kinds of worlds. Music style-wise, when we got together there was something that connected us: rhythm and blues, ’50s-style music. When we started making our first couple of records, we wanted to record like they did: going into the studio, setting up the whole band and recording. Personally, I love the idea of putting a band together in a room and playing. There’s a certain energy to that.
I love our prior records. We’ve always been known as a live band. We started talking about production to see what we could do to reach the radio more, to reach more people. We discussed a little about production and how to approach these songs we were sitting on to do something different. We hired a younger producer. The guys we were using for our old albums were using the approach of getting live takes in studio. This time, it was more important to make a more modern-sounding album. That meant for each of us recording our takes separately and getting a little more analytical about each part. It became a very different-sounding record.
It was fun to think about artwork for the album because we were using a lot of black and white, simple colors for our albums. This time we wanted to have all color. We went a whole 180 degrees and did something completely different. We’ve been getting feedback from our fans; some of them are startled by the direction we’re taking, but it’s fun. We’ve got to try to do different things. We’ve been getting a lot of positive critiques so far, too.
Why were you curious to explore what these new genres had to offer the band’s creative process?
A lot of it comes from us touring so much. When we started the band, we had a view of what we wanted to do. We’ve been on tour for the last seven years, and when you tour in Europe a lot of the shows are festivals where you see a lot of different bands, different directions. We had a whole bag of influences on our backs from touring so much. The urge to get a different sound…obviously Ty Taylor, he’s the main, sole writer in this band. He more than anyone was very into pop music and brought a lot of the stuff to us. He wanted to do more of a modern r&b style.
We obviously knew that a lot of our fans who’ve been following us for a long time would be startled by the direction we’re going in. I thought it’d be fun to have two sides to the new chapter; that was the idea originally with doing the acoustic versions, to have a more down-to-earth, basic style of recording. It took new life when we actually started doing it. When we came home, suddenly the decision was made to do acoustic versions of the same five tracks. It was to bring it down to a level where a lot of our older fans could grasp the concept of the songs. Once we started doing it though, it was fun because it became a different animal. Each of those tracks took on a whole new life. We did these acoustic recordings in Los Angeles. Suddenly, it’s two records, each on its own.
At the beginning of Chapter II, we were taking on new directions. There are many sides to Vintage Trouble. We did start doing [the acoustic tracks] with the bare bones, the chords and the melody and the lyrics. Those are what people connect with, so we took that and thought, Maybe we could throw music behind it. We were trying to take it out of the context.
The artwork for the polished studio tracks—which is very colorful and bright—is also different from the acoustic tracks artwork—which is black and white, more in the style of the original Vintage Trouble. What was the reasoning behind this artistic decision?
Originally when we started making this album cover, these colors came out of pop art. We were looking at some old Andy Warhol art; we were supposed to do a video for one of the songs on this new album. We sent an email out and asked each member of the band to pick three of their favorite colors. When I received the emails and saw the colors, I thought it’d be amazing if we had these stripes on the background with the band members in front.
You also had a different approach to the recording process for this EP. What was it like to track every song individually, as opposed to recording everything live? Was it difficult to feel as connected in the studio?
We’ve all been musicians our whole lives and have been in these situations before. With Vintage Trouble, there wasn’t that energy [in the studio] that we have as a band playing together. It became a little more analytical. When you listen to the album, it’s a much tighter album than you’d hear if it was recorded live, all together. All the parts were more analyzed; there were a lot more overdubs than we’d usually do. It was a little different, but once you start doing it, it opens the door to do more exciting things that you couldn’t do if you played together.
When we play these songs live, they’ll sound different. A lot of this also came from people in the computer age—we wanted to make an album where we could reach younger ears, make something they’re more used to hearing production-wise and sound-wise. Once we started digging into that, it took on a whole new life. It was exciting to find that you could take time and really make the parts fit together. Ty Taylor is a very great musician; he has a creative mind where he can hear a lot of the bass lines and guitar lines, drums, how they should fit together. It was more about fitting and taking our time finding ways to make the production sound a certain way.
As you’ve said, tracking separately allowed the band to add musical elements that you wouldn’t have been able to while recording live. In what ways do you feel that this paved the way for additional creativity?
A new sound on this record is the keyboards. We added keyboards to open a whole other perspective of music. It’s fun; in a way, we were painting with three to four colors before on albums and now we have this massive color palate where we can throw them all on the wall.
This EP sounds like a sonic melting pot of sorts, especially on “Crystal Clarity.” What were the sources of inspiration for that song in particular?
One thing about this album: This is the first time we connected with outside songwriters. There are a few guys who were part of these songs that are not members of the band. For “Crystal Clarity,” we were traveling around before we went to the Cayman Islands, where a lot of these songs were written. We wanted to get new inspiration and told our management to start looking for producers and songwriters who we could connect with.
With “Crystal Clarity,” we flew to Miami and met the producer and songwriter StreetRunner. He’s done a lot of work with Eminem and other rappers. Very different from what we are doing. We thought it’d be a great idea to go to his studio and go in as a band and see what came out the other end. It became an interesting thing, because it’s obviously a very hip hop-oriented song. What we made came out quite differently. When we went to the Cayman Islands, the studio we had was incredible. It was a house that was right next to the ocean, so you could literally walk out the studio, down the stairs to the blue water. We were out swimming one day, and we were talking about that song and Ty said, “It feels so James Bond over here.” We started approaching the song and had almost James Bond-themed music. A lot of the chords on the guitar are from that genre: the vintage James Bond movie. We took that concept, and I thought it came together really cool.
A few songs on this album had very different phases from the beginning to the end. Another song I should mention is “Can’t Stop Rollin’,” that was one of the first songs we wrote when we started talking about taking more of a pop direction. We were sharing Spotify tracks between us, and I was listening to The Weeknd; there was something about his vocals that I liked. That ended up being the beginning of “Can’t Stop Rollin’.” Once we got to the Cayman Islands, we started talking about The Police, “Message in a Bottle.” The music behind it is very inspired by The Police. It was cool to take these songs through different phases.
Some of the artists the band has name-dropped as influencing this EP (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, Adele, The Weeknd) also create music in styles that exist between the pop and vintage worlds. Were you more inspired by their music or by the styles they’ve shared with listeners?
Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black was groundbreaking. We were really inspired by ’50s music, and when her album came out it was cool because it was very much a retro kind of music but it had a modern production. When we decided to make our first couple of albums, we wanted to make them live. But on this record, Amy Winehouse came up a lot—how she found a way to make a modern dance beat but still feel like she had one foot in ’50s music. Once we started on the production, we went one step further than Amy Winehouse, as far as pop production. Our producer, Jeeve, he has a very pop-ish background, is a very musical guy. [The EP] took on more of a pop life than we thought it would, but it was fun.
I’d like to discuss “The Battle’s End,” because both versions of the song are quite different. What call-to-action inspired the lyrics?
The song was written by Ty and our producer. I think the message is super important. We have to find an end, to stand up and say, “This is not okay.” We’ve been very muted, and I don’t know if it’s because of the internet and the way we’re living now. We’re just accepting that things are happening. It’s not okay. It’s not okay that someone goes into a club and shoots 10 people or goes into a synagogue and shoots people who are praying. We can be the battle’s end if we want to be, but we’ve got to stand up and say something. We hide behind our Facebook and Instagram accounts and feel like we’re opinionated, but we aren’t willing to stand face-to-face and say, “This is not okay.”
This song is super important now because I don’t know what it’s going to take to understand that we have to take a stand. The whole world is falling apart around us environmentally, and we don’t seem to care about it. We have to start caring about each other and caring about the earth we’re living in. When we approached the acoustic version, it was political; it is about standing up and saying, “This is not right.” One artist that came up for us who was always very important in that way was Bob Marley. That’s why the song ended up being very reggae-inspired. A lot of his songs had that same message. It’s not okay to just leave it be. You can be the battle’s end if you want to be.
Vintage Trouble seems to be entering a period in which you’re taking more risks, exploring new opportunities creatively and redefining who the band is and what you want to achieve musically. What are your goals for the band’s future?
My goal is always the same. I grew up playing music, and there’s something about playing with my brothers. We were just part of a music cruise that was going to the Bahamas. We were playing on this ship and we did some shows on the boat there; it was fun. I’m looking at my brothers in the band, playing music and getting people to react. I love that music can be something that fuses people together. We’re a band that very much tries to incorporate our audience into our music. Whether that comes through dancing, singing, clapping, we want them to be part of it. It’s an amazing feeling to be a musician and artist, to stand on a stage and connect with an audience. It makes me so happy.
I believe we’re bringing some kind of happiness to people in a world that can be pretty dark. That’s my goal: to be on a stage, playing and sharing music with people. My goal for the next two years…we worked really hard on this EP. My goal is that we can reach more people than we ever have before and keep traveling and playing.
People love music and people want to connect. For us, it’s important to send that message of hope and peace around the world. If we can do that and be part of it, that will always be my goal. I hope it can continue.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers and your listeners to know about Vintage Trouble or Chapter II?
If you have questions, get in contact with us; we’re very personable on social media. Send us messages, because we do get them and reply to them personally. One thing that is important to Vintage Trouble is that we want to connect with people, so connect with us and stay in touch. We’ll be right there.
Interview by Meghan Roos