What is it about this quartet of ruffians in ripped jeans, The Vacation, that?s so compelling?
The complete answer begins with the birth of identical twins, singer Ben and guitarist Steve Tegel in Granite City, a small steel-mill town in southern Illinois. If ever fate conspired to create the classic, bipartite nucleus of a psychically tight rock ?n? roll band, this was it: a singer and guitarist linked by a bond stronger than that of the Glimmer or Toxic Twins, and born as providence must have intended, in a hard rock city.
Raised on a diet of blues, classic rock ?n? roll, avant-garde and a double helping of garage and punk, the Tegel brothers? brains were hard-wired for sound by the age of ten, when they moved to ?the generic, sprawling, suburban wasteland surrounding St. Louis.?
After attempting college, each arrived home to find the other in a similar frame of mind. Ben and Steve began writing songs immediately and decided once and for all, to leave home and pursue music together. ?I couldn?t stay in the Midwest,? says Ben. ?I knew I was either going to move to New York or LA. There?s something about LA, though ? it emits this warm, radioactive glow that seems to attract all of the people who are looking for something else.?
So at the dawn of the 21st century, the Tegel twins found themselves in a working class Chicano neighborhood in Hollywood, moving into a small bungalow. The brothers soon began trying out their new material at the Kibitz Room, an unrepentant dive-bar connected to Canter?s Deli, a West Hollywood institution and a 24-hour rock ?n? roll favorite. Eric ?Dutch? Suoninen happened to be there one night while the brothers jammed during an open-mic; he jumped up onstage and joined them on bass. He quickly found himself a member of the group and the three began gigging under the name, ?the Sons.?
Suoninen eventually introduced the Tegels to a drummer he?d been jamming with, a Motown/James Brown/Funkadelic fanatic from East Baltimore who had groove in spades. Denny Weston, Jr. was already an acknowledged pro, a session man. He too became enchanted with the sweaty, swaggering rock ?n? roll these ?Sons? had begun exploring and couldn?t say no to joining the band.
Ben quickly developed into a classic frontman in the ?wild child? mold of Iggy Pop ? dancing, stage-diving, cartwheeling, spitting, convulsing ? doing anything to get a reaction out of his audience. It worked. The next logical step was to record.
Tony Hoffer, an established producer with numerous multi-platinum records to his credit immediately agreed to book studio time with the boys. A fan of the band?s raucous live shows, Hoffer?s principal aim was to hit the record button and get out of the way. ?Tony?s whole thing was, ?I want it to sound like it does at the Kibitz Room??almost like a little bit of beer got spilled on the tape.? The small English label Fierce Panda ? renowned for discovering Supergrass and Coldplay ? jumped at the chance to release the four-song EP.
A maelstrom of hard-rock guitar, thundering bass, sweaty drums and bravura vocals, ?White Noise? cranks up the set with a two-note riff. Ben filled its acid-punk grooves with the chilling imagery of a paranoid schizophrenic?s nervous breakdown. ?When I wrote it, I was thinking of the perspective of a bored suburban teenager. But I also wanted to express the way an oversaturation with technology and information, the Internet, TV, everything can just be too much?white noise so loud, it interrupts your stream of consciousness.?
The song was an obvious monster hit and it had friends that were just as scary: the hardcore-tempoed punk-powderkeg, ?Make Up Your Mind,? the glam-tinged kiss-off ?No Hard Feelings? and the apocalyptic blues of ?Liquid Lunch.? The four-song, musical calling card was as good as any in recent history.
The next triumph for The Vacation came when they were approached to play at Reading and Leeds, the UK?s premier rock festivals. On the eve of their departure overseas, however, while the band were still considering titles for their EP, they became aware of another band with the name, ?the Sun.? Rather than risk confusion just as they embraced a new, international audience, the group decided to adopt a new moniker. And so ?the Sons? became ?The Vacation? and appropriately titled their debut EP, They Were The Sons.
Now fully road-tested and overflowing with new ideas, The Vacation began recording again with Tony Hoffer. Another visionary English label, Echo Records, won the honor of releasing The Vacation?s debut LP. Released at the tail end of 2004, Band From World War Zero proved that the boys were just getting warmed up on Sons.
Along with the four EP tracks were seven others, including: ?Trash,? a whiskey-soaked rant on the increasingly disposable nature of American culture over a relentless, rolling groove; ?I?m No Good,? a self-deprecating scream-a-thon; and ?Hollywood Forever,? a bittersweet tune that plays like a postmodern hooray for The Vacation?s hometown. Few listeners outside of Los Angeles seem to realize, of course, that ?Hollywood Forever,? is a cemetery.
In addition to the other fine songs, the album contained a tune that was not just another obvious smash-hit awaiting the airwaves, but a first-person-confessional, middle-finger-manifesto. With rhythms that ?strut and shout? along with the lyrics and a top-of-your-lungs sing-a-long chorus, ?Destitute Prostitutes? is possibly the most infectious band theme song to rattle eardrums since Mickey Dolenz sang, ?Hey Hey! We?re the Monkees!? The Vacation?s self-examination is a bit darker of course: ?We walk the streets and boulevards?We?re the track marks on cities? arms.?
Britain?s NME got the album immediately, hailing it as ?a menagerie of musical wonder that you could dance, fuck or drink to? and comparing the band?s approach to ?Keith Richards or Iggy Pop slapping his meaty cock across Marc Bolan?s pasty face.? Even the stodgy BBC raved about the LP?s ?well-oiled animal magnetism? and called The Vacation ?stadium-size entertainers.?
The Vacation?s luck changed yet again when an impresario by the name of Rick Rubin became aware of the band. Realizing they had a huge hit on their hands he made a decision to sign the band, re-master and re-sequence the album, and clue the world in on the topic of a great rock band. Now do you see why?
Reflecting on the impending American Recordings release of The Vacation, frontman Ben Tegel comments: ?It?s gratifying to know that somebody like Rick Rubin digs us. We?re grateful for it. But we?ve always believed in what we?re doing and we?re going to keep doing it no matter what, playing every show like it?s our fucking last.?
For the sake of music fans in America and around the world, let?s hope that that last show is a long way?s away?