Vaughan Rhea -- vocals, guitar
Dave Rhea -- bass, vocals
Garrett Coleman -- rhythm guitar, vocals
Todd Hackenburg -- lead guitar
Jeff Irizarry -- drums
In this era of instant artists and prefab studio creations, it?s always refreshing to find a band who has gotten to where they are the old fashioned way, with hard work, dedication and dues-paying. That?s just how VonRay, led by 29 year-old band namesake Vaughan Rhea, have gone about it, and for their troubles, this Orlando, Florida rock quintet now stands on the brink of what promises to be unbounded success.
In fact, two recent developments might be signaling that success is already here. First, their friends and fellow Floridians Creed chose VonRay for the opening slot on their Summer 2002 US tour, putting the band in front of huge, appreciative national crowds for nearly two months. Creed?s Scott Phillips calls VonRay "the best band I?ve heard in quite a while. They?ve got great songs and a killer live show." Then, in an amazing turn of events for an artist mainly known regionally, VonRay will perform their first single "Inside Out" on the hit WB TV series Smallville, giving them instant exposure to millions from coast to coast. Aside from being the lead single on their own album, "Inside Out" has been pegged as the first featured song from the Smallville soundtrack album, due out in February 2003.
All of this is a far cry from Vaughan?s boyhood hometown of Pulaski, Tennessee. Growing up, Vaughan Rhea?s seeds as a songwriter were sown by his parents? record collection, largely comprised of classic singer/songwriter types -- James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson. He left Pulaski for college elsewhere in Tennessee, but Vaughan began to feel the inexorable tug of music. "I was studying to become a mechanical engineer," he explains, "but I knew I wasn?t cut out to sit in a cubicle all day solving problems. Instead, I stayed up all night writing songs." He started to play small acoustic gigs, and to his surprise and delight, people responded well to his music and his voice. Making the decision to try his hand at a real career in music, he left college. Instead of making the short drive to Nashville, however, he headed south to Orlando, Florida. As Vaughan recounts, "I wasn?t even going to give Nashville a shot. There were people there with twice my talent making nothing!"
Once in Orlando, Vaughan began building a following with solo shows in pubs, playing half covers and half original songs under the moniker VonRay. In 1993, he was joined by his brother Dave on gigs and songwriting. Around this time, Vaughan?s world was rocked, literally, by Pearl Jam and vocalist Eddie Vedder. "It was life-changing," he says unapologetically. "Pearl Jam?s passion, and Eddie?s vocals, really opened my ears to what rock & roll songs could be." Kicking his stool aside, Vaughan picked up the electric guitar and started to rock in earnest. Pulling together a full band, including his brother, Vaughan toured extensively in the southeast, soon playing to packed houses all over Florida, Atlanta, Nashville and in the Carolinas. The newcomers also began getting nabbed to open for star acts Third Eye Blind and Seven Mary Three, among others.
In 1997, the band released their own album, Panes, and sold an astonishing 9000 copies. By 1999, things were really heating up they re-released Panes with four new songs, and sold several thousand copies more; they were voted best band in Orlando in a local poll; and the Orlando branch of the Hard Rock Cafe asked to add Vaughan?s Ovation acoustic guitar to its collection. An EP of new songs produced by Brett Hestla (now bassist for Creed) brought the band attention from labels, and eventually, a deal with Elektra. The current lineup of VonRay solidified in 2001.
Their self-titled Elektra debut, produced by Marc Tanner (The Calling, Aerosmith) is a stirring collection of radio-ready rockers that would sound perfect blaring at high volume from a car stereo. The album is a potent, passionate mix of infectious melodies, guitars that crunch and jangle, and fiery vocals. And underneath it all are real songs that would sound just as satisfying performed solo with acoustic guitar, songs that hark back to Rhea?s roots and tastes as a singer/songwriter. "I draw my inspiration for writing from a lot of different things," Vaughan says, "They?re both autobiographical, and from watching other people and the trials they go through."
From start to finish, the album shows that VonRay can completely rock out without losing any subtlety, and they can be melodic without being too sweet. All eleven tracks sound uncannily like huge hits just waiting for their chance. Highlights include the anthemic opener and first single "Inside Out"; the barely contained rage of "Part Of Me," a tale of abuse built around the chorus "Part of me doesn?t even care/part of me wasn?t even there"; the classic power ballad "I?ll Show You"; the pure pop-rock of "That?s OK"; the southern-rock tinged "Fame"; and the spiritual closer "Unstoppable Wave."
Of course, the other key component for the band is their live show. "Playing live is the best time we?ve had. I couldn?t be happier!" Rhea declares. "Our show has a lot of energy not over the top, but just a straight ahead rock show. Reaching the people is great. Downtime days are the bummers. After three days off we?re jonesing!
"We?ve seen the connection we?ve made with people in Orlando and elsewhere," Vaughan says. "That?s our main hope to connect to people everywhere. If people react in one place, they?ll react elsewhere. But even if we?re playing on a small stage to a couple of hundred people, when the doors open, it doesn?t matter. It?s still great."