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Interview with Joe Vana



Interviewed by Brian Rademacher
Date: November 2011

Brian Rademacher: Hello Joe, and thanks for calling the RockEyez office for this interview.

Joe Vana: Sorry I was a little late. I had a session doing an Allstate commercial. I like those and I hate those also. I try not to do too many of those during the week but they pay great and I have done many over the years. Some of the ones I did over the years I say to myself oh my god, I really donít want to be on some but it is what it is. I have offers all the time but I turn a lot down now because I want to do MECCA stuff. I even turn down things for other artists and I am not trying to be difficult or anything but I want to concentrate on MECCA because I can control it and I know it will sound great.

Some of the music I played on for others is so bad. I have been active on the noticeboard since 1995. I was on there when Andrew started the site and I was one of the first people on there. I hooked him up with a lot of artists like the TOTO guys. Now since the new MECCA album is coming out a lot of musicians are contacting me to sing on their albums and some of the stuff you would say to yourself, wow, "really?" So Iíve been trying to lay low.

Brian Rademacher: Is music financially beneficial for you?

Joe Vana: It can be if I want it to be. I do things differently than everybody else. If you look at the advance I got for this album, I spent four times what the advance was. So do I do it for money? No! The first album we had a really big advance and we spent all of it and then some. MECCA is not a money making opportunity for me even with the songwriting, and now with the labels being over there (in Europe). I do it for the love of music and itís the ultimate hobby. If you donít love it donít do it. Put it this way, do you put money into your website RockEyez? Do you make money off it?

Brian Rademacher: Well basically we make nothing and what we do make goes back into the site.

Joe Vana: There you go, you are me. You and I are the same guy! (laughing)

Brian Rademacher: I get a lot of aggravation from our site but at the same time I get a lot of enjoyment. I do have kids and a wife. I have an autistic son and as a family we are part of a program for special needs children called Woodbridge Buddy Ball. So I do have my time split between many different ventures. Plus I work a full time job. Our site had two webmasters before my wife took over and she is still learning. Iím pretty sure that she will not leave because Iím married to her!

Joe Vana: If she leaves, you have bigger problems than the net. (laughing)

Brian Rademacher: So how much different is the new MECCA album compared to the first one?

Joe Vana: The first album was a great pop record. It was kind of paint by numbers, very formulated the way the songs were written. Jim Peterikis a great songwriter but over the last number of years a lot of the stuff he writes it is about the same kind of thing. He gets stuck on one kind of thing and he beats it dead. It was that type of thing; it was straight forward. You didnít listen to a song and not know how it would end. On this one you might have an idea how it is going to end but you donít know how it is going to get there. There were a lot of twists and turns. There are songs that have three or four intermittent intervals where there are no vocals. There are songs that have lengthy interludes and I always wanted that. When I started writing the album with Tommy Denander we were going to write a (Peter) Gabriel type album. So we started with that (idea) and in the end it sounded like MECCA again because Iím cursed and because anything I work on sounds like MECCA. Sonically it sounds like MECCA because the way I produce everything sounds like MECCA, which is fine. Itís different, much more diverse (and) lyrically itís much deeper; itís a way different album.

Brian Rademacher: Was it written from self experiences? I here a lot of lyrics about love and also breaking up.

Joe Vana: This album is about breaking up, getting back together, breaking up, getting back together and itís been my life for the last seven years. Itís who I am, what Iíve been doing. Besides the song "Wire To Wire" ("W2W"), I put that in there because I didnít want twelve tracks of really heavy songs. I wanted a song which was light and upbeat that I could throw in near the end of the album just to break it up a little bit. The album can get a little dark and I donít want people slitting their wrists halfway through this album saying oh my god. So I threw "W2W" in there. Otherwise this album is 100% my life over the last seven years. Itís me searching for a better life and better things and Iím there. Seven years and Iím in a better place I would say than I have been in fifteen years in my life. A lot of things came full circle. I feel better mentally, emotionally, financially. I think Iím better now than Iíve ever been in my life and it took a long road to get there and literally if you take the lyrics from song to song itís a constant story from beginning to end.

Brian Rademacher: You start the album off with "Perfect World", which is a fantastic opening song. Is there a perfect world in your mind?

Joe Vana: No and thatís what the song says. And again itís a guy looking for it and never finding it. Like the one line "Lifeís a big pie that never leaves a crumb". Thereís your whole album right there. There are a lot of things that go on in life and you expect some things but life gives you nothing. You have to work and acquire things in life. You might grow up being rich where your parents give you things. Monetarily you might have everything but that means emotionally youíre lacking. Life is all about work and what you put into it; relationships, financially, emotionally and your family. Everything is about work and if you donít work for it you never get it.

Brian Rademacher: When you did the song "Undeniable" did you think it could be a huge hit? I love that song and whoever did the background vocals did a great job and it adds a lot of depth to that song.

Joe Vana: Thatís all me on that song. I actually just did a "making of" for that song. I break down the background vocals separate from the leads and each part of the background vocals to show how the entire song was layered. Literally it shows at the end the lower harmonies, the mid harmonies and the high harmonies. How it mixes in with the lead and at the end part I have a third part that comes along as it rides along the bottom with the lead and right at the end they meet. My son is with me on a lot of the backgrounds (on the album) because he sounds just like me. Itís like the JACKSON FIVE when they sing they all sound alike, well itís the same here, we sound similar but on this song it was so personal I wanted to do it by myself. I think I did the lead and background vocals on this song in forty minutes.

Brian Rademacher: I think that is the song that Frontiers Records sent out sound files as a sample to the mediaÖ

Joe Vana: My favorite on the album which I expect it will be nobodyís favorite song is "Deceptive Cadence" because thatís me, Tony Levin and Pat Mastellotto. Itís the MISTER MISTER song that never was. That was my homage to Richard. Sorry to get off track but to answer your question, yes, when I recorded "Undeniable", the minute I laid the vocal down I turned to my engineer and I said I may have other songs that Iím going to like more but this is the best song Iíve ever written. I said thereís no question about it that this is a song that no one would say that it shouldnít be on their album. If you provided this song to any band of my genre, meaning any 80ís band, Iím talking the bands like TOTO, SURVIVOR, NIGHT RANGER, REO, not one of those bands would turn that tune down. I said to myself Iíve done it. I spent all these years with Peterik and learning from him and here it is, this is what I learned. I love it and I think itís a great tune.

Brian Rademacher: Itís funny when I got the CD from Frontiers my staff was fighting over who was going to review it. I kind of got nicked out of the deal because my writer David Felix drove to my home begging to review it.

Joe Vana: Yeah I know Dave; met him at MRFII fest in Chicago.

Brian Rademacher: Joe when I hear your voice on the CD itís very calming, which I like over all the screaming music I usually listen to. Itís a good change for me.

Joe Vana: I think a lot of it is that if you listen to the first album I sing really high. I have part E over high C and Iím all over the place. I didnít do this on the new album; I really wanted to sing on the tracks and not worry that I have to sing higher. When you get worried about that you lost sight of the song. "Undeniable" gets up there at the end of the song but not too high. That was ingrained to me during my career. If itís too high your heart starts to race and I learned how to just do it right where it makes it easy to listen to the songs and thatís what I wanted. This album is calm like me sitting next to someone telling them a story and thatís what I wanted.

Brian Rademacher: How was it working with Eric Ragno?

Joe Vana: Great! Iíve never worked with Eric but we met years ago, we talk all the time and at the end when the album was done we were talking and I said I have this song called "Undeniable", and Tommy did such as great job doing keyboards on the album, but I asked Eric would he mind giving the song a extra "shot" because I really love sonic textures on songs and heís such an incredible player. That night in my inbox there it was and I was in the studio with my engineer and we put it up and we looked at each other and said holy crap what else can we get him on! The album was done in the can, mixed and completely done. We sent Eric two more tracks and he knocked the living crap out of them and I said ok, heís doing the next album, this is a done deal. The neat thing about Eric is that heís like me and itís not about the money. Itís about the song and working with him is a great fit.

Brian Rademacher: Yeah Eric is a Jersey boy like me and heís so down to earth, he would come back to Jersey and stop at my home have something to eat and just hang out. Yet he is so recognized in the genre and heís just a nice person.

Joe Vana: He really is. He asked me how many albums have Iíve been on and he said like 100-150. I said maybe twenty. I said but each of the twenty albums I feel is a great album. I only started singing in 1995 and all the albums I was on I feel were of great quality. I didnít sing a note before 1995, I was thirty years old. Most bands are started in high school, singing in bars and doing shows, picking up chicks. Not me, I was a tennis player. I played baseball and I was involved in a lot of stuff in school. I went to college and bowled, traveling about the country bowling for my school. I never sang. I liked music but I completely fell into this, it was a bizarre turn how this happened.

Brian Rademacher: How did Andrew get you to play his MRFII show last year?

Joe Vana: I was supposed to do the first one and I couldnít, but I was there. I had to get back to my Italian restaurant that I owned. We actually hosted the pre-show party at my restaurant. All the pictures you see online, they were taken at my restaurant. Iíve known Andrew since 1995 and he helped put MECCA together. A lot of people donít know that. He urged me on, listening to demos I was working on and gave me the idea to talk to Jim (Peterik) and try to get this done. So getting back to the first show I couldnít do and when Andrew was going to do MRF II he asked me and I said of course. He said I want you to headline and I said great and we did it. I didnít charge him a penny; I wouldnít charge him a dime no matter what. If everyone got a million to play I wouldnít take it. He works on music and does the same thing as I do in MECCAÖ he just loves doing it. Heís like a mercenary even to his own determent financially, but he still does it. Nobodyís out there is making money. Well some of them are and they wouldnít do anything without getting paid because for them itís all about the money. Iím not like that and heís not like that. I literally surrounded myself with people who are not like that. Look at Rick and Wally in my band, we sat down and I told them what I want for the MRF II show and they are successful musicians and play almost daily in town. I was going to pay them to do the show even though I wasnít getting paid. If they told me they wanted three grand to do the show I would have paid them and they both said they want nothing. Those are the guys I want to surround myself with because they are in this for the music. We are not like a normal band that just sees each other on stage, we hang out and we are friends. We have no egos, this is all the time, and itís an old school kind of thing.

Brian Rademacher: What are your hopes for this new album?

Joe Vana: I think I got it. My one hope was that at least one person would get it and one person would listen to this album and understand it and itís not an album that you listen to just once and say ok I got it from one listen. I want someone to say I gotta listen to it again and say I gotta listen to that song again and get into the lyrical content of the song and what it meant and what does this line mean. Thatís why I wrote the album and once you said what you said Iím happy. I already achieved what I wanted to convey to one person. This is what I went through, this is what Iím doing and here it is. Hopefully someone can listen to the album and get the story; itís not just a group of random songs.

Brian Rademacher: Yeah for me I have to put the headphones on read the lyrics then close my eyes and get into your mind and gather a sense of the song. For me this is the best way to understand a song. Some people like a song and I ask them what is the song about and their answer is I donít know I just like how it sounds.

Joe Vana: Well you will like this release as we got a fifteen page booklet for the CD and all the lyrics are in there.

Brian Rademacher: Do you feel that the Internet will help with the drive for the success of the new album?

Joe Vana: Yes and no. Well, yes because more people will know about the album and no because nobody will make a penny off it. My son, he will buy music and sometimes he doesnít but most people download shit for free. Iím 44, I donít care, I have a twenty year old kid, and my life is pretty well sown. For the guys out there who are trying to make money for a living with music, ITíS OVER! The only way to make money is to go on tour a lot and have a great management company backing you and not sucking away all your profits that you are making on tour. I do this because I have toÖ itís my release and my passion. The Internet makes it hard for any artists to make money anymore. If I ever told you how many people who know everything about me and my music but never bought my music it would astonish you. I have already seen my album on torrent sites available for download and itís not even released! People are downloading it like crap and I donít give a crap (because) it doesnít hurt me. All I care about is that people hear it but for a guy like Serafino of Frontiers Records who wants to make money, thatís not a good thing.

Itís like you owning a website like RockEyez, if everyone was paying for music and you were posting it on your site you can charge three times the amount for a banner than what you do now, you can go to Frontiers Records and say I want $8,000 a year for each banner space and they will probably pay it because they are making money hand over fist with their releases (if everyone was paying for it). Now go ahead ask them now what they would say. Theyíre Italian; you know what theyíre going to say? You want me to tell you? (laughing).

Brian Rademacher: So tell me about MECCA III.

Joe Vana: Itís in concept and Iím already writing it. Sonically itís going to be similar to MECCA II. I was listening (and) it kind of has a TEARS FOR FEARS vibe to it. Itís going to be closer to what I was trying to do with MECCA II. If you listen to MECCA II there is not a tambourine on there and there is only one little spot where there is acoustic guitar on the whole album. There are no huge big wide background parts like the first album. I think MECCA III is going to be more a songwriterís album. Iím going to let the songs drive it, the songs arenít going to be as heavy and there will not be twenty keyboard parts and ten guitar parts. Itís going to be more laid back; youíre going to hear what everybodyís doing.

Brian Rademacher: Are there any songs where there might be a chance your son will sing lead on?

Joe Vana: No, my son is going to be great in his own right on his own music. I will never pimp out my kid. I tried to have him on this album and I hope that comes across in the right way. I was making nothing, I was a designer making album covers and suddenly I had a record deal. I didnít understand it, I couldnít appreciate it and it went to my head. I donít want that to happen to my kid. I lost friendships because of my first album and what it did to me. I wasnít ready for it. My kid is going to be ready for it. He was fifteen years old with Frankie Sullivan showing him guitar parts, he talked with Steve Lukather about guitars; all these great players (so) he has a leg up. It made him a great player but Iím not going to let it get to his head. If I do that (then) I failed. I want him to finish school and have a life out there and if he wants to do it, great, heís extremely talented. Heís a good singer and a great guitar player, a good drummer, great programmer, great engineer and a good writer. I think heís going to go a long, long way but I feel his voice should be on his own songs and thatís the reason why I sing on this album. My voice is to be on my song and he understands that.

Brian Rademacher: Well Joe, congratulations on the album and I wish much success for you with "Undeniable".

Joe Vana: Let me tell you something Brian, it doesnít matter (because) my thing is not money. My thing is just enjoy the album. I like making music, playing with friends and doing things that you enjoy. Iíve already won. I donít need people to buy my music. I want people to listen to my music. That is the difference. I donít need people to buy MECCA II for me to make a MECCA III. I donít need anyone to write MECCA III, but I do need the players; they are my backbone and Tommy and I writing. We can knock out an album (in) two or three months. We have an amazing chemistry together and we are going to write this (new) one with Eric too. Itís going to be a real drummer not some drum machine tracks. Itís all going to be the real thing with real people. I really appreciate your time. Keep in touch damn it. You have my number. Once Eric decides to come to Jersey Iím coming with him and we can all go to dinner. I have to get out there with Eric because he keeps bragging about the Italian restaurants there so weíll see, weíll see. Thanks Brian.


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