Interview: LA-native, Vinnie Ferra.

Our entire conversation occurred, once again, with me on the floor of my bedroom with a microphone set up next to the speaker of my “not smart phone”, and Vinnie driving around LA, on his way to his second job, what he calls his primary source of income. He helps out with live shows for a variety of indie musicians in LA including Betty Who, Halsey, and others. At one point our conversation paused for a call from his friend. Vinnie had forgotten his wallet at his friend’s house. Yeah, that’s right. Even extremely talented musicians forget their wallets sometimes! He admitted to losing his keys, wallet, or phone…many times a day. I know that feeling. At another point in our conversation, he was crunching on a Kind bar, sneaking a snack in before he was heading to help out a band called Machine Hearts. We both agreed that Kind bars are positively delicious. Vinnie is a terrific human being with beautiful things to say about music and life in general, he is also just a regular dude. So regular that a tour he was on back in 2011 landed him in Livingston, MT at the Murray Bar where a kind Montanan soul offered a place for him and his two band mates to stay. Vinnie said he still keeps in touch with this generous Montana fellow. It was an absolute treat to speak with Vinnie for almost an hour. I have tidbits of our conversation written up below and my favorite moments (also moments where hearing Vinnie explain himself is much better than reading) for listening:

MFL: So what are you up to in LA right now?

VF: I am headed to go work with this band called Machine Hearts, I think they’re called. I do musical directing so I help set up people’s live shows. It’s my primary source of income, while making my own music. I do it for an artist name Betty Who and an artist named Halsey and a variety of smaller indie artists. It’s fun. It’s definitely not the same music I make by any means. It’s more pop oriented.

MFL: It’s probably fun to do that for a different genre. Keep things interesting.

MFL: Yeah, I learn so much. The whole reason I got into what I was doing was because I spent so long being the dude in my own musical realm. Hiring musicians all the time, teaching musicians how to play my songs every week. What I learned from those experiences, I was able to apply to these ones.

MFL: How long have you been doing this?

VF: I started with this girl named Carly Rose who was on X  Factor. Young girl. Then I worked with this artist named Betty Who. I think my favorite artist right now is Tei Shi.

MFL: Your record comes out June 23rd, right? So is all the hard work done now that it’s recorded?

VF: I think the hard work is just beginning! I can release an album, that’s all great and dandy but if no one is finding out about it or hearing about it and I’m not pushing it out there properly it all would be kind of a waste. I’ve released stuff before onto the internet “sphere” and my friends hear and the few fans that I do have hear it and that’s that. I want to get it to more people’s ears quickly before the record comes out at least.

MFL: Will you be releasing your new record on iTunes and why? What’s your perspective on streaming?

MFL: Where did you grow up and how was music part of your life?

VF: I grew up in LA and I pretty much grew up in an environment where there was no choice of whether or not I was going to play music. My dad is a musician my mom is very musical. Pianos, guitars, vinyl and stereos. When I was 6 months old my first show was The Beach Boys and my uncle, Stanley Sichel, was the guitar player. There is a photo of me somewhere in the archives of Brian Wilson holding me. So music was always a thing. Anytime I wanted to do music or was interested in something, my parents were like “OK, let’s get you the instrument and get you lessons.” It was a great environment to grow up in. I was very lucky of how supportive my parents were. I was in band in high school playing saxophone and violin and I was in a few bands in high school, the main one called Vesta, with my friends Scott and Mark. Scott currently has a project called Forebear. Then I didn’t really start taking my own music seriously until I got laid off. I was at MTV and I was always making my own music before but then I got laid off and I was like, “Well, I’ve got severance so I may as well take time off and pursue my own musical career” and 5 years later I’m still doing it. It’s pretty crazy.

MFL: Has it been what you expected it be?

VF: It’s been a lot more difficult than I thought. I write music and always wrote music as an escape kind of. It was an emotional escape, my version of therapy. So to compete with a bunch of people that are writing form a totally different place…this entire industry is made up of people that are working every day to write “the song.” So you’re competing with people who work every day to make a formula that everyone wants to hear. But yeah, it’s difficult to do it all by yourself.

MFL: You obviously have other people playing in the band when you play live but do you primarily write all of the music?

VF: Yeah, when I play live I’m always revolving people. There is only one song I’ve written with someone else and it’s on this new album. It’s called “Rue.” it was on the EP but we redid it for the album.

MFL: The strings in your recorded work are stunning. They sort of weave in and out. It’s the backbone of one song or it’s an interlude but it’s always there. Where did the love for strings come from?

MFL: How did that all work out for you for the first album?

  VF: I had the melodies and stuff already laid out for most of the tune but we ended up writing and finishing “Bad For Business” in a small Berkley rehearsal space. My friend buddy Chris Lee played piano on it and the violist’s name was ,Bryan Brash. He’s an unbelievable violist and he now resides in Portland, Maine and has a sting quartet he tours with. From there, I couldn’t get enough of viola and now I just use viola constantly. I use violin once or twice but it’s hard to find really talented violists. On the new records my friend Kiara plays viola. She plays viola for Ariana Grande currently. She played on my new rod and has toured with me. We did a solo tour from east coast to west coast and played a bunch of small shows. She played on this new record. She was an unbelievable player.

 MFL: What kind of set up do you usually have for touring?

MFL: It’s probably kind a fun because I’m sure your sound changes a little every time you change who you tour with!

VF: It’s fun sometimes but other times it can be a little nerve-racking. I’ve gotten to a certain point where I’ve started to work with really good musicians. I don’t need to worry about them.  I say, “Here is the recording, please learn the parts verbatim.”   I just worked with an upright bass player name Alan Hampton. He plays for Andrew bird and he is unbelievable. I also used this drummer named Robbie Sinclair and he plays for this big band Lazer Cake. These guys are pros. We could’ve played the show after the first rehearsal. They’re just so on it. I learn something new every time i work with a musician.

MFL: Everyone on the new record is in LA, right?

VF: The new album consists of a drummer named Kiel Feher, upright bass player named Nathan York Jr, Kiara Ana Perico on viola, Jennifer Shananhan on flute, Zara Rivera on french horn, concert trombone, tenor trombone, Alex Fink on banjo and guitar on some songs, and my friend Scott Manke who use to play bass for me, he played piano on one song, the song he and I wrote together called “Rue.” It was a really fun experience. When the record was done being recorded, I got really sick and couldn’t do some of the vocals for 2 months.

We ended up playing a live show though, at this great big studio and filled it with couches and blankets and pillows and invited a few people. 100 people showed up and it was just a bunch of people relaxing. We played the album from top to bottom.  Everyone was dead silent and a lot of ours songs segue into each other so we got to do that and so that was cool.

MFL: What’s it like playing in LA? Are their limitless options for where to play?

VF: Yeah, there are so many venues to play at but there are also so many bands playing. There is a lot of competition. The night to see live music is definitely Monday. Mondays are when everyone is out seeing live bands. Yeah, it’s awesome. Everyone is out on Monday nights. Every venue is free got get into. It’ turns Monday into a Thursday.

MFL: How do you plan out your tours? What do you use to decide where to go?

VF: I guess I just go where everyone else goes. I look at what bands I look up to and what venues they’re playing and what venues they’ve played in the past that have gotten them where they are now. I just hit those venues. I put together that whole US tour myself and we didn’t play massive venues but we played at venues and there are people there. That was cool. There was a certain point where I started getting all of these TV plays that started airing after the 2nd week of the tour and more people were showing up at the shows and more people we didn’t know. More strangers.  

MFL: One last thing. What was the inspiration for the name of the new album?

VF: Ahhh, good question. A question I really want to answer. It’s definitely a gajillion degrees of separation. Some of the songs are about certain things but most of the record is about a certain individual. I went on a trip to France with them and we stayed in a hotel on a street named Rue Jean-Mermoz and Jean-Mermoz is a French aviator. He designed planes and his first plane that was able to take off and actually fly was called “Arc en Ciel” which is “arc in the sky” as the literal translation but the actual meaning in French is a “rainbow.” The first song on the record is about my brother and I and the record is mostly about innocence and innocent love and just not even considering real life when thinking about your feelings. Impulsive and irrational desires. To me a rainbow, besides its over-gay connation, but way someone feels when they look at a rainbow versus when they were a child, they look at it as being beautiful. People still look at rainbows like they’re 5 year olds. As we get older there are not a lot of things that we look at with that innocence because we’re all so jaded and messed up from growing up. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask that question. To me it is a very big part of the name of the album, it’s not just some name. It’s a very big part of the record to me.

MFL: Why did this person come to mind with this record in particular?

VF: Most of the songs are really old. They were written around that period of time. The feelings are not there anymore but the album is a representation of that period of time and since I’ve been working on this record for so long and these songs for so long. It’s just really delayed with the release which pretty common. It’s really long process for me because I can be a bit of control freak!

Well, if you ask me, being a control freak as Vinnie calls himself, has paid off. Have a listen to the latest release from his upcoming album “Arc en Ciel” (which we now know the story behind!), due out June 23rd:

Big thanks to Vinnie for hanging out with me on the phone and to his PR representative for setting this all up.

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