Space Vacation – Still White Hot

Sunday, 24th April 2022

Continually evolving from a traditional, power, and speed metal template, Space Vacation deliver their most ambitious effort to date for White Hot Reflection. Encompassing thirteen tracks at almost an hour playback time, listeners will notice a strong emphasis on memorable vocal harmonies plus stunning guitar work – as well as proficient rhythm section action that should keep the listeners returning more and more for future engagement. We felt the need to reach out to vocalist/guitarist Scott Shapiro and find out what the band has been up to since Lost in the Black Divide five years ago – details on the return of Kai Sun on bass, European tour memories, how hit and miss shows stateside have been post-pandemic, and the work/life/band balance juggling act.

Dead Rhetoric: White Hot Reflection is the latest Space Vacation record – expanding to a double album as a result of the pandemic delaying the recording/release of this effort. How were the discussions related to releasing so much material at once between the band and the record label – and how would you assess the songwriting and outlook of the band compared to your last effort Lost in the Black Divide from 2017?

Scott Shapiro: Sure. On the double album piece, we had some internal discussions within the band on whether to release everything at the same time or release it over two separate albums. By the end of the day, it came down to that we wrote all this as a moment in time, splitting it out and releasing some of these songs later didn’t make a ton of sense. The label didn’t care at all, they are releasing this digitally, so it makes no difference for them. Since we kept the vinyl rights, there are some costs associated with releasing two LP’s (laughs). We wanted to get everything out there that we currently have, ready to go.

As far as the differences between this record and Black Divide, I think it’s a pretty significant step forward in what we’ve been able to do. With Black Divide, the band was in a time of transition. We had moved on from our previous rhythm section, so it was really just Kiyo and I together back and forth through the internet, figuring out the direction of the songs that way. When it came to recording it, we recruited some friends Steve and Warren to play on the album. Steve ended up sticking around with the band for a year after that. It wasn’t really a full band investment in the writing, although the direction was more what I wanted to get into, more elaborate with the melodies, make sure that the guitars are more solid.

With this new album, it was the first time we were able to write with the full band, and the full band is still together after the album came out (laughs). That is the first time that’s happened since the first record, if you really go back. We brought in Kiyo right as we were recording Heart Attack, and (we had) a completely different rhythm section for Cosmic Vanguard, and again with Lost in the Black Divide. The full band had a lot of opportunity this time to contribute to the full writing process. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out what a great addition Eli is to the writing process. Typically, when you work with drummers they are focused on their own thing, but Eli is a well-rounded, overall musician. He contributed to a lot of the song structures, some of the melodies we used, a lot on the harmony side he wrote out himself and we worked with him to flesh it out.

Dead Rhetoric: Once again there are specific tracks that showcase a lot of bright vocal harmonies and uplifting musical moments that seem to intertwine AOR or California-related artists – “Playing with Fire” and “Burn with Me” coming to mind the most (the latter featuring a nifty bass solo from Kai Sun). At this point, are you conscious of specific elements and trademarks you want within a Space Vacation composition, even in the diversity of material at play?

Shapiro: Yeah. One of the things that have always been a benchmark for the band are very strong vocal melodies and building harmonies on top of that. This record took that to another level, as far as what we are able to perform. The process of writing those out. Space Vacation has always been a band about vocal hooks. We want you to have these songs stuck in your head, so you’ll come see us again. That’s what it’s about. We want to play the kind of music that we want to hear when we started this band. Fun, traditional heavy metal music, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. You aren’t going to see a lot of gothic themes in our music. We write the things that we see are fun and interesting, typical heavy metal tropes. It’s always built around the melody and song itself – and shredding leads because Kiyo’s in the band.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe he makes you up your game at guitar, because of his obvious stellar skills at the instrument?

Shapiro: He’s so good it makes me want to play less! (laughs). Why would anyone want to hear me play a solo when we have this guy standing beside me? The overall musicianship of the band is something that I’m super proud of right now. Eli is a phenomenal drummer, Kai as well. Kiyo is a natural throwback guitar player, rock star. Just getting to play with these guys on a regular basis is fun for me as a singer because I know they are absolutely killing it and making me look good.

Dead Rhetoric: “Middle Ages” is another sweeter track that has a lot of older 50’s/60’s qualities in terms of the melodies, plus a ton of Queen references in specific guitar licks and harmonies. What can you tell us about the development of this track and its inspiration?

Shapiro: Yeah, you nailed it right there. We wanted to make some of these vocal harmonies really prominent on a few of these tracks. That one in particular. If we were to write a song in the style of Queen, how would we do that and be able to pull that off. And that’s what came out – that song was reworked with a number of different parts to get the right feel at the right time. I think that’s the only song that’s in a major key on the whole record, that’s an interesting point of contention. It was very different and interesting, the guitar work on that song is very different than things that we’ve done in the past. Kind of builds on things we have done in the band’s early history as far as going from these genre-bending type of ideas, we pull it in to make it our own but there are clear references to bands that have preceded us.

Dead Rhetoric: What particular tracks stand out to you from the new record, and was it a joy to create this much material and put it out all at the same time?

Shapiro: It was hard! (laughs). The majority of this record was written by early 2020, we were slated to go into the studio two years ago now. Right as the pandemic hit was our studio time, they couldn’t have anyone in. As far as the songs I love on this record, I love “Out of Time” – I think that one is unique to what we do, it has a lot of different elements. A lot of the tracks we write are more standardized – intro, verse, bridge, chorus, solo, a more standard heavy metal song. For “Out of Time” I wanted to write something unique, a lot of different parts intersect and create different feelings throughout the course of the song. I wanted to invoke fear, hope, and dread all within one song, I think we did that to a certain extent. Same thing with “Middle Ages” – we wanted an emotional response; it’s about being middle-aged. Things are getting hard; things get difficult as you get older. The lyrics are in line with getting older. It’s not the end of the world – we can enjoy this stage in our lives and still rock out.

Dead Rhetoric: You have a new bassist in Kai Sun, who also is a part of Hell Fire. Why do you think it’s been a struggle to hold down that fourth member of Space Vacation this deep into your career – and how do you feel about his abilities and personality to gel with the group?

Shapiro: We started playing with Kai – this is his second stint in the band. He played with us after my brother Mark left, when the Cosmic Vanguard record came out. He played with us for about a year and a half, ultimately moving on to some other things. He has been playing with us in this run since Steve left at the beginning of 2019. It’s been great having him back. He’s a Berklee School of Music trained musician – just from the musicianship perspective he’s really good. It’s hard to compare what he can do versus the other people we’ve had on bass in the band. He’s really good, and he’s an easy guy for me to work with. His demeanor fits in with the band, he has some great ideas, and frankly he looks really cool all the time on stage. It helps us a bit too. Working on the record with him, playing the songs live with him now is a real treat.

Dead Rhetoric: In our last talk you mentioned taking a step back and reengaging your love for performing to be happy about playing music. Now that we are coming out of a two-year plus entertainment drought for shows, do you believe the hunger and thirst for live shows will not only be renewed, but maybe garner more appreciation from all parties involved that was taken for granted possibly years before?

Shapiro: I hope so. I can say it’s been a mixed bag since we started playing shows again. We started playing shows again in August, especially with the new material live because it’s a little more challenging to pull off live. We did some shows in Southern California that were fairly poorly attended. We have done some shows locally that were sold out. I think the shows that were sold out, it was great. Taking two years off and playing a cavernous space to an empty room is not the most fun, but that goes to what you want to get out of being a musician. You have to take the good with the bad. Knowing that you have to improve as a performer but as a marketer as well. Putting the shows together but making sure you have the right lineups to draw in certain regions, you have to be more purposeful. We just played this past weekend up in Santa Rosa, and it was absolutely packed with a really good response.

Having two years without playing was bizarre. During that time, I ended up getting COVID-19 at the early stages, and it had a really significant effect on my ability to sing – right up until we were recording the record, we had to record in spurts because I couldn’t make it through whole songs. I had to get my breath behind the performances – now I can sing live without worrying for forty-five minutes in a performance, from an overall health, wellness, and self-esteem perspective is really great.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us in regard to the simplified art you chose for this record?

Shapiro: We talked to a lot of artists and had a lot of different ideas. They were a little bit more complex than what we ended up with. At the end of the day, one of my favorite covers is Van Halen – II, so let’s just do our version of that cover. That’s what we went with for the packaging. The LP when that comes out is from the earliest pictures of the band all the way through our touring in Europe, it will be fun for people to take a look at those pictures and find themselves in the sleeve. It’s an all-white vinyl as well, with the aesthetic for the entire package.

Dead Rhetoric: What was it like for you guys to finally get over to Europe – did it open your eyes to how metal is appreciated there versus stateside?

Shapiro: Yeah, we played a couple of different festivals. The way you were treated by the venues is very different. Here, you are a commodity, they get you in and out, and pay you as little as possible. There, we got paid ahead of time, it helped us with budgeting. They feed you, in some instances they got us hotel rooms. That was a huge difference. The fans were fans – not all that different than the way it’s been here. Particularly the Amsterdam show, it was a lot of fun.

Dead Rhetoric: You did an animated video with Ryan Weibust for “The Black Divide” off the last record. What did you enjoy regarding the concept and the process – and will it be something you consider again down the line beyond the normal visual clips?

Shapiro: I loved making that video because I didn’t have to act in it, or anything. We had pictures taken, then Ryan went to work. I love the entire process; we were able to get ideas across that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to film with us in it. I was excited to do that, I would love to do another (video) like that. I don’t know if we will be able to do one for this album, Ryan is super busy these days. We do have a video coming out for “Reign in Hell” in a couple of weeks. It’s not animated but pretty interesting itself.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you get a sense that traditional heavy metal and more melodic subgenres have been gaining more appeal and steadier followings not just overseas, but also stateside – especially given the classic exposure of artists like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, etc. through commercials, sports arena play, satellite/terrestrial radio, etc.? And how do you feel about the newer generation of bands adding their own stamp/flavor to things?

Shapiro: I don’t know if it’s that much more in the limelight than it has ever been. It will never have the reach this movement had in say 1984-1988. For me, it’s always been that way, it’s the music I enjoy listening to. Seeing commercials, I don’t watch enough tv to see if it has that much of an effect – I do love what a lot of the newer bands are doing for the genre. I wish that there was some more commercial relevance for them, the problem our band and a lot of these bands have is it’s hard to dedicate the time and resources necessary to be a professional musician when you don’t have a lot of financial backing from labels or other revenue sources. You get a negligible amount of money from streaming. You don’t get terrestrial radio play anymore, unless it’s local heavy metal bands that are played between midnight and 1 am on Sunday. Satellite radio is better, but it’s curated the same way as terrestrial radio is. It’s challenging to get your music out there.

When it comes to newer bands, I hear them by seeing them live and I’ll buy their music. Night Demon is a great example of that. They are a great band, in a similar way genre-wise to what we are trying to do. They have had a lot of success, but you don’t hear them on the radio either. I like that the diehards are still there. I like that younger people have paid some attention to it. Just the fact that there are younger bands creating music in this genre, it proves rock and roll never dies. As long as the youth keeps playing it, that will keep it going.

Dead Rhetoric: At this point in your life, are they key moments where there was a fork in the road, or you had to pivot that launched your musical path and vision so to speak? And conversely, are there any specific mistakes or failures that taught you better lessons for the future?

Shapiro: Yeah. The biggest one for us was before we recorded Lost in the Black Divide. Things just weren’t working the way they needed to in my personal life. The band became more of a job. Investing more in the melodic side of what we’re going to do, and doubling down on the vocals, saying things that matter. If you are going out there singing about random nonsense, it’s not strong enough to keep doing this.

As far as forks in the road, every day. Do you know how hard it is to do this? You have to make a concerted effort to keep talented guys in a band situation happy, keeping things moving forward so that everyone is on the same page. I’m very fortunate, I’ve always had good chemistry in the band. This is my favorite lineup of the band. They are really easy to travel with. Can you get on the road with these guys and not want to kill each other? And honestly, we manage really well. It was nice. It continues to be that way. We will see where things go. The more success this record has, the easier it will be for us to continue.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider the biggest challenges for Space Vacation to conquer, this deep into your career?

Shapiro: We want to make some changes as far as how we are booking shows and how we are publicizing the band. We are hiring some folks to take care of that for us. I hate social media. It’s useless to me, but necessary in the context of playing music. Our hope is to have someone managing that for us, so we have a more professional presence online rather than me every once in a while, taking a picture and sending it online. Those are the bigger challenges – how to deal with social media, how to build your brand locally, getting booked on better shows and better tours. We are finalizing a deal now with a management and booking company who will hopefully resolve that for us moving forward.

Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to teach a high school or college course about a subject that you feel needs to be covered outside of your wheelhouse in music, what would you develop and why do you think it needs to be taught?

Shapiro: Critical thinking! Definitely. There is a huge lack of common sense in a lot of us these days. A lot of people are getting their information from social media. Take the time to look at source material. I’m a lawyer in my spare time, so that’s just me being critical of people just not being critical. I see younger people being more critical than people my own age. It’s the internet, if you are concerned about something, do the real research. Read things from people who have more qualifications about the subjects. If you have genuine concern, do the thought work necessary to make those determinations on your own. But that’s hard.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance out your work life, music life, and family life? Do you receive the proper support from your family, and have your children shown any inclination to follow in your musical footsteps?

Shapiro: I’m running on a wing and a prayer half the time. My schedule is always a challenge. When my daughter was born ten years ago, I made the decision to not stop doing this. If I pause, that was going to be it. It would have been tough for me to get back into doing this again. It’s a big part of who I am, how I see myself, and how I express myself is through not only performing the songs but writing the material. And then getting to work with other people and create something that is unique to the four of us, it’s something that I cherish. I have obligations, I have a family, I have a daughter to spend time with, I want to spend time with. Family time is important, and we’ve had a lot of it the last couple of years which has been nice. Workwise, you have to pay the bills (laughs). If I could make even a fraction of what I make at my day job through music, I would choose not to do the day job. I like to have challenges, meet them and exceed what I’m a capable of. As a musician, as a lawyer, as a father, rising to the challenge and choosing to be great at everything you do is a valuable lesson in life. You may not always succeed, be the best or the greatest, but if you choose every day in every way to be great at things, it’s going to have an impact on your life and the people around you.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Space Vacation over the next twelve months? What do you hope to check off the bucket list for the band down the line?

Shapiro: We definitely want to do some more touring, internationally. We enjoyed that, it’s so fun to get out of your normal routine and play in front of other people who have never had the chance to see you tour. I’d like to do more touring in the US as well, get to some areas we haven’t seen as well, the Midwest, Southwest, and definitely go back to the East Coast again. The biggest thing we want to do is make sure people hear this record. It’s really important, this album is good, it’s the best thing we’ve ever put out. It’s different, interesting, a lot of dynamics to it. We have something to say.

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