To some, three years doesn’t seem like a long span of time. But for Vinnie Caruana, lead singer and one of the founding members of I Am The Avalanche, it was a make-or-break period, personally and professionally.
Between the release of Avalanche United in 2011, and their latest opus, Wolverines, which was unveiled in March 2014, I Am The Avalanche underwent an extensive transformation. Over the course of this three-year period, Michael Ireland and Kellen Robson left the band, and now the band is made up of Caruana on vocals, Brandon Swanson on guitar, Brett “The Ratt” Romnes on drums and John Oliva on bass.
Caruana also was forced to cope with a painful back injury, which confined him to his bed and left him plenty of time to ponder the latest record, which he had to write, for the most part, on his own. This, in and of itself, was an undeniable challenge for him.
During a special one-on-one conversation, Caruana reflected with The Aquarian Weekly on his experience.
It’s been a few years since you released Avalanche United. How would you describe your personal evolution and the overall growth I Am The Avalanche experienced during that period of time?
We lost a few members before we recorded Wolverines. Mike and Kellen left the band around the same time, but Kellen recorded a few songs on the album. They quit the band under friendly circumstances. Mike wrote music for a few songs, and Kellen performed on the record, but there was a huge transition that happened because I was hard at work writing the album. I saw it as a personal mission. It was something that I primarily did sitting in my bedroom, cooped up.
I was a little bit worried because I was back to doing most of the writing. On Avalanche United I did about half the writing and there was this progression that happened just for me as a songwriter. And it was really important; it was about me getting more confidence as a result of just feeling like I was on my own a little bit.
I also hurt my back pretty badly and was bedridden for a few months. A good amount of the record was written under those circumstances. So it was about me saying, “Okay, two of the guys quit and I’m also here in this horrible situation health-wise.” All of that was the driving force for me writing Wolverines and finishing the process so we could finally record.
A lot of that came through on Wolverines, and I think that’s where a lot of the progression came from. Just saying, “Okay, I’m going to do most of the writing now…so, here we go.”
So it was about just diving in?
Yeah, just dive in and be confident. You’ve been doing it for a long time. Just do it and show people what you can do.
Your back injury obviously had an impact on the creative process, and Hurricane Sandy was a point of influence for “Where Were You?” What is your writing process like? Do you stem more from personal experience or use songwriting as a creative outlet for fictional storylines? Or, is it some mix of the two?
Most of it is about my personal life, even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. Sometimes you can tell when it’s absolutely black and white about my life. But then there are times I use characters and other writing tools to sort of mask it so it’s not fully about me, but it’s still about how I feel regarding certain things. I’m as personal as you get, you know? That’s part of what people get into about our band and our music. I think people expect that from me. And that’s cool because it’s what I’ve done for a long time and the way I know how to do it.
It’s what comes the easiest to me, writing really personal stuff. So when I try to just write other songs that may be masked with other things that are still about my life or the way I feel about certain things, that’s actually harder for me…to write to be more vague.
“Where Were You?” is a great example of a song that is about a very specific moment in your life; you seeing the effects of Hurricane Sandy while on tour. But others listening to it could easily apply it to moments in their own lives.
Yeah, I think even the most personal songs for me, even if they’re about something really specific, I think it’s easy for people to make it about them. That’s what we do as music fans. We determine what certain songs are about. It usually works out. Music is there for me, as a writer, it’s therapeutic and cathartic for me to do this. But it’s also for the listener, for their life and the way they want to apply what I’m doing. It’s the way it’s always worked. I’m not the first artist to figure that out. I’m thankful that it’s there for people and it’s also served me a lot in a very therapeutic way.
You’ve obviously been in the scene for a long time, and I Am The Avalanche have a die-hard fanbase. What are your first thoughts when people say how underrated you are?
That’s something people tell us all the time. My initial thought is we’re not a buzz band, really. We’re not these really young kids whose lives changed because of music. We all grind and have been doing this for years. The loyal fanbase grows, though. We saw a pretty significant growth with the release of Wolverines, which is great. Usually the growth is more gradual.
Usually when fans describe I Am The Avalanche’s sound, “anthemic” is an adjective that comes up quite often, especially when they see you perform live. What artists inspire you in the studio and on stage?
As far as live performances and the rawness our fans see, that’s 110 percent me growing up in the hardcore scene on Long Island. I was a hardcore kid and I’m still hardcore now, obviously, but I also listen to a lot of other stuff, too. My coming up in the Long Island hardcore scene, I started emulating all the singers I used to watch growing up and learn how to be a frontman. The Long Island punk scene was a pretty fruitful place. I was lucky to be a part of the second wave of that.
The first wave was generally a lot of bands that people outside of Long Island never even heard of. But they were all important to the kids like me when I was 12 or 13, up until I was 19 and started The Movielife. Musically and performance-wise we learned a lot watching these dudes.
Are there any current artists that inspire you?
I listen to punk music plenty. I love the new Lawrence Arms record, and I always listen to the Bouncing Souls, NOFX, stuff like that. But honestly, I get my melodic influence from Belle And Sebastian, which is an extremely wimpy indie pop band from Glasgow, and The Magnetic Fields, which primarily are an indie band, but that’s an extremely lazy definition. They have honestly written some of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life. They’re my influences when I write punk music.
I have no problem turning anything into a punk or rock song. I’ve heard enough punk songs to know the formula, when things are fast and slow, and where the changes are. But I get most of my influences from non-punk music and bring it into the Avalanche vibe.
Well, if you’re following a standard formula, I think it’s refreshing when there are elements from different genres. I think it’s exciting for listeners.
Yeah, I mean, nothing against Blink-182 or New Found Glory but if you’re writing a punk record or pop punk-type stuff, I’m not going to be interested if you grew up just listening to them and those were your main influences. You need to look a little bit deeper into punk music and beyond that genre. You should listen to other music.
It’s definitely the name of the game for I Am The Avalanche. With Wolverines, we definitely got into a more rock and roll place. I think it’s a punk record still, but we took different approaches with a bunch of different songs. That’s definitely going to continue. It’s a good direction for us to go in. Right now is a very good time for myself, my band and for my peers to be making the music we make. There’s no trend, you know?
What has been your proudest moment being a part of the music industry, which is evolving so rapidly?
I’d probably say making Wolverines, making it and letting the world have it.
Just in general, we’ve had a very strange career. We put out a record, waited six years, sat on our asses and were lazy; whatever excuses we have. And then we came back and I think we made two very important records after that instead of just dying.
So looking back on Avalanche United and Wolverines, I’m very proud because I know how much time, energy, focus, sincerity and commitment it took to get back into it. To show that kind of fire and say I still want to do this and here’s a record, and have people react the way they have. It’s very special. You write this shit in a very weird, lonely place so to have people singing the words back to you validates the work you put in. It’s a very great feeling.
Obviously touring is a big focus for you guys this summer, and you’re kicking off this leg in Brooklyn, which is around your home turf. What’s your favorite part about coming back to your roots and performing for friends and family?
Well, when we’re home is when it’s most rewarding. Our brothers, sisters and mom and dad, they get to see what we’ve been up to all year. That’s the best; just showing up in front of our friends, family and our girls to say, “Look how cool we are!” It’s very good for morale. You also can always count on the home crowds to be wild.
On your Twitter account you said that you had just finished writing a solo song for a film project. Any more information you can share about that?
There’s an indie film made by some Long Island dudes and they asked me to write a song for a specific scene in the movie. It’s set in Long Island and it’s about a lot of stuff I can relate to. It’s called Bridge And Tunnel, and I wrote a song for it that came out really cool. It’s extremely personal, and basically about getting out of town. I live in Long Beach, New York, and it’s great but I can’t always be here. Sometimes I have stuff to do in the city, and I also have friends in the city and Brooklyn and stuff. I wrote the song after we came back from touring in Europe for a month and I had a lot of stuff to do in Manhattan and Brooklyn, which I love, as long as I don’t need to be there 100 percent of the time.
I was feeling really suffocated and was just asking, “What am I doing here?” I was basically like I need time at home right now. In Europe, I didn’t have a second to myself and I wrote a song about escaping, getting a breath of fresh air, and incorporated a lot of the people and places in my life into the song.
This is my first time getting involved with something like this, so I’m really excited.
Is there anything else we should expect from you or I Am The Avalanche in the near future?
We have a lot of touring left to do this year. We’re always around the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area. We also have plans for some really cool shows that we can’t talk about just yet. But if people follow us on Twitter they’ll know what’s coming up. Besides this run we’re doing I’ll be home most of the summer, so I’m actually going to start writing the next record. I want to stay ahead of the game and make sure I don’t rush myself. I want to make sure we top Wolverines, and it’s going to be really fun to do that.
I Am The Avalanche play Saint Vitus in Brooklyn on July 18, and The Boneyard in Atlantic City on July 19. The band’s latest album, Wolverines, is out now. For more information, go to iamtheavalanchenyc.com.