The Vansaders’ Doug Zambon talks about his adventures traveling in Cuba, Costa Rico, Mexico, Italy and more.
Everybody in Asbury Park knows and loves the rootsy punk band The Vansaders, but did you know that front man Doug Zambon is quite the traveler who’s captured his journeys in impressive photographs? He’s been to Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Italy and more. And he’s taken really good photos with only an iPhone. The following chat with him details some of his adventures, as well as how they have impacted him musically, plus upcoming plans for the band in the wake of the recent release of their excellent LP, Standstill.
Who and/or what inspired your love of travel?
I’ve always loved to travel. I grew up traveling a lot with my Mom and Dad separately. My Dad is from Italy, and we would go back there to visit my grandparents regularly. Traveling became very normal for me because of that.
With whom do you most frequently travel and what role do they have in your life?
I love traveling with my girlfriend, I love traveling with friends, and I love traveling by myself. They are all such different experiences. In the last few years, me and a friend from high school have been trying to make it a point of hitting a new country every year. It doesn’t always work out, but having a loose plan like that definitely keeps you exploring.
What nationalities are you, have you traveled to those ancestral homelands, and if so, how did it feel to connect with them and why?
I’m primarily Italian and a bit Irish. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy, but it never really felt like a foreign country to me since I’ve spent so much time there. I would love to go to Ireland. No specific plans, but I’ll get there.
Where are the most exciting or interesting places you’ve visited and what was most exciting or interesting about them and why?
Cuba was the most interesting place I’ve been. I had never been to a communist country before so the obvious government control and propaganda was really fascinating to experience. That being said, the spirit of the people was more impressive than the government that rules them. From my limited knowledge and experience, although they don’t have the freedom to live totally the way they want to, they seem to really enjoy life.
Which was your favorite to photograph and why?
I only recently started taking photos of places I travel to so, as of now, I’d say Costa Rica. I really just like being there, and I like remembering my time there.
With what kind of cameras do you take your travel photos?
Only the best iPhone camera money can buy. Actually not the best. I think I have an iPhone 7.
When did you go to Cuba, why did you want to go there, and how difficult was it to get into the country?
I went twice. The first time I went was after Obama had loosened up relations with Cuba. There is a list of official reasons for you to enter the country, and it was as simple as giving one of those reasons at the gate in the airport. That being said, while we were there, we saw Trump on the Cuban news tighten the border back up. Cubans were visibly upset about this. We were worried about not being able to get back in! We were able to get back in, no problem. I researched more into this and apparently Trump’s retightening of Cuba was bullshit, so … we’ll see. The second time, I lucked out completely. Luck when I’m traveling is key! My father was going to a medical conference in Havana and was able to put me on the visa.
What surprised you most about Cuba?
People in Cuba weren’t straight up with me when I asked them questions about their government, which was probably ill advised or not advised at all. For example, me and my buddy Drew went on a pretty wild all-day adventure with a taxi driver. After a few beers, I tried to wear the driver down, and the best I could get out of him was, ‘some Cubans aren’t into how the government is operating.’ He wouldn’t say, ‘I’ feel this way.’ I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me, but it’s just so different than how our country is run. I mean, I can say ‘fuck trump’ all I want, and I’m not going to go to jail. There, not so much. Actually, if you say ‘fuck trump’ there, they’d be stoked.
When and where will your next travel adventure be, what are you looking forward to most about going there, and with whom will you be traveling?
I haven’t been back to my father’s town in Italy, Castelfranco Veneto, in, maybe, nine years. Me and my girlfriend, Madeleine, are going there in September. I can’t wait to get back to the old haunts. The town is well connected with the train so I’m looking forward to seeing some towns I haven’t been to. Specifically, I can’t wait to see Sirmione on the banks of Lake Garda.
What are your bucket list destinations that you haven’t been to yet and why?
This is a tough question. There are so many places in this world that I want to see, it’s impossible to pin them down. Off the cuff, I really want to go to Brazil, Colombia, The Azore Islands, South Africa, Rwanda, Patagonia and Vietnam.
Have your travels influenced your music and songwriting?
Honestly, not as much as I would like. Whenever I travel to a new country, I try to leave with new artists to listen to, and I do. I listen to various Italian artists all the time. Silvio Rodriguez, the ‘Cuban Bob Dylan,’ was my most listened to artist on Spotify last year. But as far as my own work, it hasn’t really come into the mix. I should work on that.
The Vansaders recently released a fantastic LP, Standstill, that recasts several of your songs in a Celtic style. What influenced that direction?
Most Vansaders songs are written on an acoustic guitar so at the core, they have a more Celtic feel to begin with. That being said, Zach Doyle, who played fiddle on Standstill, and Jake Garbe, who played accordion, banjo, and mandolin, are both active in the Irish music scene, and I think that definitely showed.
Given your love of travel, what is the likelihood of The Vansaders touring internationally or you doing so solo acoustic?
My ideal tour is to just go on band vacations and play. Unfortunately, it’s not very feasible (laughs). I would absolutely love to tour internationally, but the demand has to be there. If we get to the point where we have real fan bases abroad that want us to come play, we’re definitely in.
When you travel, do you bring your guitar and have you either booked gigs or landed upon opportunities to perform?
I usually do bring my guitar but don’t book gigs. I do, however, often stumble on gigs to play. For example, when I go to Costa Rica, I hop on some gigs with a friend of mine from here who moved out there. Those shows are definitely some of the most fun solo shows I’ve ever played.
What do you like most about Standstill?
My favorite part of Standstill is hearing all the guests. Jake Garbe, Zach Doyle, Ryan Gregg, Robbie Butkowski and Stringbean (Kenny Sorensen) added so much to the sound of the album. It’s so cool hearing our songs with so many different elements that I’m not used to.
What do The Vansaders and you solo have going on in the spring and summer?
We just recorded a couple songs in the studio so I’d say it’s too early to say. We may go back in and have a release this summer. Stay tuned.
Check out the new Vansaders video for their cover of Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle” here.
Bob Makin is the reporter for http://mycentraljersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com and like Makin Waves at https://facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.