Jason Vena & Ryan Zwiefelhofer of Acceptance on Reuniting, New Music

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My sister and I have drastically different musical palates, but one of the few bands we can agree on is Acceptance. This pop-rock sextet from Seattle dropped just one album, their essential 2005 debut, Phantoms, only to break up shortly after. But to the surprise of just about everyone on AbsolutePunk.net and elsewhere, the band scheduled their reunion for a main stage set at Asbury Park’s Skate and Surf Festival on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Then they announced more shows. Then they dropped “Take You Away,” their first new song since the breakup, and…cue the flying pigs.

Ladies and gentlemen, it appears Acceptance is back in full force. But why now? And what’s next? Pop-Break senior writer and web designer Nick Porcaro sat down with vocalist Jason Vena and bassist Ryan Zwiefelhofer at the Berkeley Carteret Hotel in Asbury Park for an in-depth conversation on the past, present, and future of the band.

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It’s really exciting to have you guys back. How long was this in the works? Did this start when you were offered the spot at Skate and Surf?

Jason Vena: How long, Ry?

Ryan Zwiefelhofer: January, mid-to-late January.

How did that turn into recording new music again and getting back into the swing of things?

JV: Uh…it’s my fault. [laughs] What happened was, first and foremost, John D [‘Esposito – the founder and organizer of Skate & Surf] got a hold of the band for the second year in a row. Two years ago it wasn’t even a thought, Christian [McAlhaney] was still touring [with Anberlin]…but it just so happened this year, when they contacted us through my Facebook account, I directed them to Christian, and Christian kind of organized a conversation with the band, if you will. The thing you gotta remember is we have six guys, and when the band finished our last show at Bamboozle, two of the guys didn’t play that concert. So you had a lot of moving parts, one of which was I was not anywhere near interested in music at the moment. Then you want to reconnect with Ryan, you want to reconnect with Garrett [Lunceford], and then Christian’s gotta be available…

So you guys weren’t really talking all that much.

JV: Well, some guys were. There were definitely guys in the band that had not talked for 10+ years at all. It was weird, from that standpoint, and we didn’t know what it was gonna be, but what’s so interesting is that it quickly became a very organic thing, and we all kind of attached to each other in a very positive way, we all got really excited about doing it. So then we’re like “Let’s do another show” and people showed that they’re interested in the band and we said “Let’s write some music”…

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RZ: Long story short, we started with the offer for Skate and Surf to get the conversation rolling, and it’s amazing how there’s so much excitement around this. People reconnecting friendships, and coming from all this time away to find ourselves in a spot where, not only do we want to do this festival, but why can’t we just do more music? Why can’t we do more shows? Like Jay was saying, it’s been really organic.

I wanted to ask you guys about that, actually, because Phantoms had a ton of hype among some sectors of the online pop-punk community back in 2004-2005 but it kind of came and went in a way, and then you guys broke up. Now, the response is so tremendous, and the Gramercy show was a huge success—how does that feel, so many years later?

JV: Weird. I’ve met one person that’s actually seen us before, so from that perspective…

I was 15 when you put out Phantoms, so right as I was getting into the album, you guys broke up. I didn’t think this would happen.

JV: Looking back on Phantoms, for a first full-length record from a band, at the moment, with all the stuff surrounding it, and it got pulled off the shelves, the record did okay, actually! We had fans back then! But I think what’s blowing our minds for sure is most of the people we’re interacting with via online or in person seem to be people that’ve never seen us that found the band after. It’s crazy to think that record can still be relevant to somebody that listens to music currently.

RZ: It had a lifespan when we were still a band and something happened, we broke up, and that lifespan accelerated in a really weird, cool way. For me, personally, it’s hard to put into words. When you have people coming up and saying ‘Thank you, really, thank you for doing this,” it’s like “No, you have no idea, thank YOU.” You’ve never seen us before, we wrote this record ten years ago. It’s incredible to see where it sprung from when the band stopped.

Well, you didn’t hop on any trends. You wrote quality pop-rock songs. Nothing about the album is dated, it’s not clichéd like that, the lyrics are relatable. It’s good music.

JV: It’s borderline all that, but it doesn’t quite get to any of those things you referenced.

Oh, come on…

JV: I really love the record but, you know, at the time—I think the reason the record is received so well right now is our scene, if you want to call it “our scene”—I don’t even know if we’re part of the scene at this point—the “scene” that we came out of that has now evolved, it’s way more melodic than it was when we were in the scene. The bands that we grew up with and we toured with, they were heavier than us. To survive as a band, you have to have a groundswell of support from fans, and I think that part of it would be is that we probably were—as you saw with the disaster of the single that was a pop single—we probably at the time, the only way Acceptance was gonna be relevant was to be a mainstream success. It’s interesting to see the landscape of music now, with so many options to get to different peoples’ ears, y’know…

RZ: It goes so fast…you’re talking about an industry that is so heavy on technology, and technology that makes the world a lot, lot, lot smaller, so it’s cool. It’s actually really refreshing. We’ve probably talked about this a little bit as a band but, if it were 2015 when we were doing Phantoms,because you know the record leaked a little bit early—a lot of bit early—and a lot of people had it, and it was kind of at the forefront of when downloading…

JV: It was a unique record for the current times. It was before its time, not like we were geniuses, but probably what Ryan’s alluding to. The scene we grew up listening to where we came from, Jimmy Eat World was the closest band, but Jimmy Eat World wrote a huge pop record [Clarity] and they got dropped from their label [Capitol Records] before Bleed American was even released! So they had to write a record to get airplay and now you don’t have to do that.

Let’s discuss the new single, “Take You Away.” People have said it’s like you never left, or it’s a continuation of what you did back in 2005, but I thought differently after seeing you play it today. It came off as a lot groovier than your early material—there’s tambourine, more of a four-on-the-floor feel, which is cool. It’s a little different.

Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break
Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break

When people say it’s a good continuation, I think that’s because when you hear me sing a song, it sounds like Acceptance. There’s a unique sound to the band. Even back when we wrote Phantoms, Coldplay was an influence on the band, U2 has always been a huge influence on this band. We write very airy guitar parts, there’s not a lot of note movement in our leads, so it’s kind of got a sound although we write it over over palm-muted stuff and power chords, so that gives it that sound. With “Take You Away”, Christian brought a song to the table that had this opening, that Rhodes piano sound, and we really liked that sound, it was cool, and I really liked the four-on-the-floor vibe and we’ve never done a four-on-the-floor song like that where it’s like [sings and claps] ”Give it up, give it up…” You can just kinda get that thing going. And then when the chorus ends there’s kind of that [sings] “We live! We love! We give!” Kind of like this U2 thing also. So that was all stuff we wanted to do and I think it’s all unique, I don’t think there’s anything like that on Phantoms, although I would agree that when you hear it, you go “Oh, that’s Acceptance!”

But it’s a shift.

RZ: So maybe less of a continuation but rather a good progression. I would say it’s probably a good trajectory of where we’re headed. It’s definitely different for us and it’s something we wanted to do.

JV: I think people expect that, because you’re gone for ten years, you’re going to sound different.

RZ: What are they gonna get, something that comes out like the Mars Volta?

JV: “Are they gonna screw everything up?” There’s definitely gonna be songs we write that people will hear as a progression for Acceptance, but we are a pop-centric band, so it can’t progress too far. I mean, the Beatles progressed, but they were still a pop-centric band with great melodies…but anyway. I’ve seen the word “continuation” used the most, I think most of our fans seem to really love it, or really like it, one way or the other people seem to be into it.

You’re not getting “This sucks.”

JV: Yeah, we’ve got that going for us, so that’s nice. [laughs] 

I’m sure this is the question everyone asks because they get hungry even though you just dropped a single: what’s the plan next? Are you gonna work on an EP? An album? Taking it one day at a time?

JV: What would you like to see?

An album, of course! Well, I’d like to see whatever you guys feel like doing. I don’t want you to force it. Sometimes bands are like, “Oh, we have to make an album now,” but it doesn’t seem like that’s the mode you’re in. You guys seem really rejuvenated and happy to do it.

JV: We are a very interesting group of people, for sure.

RZ: Oh yeah.

JV: I want to do five albums in the next five days, if I could. [everyone laughs] Everybody else wants to just have me hang out and maybe have a drink and calm down for a minute—

RZ: That’s not true! Don’t you put words in my mouth…

JV: Ryan and I are probably the most aggressive when it comes to “Let’s do it.”

RZ: The thing is, this is such a new experience and the timeline of how all this is happening—again, we’re talking mid-January, right, from deciding that we’re gonna do Skate and Surf to knocking out other shows—so the timeline is moving quick and we’re all amped, we’re pumped, we’re ready to go, we’re so excited, we want to do new music, but we have to take it as it comes. We are building this thing organically again and we don’t know what it’s gonna look like, but we all have the desire to do a bunch of songs and release them. We had such a great response to “Take You Away” that none of us would say “Well, yeah, that was cool but…”

So it’s not a one-off.

Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break
Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break

RZ: It’s not that. We just want to make sure we’ve got our bearings straight and we’re doing something we really love. You’re right—we are rejuvenated, and we are really excited about this,  there’s just a lot going on kind of in this really short time frame. As we get more time and more space from the shows, we’ll have the opportunity to think about what our next move is. We’re all in agreement that we definitely want to do more songs, a record, an EP—what it looks like will make sense when it happens.

JV: You’re gonna tell us, that’s what it is, because it’ll be obvious. With “Take You Away” we felt like the response was such that, “You know what? This is something we should continue doing.” We got songs. We got a lot of songs.

RZ: It’s just so much fun. We’re having such a great time doing it. When we first started the conversation about doing more songs, everybodycame out of the woodwork—

JV: “Oh yeah, I got ten songs, I got this, I got that—“

RZ: It was coming from everywhere, so we set up a Dropbox and everybody has their own folders, everybody’s like “OK, well here’s where I’ve been for the last ten years, I’m gonna go ahead and dump it in my folder…” [slaps hand]

I guess that’s one of the benefits of a long hiatus!

RZ: Everyone’s chomping at the bit, so I feel absolutely confident this will turn into a group of songs.

JV: [scrolls through the band’s Dropbox folders]

Holy shit…

JV: [continues scrolling] That’s Kaylan’s file, that’s Christian’s file, all kinds of stuff. We’re trying!

Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break
Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Deadbolt Photos/Pop-Break

Do you feel like the writing process, the subject matter, or the feel of things has shifted at all from when you wrote Phantoms to now? Obviously everyone’s got their own ideas they’re presenting now, but how have your lyrics, your inspiration, etc. changed?

JV: We’re never in a room together, hardly ever, so it is something we are experiencing on the fly. Clearly, the music’s going to be influenced by lyrics and things of that nature, but the band is in an interesting place. Everybody in the band is in a different place, we have guys with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds that have now come together. You’re sending a message out as a band, to some extent, but I have a message to say, too. What’s so cool about the band is, what’s on my mind and what I want to talk about, is all about what this band and these guys have been through and how they’re living with it. We’re a representation of the people listening to our band at this point. Phantoms was a record about love. It was a record about all these different conceptions of love, and these misconceptions, and these stories and examples of people trying to find, trying to fill that void of love. It made a lot of sense to me and where I was at in life, it was spot-on, but what we need to talk about today—you listen to “Take You Away” and that song’s about the band. It’s about a group of guys getting back together and saying we don’t really care about what happened or could happened or should’ve happened and it’s not about that, what it’s really about is giving it everything you have. What’s great about that song is you can hang out with your friends and decide how you can relate to that from that standpoint of, “Hey, what is it about for us? How are we gonna give it all?” We live, we love, we give…you just gotta do it, man. And I think the rest of the record is gonna follow suit with this vibe.

RZ: I think so. I mean there’s certainly an anchor we all share even though we’re all coming from different perspectives. Ten years is a long time. People change, ideas, perceptions, and it’s amazing to see all of us come back and rekindle these friendships and really find that, you know, even though so much has changed, certain parts of it feel like nothing’s changed at all. Those are the things that I think Jason’s always done a really, really good job lyrically, with, is finding those things we all have experienced, we all believe in. We all have these thoughts and we want to talk about it and we want to send something out that’s uplifting and presents love and presents an idea of getting out, or finding truth, or something like that—none of that’s changed. For whatever we do moving forward, I think the lyrics and what we do from a song structure and what Jason’s singing about is gonna be really cool.

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JV: I’ve been through some things, okay? There’s something that our fans seem to connect with with us and we connect the same way about this really sincere feeling about music and about life—and it’s not a comment I’m trying to make on the music scene because it’s not my place to make a comment on the music scene—but I don’t see enough people looking for ways to appreciate whatever it is, their differences or similarities, and to find what is really positive within themselves or what they’re going to make positive. Listen—you’re either in a positive state or a negative state. If you’re in a negative state, you better start hopefully thinking about that next step.

PB: I mean, you talked about how fast things move before—we’re in a hyper-critical society. Every single move everyone takes is picked apart and analyzed.

JV: You know what my thing is? With all this stuff, Twitter, Instagram—I’m just gonna outdo everybody. People sometimes critique with the idea that they have to be out there and they have to be real, but that’s actually a facade in and of itself, like “I’m the critique guy.” I want the critique guy to be like, “Yeah, Acceptance sucked today. They were the worst.” But at the same time I want people to also say “Shoot, you know what happened? I was in the middle of a song and I kind of started to feel something listening to that band.” I want all of it, and so I feel like if I interact with these people as much as possible and make it a real interaction…shoot, man, we were in New York on Friday and this girl told us she just found out about the show and was devastated she couldn’t get a ticket, so we got her a ticket.

One more question—touring? Shows? I know you’ve got a gig in Seattle booked for July, you’ve got a few shows in California. Is that another thing you’re taking one day at a time or do you want to plan a big tour and pick some bands you like to head out with? Or just make some new music and take it easy?

JV: We don’t exactly have a very flexible schedule.

RZ: There are a lot of conversations to be had—

JV: We’re gonna do a lot of concerts next year. You’ll see us for sure.

RZ: Whether it’s a full-blown tour with tour badges and everything, I’m not sure.

JV: When you add them all up, it would equal a tour. One of the things that’s been really cool and inspiring is how many current bands have reached out to our band saying we inspired them, and I want to interact with those guys. I want to play music with them. So you might see us open for bands, and do all kinds of different stuff, but that’s cool to me.

Phantoms by Acceptance is available on iTunes


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Nick Porcaro is a 24-year old graphic designer, musician and writer based in Jersey City, NJ. Nick graduated in 2012 from UArts in Philadelphia, PA with a BFA in Graphic Design. As a musician he’s played guitar for over 10 years, in addition to dabbling in bass, drums and vocals. Nick currently plays rhythm guitar with Max Feinstein and has worked with Matt Scuteri, Sara Martin, Shakedown Inc., and The Nerd Who Ate St. Louis. When he’s not freelancing for the Wilma Theater, Nick is writing songs for his debut solo record.
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