I Am The Avalanche Biography
Last updated: 01/11/2011 11:00:00 AM
Touring in a band can be eye-opening, engendering a greater sense of self and the world. In the six years Vinnie Caruana sang with The Movielife, he learned how to write songs, win over audiences and survive living with the same guys for months at a time. But it was the 18 months after The Movielife's 2003 breakup that prompted the greatest personal and creative growth.
"I went through some of the worst stuff I've ever had to deal with and some of the best stuff, too" Caruana says. "It really woke me up to a lot of things and it was humbling, too. The Movielife got off the stage in front of 3,000 kids, and then two days later I was working construction in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. So, my whole life and perspective changed dramatically."
When Caruana finally decided to play music again, he had plenty of material from which to draw. I Am The Avalanche, the self-titled debut by his new band, is energized, melodic, turbulent, scathing and vulnerable, reflecting the frustration, instability and hope of its creator and resonating with the twists and turns of an artist coming to grips with the situations he has faced and overcome.
"I wanted to write about the things that were really affecting me emotionally and were basically just killing me," Caruana says. "I had a huge, long amazing relationship with someone, who I pretty much thought I was gonna marry. Then that ended in the worst way possible. And, I had to deal with the really severe drug problems of some people, and that put a huge brand on me. But while I was away from music, I got to spend time with friends and family for the first time in years. And that was really great, so those kinds of beautiful feelings are on the new record, too."
Indeed, I Am The Avalanche covers a broad spectrum of sound and emotion. "Dead and Gone" features clawing guitars, bobbing bass lines and a dreamy, harmony-laden chorus, "Murderous" is colored with a reggae-tinged rhythm and an infectious power pop riff. "Green Eyes" starts with an aching guitar line wrapped around a bare vocal and evolves into a chugging rocker with an incredible refrain, and "I Took a Beating" is a fist-to-the-face track charged with attitude and anguish.
Lyrically, the album is equally powerful, addressing Caruana's most personal fears and dreams with the candor of a diary. "Dead and Gone," for instance, puts closure on his relationship with the girl he thought he'd spend the rest of his life with. "It starts out with me floating on the bottom of a swimming pool with my eyes open looking around for something," he says. "I'm on this quest to find the girl that hurt me so badly. I'm on a search to find the other her, the one I was so in love with because she's been gone for so long. And finally I figure out that she's dead and gone and that chapter of my life is over and I have to move on and get on with what I'm supposed to be doing, which is this band."
Then there's "New Disaster," the mission statement of a Murphy's law adherent who's always waiting for the floor to fall out. "I'm so used to disappointment that I'm always ready for it," he explains. "The song is about knowing a person so well and just waiting for them to ruin something else, just waiting for that next train wreck."
Caruana started writing songs for I Am The Avalanche on acoustic guitar after he moved from New York to San Francisco to work with Head Automatica. He entered the studio and cut a batch of demos last year, still unsure if he would use the songs in a new band. "I just think my vision was shot of what's good or even if what I'm doing is still relevant," he says. "So I played them for some friends and they were like, 'Dude, these are the best songs you've ever written.' So, that restored my confidence and when I moved back to New York, I decided to put a band together and do it for real."
He called ex-Further Seems Forever guitarist Brandon Swanson and convinced him to relocate to New York. Then he hired bassist Kellen Robson, who used to be in the Long Island hardcore band Scraps And Heart Attacks, with whom The Movielife once toured. Next came guitarist Michael Ireland, who Caruana met in Virginia Beach and eventually moved in with when Ireland moved to Brooklyn.
"He was a Movielife fan and we had met and kept in touch throughout the late 90s. When I saw him again, he came up to me and said, 'I just moved to Brooklyn and I definitely want to check out your new stuff,'" Caruana says. "So, I went to his place and there was an empty bedroom there. I had just moved out of my parents' house, so I moved in with Mike, and he was living with Brett, who turned out to be a drummer in a band called Reservoir. He filled in for us and after our first practice we were like, 'Dude, quit your other band, please. This is so, so good.' Fortunately, he did"
Caruana named the band I Am The Avalanche after one of the first lyrics he wrote for the group. Not only does the name sum up the tumbling vibe of the music, it represents the landslide effect the past two years have had on the singer. "When I was starting the band, I listed all of the things I was feeling at the time and all the things I felt I was," he says. "And one of the things I wrote was, 'I am an avalanche,' I was feeling like it was completely time for me to come back and write songs again and get all this stuff off my chest. I was completely overflowing and this stuff was just spilling out of me."
I Am The Avalanche flew to Seattle in April 2005 and spent a month working with producer Barrett Jones (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Melvins, Jesus Lizard). They recorded in three different studios and employed unconventional techniques that yielded stunning results. "Barrett made us turn down our amps all the way to the point where everyone could barely hear one another," Caruana says. "We usually practice on 11, so that was really different, but he did that so he could listen to the actual songs without any of the noise. Then, we sorted out a lot of the songs and made them better. I felt so lucky to be able to work with someone of Barrett's caliber."
Like most recording sessions, there were ups and downs -- moments of anxiety when it looked like the album might never get finished and periods of elation when everything was running like a new stock car engine. But the moment of reckoning came when the band finished its last bit of tracking and Barrett played a rough mix of the album through the studio soundboard.
"We got some lunch and listened to the whole thing for the first time, and we were just freaking out," Caruana says. "Some of our friends from Seattle were there hanging out with us and we were all so stoked. We were like, 'Holy shit, we just did that.' That's when I really knew that this was for real."
Vinnie Caruana (vocals, guitar)
Brandon Swanson (guitar)
Kellen Robson (bass)
Michael Ireland (guitar)
Brett Romnes (drums)