Itinerary: A Brooklyn Travelogue With Matt Young and Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer

It’s an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. I am en route to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn after a pleasant jaunt up to Washington Heights, where I discussed life, love, babies, and new beginnings with an old friend. The day has already begun to transform into one that I will later recognize as a defining moment of 2013. I am about to meet up with Matt Young and Kenny Vasoli of the band Vacationer. Their debut album, Gone, is a soothing journey inward from start to finish. I dove into it months ago with a couple friends while upstate contemplating life’s choices and the paths we were all on. Gone played for 48 hours straight on surround sound and penetrated our minds in ways only the individual experiencing it would understand. The doors were wide open with no intention of closing, the grass was plush, and the sky was the clearest blue I may have ever seen. Summer had begun.

Now a near seven months after that weekend, I am about to embark on yet another journey with Vacationer as they pass through town and gear up to play a sold-out show at Bowery Ballroom. Their tour—in support of Niki and the Dove—began earlier in the week and extends through the rest of the month. The idea of alone time when in constant motion is almost unfathomable, and so, in an effort to not allow the band to sit still, together we set out to explore our city surroundings and dive into what makes Vacationer chill out.

Brooklyn Public House, 2:05 PM

247 Dekalb Ave., Brooklyn, NY, 347-227-8976

I’m with producer Matt Young at the quaint Brooklyn Public House in Fort Greene. We secure a booth while we wait for lead singer and bassist Kenny Vasoli. Young is fresh off a red-eye flight from Las Vegas where he was doing a series of promotional events with his other project, Body Language. Having lived in the neighborhood for two years, Young enjoys spending his winter months in this fine establishment: "They did a really good job at capturing the vibe of a true English pub,” he tells me. “It’s never too packed out or too loud—it’s just really cozy and nice. They have a really great beer selection and velvet wallpaper.” While I was off stroking said velvet, Vasoli arrives frazzled and “in a tizzy." Twenty-eight-years old-and standing at a delicate 5’8” frame, he carries an aura of coy, youthful sensitivity. I notice a single round band-aid under his right eye. Excited, and with a tinge of hesitation, he mentions, "A lot of this is going to be a learning experience,” an indication that he isn’t too familiar with the borough. Kenny settles into the booth alongside Young; they are reuniting for the first time in 2013.

Brooklyn Promenade, 2:45 PM

The afternoon has shifted to show Vasoli a new side of Brooklyn. In a quick decision moment, Young directs our cab driver to the Brooklyn Promenade. "It’s really beautiful this time of year,” Young explains. “You can always catch a really good sunset." We arrive and head down toward to the water, but sadly, there is no visible sunset today; the day is beautifully gray, and lower Manhattan is enveloped in a thick fog. The Brooklyn Bridge is prominent in our eye line. We pause to stare at the wondrous city, fixating on a skyline many look out to and envision their dreams, future, and endless possibilities. A self-proclaimed “homebody,” residing in northern Philadelphia—where he has lived his whole life—Vasoli shows little inclination of plans to move. "I like New York being a place I can weave in and out of when I need to," he says

Zombie Hut, 3:15 PM

273 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY, 718-875-3433

Standing on a random corner near the BQE overpass, there’s an awkward moment while we figure out our next move. Eventually, we make our way to Zombie Hut, a Tiki-themed bar in the heart of Carroll Gardens. The bar is dimly lit and the music is blaring like a Manhattan nightclub at those familiar drunken hours. It’s a little too early for the flaming fishbowls they are known for, but Young throws caution to the wind orders a Mai Tai. "Out of all the places in Brooklyn this is probably the most analogous to the mood we were going for with Vacationer,” Young says. “A lot of the records that we drew inspiration from were 1950s and ’60s Tiki Hawaiian records." I ask what factors played a part in bringing them together, to which Vasoli tells me his friend and former band mate Matt Watts—with whom he played alongside in pop punk outfit The Startling Line—sent over a list of bands that were making electronic music in Brooklyn. “I wanted to do something different, sort of a hybrid indie-electronic record, and Body Language was on that list,” he says. “It was really the only music that I gravitated toward. I reached out to them and had a blind date session.” Young interjects, “The first day, we already had a track and it was just uphill from there.” In what, I gather, is a longing for Vasoli to break out of the mold he’s inadvertently been put in amidst “the scene” and catch the next wave of life, he says, "I have such a great time doing this, especially after going and playing a bunch of shows with The Starting Line. It’s like going from a cold pool to a hot tub."

Grand Morelos, 4:00 PM

727 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY, 718-218-9441

The temperature is dropping and the sky is turning deep charcoal. We swiftly jump into a cab and head to Willamsburg. We’re exchanging New Year’s stories when Young flashes back to a moment in the wee hours of 2013 at a 24-hour Mexican diner, Grand Morelos. “It was six AM. This place was my last stop, and it was packed. People were yelling ‘Tacos! Tacos! Tacos!’ During the day it’s really relaxed, and after midnight it’s just a zoo.” Bouncing off the topic of New Year’s, I’m curious to know if there was one defining moment in 2012 that they’re carrying into the new year, and what they’re most excited for in the coming months.

Young chimes in first. “Iceland was really amazing, it was the first time that band has gotten out of the country.” Vasoli adds, “I’ve had such a charmed year: the record came out, we started touring in the incubation of Vacationer. It’s been a red-letter year for us. I still can’t believe it. It seems like every time I think, ‘Oh, that’s really cool that that happened, there’s no way it can get topped.’ And then Matt, our manager, calls me every week with something new that’s always really exciting.” The two then mention that 2013 will have them writing new material—hopefully, bringing a new album to our ears.

Noorman’s Kil, 5:15 PM

609 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY, 347-384-2526

Our time together is winding down and we end with an evening cap at Noorman’s Kil. The walls are lined with the widest selection of whiskey any of us have ever seen. Vasoli is reminded of a Breaking Bad episode where they were drinking one of his favorite spirits, Whistlepig. Young deems himself a whiskey enthusiast. “Last time I was in here, I had a Pappy Van Winkle,” he says. “It was amazing, just so smooth.” The two peruse the hefty menu and land on a Mitcher’s Rye. We order three and cheer to a delightful day. They need to be heading to the venue soon but sip their drinks casually. Kenny, impressed by the atmosphere, chuckles, “This is my kind of place. I’m gonna get into drinking more, become a big drinker." We finish off our round and head to Bowery Ballroom. I thank them and part ways upon arriving as they unload for sound check. 

Bowery Ballroom, 9:30 PM

6 Delancey St., New York, NY, 212-533-2111

Vacationer takes the stage. Vasoli’s nervous energy has seemingly diminished. He stands out in a bright red shirt while the band bleeds into the deep blue lights. He’s no stranger to the stage, exuding a confidence that reads as if he knows this is exactly where he belongs. While watching the, now full five-piece, I realize Vacationer is more than just band—it’s a passion. It’s a group of individuals coming together with the same drive to live out their dreams. It’s become clear to me that I too am exactly where I needed to be and that all of my potential is also unfolding. I’m reminded of an earlier conversation about "sympathetic oscillation"—the scientific law that theorizes: any medium pulsating at their natural pitch will simultaneously oscillate with the same frequency. We are consistently weaving in and out of places, even through friends each at our own pace. But it’s in those moments, in those encounters, where we pulse at the same speed, that we learn something about ourselves to carry us onto the next level or phase of our lives. A wave of gratitude comes over me and I thank the universe for how the day had unfolded, at which point Vasoli invites the crowd to “take a dive off the chill coaster” and join him in paradise. 

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Summer Spirits to Beat the Heat

It’s summer up here in the Northern Hemisphere, and you’re probably looking for ways to keep cool. The best way, of course, is to sip a nice cold glass of beer, wine, or spirits. Here are a few of my favorites for afternoons under the sun and breezy evenings in shirt sleeves. 

Beer’s as casual as summer itself, and I’m always happy when someone puts an ice-cold bottle of Heineken or Amstel Light in my hand. I also enjoy Samuel Adams Summer Ale, a crisp wheat with a citrus bite, and Samuel Adams Belgian Session, an ale with a quaffability far beyond that of its Flemish cousins. 
When it comes to whiskey, the light and flavorful Gentleman Jack ($32) goes down well on sultry nights. The new Whistlepig Straight Rye ($70) boasts a complex spiciness that leaves you feeling cool. The Macallan Fine Oak 10-Year-Old ($41) is the closest there is to a summer Scotch, with a whiff of leather in the bouquet and a hint of caramel in the finish. 
Rum loves the sun, and the lively Bacardi Oakheart ($15) gives a great little kick to your Cuba Libra. 10 Cane ($30) is made from fresh sugar cane juice with a touch of extra old rum. Appleton 12-Year-Old Rum ($42) makes me feel close to Jamaica, with a playful bite up front and a banana and vanilla finish. It’s dear, but Ron Abuelo Centuria ($130) is amazing. A wave of buttery oak leaves behind a medley of spice notes. 
For tequila, I enjoy Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver ($53) with its pleasant grapefruit finish. Herradura Silver ($40) brings out the best in the agave, proof that quality tequila doesn’t have to be aged to drink neat. And Patron XO Dark Cocoa ($25) takes the nighttime chill out of your bones, even if it comes from sitting too close to the air conditioner. 
For oenophiles, summer is a time to grab a crisp white, like the Kim Crawford 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($19), a refined wine from New Zealand with cherry flavors. The elegant Robert Mondavi Reserve Fumé Blanc ($40) from California has an aroma of country air and flavors of apple and pear. And I love Veuve Clicquot Rosé ($70), with its tiny bubbles and dry, fruity notes. 
Summer doesn’t last long so drink it in while you can.