Cincinnati wunderkinds Vacation have spent the last decade crafting catchy pop punk gems, cranked out at a steady pace for fans around the world.
It’s irresistible stuff, but even the most devoted fan has a tough time keeping tabs on the band’s output. Not only does Vacation have about eight or so full-lengths out there with an equal number of singles and EPs, but—counting solo efforts—there are about seven side projects keeping its members busy when they’re not on (cough) vacation.
“I think we’re unique in that we’re impatient,” guitarist John Hoffman says. “I think we move a little quicker than a lot of bands.”
Their latest, still untitled, which the band describes as “grit pop,” will soon hit record shelves, which means Vacation hits the road. This month brings them to The Empty Bottle, alongside Texas punk all-stars Radioactivity and Chicago’s own Skip Church.
The sound of Vacation is one of overwhelming fuzz-soaked guitars and earworm-inducing hooks, reflecting the band’s admiration for DIY garage jams and the carefree spirit of basement shows.
“It rips!” Hoffman says of the new album, and points out that this one’s different than the seven that have come before: “It’s the only studio album I think we’ve done start to finish.
“We’ve been shifting toward operating like a studio band,“ he says. “It seems like it all comes in waves.” The band, he says, has slightly stepped back ever-so-slightly from what he calls “poppy” material. “It’s still there,” he assures, “but we’ve all extended our tastes to new places in the past six or seven years.”
Fair enough, for a band that’s been at it for more than a decade.
Vacation was formed back in 2009 by singer-guitarist Jerri Queen; its original lineup included Evan Wolff on bass, with Dylan McCartney on drums and backup vocals. About six years later, Hoffman (an engineer by day who had just recorded the band’s third LP, “Non-Person”) signed up for Vacation.
It was great timing. The band, Hoffman says, was making a “de facto comeback” with the new lineup after waiting on the sidelines while Queen’s other project, Tweens, got a promotional push of their own. “So Vacation felt really energized,” Hoffman continues. “Plus, to me it was a new band with people who were quickly becoming…best friends.”
The fresh energy came in handy with so many tour dates on their plate.
“We were playing a lot of cool shows,” Hoffman says. “We did a full U.S. tour, people were happy to get to see Vacation live again. We toured with bands I think are really cool, like Screaming Females, Tenement, Priests, Todd Killings.”
And when the tours are over, day jobs for Vacation members tend to align with the band’s general DIY ethos. In Hoffman’s case, he’s made a quick name for himself as an in-demand engineer at home in Cincinnati, working with Queen City neighbors like the grandmaster of funk himself, Bootsy Collins, former Ass Ponys member Chuck Cleaver (and his current outfit Wussy), Kate Wakefield of Lung, Sorry Eric and Flesh Mother. He was also tapped to master archival tracks for a recent compilation of vintage tracks by early Cincinnati punk and no-wave artists.
Still, the road is where Vacation does its best work. After the band’s current string of dates, it will return to Europe for performances on stages both grand and intimate. Fortunately, it’s at home in either setting.
“I want to play to a sweaty basement full of smelly punk kids,” Hoffman says, before adding that, other nights, he gets his kicks staring out at “a sea of unknown faces.”
Perhaps it’s the frequently contrasting venue sizes that have propelled Vacation to carry on, while simultaneously defining and defying the punk rock status quo.
“Punk doesn’t change its expectations (for us) because it’s a reliable homestead,” Hoffman says. “It’s the promise of something bigger.”
February 19, 9:15pm, The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, emptybottle.com; $12 / $15 DOS. 21+
Bill Furbee is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Cincinnati CityBeat, Detroit Metro Times, No Depression, Ghettoblaster, American Libraries magazine and other publications. He’s also a frequent contributor to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and a board member of the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation, and enjoys repairing pinball machines in his time off.