Q&A with Secondhand Serenade, Performing Tonight at Revolution

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The obvious similarities between Secondhand Serenade, hailing from the suburbs of California's Bay Area, and homegrown sensation Dashboard Confessional are impossible to ignore. Like Dashboard Confessional, the name is a framework for a shifting project led by a singular talent; John Vesely is to Secondhand Serenade what Chris Carrabba is to Dashboard. Both projects began as one-man acoustic acts, which blossomed along with their popularity into bands in their own right. And, most strikingly, both groups are helmed by pretty, tattooed men with meticulously greased quaffs, who emote over lots of acoustic guitar on those two classic subjects: love and loss.

But Vesely's work, to thousands of thousands of fans, stands on his own. He's got a knack for singing with a hushed urgency, as if he were letting listeners in on a secret. Even if it's somebody else's secret — the songs on both his debut album, Awake, and his followup, A Twist in My Story, which dropped this past February on the upstart Glassnote Music, were all written specifically for special women. Awwww. Hardened hearts need not apply here.

And meanwhile, the self-made sensation who grew his fan base in the early days through MySpace, breaks further and further into the mainstream. "Fall For You," the lead single off A Twist in My Story, was certified platinum earlier this year; its video continues to receive heavy rotation on outlets like VH1. A deluxe version of A Twist in My Story, featuring an EP's worth of new material, is due out early next year.

After the jump, read a full Q&A with Vesely. -- Arielle Castillo

Secondhand Serenade performs tonight with Cute is What We Aim For, Automatic Loveletter, and A Rocket to the Moon at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale. The show starts at 6 p.m., and tickets cost $19. All ages are welcome. Call 954-727-0950, or visit www.jointherevolution.net and www.ticketmaster.com.

You called me from a (561) area code. What's your connection to Palm Beach county?

My girlfriend's from Palm Beach. She's in my next music video, for "Your Call." We're about to release it in a couple weeks.

Oh, um, because a lot of the early articles focus on how your first album was written for your wife, so uh, the songs are about a different person now, I'm guessing...

Uh, that kind of varies, but yeah, they're not all about one person.

As you write new material, are you still drawing on so much specific personal stuff?

Of course. It's always gonna be from experience and it's still very straightforward and literal writing. That's my style.

When you first started gaining a wider audience, did it feel weird to be singing such personal stories to increasingly larger crowds?

No, not at all. It's what I do. I'm definitely used to it now. But I think it's, one, really good for fans being able to connect to it -- it's really relatable -- and two, it makes it easy on me, because I can kind of draw on inspiration from something.

With your first self-release album, Awake, how did you go about getting so many plays on MySpace, and then how did you turn that into actual paid downloads? I'm sure plenty of people would like to know....

I pretty much just kind of ... I worked the whole MySpace thing. I had a few fans to start off with, I put my songs up after I recorded them, and tried to let as many people know that I existed as possible. That's the whole point of MySpace. You can go to any other band's page and find fans of music, and just go around clicking and adding people. It just kind of turned into that exponentially. I'd probably spend three to four hours on it a day.

Wow. Did you have a day job back then?

Yes; most of that time I was working at Neiman Marcus as a personal shopper.

In less than two years, it's said that you sold over 15,000 copies of the album on your own, and were bringing in $20,000 a month at one point. Is this true? How did you have time to handle all of this yourself and how did you stay organized?

Yeah, I think that was the highest I ever earned in one month. I was doing really well. It wasn't that dififcult. Because at that point I quit my day job when I was making the money, and I would pack CDs, and that was my only priority at that time. I think the fans promoted it more than I did, by putting my songs on their page. It kind of happened by itself.

With all that success on your own, what made you want to actually sign with a label?

I got together with my manager, and we mutually agreed on it. I wanted to take it to the next step, and have MTV exposure, VH1, have my album in stores. There's a lot of stuff you can do with a label that you can't do by yourself.

Why did you choose Glassnote?

It was just the right deal. I talked to a lot of majors, and Glassnote was the label that gave me what I was asking for in terms of freedom and ownership over my first album. Because I had an album to being with, and I just wasn't going to accept a deal that was going to rob me of that. And no major label was going to give me that.

When you then reissued Awake through Glassnote, why did you add the two extra songs?

A few reasons. Because we weren't coming with a new album any time soon, I wanted to give our fans something a little bit extra. And the way we recorded the two extra tracks, we did it the exact same way that we recorded the album in the first place. I used the same studio and recorded it myself, so it has that kind of conformity.

When did you begin touring with a full backing band?

This past January or February I think it started.

So then last year, when you played big gigs like the Bamboozle, or tours with people like Hawthorne Heights, you were still playing solo. Was it daunting being by yourself on a stage in front of huge crowds like that?

Nope, you know what, I don't have a problem with it. I played a bunch of radio shows recently solo. I never have a problem playing with a live crowd as long as there are people there. If no one is really htere, then it's hard.

Why did you decide to re-record a couple of songs from Awake for A Twist in My Story? That's a very Dashboard Confessional move.

I wanted to revisit those because on the first album, I had very limited means, and I could only do what I had the money to do, which was eight days of studio time. I didn't have any musicians, and didn't get to do any of the songs how I wanted to, ultimately. And "Your Call" was one of those songs I wanted to see live strings in, and more of an orchestral approach, and really build it how it deserved to be built. It was meant to be a full-band rock song, even though it was an acoustic song at first. And "Maybe," before I even got signed, I went into the studio with Danny [Lohner], the producer who did my album, just messing around. And we did "Maybe" again and it turned out really well.

You're now touring with a full band, and recording with one. Do you consider Secondhand Serenade to be a band now, or do you still consider it just your own project?

Well I mean, I definitely always want to be considered a band, and have that persona, because it's rock music, and I don't want anyone to think of me as just this ... guy. But it's definitely my solo project, and I record all the instruments, and I write all the music; it's my thing. Except the drums. I don't really do the drums. And as far as the orchestra, I programmed all the live strings, but with the re-release of "Your Call," it's all live strings, at Abbey Road. And I did not record those.

Right, you're doing a new radio version of "Your Call." Why did you feel the song needed to be changed for a radio version?

Just because. A few reasons. I think it could have more of a build, something a little more percussive. It's hard to do a radio song without the build starting in the second chorus. So we utilized the strings as kind of a building vehicle.

When is your EP coming out, and is it true that you're including a Coldplay cover?

The EP actually turned into being a deluxe version of A Twist in My Story. It's going to be a deluxe version with a DVD from the road. And yes, it has a cover of "Fix You."

Why did you decide to cover a song by a band that's very much still recording and playing?

I like a challenge. Its tough; you really want to be able to do a song and pull it off, and I think that me and Chris Martin, we definitely have a different style. When you look at our vocals, it's definitely different, and bringing that together with a song he wrote, I thought it'd be an interesting dynamic, and thought, why not? It's more for fun, and it turned into something that's pretty good.


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