Can’t Lose with VanCo.

On March 16th, 2013, around 6:45 in the evening, I walked down the sidewalk beside 12th and Porter, the venue where the Drunken Irish Show presented by Gimm+Icky was to be held, feeling quite frustrated. I had just been inside, and I hadn’t been able to find anyone to help me. I was looking for the members of VanCo., the band that would be opening the show that night, because I was supposed to be interviewing them.

Suddenly, a door burst open in front of me, and I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar stride out. I immediately took off down the street, running while trying to look as if I wasn’t. I caught the man’s attention, and found that it was Evan, the bassist for VanCo., and I said goodbye to my frustration. Soon, I was surrounded by the joyful crew that is VanCo., standing out on the street corner where I had just caught up with Evan, and preparing to start asking my questions.  

From left to right: Van, Colin, Evan, and Darren
From left to right: Van, Colin, Evan, and Darren

VanCo. is a band of four great friends. I asked them to introduce themselves, and immediately, Colin, leaning against the wall to my left, who plays guitar and sings in the band, introduced them as a unit.

“Our band’s name is VanCo – V-A-N-C-O, sometimes a period.” The other guys prompted him to introduce himself, and they started going clockwise around our little circle.

“My name is Colin Benward. I play guitar, and I play – uh, singing.”

“My name is Darren Rayl. I’m the drummer.”

“Evan Davis – I play bass.”

“Van Beasley – I sing and play keys and guitar.”

Right after they finish, “Tina” is invented – a new member, who plays tambourine… who is apparently actually not in the band. Who is Tina?

“She’s a bartender that we know.” Darren says matter-of-factly.

After some laughter and a joke about Tina’s interrupting, I ask the group what brought them together as a band.

Colin immediately starts in with his tale, saying, “I first started a project called Fire Spies, which is just … my solo project, but I named it ambiguous because I always wanted a band…. Me and Van had always played in bands growing up as children, in the same town, but just never brought both of our collaborations together, and one night, we were hanging out, Van, Evan and I, and I was like, ‘Dude, do you guys want to play this show with me?’ And they’re like I guess, sure.”

He goes on, explaining how well the show went, even after only having time for one rehearsal. People were coming up to them afterwards, telling them how great they were, even asking if they were brothers, because they sounded really similar in their styles. They then decided to write a song together, and the first song they wrote became one of their favorites.

As Colin finishes his explanation, and starts saying that Darren should explain how he got involved, a car turns the corner at the end of the street coming towards us, with a rap song playing at top volume. And suddenly, Tina is back.

“Tina! Tina, turn it down!” Van shouts.

“She loves to party so much.” Darren says. Then, he starts in on his story. “I joined the band as a drummer. Van contacted me about being a part of the project and he enlightened me on Colin’s presence and who he was in the project, and so I got to meet Colin. I was interested, obviously I’d known Van a long time and known his creative ideas and everything else. So I wanted to be a part of it but I wanted to actually see what was going on first. So I met Colin, and the moment I saw the chemistry of everyone coming together, I thought, ‘This is a really good thing.’ It felt like instant brothers, instant family…. Van and I were actually in a wedding together, and that’s actually how he contacted me about it. So that was how I heard about the project, and we’ve just been running with our heads on fire ever since.”

There’s a pause for a bit of laughter, and then Darren tells me that the band is really only five months old.

My next question for the band was, “Who are your guyses influences? Do you try to emulate anyone specific, as a band or as your own performer on the stage?”

Van, standing to my right, begins with this answer: “We all have the same likes, I guess you could say, with music, but at the same time, we have our differences as well. When you ask, like, who I look up to, Thom Yorke’s one of my favorite front men, from Radiohead. So that’s a band that I love. We don’t sound anything like Radiohead, but I would love to sound like them. Also, Jimmy Eat World…. that changed my life. That’s the reason I started playing music in the first place, at the age of thirteen when I heard them, I was like, done.”

“Yea, you know, we all come from different backgrounds, but personally, for me-” Colin, who is now the one speaking, suddenly pauses and leans in towards the iPod I’m using to record the interview to say, “This is Colin, by the way. Definitely, growing up in my childhood, I remember seeing, a band that’s no longer around anymore, but if you’re my age you’d probably know, is Sunny Day Real Estate, I saw them live at 328 Performance Hall which is now the Rutledge and they infused this kind of transcendent experience with layer guitars and crazy drums and killer vocals. That lit a fire in me when I was fourteen years old…. I would definitely say there is that emotional, raw kind of like a 30 Seconds to Mars, kind of Jared Leto thing, personally my vocal. We’re all big fans of the late, great Imagine Dragons, too, as well.”

Darren then says, “Yea, it’s a mixture of all of our loves for Rock n’ Roll and still pop music. I think we all have a good blend of having our guilty pleasures and being able to take snippets from guilty pleasures that we have, the uber pop stuff. And also kind of getting back to our roots, the grunge rock days, the British rock days. Dave Grohl is, I believe, a pretty big influence for everybody here. We enjoy the big personalities, but the guys who are still the humble rock stars. That’s kind of the guys we like to give an homage to.”

VanCo. on stage at 12th and Porter.
VanCo. on stage at 12th and Porter.

After that, Van then claims he has no guilty pleasures. The other guys start to tease him a bit, and I throw the question out there – “What are your guilty pleasures?”

There’s a huge jumble of talking. Colin claims he loves badminton; Evan says he is an unashamed Justin Bieber fan; Darren seems to have a thing for the Spice Girls; and Van says, “Mariah Carey, the late days.”

Moving on, I ask if they might have had any “crazy fan stories” yet, even though they are a fairly new band. Van tells me about a young woman who came to one of their shows, and they met her, and then they saw her the next week at another show, but she had moved to Pennsylvania in that time period, and had driven all the way back to see them.

I then ask about the motto on their social media profiles – “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.”

“Well, you know where it really came from? Let’s be real.” Van is laughing.

“Be real with me!” I insist.

Van then says, “This is just between us, alright?” And so, if you ever meet Van Beasley yourself, and are just dying to know… you ask him. I will provide you with one quote from his story, though – “Friday Night Lights! Check it out, y’all.” Fear not, Colin provided some more insight that I can share.

“That’s really kind of our motto for the past five months. It’s clarity and vision. The majority of us are not getting any younger, and to take on the pursuit of doing the band thing at 29 years old with a few accolades under all of our belts, it takes the full capacity of our heart. We have those moments, those dark-night-of-the-soul kind of moments, where we’re like, ‘God? Is this it?’ Because there’s a lot of other things that we could give the full capacity of our heart to in this season of our life, and we’re just firm believers that when you set your heart to do something, you can’t lose. And it always goes back to having a vision of what what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. That’s what it meant to me. We just want to be a band that’s on purpose and on mission.”

Van then says, “And having that message as well, we can’t lose, you know, full hearts, that’s us as a band, but that’s our message as well. To anybody, to reporters or whatever, you know, in life, you cannot lose. You know if you go for it a hundred and ten percent.”

When I then ask about music to be released, they say their goal is to have an EP released by the end of the Summer. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled.

For my final question, I tell them I saw them perform at the Balls and Sweaters show. Apparently I said it funny – well, with my mostly-northern, partially-southern accent, and then saying it fast, to get it out, they all cracked up. Finally, I repeat it a bit slower, and then I continue, telling them how just plain happy they seemed to be performing. I then ask, “What would you say is the best thing about performing, and if there is one, the worst?”

Evan immediately jumps in with, “Worst thing, definitely, if you mess it up. Butchering something horribly. Or if you have to stop.”

Van continues with “worsts,” saying, “I think the worst part, to me, is the waiting, like now. I’m actually normal right now, but the waiting, you get to load in and everything, that’s the worst part to me, when it comes to performing. And also, not being prepared. You know, we work all the time. We really do. These guys will tell you this, I constantly, in eleventh hour – We just ran through sound check, we just ran through something, and I was like, ‘Mmm, it’s too late change what I want to do here.’ So that’s the worst part. For me, the best part is, man, whenever the preparation, all that stuff, however terrible it is waiting around, once you step out, what happens to me, that’s the most fun part. Seeing people’s faces. It’s amazing, you know? Everything comes alive, the room does. I never just want to sing to a crowd, I want it to be an event where everyone enjoys everybody, you know? We’re there for you, you’re there for us. And then also, after the show, just talking to people, and getting to know their stories and stuff.”

“We believe that this is our purpose.” Darren interjects. “Our purpose is to be doing what we’re doing, and so the best part is to be fulfilling our purpose. Being able to just be up there in the first place. And then the before and after, there’s always great conversations, great relationships. There’s great opportunities before and after a show. And during. I love the moments where we have set lists and transitions between songs, but there’s also times where some of our favorite moments are the times where you break away from it, and everyone kind of has a spiritual moment on the stage…. There’s a settling of emotions and the spirit in the room and you can see people that are affected by that. And you’re even affected by it yourself. I sit behind the kit, and everything just kind of relaxes…. you embrace the brilliance of what you’re able to be a part of. I mean, we’re insanely blessed to be able to do it in the first place, regardless of the size of the club or who’s there, how engaged people are, the best part is just being able to perform and fulfill that purpose that you know is yours and that you’ve been working towards your whole life.”

“And we’ve all done it with members that we don’t really enjoy, but to have it with brothers on stage, that’s a whole other thing. When you love, genuinely love the people that you’re with…” Van spoke very earnestly at this point. “We’re all each other’s best fans. And that’s always encouraging.” Then he jokes, “It’s like my mother on stage with us.”

After the laughter subsides, Colin says, “Obviously this question is very close to our hearts. I mean, it’s the pinnacle of the reason why we do what we do. And for me, when I’m able to invite somebody in to experience the song that I gave blood, sweat and tears to, and it affects their interior life… our hope is, our whole mission for VanCo. is to see people come alive in the context of music, and that’s our passion. When somebody gets a breakthrough in understanding a relational issue, an enlightenment issue, a community issue, whatever goes on, just to be able to be conduits of that experience, that’s irreplaceable.”

And on that note, our interview ended – but not before they started yelling into the iPod that I was their favorite interviewer/reporter/blogger, ever! I left that interview to wait for the show to begin feeling very touched, and very, very glad that I had gotten to interview these guys. I really think they are awesome – I had no idea before I met them how genuinely kind and passionate they are!

The guys of VanCo. and Taralei.
The guys of VanCo. and Taralei.

Of course, I couldn’t wait to see them perform, either. And that was amazing. As far as I could tell, there were none of the mess ups that are Evan’s “worsts” when performing. They may have all been dripping sweat up there on stage, but they were all smiling – as were the people in the crowd.

I have to say – Colin, Van, Darren, and Evan – you guys have got a new fan for life in me. 🙂

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