Q&A with Vince Scheuerman

all photos courtesy of Vince Scheuerman

Vince Scheuerman has been a hard-working musician in the DC area for years. Not always part of the “scene”, he fronted the successful power-pop-rock band Army of Me for many years, riding a rocky road of successes and pitfalls, before starting the band River James in 2010. This spring after touring extensively with Nashville-based band Canon Blue, alongside MUTEMATH and The Boxer Rebellion, Vince decided to move to Nashville. He’ll be returning home on Saturday, June 30th to play a solo acoustic set at The Hamilton, opening for New York rocker Jesse Malin.

We Love DC’s Alexia Kauffman got the very busy Vince on the phone for a chat, and he talked about how he got started, the rough road of an artist on the rise, his plans for a new album, and more!

Alexia: How did you first start playing music?

Vince: Wow, well I grew up, my family was pretty musical- both of my parents play guitar, and so I grew up around that. They mostly played for the church, and they would sing around the house, my parents would sing harmonies. I was just around it alot, and I remember singing along with family. I remember also when I was in fifth grade, I was part of this chorus thing at school, and I had my first ever solo! I guess the music teacher thought I had a good voice, at least good enough to have a solo, so I sang in the chorus.

But I always wanted to play guitar-just growing up I loved rock & roll music. My Mom told me that if I got a guitar I’d also have to learn how to play piano. So I had to take piano lessons when I was a kid, and actually I’m really happy that I did, because it gave me kind of the basics on piano, and music theory, to kind of base everything else on. So then when I was sixteen I got my first guitar, and I pretty much taught myself, I mean my Mom started teaching me, and then some friends I had, they played guitar too, so I picked up some stuff from them, but mostly I taught myself guitar.

That’s kinda how it started. I played in some bands in high school, but I never really took it too seriously, or thought that it would ever, ever be a career. Like last night I was watching this documentary, me and my friend were hanging out last night watching this thing on Taylor Swift- it was about this tour she did a couple years back. It talked about her growing up, and she always wanted to be a star from a very early age- she just always wanted to be onstage, singing and everything. That wasn’t really how I was. I mean, I loved it, and music was my passion, I was really passionate about it, but I never really thought that I would be in a band for a career. And it wasn’t until later, actually, when I was in college, that a friend of mine asked me to audition for a band he was in, and I started playing in that band, and I started writing some songs, and I was like “woah!” I discovered the talent I have for writing songs. And it was around that time that I was really getting into Jeff Buckley a lot, and it really, that music moved me and touched me so much- the beauty that was in it, it really opened up a new path for me. I just fell in love with music so much, and I wanted to do that, I didn’t want to do anything else. So that’s kinda the short story of how I started really getting serious about playing music.

Alexia: So you mentioned Jeff Buckley- were there any other artists that were really inspiring to you in the beginning?

Vince: Yeah, well I grew up listening to the radio just like everybody else. Well, before that I grew up in a pretty religious home, and I wasn’t even allowed to listen to secular, regular music, it was more, you know, kinda Christian rock, and church music.  Then later I remember sneaking a tape when I was, I don’t know how old I was, I must’ve been like sixteen, but I snuck a copy of U2 War, which was, you know, this band U2, they were so cool, and so edgy, and so, you know, not really what I was allowed to listen to. And I think later I snuck a tape of the Metallica record, I started getting into rock. And then later in high school and when I was in college I started getting more exposed to just regular secular music and the radio. I wasn’t somebody who had really cool music tastes from an early age- I didn’t have an older brother to turn me on to the cool indie music, you know, so I just kinda discovered what I discovered. But eventually I discovered Radiohead, you know, I fell in love with The Bends, that was one of my all-time favorite records.

Alexia: Oh, me too!

Vince: Yeah! I fell in love with Jeff Buckley, I mean that really was the big one for me. Rufus Wainwright, Oasis and Blur, some Brit-rock, and that kind of formed the basis of where I started on my musical journey, at least my own writing, and what I loved.

Alexia: You had a good degree of success with Army of Me– what was the catalyst for stopping that project, and starting River James?

Vince: Well, with Army of Me we worked really hard for a long time, you know we started in DC, where I was from, and when I mentioned earlier to you before, you know kinda started to get serious about music, when my friend asked me to play in his band and I discovered that I could write songs. I got really passionate about music and was listening to Jeff Buckley a lot, all that stuff, so I really got in this place where I was like “I want to do music, and I want to do whatever it takes to try to make this into my life,” you know?  So I put together a band with some friends in DC, and we immediately just started you know playing shows, and recording songs, putting out recordings, trying to make fans, you know, we had a mailing list, and we let people know when we were playing… So once we started, pretty much immediately we were like “Well, let’s start playing other cities, too.” So we started playing Philly, and we played Richmond, and New Jersey, like DIY shows in New Jersey, and we started playing New York City. We played with a band, um, one of our first shows ever in DC was with a band called Longwave. Well they ended up actually doing pretty well, they signed with RCA Records, and they put out a bunch of records…but anyway, they were from New York, and so one of our first shows we met this band from New York, and they helped us get a show in New York. So we started playing New York, and you know we just really worked hard, and pushed and pushed, and just played as many shows as possible, we were just really dedicated and passionate about everything that we were doing.

Eventually we developed a relationship with WHFS, which was a radio station in DC back then. We won a battle of the bands, and got to play the ‘HFStival, and people from the radio station started to kinda talk about us, and we started meeting people from record labels, you know, just started getting our name out there more and more. Over the years we just continued to build momentum and build fans, and eventually it culminated in us getting a record deal. In 2006 we signed with Atlantic Records. It was a really exciting time, we had a really great management company, and I was really proud of the music we were making, and the songs I was writing.

It was kind of like everything was building to this moment, but y’know, it’s not just one moment, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. But anyway, we kinda had this opportunity to make a record, and have things continue to take off, and then it was around that time that a lot of things that were kinda out of our control didn’t really go that well. For instance, the record label fired the person that signed us, because of a contract negotiation issue with her, and so the person that was our representative at the label was no longer there, and then the label pulled all of the support for our record. So then, you know, we ended up putting the record out on an indie label that really didn’t do, didn’t make things happen the way we were kind of hoping they would. Also at that time, right kinda around the same time I had injured my voice, and I had to have vocal surgery. That was another thing that just kind of happened out of the blue, it actually literally happened a couple weeks before our record was supposed to come out. There were just a few things that kind of came up that were out of our control, and things just, they didn’t really work out the way that we had hoped they would. I guess when you put out a record and it doesn’t immediately skyrocket to the top of the charts, at least in the major label world, they kind of consider you a failure.

So, we just caught a couple bad breaks, and stopped working with the same people we were working with, and it was at that point that our guitar player actually decided to move Nashville to pursue songwriting. When that happened, it  (Army of Me)was kind of, in a sense, at least as a band, it was kind of over. You know, I had looked around for other people to fill that spot, but it didn’t really work out. So I’m kind of a believer that, you know, as hard as it might seem at times, that things happens for a reason. It was definitely a learning experience for me, and a humbling experience. It kinda brought me back to earth in a way that I probably needed at the time. It wasn’t like I felt like music was over for me, but it was like “Ok, things are kind of changing.”

And so, at that point I had been writing some songs, I had some demos that I had done on my computer at home, and I showed them to a friend of mine and he was like “Oh those are really cool- you should put that out!” I hadn’t really considered putting it out, I just kinda thought of it as demos for another record, but when it appeared that there might not be another full-band Army of Me record any time soon, I thought “Ok, I’m just gonna put this out, like, as is.” So that was called Make Yourself Naked, which was like a really stripped-down EP that I had done on my own. I wrote those songs going through that time period, and it was kind of representative of where I was at, you know, mentally and emotionally and spiritually. That was kind of a snapshot of what was going on- that I was kind of stripping everything down in every part of my life. Kind of entering a new chapter. Sometimes you have to cut away the old things to be able to grow something new.

River James

It was at that point, well really  at the beginning of 2010, I had been friends for a long time with a fellow from the band May. Army of me had done some shows with them, and I had stayed in touch with those guys, and the drummer Jacob and I were really good friends. We ended up kind of by chance hanging out over New Year’s Eve, it was kind of a set of circumstances that we ended up at the same place at the same time. River James probably never would have happened if it hadn’t been for a couple of really random circumstances that seemed like coincidences at the time. Anyway, we had this conversation that night – we talked about starting a band, and as soon as we kinda mentioned it to anyone around they were like “Oh, well I wanna be a part of it!” We had a guitar player and a bass player right away, and it was cool and we were all friends and everything felt really good.

So that was kind of the beginning, and it was at that point that I was trying to decide “Ok, what’s the next step?” and that kinda fell into place. So I thought, cool, I’m going to work on this now. Not that Army of Me is something that I’ll never revisit, but that right now at that time I was like “Ok, well, this seems to be the door that’s opening, I’m gonna go this way.” So that’s kinda how everything went with River James.

Alexia: You’ve been on tour for most of this year, 2012, playing guitar for Canon Blue. How did that come about, and what has that experience been like?

Vince: Well it’s been cool. The way it came about was, well it kind of came through River James, actually. River James had a residency last May in Nashville, and so it meant we were playing a show there every week for a month. And while we were down there we got to know some people. We had some friends down there that we connected with, and I got to meet some new people that I’d never met before, and I’d never really spent too much time in Nashville, and I met the singer of Canon Blue and his manager.

So we kept in touch over time, and this year at the beginning of the year I was kind of putting together a plan of what I was trying to accomplish for the year, and I was thinking about a new record for myself. So Dan, the singer, dropped me a line and said “Hey, I’m doing a tour and I’d love to have your help with the tour if you’re free.” And I looked at my plan for the year, and when I was going to be writing, and when I was going to be recording my new record, and I was like “Oh, I have some time,” you know, to do something a little bit different. I thought it would be a really cool experience because they were, Canon Blue was opening for MUTEMATH, and MUTEMATH is a band that I’ve always really respected. I remember seeing them for the first time – I think it was 2007…yeah, 2007 in March I was at South by Southwest and I saw them play in a parking lot in Austin, and I was like “Wow, this band’s awesome!” Really, like the drummer’s amazing, and they’re like great performers, really cool music and stuff. So I was like “Oh man, I’ll get to meet MUTEMATH and hang out, and my friend Dan, I’m gonna spend some time hanging out with him.”

I thought it was like a cool experience – the first time, in my life, really, that I’ve ever not been in the middle of the stage, you know, leading the charge, but it was cool, it was fun! It was a fun experience. I helped him out with a couple tours at the beginning of the year and then um, right now what I’m doing is I’m writing, well I’ve been writing, you know, I’m always constantly writing, but right now I’m really focusing on writing cause I’m going to be going into the studio in August working on a brand-new record. So I’m really excited about that. So I’m kind of shifting back this summer to writing and recording my music.

Alexia: So this new record- is this by any chance Army of Me?

Vince: We will see… (laughs)

Alexia: We will see??

Vince: We will see. I’m not ready to make any announcements yet, but uh, I’m not going to say no either. (laughs) We’ll see. It’s still in the process of sorting things out…

Alexia: See how it comes to life?

Vince: Yeah, see what happens, see how it comes to life.

Alexia: Ok, I’ll let you get away with that one… Do you have any favorite story from tour- either the recent tour or any of your tour experiences?

Vince: Every day on tour is an adventure. It’s almost like something crazy happens every day, so you lose perspective, they all blend into this crazy warp. I just had a great time with MUTEMATH, and with Boxer Rebellion- the Boxer guys were really awesome dudes, they were great. Great guys to hang out with, really funny- they’re from England, so those guys have English mannerisms that are a trip. Adventures every day!

Actually, here’s a story- we (Army of Me) had a show one time- we were booked on an outdoor concert with the band Switchfoot, and I had never met them before, I had just heard their songs on the radio- they had that song “Meant to Live,” which was like a big hit a while back. I guess this was the summer of 2007, a little while back, it was the first time we ever played with Switchfoot. But we ended up on this show, and it was their show, it was at their concert, they were doing this outside thing, probably a couple thousand people there. And right as we were getting ready for our show, getting ready to go onstage, this crazy thunderstorm rolled through. This was like, we were actually in Virginia, so not too far away, this crazy thunderstorm rolls through, and like, the rain is sideways, you know what I mean, like it was crazy, and our stuff was getting wet onstage, so we just had to pull everything off the stage, and we of course got rained out of our set. But, as those thunderstorms don’t last very long, and just in time for Switchfoot’s set the sun comes out, things start drying up, (laughs) it was just like the Lord was shining on Switchfoot that day. They got to play, like, basically exactly right on time, it was crazy.

So the thunderstorm ended, the sun comes out, and all of their fans stuck around. So they were getting ready to go onstage, and John, the singer, comes up to me and he says “Hey man, my name’s John, I’m in Switchfoot” he just introduced himself, and I’m like “Hey, I’m Vince, nice to meet you.” He goes “Hey man, it’s really too bad that you guys got rained out of your set- would you guys like to come and play a song during our set, like on our equiptment? We’ll just go off the stage and you guys can just come up and play a song!” And I was like “Really?! You’d let us play your stuff?” And he was like “Yeah, no problem!” So, sure enough, like halfway through their set John says on the microphone “Army of Me was here today, and they got rained out, but they’re going to come play you a song right now.” And they walked off stage, and we walked up and we were like “Oh my gosh, give it up for Switchfoot, they’re the coolest guys ever!” And we played a song, we just played one song, it was the song “Rise.” And I swear that we sold probably more merch, more cds and t-shirts from playing one song than just about any other show we’d ever played!

And, I mean you probably get this, cause you play music, but if you’re the headlining band, and you’ve never even met the opener, you probably are not gonna let them use, it’s just unheard of that a headliner band would care about some band they’ve never met, and give them the amount of trust, let them on your instruments, and touch your gear. It’s unheard of! So for this band Switchfoot, who I’d never met to offer for us to pick up their own guitars and drums and stuff and play a song, and walk off of their stage in the middle of their set was, like, mind-blowing! (laughs)

Alexia: It was like a divine intervention…

Vince: It just goes to show those guys, I will always have good things to say about that band, cause they are stellar guys. So anyway, there’s a story for you.

You can follow Vince on tumblr here and twitter here.

See Vince perform a solo acoustic set this Saturday, June 30th at The Hamilton! He’ll be opening for Jesse Malin.

show starts at 8:30pm/tickets $19.50

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

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