Monday, October 31, 2016

Interview with James Vegas of Armada

Armada’s recent release Of An Ocean, is fitting of their band name, which is a group of ships.  With James Vegas on vocals, TeeJay Velorian and Ryan Danaley on guitars, Mike Ferrell on bass and Josh Lough on drums, this seasoned supergroup of professional musicians sailed through the music industry and popped the spinnaker of metalcore.  Band members were called to duty from previous bands, including Lennon, Modern Day Escape, I Woke Up Early For My Funeral, Lit Up and Pilot The Machine, and the culmination is this Orlando area band at the helm of the entertainment industry, having been heard on shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Real World VS. Road Rules, and Bad Girls Club to WWE “Perfection,” rewriting Dolph Ziggler Season 3 Monday Night Raw and Jimmy Kimmel Live Battle of the Bands.

Author Marisa Williams:  It has been said that this band is about rebellion, pushing back, taking chances, going against the grain, and pulling for the underdog with positive messages.  You believe in standing up against corporate greed, overcoming anxiety and problems of the past, while rebuilding better futures.  What led to you taking such a stance on life issues?

A:  To take a stance like that, I struggle with anxiety a lot.  That in itself is a battle on its own, that mixed with an industry full of shady people.  I was previously in a band that was semi-successful.  We went through a lot of rough times in the industry, due to people in the industry.  We want to bring it to a more serious level.  We want listeners to take a stance.  Don’t give up and give in.  We push the message of strength.

Marisa:  Upon listening to the latest album, I was curious if anyone in the band was into like maybe Anti-Flag or Pennywise.

A:  One guitarist, TeeJay, who is like a 7 foot 9 massive beast man, he’s really into punk rock style.  There’s lot of punk rock influenced guitar riffs and drumming.  I guess the only punk rock I was into was only Rancid, but that’s not really extreme punk, so yes and no. 

Marisa:  How did you get started in music?  Did you come from a musical family?  What were your early musical influences?

A:  No, I did not come from a musical family, but yes.  No, because nobody in my family played, besides my grandfather.  He had played trumpet for the President once.  But yes, because my mom managed bands from the 90s and 80s.  I was growing up as a kid in all the clubs, line Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode scenes.  My mom would stick me at the bar with a Shirley Temple while the bands sound checked, so that influenced me a little.

Marisa:  What instruments do you play, and how old were you when you learned to play them?

A:  I can play guitar.  I was 13, and I only picked it up because my friend was playing guitar.  We wanted to be like Counting Crows and Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  We started a two-guitar band for his dad’s friends who would drink beer.  We played on acoustic guitar.  I wasn’t as good, so I would play bass; I was terrible.  I also play harmonica, and I picked that up when I was probably like in diapers.  I still kinda play.  I dreamed of being super fat like the dude from Blues Travelers.  They’re amazing.  I always wanted to be overweight and play harmonica.

Marisa:  What was your first concert that you attended, and how did that compare to the first concert that you played?

A:  My first concert, I went to two, but I don’t remember which was first.  One of the two was Matchbox 20 at the Central Florida Fair.  I think I was 13, and then the next was later, but I always claim it.  My dad took me to see Gwar when I was 15 at the House of Blues in downtown Disney in Orlando.  I wore white to the show, which means you’re a virgin or first timer.  I have never gotten sprayed in the face with so much fake semen and blood in my life.  Compared to my first show, there’s no comparison.  I didn’t even finish half the lyrics.  I sang two and a half songs, then I calmly walked off stage and let the band finish the show.  I’d rather take a rubber dick to the face than play that show again.

Marisa:  What was the first album you purchased?

A:  First record ever owned, there’s like three.  I can’t remember, but going to say before CD’s, I’m dating myself, had cassette tape; ever see that show Blossom?  Joey Lawrence.  I had his cassette tape.  My sister and I would listen to it 24/7.  I couldn’t name a song today, but we would travel across country, and my sister would play INXS Shabooh Shoobah and Joey Lawrence.  We would sit in back seat, chug candy and sing our guts out.  Our parents hated it, but we were hella poor, and we had to share one headset, so we broke it and shared it and rocked out.

Marisa:  How do you go about writing music?  What comes first for you: drums, guitars, vocals or something else?  Has the process of writing changed for you over the years at all?

A:  Yes, the process of writing has changed drastically.  Each band has its own unique way of doing things.  In this one, TJ writes 70-80 percent of the music, and my cousin (Don) is the producer, and I do all the rest.  Usually, TJ writes music and sends it to us, and I start writing vocals, scratch track vocals, then go to Cleveland, Lava Studio in the Agora Ballroom.  I fly out and have been going there since 2008, go out every other year and do a record.  Don Debaise.  Like Ted, the Million Dollar Man, his third uncle, my fifth uncle or something like that.  We’ve got wrestling blood in the family, so we’re closely knit to WWE.  We flew out there, rewriting Dolph Ziggler’s theme song “Perfection.”  Very closely knit with that world.  I’ve been solicited by other female wrestlers and had to run away, being so heavily tattooed, looking like Ben Affleck and Jimmy Fallon had a baby in tattoos. Music process is completely different.  With previous projects, we’d sit in a room and write, but not with this one.  We don’t see each other unless doing a show or before; we are doing everything over email now.  I’d rather sit in a room and hang out and write, but I’d rather not, because we have different personalities that clash, so being together, we are very different people, leading different lives.  My bass player and guitarist got married and have a kid; whereas, the drummer and I drink, and the guitarist plays.

Marisa:  What is your favorite musical technique?

A:  For being a vocalist, I’d say falsetto to head voice.  It’s a really cool technique.  I’ve worked on it since I was a kid.  It’s not the easiest thing to do, going from singing voice to head voice.  The singer from Def Leppard does mostly falsetto, and the guy from Maroon Five, he does it a lot.  When he sings all high, that’s not his actual voice; it’s a really cool technique.  In recording, we’re doing a post production, which is really cool.  I think that’s post or over production; I listen to my cousin add ‘er on.  “Oh, that’s awesome,” all the layering and backtracking, creating a big hammy sandwich for the ears to take a bite out of.

Marisa:  What's the coolest musical technique in your latest project, or what is something people might not expect?

A:  I don’t know if anyone is actually expecting anything.  There was a lot of anticipation prior, because my last band was well known.  It’s us trying to tell people to listen rather than just listening.  As for technique, I do enjoy that we throw in that punk rock aspect Djent.  It’s like metal Djent and punk rock mix, so many influences, and the band makes that stand out musically. Vocally, I just go with it.

Marisa:  What is the scariest thing about being on the road?

A:  Neptune’s Lounge, Sarasota Sept. 17th. Hitting deer.  I hit a deer going 80 in Texas.  We were on the side of a mountain, and we almost wrecked.  Muggers or people who try to rob you.  I had to run full force from two guys trying to rob me in St. Louis, almost got stabbed.  Blowing a tire in the middle of the night, wild life… blowing a tire, muggers and heroin needles on the side of the road.  I stepped out of the van barefoot, and I went and opened the doors, but something in my mind said put flip flops on.  Ok small voice, I will listen to you this time.  I stepped on heroin needle that was bent, and it stuck in my flipflop.  Bovine or deer animals, or truck drivers that fall asleep.  Had friends on tour get vehicles wrecked.  Weather, ice, heavy rains, rock slides.  We had rocks hit the van, and it dented door completely in.  Everything is dangerous on the road; it’s a scary place, rough life.  Go to Walmart to wash.  If you’ve gone gold and are on the radio, sold more than 100,000 records, life gets easier, but until then, being on a tour bus is like a filthy pirate.  You contract diseases that are not in the handbook, clothes smell, there’s fermentation downstairs, bad news.  It takes a special person to be a filthy rat running around, wake up in a dumpster and not caring anymore.

Marisa:  Best or worst tour moment?

A:  I literally lived Motley Crue’s heroin diaries without the drugs or the sex, just excitement.  One time, playing with Modern Day Escape, we played with DR. Acula, from the Bronx, a hardcore metal band, but half were in some kind of gang.  We were playing a legendary venue, but playing the basement.  Trivium would play like the middle floor, and Blake Shelton would play up top.  We always sell out, because we play the basement.  Anyhow, a rival gang of this band showed up, and it’s a sold out show in 2012 on the  Under the Gun tour.  The rival gang breaks out in mosh pit fight.  Kids are getting power bombed through merch table, there’s people stealing merch, getting hit with glass bottles, security dragging people upstairs.  We stopped playing, because shit’s flying at us; the merch table hit the guitarist or something.  We’re trying to figure out what’s going down, as it’s a riot, bricks are flying at people, and the police come in on horses, trying to break it up.  My decision is just great, break high life, so I sit on top of trailer and watched whole thing.  Prime target for brick, but nobody paid any mind to me, so I just sat drinking, watching people get tazzed and kicked by horses.  One of the greatest moments.  Lowest, most depressing, was the first tour, in Four Points, where four states connected, like where Indians are still a thing.  They’re making baskets, and when they see buffalos, they’re throwing spears.  We had an ‘84 Winnebago that took a shit, and we had no cell phones at this time.  Only one of us had one, but there was no signal.  We had to walk 15 miles to get a signal, and we had to get a semi truck to get the Winnebago to Liberal, KS, where the story Wizard of Oz is based from.  This is the only thing the town has to offer, a small museum to Wizard of Oz.  So, we got towed there, and it was $800 to fix it, but we only  had $40 to our name.  We basically moved there for a week, and it just so happened that one of the band members dated a former lesbian who dated a lesbian stripper, that was basically the main stripper in town.  We stayed with her for seven days, only to throw a show at the end of the seven days.  The entire town population is like 500, and about 350 people came out to the show, with the proceeds going to pay for the only towing service, so we could leave and go home.  Drive with our tails tucked between legs back to FL.  I smoked cigarettes at the time, and our drummer was bisexual, so his boyfriend gave us cigarettes or some shit.  I just remember smoking and staring at tumbleweeds and dirt.  That was the lowest part of life as a touring musician.  I have some of the most insane stories.  Have about 30 more wild stories.  People ask how I’m still alive.  I may have died and am just living in the residual image of what my mind perceived.  I tell people, and they say, “are you fucking with me?” There was a stripper shoving a snake down a band member’s pants that she pulled from her ottoman; he jumped out of the window, because he said the bushes looked soft and broke shoulder.  Lots of alcohol: live fast, drink young.  I don’t get to tell them too often.  People might like me more.

Marisa:  What's your favorite way to travel and why?

A:  By tour bus.  To be honest with you, I love getting in the bus, hearing the engine growl and rumble.  The bus sways just a little bit.  I always think I don’t sleep, but I sleep like a baby.  I hate airplanes, never traveled by boat, lived in Las Vegas and CA, then FL.  I’ve been on one jet ski, maybe two boats, subway once, and the tram at Disney.  I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of poor people.  All my friends are scumbags, nobody can afford boats.  I’d probably want to launch it into a bunch of people, so I’m ready for it. 

Marisa:  What's your favorite place to travel to, and is there anywhere you have not been to that you would like to go to?

A:  I’ve only traveled, traversed Canada, Mexico, and US.  I’ve lived in CA for a few years, loved the weather, beautiful ladies, love Seattle grunge.  You can tell grunge is still a thing there.  Magic is real, as are witches, trolls, and all.  My favorite is the tour bus.

Marisa:  What's your biggest musical fantasy?

A:  The F word is a strange word; it doesn’t get thrown out very often.  I would like to hang out in a room with David Bowie, Bert McCracken from the Used, Freddie Mercury, Michael Hutchence from INXS, maybe Adam Lazzara from Taking Back Sunday, hang out in a small green room, eat a deli tray, cookies.  In my fantasy, I smoke cigarettes while talking to all of them, see where they’re all coming from, see what they think of the universe and love and life, pick their brains.  That’d be cool.  Then have a nice hot bath after and let it all sink in.  Get up in that hotel, that clean tub, get bubble bath on, get my feetsies, turn lights low and think about everything.  I’m not talking no little feetsies, as I wear size 12 shoe.  I want French fries so bad right now.  All I want is eat pizza, French fries, children foods are my comfort food; I’m down for hamburgers and French fries and pizza. 

Marisa:  I have three personality questions that I ask everyone.  They might sound like hogwash, but I promise, there is a psychological basis to the answers ;-)  First, if you were an unicorn, and you could be any color but white, what color would you be and would you have any special powers?

A:  Wouldn’t be a unicorn.  I’d be like a wolf.  Like the nothing from the Never Ending Story, except I wouldn’t be stabbed by a little white boy or Indian child, whatever it was.  My powers would be the ability to sass mouth people really well, pretend bully people, sassy.  In my mind, I’m Biff from Back to the Future.  I wouldn’t be a unicorn, I’d be a wolf and sarcastically harass everyone, play tricks and disappear. 

Marisa:  If you were yogurt, what flavor would you be (feel free to be creative, as this does not have to be a traditional flavor) and how would you be served?

A:  Sassingly, jokingly answer, orange chicken flavor yogurt; I’d be served gently, in a bowl, gently served to you. 

Marisa:  Describe yourself as either a dog, a cat or a cartoon.

A:  Definitely not a dog, nor a cat.  I don’t want pets.  I have them, but I don’t want them.  A cartoon character, and I’m trying to think, as there’s so many racing.  Amazing Spiderman cartoon for personality: he knows he’s better than everyone but has to be a team player, mocks everyone.  Physically, trying to think, I’m not a small guy, but not big, like a medium guy.  Stan Smith from American Dad.  If Stan Smith and the Amazing Spiderman had a baby, mixed with the Jeice from Dragonball Z.  At times, I do come across as an elitest.  Bad trait quality.

Marisa:  Do you collect anything?

A:  Yes, I like to collect mugs, coffee mugs, like goofy or nerdy or movie memorabilia, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, random troll shaped, skeleton, cups and mugs I really have a thing for.

Marisa:  What's your biggest guilty pleasure?

A:  I don’t feel bad about 90 percent of what I do.  I like to watch Netflix and Animae.  I like to drink beer and watch wrestling like WWE; that might be a guilty pleasure.  My cousin, every year we do Royal Rumble parties.  Wrestling is soap operas for guys.  Never imagined feuds for universal belts, like Seth Owens feuding, would be as good as it is.  I have a tattoo of the Ultimate Warrior on my thigh. 

Marisa:  Do you have any hidden talents or special skills?

A:  They’re all twisted.  I can tuck all my junk inside myself and make it look like there’s nothing there at all; it’s kinda messed up.  The only other talent than that, wouldn’t really consider a talent, but I can take my weiner, and push into my bunghole.

Marisa:  What's the most important thing to remember?

A:  Who you are and what you’re about. 

Marisa:  What was your most influential moment?

A:  There’s never really been a direct moment, but a trickle of living life that influences me.  Every other year, adapt and change who I am to be a better me, so it’s an ever flowing process.  There’s never really been one defining moment.  I’ve had epiphanies, but it’s realizing that I’m a dumbass and need to stop being a dumbass, then pushing to a new level.

Marisa:  If you were not doing music, what would you be doing?

A:  Probably gaining weight, living in parent’s spare bedroom, playing World of Warcraft for days on end.  Music is my excuse to not work a fulltime job, so I’m going to keep riding this train as long as I can.

Marisa:  What are three things you must have with you when you are on the road?

A:  Cell phone, my backpack, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.  Backpack has everything else in it.  Toothpaste and toothbrush is usually inside my backpack, so clean underwear.  Baby wipes are a big one. 

Marisa:  How did you acquire your sponsors, and what do you look for when searching for new sponsors?

A:  Schecter Guitars, Black Craft Cult, In-Tune Guitar Picks for Armada.  We look for quality when it comes to any kind of music equipment, things in the tone level of what we like, quality of symbols.  There are some former sponsors we will go back after.  It’s hard getting sponsors unless you’re playing half the month out consistently.  Usually, we will send out our EPK, a highlight sheet of what’s going on, ask what their endorsement stuff is, write an email, and they will send you back a response.  A lot of sponsors will help bands.  We’ll get there.  I’m not worried about it.  We’re all adults with jobs, not looking for a free ride just yet, just acknowledge we exist and enjoy us.

Marisa:  Any advice for musicians starting out?

A:  Yes, don’t trust anybody.  If someone can’t put it in writing, then they’re probably full of shit, beware, you’re stepping into an oversaturated industry, always wear a condom, keep your friends close and keep your backpack closer, and if you’re not going to put everything into it, don’t bother putting anything into it at all.

Marisa:  Where can people find your music?

Marisa:  Closing thoughts and additional comments?

A:  Next month, we are shooting an official music video, we have an animated video coming out in October. 

The author of more than 100 books, Marisa Williams earned her Master's in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University; for more on Marisa, visit and  

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