No Vacation talks Community, Song Writing in New York and Identity Within the Industry
Interview & Photos by Javi Perez
First formed by Sabrina (Sab) Mai (lead singer & guitar) in a dorm room back in 2015, No Vacation has experienced multiple ups and downs during their few years of existence, from the phenomenal success of their debut album, Amo XO, to disbanding indefinitely and then re-forming back in 2017. Interestingly, through all this evolution, No Vacation has maintained it’s core lineup, making for a still-distinct sound. Recently, the San Francisco-grown band’s been touring all over and getting ready to release their new EP ‘Phasing’ later this year - the first single off the album - ‘Estrangers’ - being released tomorrow!
With a sound described by fans as everything from wavy gravy, to dreamy beach vibes with bubbles, the indie pop band is only going to keep getting bigger. The band sat down with us after a recent show to chat about community, their sound evolution while transitioning between New York and San Fran, and struggling with identity within (and outside of) the music industry.
Most of the songs that you’ve previously released were written in SF. Being in NYC now, and with the new music coming out, do you think New York has influenced new sounds?
Nat - No, I don’t think our writing style is really influenced by location.
Sab - I don’t think that the places we live necessarily influence the type of music we make. I still think we make “sad” music that’s also upbeat; I don’t think that’s something that will ever change. I just like writing sad songs, I guess. (laughs)
Harrison - I think my headspace is more impactful than where I am geographically. My emotions weigh heavier than my surroundings for sure. Most of the new material was started in SF and finished in NYC, so if it does effect our writing, maybe it'll be an interesting blend.
Have you experienced many differences between the music communities in SF and Brooklyn?
Sab - I think community is where you make it, just like home is where you make it. You have to do the work of finding the people that make up your support system. It’s true that you become like the people you surround yourself with. I lived in SF at a very specific point in my life — I was a clueless freshman in college so everything was lax, not as serious as it is now. In Brooklyn, I’m grinding, whether it’s doing music or design. I’m not sitting in Golden Gate Park getting high anymore.
“Community is where you make it, just like home is where you make it.”
Harrison - I think I'm very lucky in that I've been surrounded by great friends in both cities. Also, Sarah Lewis — who played bass on our tour with Sales — and I have been dating and living together for years now, and I think she's my number one supporter by far.
As a creative, do you ever struggle with identity and your place within the industry? If so, how do you deal with it?
Nat - Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced anything negative.
Sab - I’ve struggled with gender for a lot of my life, specifically in how I’ve always felt out of place, even in my own skin — I identify as non-binary. And honestly, I think there’s still a lot to learn for both myself and others in recognising that there needs to be a bigger space in both creative and non-creative fields for non-binary and trans people. I still get misgendered all the time by both people I work with and fans alike. I’m already a shy person so sometimes it’s hard to speak up about it because the labor of correcting someone and having to explain what they/them is, etc. is too strenuous. I just think there needs to be more education but all in all, I think there has been a big cultural shift in not just music, but socially, in how diversity is encouraged and openness is actually celebrated. It’s been really cool to see how the industry has shifted; seeing more female, trans, [and] non-binary representation in music is always sick to see.
“I think there’s still a lot to to learn […] in recognising that there
needs to be a bigger space in both creative and non-creative fields
for non-binary and trans people.”
The video for Yam Yam recently came out — it’s gorgeous by the way! What was the motivation behind the visuals? How long did the whole video take to make?
Nat – Our main goal of the video was to convey positive emotions. BOREDOM productions crafted the whole video and all of the visuals. Although it only took 2 days of filming with the band, there was an enormous, unquantifiable amount of behind-the-scenes work done by BOREDOM (hand-painted animations, prop making, etc.). The video took about 6 months from initial start of idea to end product.
What pedals are you guys using right now?
Sab - I have a very minimal setup — just a simple reverb, delay, overdrive and booster pedal. That’s all you need, really. Most of my tone comes from my jaguar (shoutout Fender!)
Harrison - I'm currently running an incredibly simple setup, since most of my time comes from my guitar and amp. Respectively, those are Fender Jazzmaster and a Princeton reverb. My pedal board is a Hall of Fame, Boss dd3, Boss ce3, fulltone OCD and, of course, a Polytune.
Harrison, I’ve heard you’re kind of a fashion icon. You walked in a NYFW show - how did that come about?
Harrison - HAHA! Never been called an icon about anything, however walking was an interesting experience. I was street-casted for N. Hoolywood while I was at the Whitney. I think it's something I would do again, but I have no intent to pursue it.
Nat, you’re a literal nurse (incredible), how do you balance having two careers that don’t coincide in the slightest?
Nat - Unfortunately, I’m not able to have both nursing and music as full-time careers, but basically - when I’m tour, I’ll be reading about nursing-related things, and if I have a nursing position, I’ll just write music on my days off.
Sab — as THE bodega superstar — what is the best one you've come across?
Sab - Hard question! I’ve lived in a few neighborhoods, so my local bodega is always shifting. My fave one by my old place is called Healthway Gourmet and it’s really clean; the deli food is always good, they have a good selection of bevs and healthy food and produce.