Grand Rapids band Vagabonds discussed their new project 𝘓𝘪𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘚𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦 and talked about creating art during periods of personal uncertainty.
Liminal Space is out now, and you can keep up with the band on Instagram and Twitter.
Matt Burdick: You’re listening to The Basement on WDBM and we are here with Vagabonds from Grand Rapids. Do you guys want to go ahead and introduce yourselves?
Luke Dean: I am Luke. I sing and I play guitar. Without microphones, we have Willem and they play cello, we have Jeffrey playing violin, Nathan on the drums, and you have a microphone.
Joshua Kohns: I have a microphone. Joshua Kohns, keys and bass.
Matt Burdick: We are super excited to have you guys and you can go right into your first set whenever you’re ready.
Thank you so much. You’re still listening to the basement on WDBM and you just heard a song by Vagabonds. So I want to start things off with a pretty basic question. Where does the name come from? What does “Vagabonds” mean to you?
Luke Dean: I haven’t been asked this in a long time. I had the name kicking around in my head when I was 16, and I don’t know exactly where I got it from at the time, but it kind of stuck and I just kind of carried it in my pocket for a while until I had a chance to play a show under it. I guess the word is just about never finding a home, never finding a place, always being in transition. And I think that’s in one way or another most times in my life. That’s kind of where I’ve been, that’s what I write about. I write about always changing. Changing ideas or changing places that I am.
Matt Burdick: And speaking of transition, Vagabonds actually started out as a solo project, just as you, right Luke?
Luke Dean: Yeah. Well, kind of. It’s gone through a lot of iterations. The first show actually had a violin player and a drummer as well. So it’s full-circled in a way. It ebbs and flows.
Matt Burdick: And how did it get to this current arrangement with the strings and the keyboard and the drums?
Luke Dean: Yeah, it was kind of piece by piece. I started out playing cello when I was in elementary school, so it was my first instrument and it was something I always wanted in the project. And I recorded a couple of tracks called “Honest” and “Ache” about a year and a half, maybe more ago, and those had cello. And I wanted those to be a part of the live set, and I reached out to Willem and they started playing with me and they were the first of this group to trickle in. And then I feel like it was kind of by happenstance that Jeffrey and Josh actually started playing. We just, I don’t know, what was it? Was it being like, holed up? During last winter?
Joshua Kohns: I think so actually.
Luke Dean: I think we were just playing music casually, and I had these songs.
Joshua Kohns: You’re just like “Let’s play some music.”
Luke Dean: Yeah, and so it wasn’t, I dunno, I wasn’t trying to fill a space, it just naturally happened.
Joshua Kohns: It just kind of happened, actually.
Luke Dean: Yeah. And Nathan? I don’t know, we’ve known each other. I used to go see his band. He played in some really good bands called Carielle and one called All is Well. And I always was a fan of those bands and used to go see them in high school and stuff, and I just thought he was a fantastic drummer and we had hung out knowing each other through the scene, gotten coffee, and then it just kind of happened like that. Yeah. Piece by piece, it fell into place.
Matt Burdick: Just a community coming together.
Luke Dean: Yeah. And it’s still ebbs and flows. Like Willem and I played a duo set over the weekend in Indiana, so it’s still a little liquid. I’ll play solo sets sometimes, or we’ll do the five-piece.
Matt Burdick: And is it cool to have that variation? Like every show can kind of be unique depending on who can make it and what arrangement you set up?
Luke Dean: Yeah, I think it is. It’s fun discovering the songs in different lights. It keeps it from being mundane. If I play the same set on like a 30-day tour and it’s just me, I don’t want to say it becomes mundane, but sometimes it can get a little bit harder to be emotionally invested or into the music myself. So having those other pieces, I think helps keep it interesting for me.
Matt Burdick: And how collaborative is the writing process now with all these members? Is it still mostly you Luke writing and arranging songs, or does everyone kind of bring their own ideas and their own parts?
Luke Dean: It’ll usually start with like a skeleton that I have. Like the lyrics, the chords, and basic melodies, and then we’ll kind of see what the song needs, and then tailor to that and everybody will kind of add their little piece onto that, yeah.
Gia Haddock: So do you ever find yourself- What’s the response you guys get from including string instruments, I guess, when you are playing live? Because it’s not something you see very often at a live show.
Luke Dean: Yeah I don’t know, what is the response? I feel like the older crowd likes it. Like the college professor types like it.
Joshua Kohns: I think everyone is very interested in it, for the most part. I mean, Jeffrey on violin plays like phenomenal and Willem is amazing as well. So it’s not a bummer when they start playing, you’re like, “Oh, that was good!”
Gia Haddock: I feel like bringing in specialty instruments are always, in my experience, they’ve always seemed like a really big hit with people, and so yeah, it’s really cool.
Joshua Kohns: Absolutely, yeah. It’s fresh and interesting.
Gia Haddock: Yeah. Definitely keeps the scene interesting by bringing in new instruments that you don’t typically hear.
Luke Dean: A lot of the stuff I draw from too is like Carissa’s Wierd or Cloud Cult and things like that, that played music either in this style or adjacent to it, and they have incorporated strings too, so I’m inspired a lot by those.
Willem Mudde: Do you mind if I…
Luke Dean: Yeah! Willem on the mic!
Willem Mudde: I get a lot of, I think when me and Jeffrey play too, a lot of people, since they’re not used to seeing strings, we’ll get this kind of like, I get a lot of people like pointing at me going like, “Oh, you play cello, that’s cool.” Which seems like a really flat statement, but I think it does kind of like, they’re saying something like, “Oh, this isn’t something I usually see” at like a house show or like at Pyramid Scheme or something like that.
Joshua Kohns: Or a basement show. Or a “Basement” radio show. You guys get violin and cello a lot?
Gia Haddock: First time!
Luke Dean: Really?
Matt Burdick: Well, maybe not first time in the history of the show, but first time since we-
Gia Haddock: In OUR history of the show.
Joshua Kohns: This is all we know.
Luke Dean: Well how’s the response over here?
Matt Burdick: Response over here is great!
Gia Haddock: Yeah definitely!
Luke Dean: That answers it. To answer y’all, the response is great.
Matt Burdick: Awesome! Whenever you guys are ready, you can go into your next song.
Luke Dean: This is that song I was mentioning called “Honest.”
Gia Haddock: Hello, you are listening to The Basement on WDBM and we have Vagabonds in here with us tonight, and they got me feeling some type of way. All up in my feels right now. Oof. In other news, so you guys have some new music coming out, which is super exciting. Super awesome. I know that you guys have taken a little bit of a break between putting something new out, and so how do you feel like that’s affected the sound that you’re creating now with the new EP?
Luke Dean: I think it’s a lot more intentional in a different way. The intention I went into it with before even bringing anybody on for it was just to make something beautiful, and I think in the past I’ve tried to just kind of shed all of the pain or the kind of dark things going on inside of me. And I think I needed a little bit of a break from singing songs about that kind of stuff. And I wanted to make something that felt beautiful when I played it, and that didn’t necessarily just feel beautiful because it’s painful or hard to sing. Which, there’s merit to that too, there’s a place for that, and there will be more of that. I have too many of those songs sitting around. But for this one, yeah, I just wanted to make something beautiful and this is how it turned out, yeah.
Gia Haddock: So do you think there’s value in artists being intentional and taking breaks between when they put out new music? Because there has been, I’ve seen a trend of people, of bands like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard just putting stuff out very quickly. What are your thoughts on, I guess, I don’t want to say quality versus quantity because I’m not saying their music’s bad, but just like putting stuff out really quickly versus being very intentional and precise with what you’re doing?
Luke Dean: Yeah, I think there’s a give and take within oneself. You have to weigh out, when you’re doing that. I think I would like to put music out more often. I think I maybe spend too much time mulling it over, to be honest. There’s a lot going on, especially with like the SoundCloud scene, I feel like people are cranking stuff out all the time. And I think that’s really cool. I think it’s a little bit harder to keep people’s attention as well. So there has to be some balance in there. I think I should put out music maybe more than I do for someone that does music. But yeah, it’s person to person too, it’s what you can handle and it’s about how much, if you’re trying to make something meaningful, how meaningful can it be if it’s done super quickly? And for some people they can do that, no problem. I need a little bit more time to sit with things personally. So yeah, I guess I can’t give a black and white answer to that.
Matt Burdick: Kind of in a similar theme, I know you toured pretty hard a few months to a year ago, and you took a bit of a break from shows for a while. That kind of just ended this past summer-ish? So how do you kind of handle that musical burnout, when you just feel like you need to, I dunno, step back for a minute?
Luke Dean: That’s a good question. I’m still figuring that out because I still get burnt out. Not as hard. I think I was really burnt out. I had done, like, you know, years back to back of just like van tours back to back for months.
Matt Burdick: It’s tough.
Luke Dean: Yeah and it can eat away at your mental health pretty bad, and it did at mine. For me, I just needed to fall in love with what I was doing again. I wasn’t even sure, going into that kind of unintentional break, if I was still gonna do Vagabonds or anything. It was kind of in a limbo for me personally. But it’s just kind of my natural instinct to keep creating. It’s just my impulse. But yeah, I think it’s really important to take time. I’ve seen people get really burned out and then keep going, and you know, turn into like different versions of themselves that aren’t even fun to live with. You know, that’s happened to me and friends, and really I just think you have to listen to yourself and what’s going on inside of you, and hopefully that’s a good compass.
Matt Burdick: Speaking personally, I’m very glad that you decided to continue with the project.
Luke Dean: Thanks.
Matt Burdick: So is there anything you do when you are stepping back to take a break for a little bit, anything you do that kind of fills that same hole as music? That kind of leaves you feeling happy, fulfilled?
Luke Dean: Yeah I just, I play a different kind of music. I play hardcore. Because you don’t have to sound good. It doesn’t matter what people think as much in the same way if I’m playing hardcore. It’s not cool. Writing riffs isn’t cool and moshing isn’t cool and hardcore culture isn’t cool, but I love it still, and it’s definitely a break from, you know, slow burners and music that’s thoughtful in a different way. Yeah. I play hardcore.
Matt Burdick: If I’m not mistaken, you play in a hardcore band called Roundhouse?
Luke Dean: Yeah, yeah.
Matt Burdick: So with playing in that other band, do you take any inspiration from that from Vagabonds? Not like musically, but maybe just emotionally? Is there any blend-over between the projects?
Luke Dean: Maybe early on. I did vocals at first for that band, but now that I’m playing bass and sparing my voice, there isn’t a lot of crossover. My friend Ethan sings in that band now and he just has a really great mindset about what he does and the way he performs, and the dynamic is super different. The headspace everybody’s at is very different than in this room, and I need both.
Matt Burdick: For sure. Alright, whenever you guys want to go into your next song, you can go ahead.
Luke Dean: Cool, this song is called”Undone.” Is it okay to plug that it’s coming out a week from today actually, on Spotify and all that other stuff?
Gia Haddock: Absolutely plug it.
Matt Burdick: That is very, okay.
Luke Dean: Cool, yeah. Well, it’s coming out next week. Single number two, and it’s pretty good. I like this one. I tuned the wrong string. It was supposed to be an E, I tuned it to a D but I think we’re good. I think we’re good.
Matt Burdick: We’re still here with Vagabonds on The Basement, and that was “Undone” off their upcoming EP Liminal Space out April 16. So I want to talk about that new EP now a little bit. You talked about wanting to create something beautiful with this record. What is the main message you want people to take away when they hear it for the first time?
Luke Dean: I think that it’s okay to breathe, to take a step back, to acknowledge what is falling apart in life and to choose to focus on what’s beautiful. Choose to focus on what’s true.
Gia Haddock: I think the name Liminal Space is very interesting to me because it’s like such a distinct kind of feeling to it, I guess. Like “liminal space,” for listeners who do not know, it’s like you said earlier, it’s kind of like limbo. It’s like a stage between two different places. And so you talked about it a little bit, but I’m assuming that inspiration was coming from a place of just feeling like you were going into a new step in your life and you wanted to use the album to kind of convey that? Or EP?
Luke Dean: Yeah. Yeah I think I was, even if unintentionally, and I’m not sure if I got there. I think I’m still in the limbo. Yeah, just a lot was changing in my life. The way I view the world and myself and faith and other things that have been very important to me. And yeah, I haven’t really made it to any distinct place other than I think now is a little bit better in my mind than it was then.
Gia Haddock: I think liminal space in itself, like I don’t really know if there ever totally is a destination in the end there, but I just think the whole concept is super cool. So when I saw the title of it, like I wanted to get your reasons behind it. I just think it’s a really cool concept.
Matt Burdick: And when you’re putting these songs together, recording them, do you think mostly first about just conveying the emotion, the meaning behind the song, or do you put the live aspects of the song a lot into the process, into the thoughts behind it?
Luke Dean: It used to be so heavy on the way people were going to react to it live, and. I still want there to be a good reaction. But early on, I was playing hardcore shows. That’s still kinda my context. I don’t really fit as well with like the Midwest emo thing going on, even if it sounds a little bit more like that. I just, I never exactly fall in line with that. So when I would play hardcore shows people would yell along, you know, I’d write these like kind of unintentionally anthematic songs. And that led me to kind of around, I guess, the middle of this project, writing in a format that would encourage that, that would encourage people to jump off stage or grab the mic or yell along.
And as far as the emotional aspect, it was just very visceral. I don’t do that anymore with this project. If people want to do that, that’s fine. I think there’s room for any self-expression within reason at a show, and I want to allow for that, but I just kinda let the songs be the songs that they are. And none of these songs are like, “bangers,” none of them, you know? They’re not, and that’s okay. But I don’t go into it thinking what’s going to make a kid yell along anymore. I just, I think mostly about myself. Does this feel right inside of me? And what felt right for these songs wasn’t yelling them right now.
Matt Burdick: I think it’s funny that you mentioned kind of being a “misfit” in the scene maybe, because you were one of the bands that first got me personally into the Grand Rapids DIY scene and everything like that. But how do you feel now kind of about the whole Grand Rapids community and the scene that birthed Vagabonds?
Luke Dean: It ebbs and flows like anything else, you know? I still think my personal identity, like just as an individual is more still in the world of hardcore, which is still doing pretty well, and that’s where a lot of the weirdos hangout. Said affectionately. Yeah, the rest of it is kind of interesting. I feel a little bit disconnected. Not running a venue anymore with my friends has definitely taken me away from that a little bit and I don’t know if I’m just past the teenage years when I started, where I connected more with what was going on locally. I guess maybe I don’t connect to as much as I did then and I think that’s probably partially due to lack of an all-ages venue and lack of bands happening and happening.
Not to say that there aren’t bands. There are. I think it’s good. I think it, you know, there’s pockets, and every, every scene has its social cliques, and I am mostly an observer unless it’s in hardcore. And hopefully people still come out to these shows in spite of that. And they do, and I’m grateful for that. But yeah, Grand Rapids is interesting. It’s a hard place to figure out, but I definitely love it. I grew up in that scene watching bands I love across the board from, I don’t know, bands like Still Remains, like metalcore bands to, I don’t know, the Soil & the Sun, stuff like that. All the way through until now. So there’s always good things brewing and sometimes it just takes awhile for them just to show their heads.
Matt Burdick: Well, circling back to Liminal Space, the first single for that EP, “Franklin SE” came out just a couple weeks ago. How did you decide that that was going to be the first thing people would hear from the new Vagabonds project?
Luke Dean: It was a head-bobber. I don’t know, I think it’s very different. I think it’s one of the most different songs on the record too. The way that the drum and bass grooves happen, and the pizzicato strings. I think it’s simple. It’s not incredibly weighty. And I think that’s how I wanted to preface this record. Even though it deals with loss, like I said, it’s not weighty in the same way, and I think this song just gets that across. I also wrote all these songs while I was living at that house on Franklin. It’s named after this house that I lived out on that street. And I almost named the album after that, the name of the house where I lived, and I opted out of that but yeah, everything was written there. It encapsulates me moving in there so I just thought it made sense. I also think it’s the first song I wrote that ended up on the record.
Matt Burdick: Well it’s been really great having you. I think you have one more song?
Luke Dean: Yeah, and it is “Franklin SE.”
Matt Burdick: Oh perfect!
Luke Dean: Cool well thanks a ton for having us. It’s been really refreshing.
Gia Haddock: You are listening to WDBM, The Basement, our live and local music show. We just had Vagabonds finishing up on our show tonight. If you liked what you guys heard tonight, you can definitely listen and keep your ear out for the EP coming April 16th I believe, so thank you guys very much for stopping by and playing a show for us tonight.
Luke Dean: Thank you for having us, it’s been a treat.