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Vinny Vegas tames the 'Whale'

MusicInner Harbor

Names are not what they seem for the Baltimore rock quintet Vinny Vegas. Start with the band's name: It is not the alter ego of lead singer Scott Siskind, but rather an obscure reference to a professional wrestler from the early '90s.

Then there's the title of the group's debut album, November's “The Big White Whale,” whose vinyl release will be celebrated at a Vinny Vegas-headlining show at Metro Gallery on Saturday. Despite cover art that depicts a diver next to a massive whale, Siskind said the title has nothing to do with Herman Melville's novel.

“Honestly, I've never even read ‘Moby-Dick,'” Siskind said with a smirk at an Inner Harbor bookstore last week. “It just sucks when people start talking to me about the book. I have no idea. That thing is 1,500 pages — I'm not reading it.”

The title of the album is actually the nickname of the band's difficult-to-navigate white van, which came to symbolize more later.

“I associate it as this thing with the band that we needed to take the reins of and have control over,” said Siskind, 30. “In a way, the album became [the whale].”

“The Big White Whale,” which was recorded last year in Baltimore at producer J. Robbins' Magpie Cage recording studio, was years in the making.

Siskind formed Vinny Vegas with drummer Jason Cohen in 2007, while the two were graphic design majors at Towson University. Their musical chemistry was obvious, they said, despite having different backgrounds. Cohen's love of hip-hop brought him to jazz and funk, while Siskind grew up listening to skate punk and '90s emo acts.

“It's funny, because a lot of our influences don't necessarily pop out,” said Cohen, 31. “It's a lot of stuff that's probably hidden really low in the mix.”

In 2011, Vinny Vegas — a rock act that balances workmanlike intensity with impressive musicianship — became a more serious venture when it solidified its current lineup. Alongside Siskind and Cohen were Earl Carter (guitar and vocals), Travis Lockhart (bass) and Emmanuel Lee (keyboards and vocals). Then, after releasing some EPs and singles, the band decided it was time to confront the whale and record its first full-length album.

“We had finally hit a groove where we were with a consistent lineup for about three years and had really just been churning out a lot of songs that we felt were our best yet,” Siskind said. “We hit our stride as far as writing goes, and really discovering our sound.”

It was a trial-and-error process. To write “Whale,” the band recorded every practice session, which were typically full of improvised jamming and members freely expressing themselves through their instruments. The results weren't always pretty, but the best portions were reworked and molded into the nine songs that make up “Whale.” Siskind said the band's penchant for dramatic dynamics comes from this writing style.

“[Album opener] ‘Highs and Lows' was a five-minute thing that came out of three hours of crap,” Siskind said. “The reason the emotion really comes out is when you're playing like that, you're letting yourself flow. You're really in that moment, and it shines through the music.”

The band has connected with listeners outside the area. They have independently booked shows in places as far away as Milwaukee and Quebec, and hope to make it to the West Coast and Europe in the near future. Vinny Vegas is currently unsigned, and Siskind and Cohen agreed that signing to a label is not imperative to the band's success or future.

After the vinyl release of “Whale” this month, Siskind said, the band will begin writing songs for Vinny Vegas' next release. It is too early to predict how the songs will turn out, but Cohen is confident the sound will continue to reflect how the band feels in the moment of creation.

“If somebody can listen to [our music] and can feel our honesty, then we've been successful,” Cohen said. “We write without egos at this point. We've gotten to the point of where we're brutally playing what we're feeling. If that resonates with somebody, then that's great.”

If you go

Vinny Vegas performs Saturday at the Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St. in Station North. Dreamcatcher, Mals Totem and Stillglow will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. 18+. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 day of show. Call 410-244-0899 or go to themetrogallery.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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