New Vega finds new groove on second album
By Sarah Sidlow
Photo: New Vega will perfom at Ladder 11 on Aug. 10 [l to r] Alex Rundle, Chance Campbell, Adam Sabin and Zach Sabin; Photo: Carly Short
“It was a lot of work; a whole lot of work,” Sabin said, “because it’s all still DIY. [From] being able to put the last one out to this one, there were all sorts of extra things to go through to make sure that it could stand next to any major release.”
New Vega’s first album, Tempo, was a wholly in-house effort. The recording, mixing and mastering all took place in a studio they built in the Davis Linden building near downtown.
For Exit Ocean, however, the band was looking to step up their game, and their credibility.
“The songs were so good that we wanted to make sure they were being executed as professionally as they could,” Sabin said.
So the foursome set to work, spending three months tackling the recording and mixing, this time at Fat Tracks Studios in Fairfield, Ohio.
It was the fist time the band, a group of childhood friends, had explored the possibilities outside of the warehouse studio at Davis Linden. But the firsts wouldn’t stop there. They brought on longtime friend and fellow musician Joe Hedges play the role of producer during the recording sessions.
“It was the first time we’ve worked with Joe in that sort of role,” Sabin said. “It’s really the first time we’ve had anybody sit in that role so it was really helpful and exciting.”
And that was just the beginning. New Vega would venture out of the house yet again, to search for a post-production mastering studio – no easy feat for a band just starting out on the long road to becoming established.
“But essentially everything you can do to get to that point, it’s only a couple emails away,” Sabin said. “So a lot of it is doing your homework.”
And homework they did. They sifted through their record collections, searching for the post-production fingerprints they wanted for Exit Ocean. The final list totaled about 150 albums, including Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, Ben Folds Five’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner and Radiohead’s In Rainbows.
“Those three in particular all have a lot of different variables and nuance, Sabin said. “It’s all subtle stuff.”
The softness of Ben Folds Five, the tonality of Coldplay, and the emotional breath of Radiohead were now the necessary ingredients for New Vega’s new album.
“When we looked through the album credits to see the mastering engineer, literally the same eight names popped up across 150 records,” Sabin said.
At the top of that list was mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, of Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland, Maine. No stranger to success, Ludwig has thousands of credits for mastering hit records for artists including Neil Diamond and The Police and, of course, Radiohead, Coldplay and Ben Folds.
“[Ludwig is] literally known as one of the top mastering engineers in the entire world,” Sabin said. “He has countless Grammys. Anybody who’s anybody who has a record, his name is probably on it.”
Sabin and the gang emailed Gateway, and found that not only was Ludwig available to master the album, so was Ludwig’s protégé, Adam Ayan.
“[Ayan]’s been crushing a lot of huge hits, he’s up for a lot of Grammys and he’s $2,000 less than working with Bob Ludwig,” Sabin said. “He’s our guy.”
So Exit Ocean made the journey from Fairfield to Portland.
“It was an honor to have our record pass through the same reel-to-reel tape machine that these other records have touched,” Sabin said.
Recording an album and preparing it for release is a time-consuming and emotionally-exhausting proposition, one that Sabin equates to a “birthing process.” Not surprisingly, the process is also costly.
New Vega tallied a bill for around $12,000 – a price tag that included pre-production, mastering, purchasing, licensing, replicating and production. So, where does an up-and-coming band find $12,000?
That involved doing some more homework.
The guys decided to form an LLC and take out a business loan – a loan, Sabin said, they’re still paying back: every. single. day.
“You look at something like that, this is a giant risk,” Sabin said. “[We were asking] ‘how soon can we make $12,000 back off of selling this one record? Is this going to work?”
After talking with other business owners, New Vega decided it was a risk worth taking, though it might have been one they never saw coming.
“It was weird, because when you’re in a band, all you want to do is play guitar,” he said. “Then you go to Level 1, which is very DIY. You know, you buy recording gear and put out your first album. Now it’s like another level, so how do you form a business, and learn all these different things about business management and all sorts of crazy things… but now we know. We’re doing everything that a label would be doing, but we’re doing this for ourselves.”
The decision allows the band to feel a little more confident walking the walk of a big-time band.
“Most other big bands that are headlining festivals are all formed in this way, so when you’re doing merchandise and everything else, it’s easier to work in the format that everyone else on this next plateau is also doing,” Sabin said. “So when we play festivals like Bunbury, they say ‘Oh you have your shit together!’ It’s not like another band on a local level.”
The partnership also gives the musicians an additional sense of security.
“It’s the four of us in the band that have been hacking away at this for years and years and years,” Sabin said. “And [signing] it was like, real significant. You’re signing a partnership with your brothers. So it’s solid as a rock, you can stand on it and get to the next place you’re going.”
New Vega has been together since 2008. But they’ve been playing music together since they were kids. Sabin’s brother Zach plays drums. The singer, Alex Rundle has known the brothers since elementary school, and Sabin said he and guitarist Chance Campbell have played in different bands since they were 18, about 12 years ago. In high school, the friends all played in the jazz and marching bands together.
And while they’ve been playing music together forever, they’ve also grown up sharing their favorite artists.
“We’ve all known each other our whole lives, so our influences have grown together,” Sabin said.
When they play, the guys in New Vega think about harnessing the grooves of musicians like Bruce Hornsby, Kenny Loggins, Phil Collins and James Taylor.
“Those guys as songwriters…” Sabin said, “those aren’t our favorite bands, but when we played we’d go into that world where those musicians would fit in.”
The band’s musical influences also include bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Local Natives, Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear.
New Vega’s sophomore album is a reflection of the musical maturity the band has developed over the recent journey. And much of the credit for their emerging sound, Sabin said, goes to old friend and fellow musician Joe Hedges.
“Joe kind of helped us fill a producer role for this new record so we could have an outside listener help us work out different parts that might have not been working so well,” Sabin said. “You know, we would all have parts that we were passionate about playing, but maybe we’re not hearing them the way someone else is hearing them. So there’s maturity for us in that we all had to let go individually, of that individual part, in order to make sure that the song was flowing properly.”
Sabin said the lessons his band has learned will last long beyond Exit Ocean.
“We’ve been playing together for so long, but I really feel that just now through tracking this record, now we really know how to speak to each other,” Sabin said. “We all come from jazz backgrounds, so being able to talk to each other musically is very important.”
Hedges plays for a Cincinnati-area band, July for Kings, and will be opening for New Vega Saturday with an acoustic set that will feature music from that band as well as some solo material.
As for New Vega, after celebrating the album release, the band has plans for a few more regional outdoor shows this summer and fall, including the Dayton Music Festival, the Midwest Outdoor Experience, and the Midpoint Music Fest.
The band’s continued homework has turned up an opportunity to apply for the National Association for Campus Activities, in the hopes of booking some events at regional college venues.
And, of course, the guys are still writing, and looking ahead to another album. Sabin said they’ll once again ask Ayan to do the mastering, and bring Hedges in as a producer.
“We’re definitely excited to do another one,” Sabin said. “It’ll be a thousand times easier, but by the time we do something else, there will be another level we’re going to have to reach. We have to do more homework to see: how do we get up there?”
The album release party for Exit Ocean will be at Saturday, Aug. 10 at Jimmy’s Ladder 11. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the party will begin around 9. It will be a free show for ages 18 and up. Exit Ocean will be available for purchase. To listen to tracks from Exit Ocean, visit newvega.com/audio.
Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.