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Looking To The Past To Reinvent The Present: An Interview With Vanishing Shores

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All manner of “retro” styles are seeing a resurgence in the 2020s. From early ‘00s style and bowl cuts to musical tropes of decades past, we are people obsessed with channeling our modern emotions through history and memory.

Vanishing Shores’ latest single, “Fix Me,” shows the beauty of reinvented sounds, and how looking to the past can help create something truly modern. 

The brainchild of Cleveland, Ohio’s Kevin Bianchi, Vanishing Shores attempts to imbue each of their songs with a sense of beauty and wonder. Bianchi and company focus on the communal power of music, and its ability to create atmospheres and connection between people.

Their EP, Soundtrack for Survival, was released in August 2020 and was crafted with Chicago-located producer Robbie Hamilton. The sonic results of this collaboration are audible in the new single. 

Bianchi’s voice is right up-front in “Fix Me,” showing the band’s desire for human connection. Palm-muted chords provide the heartbeat of these verses, as a steady drumbeat keeps the whole thing on track.

As string sections and synthesizers swirl around the melody, Bianchi wears his influences proudly on his sleeve. The vocals are reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model-era, and the wide-open sound in the mix harks to ‘90s Tom Petty.

While the music may point towards human connection and open spaces, the lyrics signify the power of the individual. With the repeated refrain “You can’t fix me,” Bianchi juxtaposes self-reliance with the expansive sound of the music. This is American rock ‘n’ roll at its finest. Confident, free, and rebellious. 

We need more artists like Vanishing Shores. Artists who are chasing that big sound. Artists who speak to the strength of the human spirit. Artists who can conjure up a song that explodes in joyful defiance.

“Fix Me” hints at how much Kevin Bianchi has to offer. With a full-length record, titled Maps, coming out July 16, you can expect a collection of vibrant and engaging songs from Vanishing Shores.

 Kevin Bianchi kindly replied to a few of our most burning questions about his band and the music:

Stereo Embers Magazine: “Fix Me” has this really accessible and vulnerable sound. What was the writing and arranging process like?

Kevin: Our upcoming album, Maps, is the first one that I have been the producer in a very long time. It was important to me, since the songs were more personal in tone, to be able to translate all of the sounds in my head as accurately as possible to the original vision. I also wanted the album to be textured and have a ‘classic’ style of production that focused on melody and warmth.

For me, the best albums always make the song, more than the production or instrumentation, the priority. It isn’t an album where the ‘hook’ came before the song. So the album, in all of its production and creation, is more about connection than innovation.

All of the collaborators on this album added their creativity and passion in profound ways and also accommodated my sense of ‘minimalism’ at various points. It isn’t always easy to tell a drummer, “no hi-hat,” but I am grateful that they trusted me with the vision and invested so much of their creative beauty into each song.

Anytime you make an album you take risks, but I think that the risks this time were all focused on ensuring that the vulnerability of each song remained ever present with each listen.  

SEM: What does “Fix Me” mean to you lyrically?

Kevin: I always try to approach each song with as much courage and vulnerability as I can. Songwriting for me is never about an agenda or topic, it is simply my emotional response to the world around me. They are not always about me directly and they certainly never follow a narrative structure, but they do always reflect what it feels to live with eyes and heart wide open.

I always think that the best protests songs are ultimately songs that speak of unconditional love. So in that sense, ‘Fix Me’ is protest against the notion that we need to change people in order to accept and love them.

This year has been an extraordinary year for dislocation and simmering rage as a nation. It seems that everyone is rushing to cast judgment or exile those in which they disagree in alarming ways. This song firmly resists that idea and instead, from my perspective, says, “This is the final vow. There is no letting go.”

While I think that this is a universal message, it was first and foremost directed at me. I never want to get so caught up in an idea or belief that I don’t love first. Now certainly unconditional love isn’t a new idea, but it is perhaps the most difficult of all actions to consistently do in our lives. So the song means a great deal to me as both a reminder and a challenge to be quick to love without qualification.  

SEM: Is “Fix Me” a good indicator for the tone of this record?

Kevin: “Fix Me” is a very immediate song. This was a deliberate decision in the production and tone. I wanted the listener to enter right into the song from the first guitar blast without any extended intro or build up.

The funny thing about this song is that due to the pandemic and other issues, this song has never been played in front of an audience. It is my hope, that when that moment comes, the listener will connect with it in the immediate way it was recorded.

The lyrical focus of ‘Fix Me’ does provide a good indicator for the overall lyrical focus of the album with its insistence on pursuing the path of love, even in the most difficult or overwhelming circumstances.

Maps as an album and concept is all about the interior journey we all experience as we learn to live and hope, over and over again. It isn’t about the arrival at a destination, but the power of simply loving in the moment.

SEM: Did you use any special gear to get the sounds on this song?

Kevin: The main elements of this song are in the traditional, indie rock arrangement. However, we did add an underlying string section that adds a propulsive element to the transitions between chorus and verses.

One of my favorite sections of the song is the Lindsey Buckingham-esque background vocal arrangement in the bridge. The voices are added more as an instrument than a simple harmony and really create an atmospheric sense of movement and momentum leading to the emotional climax of the song.

It is unexpected moments like this that provide new entry points for the listener where their journey and experiences can be joined with the music in a profound way.

SEM: What artists inspired the songs for the upcoming release, Maps?

Kevin: I am always listening to music and learning more about the power and beauty of melody and songwriting. I’m still overwhelmed by songs and inspired to keep discovering and growing. There is still so much beauty to be found and the pursuit of it is something that I don’t think will ever diminish in my life or art.

I don’t want to underestimate the power of a song to literally change a person’s life. I don’t mean that in an agenda or propaganda sense, but in an emotional and spiritual sense. I can’t even begin to describe, how at various points in my life, a song has literally saved my life. I think artists need to never forget that reality. It is so easy to get hung up on the elusive definition of success and miss the broader reality of how music and beauty reaches the soul of a person.

I’m always inspired by other songwriters who can be honest and vulnerable and take risks in their pursuit of creating something universal and timeless. A lot of priority has been placed on the ‘new’ or the innovative, but I think that misses the uniqueness of experience. Love songs have been written since the beginning of song, but they are just as real and powerful each time a listener experiences love in their life.

It isn’t innovative, but it is unique to that person’s moment in time. That is where I want to connect with my music. I’m not trying to be the most innovative or create art for the sake of art. I want to journey with the listener, through whatever unique moments they are experiencing in their life. I want the music to walk with them, not in front or behind them, or from a distance. I want the music to be right beside them as they open their eyes and heart to whatever beauty is around them in their daily life.

SEM: What’s on the horizon for Vanishing Shores?

Kevin: Now that the album is completed, after this two-year journey, we are going to be getting out and presenting it to as many people as possible.

We are like so many artists who have been forced into isolation during this pandemic year of dislocation and distance. I want to find the joy of singing in public again and add my voice to those who are proclaiming hope and acceptance to the world around them. This is a year of community and connection.

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