The Vaughns are returning to the stage as if they never left

Tell my friends we’re hanging home / When the world ends there’s not much left to do,” Anna Lies, lyricist and vocalist of The Vaughns, softly sings in the second chorus of “All Weekend,” a track from the duo’s 2021 EP, rom-coms + take-out. The lyrics, which were written and recorded during 2020, aptly describe the sudden halt of The Vaughns’ touring life (and, well… life in general). The change was jarring for a band that practically lived on the road.

“When you’re playing shows almost every weekend for five years and then we played no shows for a year and a half, it was weird because it was just something that we did,” says Ryan Kenter, drummer/percussionist. “We really wouldn’t get show-anxiety; it was just a thing that we did.”

Lies and Kenter are two New Jersey natives who met in Kenter’s garage during a jam session in high school. Since 2014, The Vaughns have been performing and touring through the East Coast DIY scene, starting with Jersey music hotspots like New Brunswick and Asbury Park. For their return to live performances, the band performed at Chamber 43 in their old haunt—New Brunswick—on June 25 and in Albany at The Hallow on June 26. 

“Playing these shows, it felt like a new thing again, and it was really exciting,” Kenter says, “but it was almost like doing it all over again.” 

There were thoughts—after so much time off, so much change, so much of a shift in the entertainment world over the last year and a half—that the duo might not love performing in this new post-pandemic world. That the grind would be too much. That the passion for live shows, alone, wouldn’t be enough.

“Needless to say, we played them and we were like, ‘Oh no, we love this. Like, we love this so much that we’ll stay up ’til 3 a.m. loading heavy equipment, just to keep doing this, and I think we were surprised,” Lies says. “We were surprised by how much we still love it. It felt really good.” 

The Vaughns released a music video for “All Weekend” ahead of the release of “rom-coms + take-out.” Credit: Benjamin Lieber

Though the return to stage may have come with some trepidation, it resulted not only in a reminder that the duo loves performing, but also a reminder that there is something inimitable about live music. 

“There’s something I really love about performing live, it’s kind of like, whatever happens, happens,” Lies says. “And it’s a very freeing mindset because when you’re in the studio, you’re going for that perfect take, so you just go over and over and honestly, nothing’s ever good enough—you’re lucky if you get the perfect take but you’re really aiming high. I think there’s this freeing ‘click’ that goes off for me personally when I’m in front of a mic and just a room of people where it’s like you blacked out but it’s pure adrenaline. Once it happens, it’s gone, and that’s it. I just find something really beautiful about that and really freeing, and I didn’t realize how much I missed that until we played, specifically the New Brunswick show.” 

Kenter finds freedom in only being in control of his instrument — drums — during a live performance.  

“I feel like there’s not a lot of times in life where you’re able to turn off your brain versus what’s happening in reality; it’s the concept of being present,” he says. “When you’re in a show situation, you’re just doing the thing and you don’t have a do-over, it’s just like you’re acting and like, ‘Oops could have hit that drum fill a little bit better,’ or like, ‘Oh, I can’t really hear myself,’ like there’s all these variables and you have a very small amount of control and you’re there and you do it, and that’s what it is.” 

Returning to live performance after so much time off also meant returning to a changed industry. 

“All of the contacts and the venues—there have been so many changes to this because of COVID, like venues closing or different people leaving or people leaving jobs and coming into new jobs,” Kenter says. “Things are definitely not the same as they were.”

While the pandemic took away the chance to perform live, it did not take away the opportunity to write and create new music or sign with a new label, Equal Vision Records. In January 2021, The Vaughns released their three-track EP rom-coms + take-out, which they finally took to the stage in their comeback performances. 

“It was also fun because … Ryan got this electric drum pad that we’re using live now and it was cool,” Lies says. “It was fun to explore that as a band and start, you know, figuring out what that feels like live when you’re communicating that to a sound guy; that was like a new element for us, which was exciting.”

(Kenter, a fan of the drum pad, feels it adds “more layers of complexity” which makes “the sound just bigger.”) 

rom-coms + take-out got its name from a lyric in “All Weekend” for multiple reasons, but it comes down to the fact that Kenter and Lies both felt, “It was just right.” Kenter was a fan of the parallel syntax (having two short, hyphenated words separated by the “and”); Lies was a fan of how it added a subtle timestamp to the year in which it was created because everyone had to stay home. Plus, the duo liked that it looked good with the album art. 

The three-track EP is also a step away from what Lies described as “really wordy” lyrical styling of the band’s 2019 album, F.O.M.O. into a territory of lyrics and sounds alike that are more stripped back. 

F.O.M.O. has probably some of my favorite lyrics that I’ve written but at the same time with this EP, I think it was like a little bit of growth for me where, at the end of the day I’m writing songs, and sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is something that is the simplest,” Lies says. “I was really going for this balance of being clever and witty, in the verses where I felt like it was needed, but having a chorus that I felt like was going to just hit the feels and get across the big message. And it was just a really fine line and finding balance in writing those lyrics that I got really excited about.” 

Kenter and Lies strived to achieve the same balance of complexity and simplicity in the music to reflect the work Lies did with her lyrics. 

“We kind of tried to do the same thing on the music side with the songs, where we tried to find the places that we could bring in the old complexity that we’ve done in releases before and kind of simplify things and make them a little bit more, I guess, easy to listen to,” Kenter says.  

In putting rom-coms + take-out together, Kenter and Lies brought Kenter’s then-fiancée (now wife) and Lies’ girlfriend into the process. Lies, who struggles with enunciation while singing, sat in front of the group and sang the songs acoustically and Kenter and their partners had to write down what they believed she was singing and go through the lyrics as a group. It was a process that allowed them to flesh out their work and get feedback from the people they trusted most. 

“Our lives are split pretty 50/50 between our partners and our music so a lot of times they compete for our attention and it was really nice to share that with them and just fully include them into the world that we have in our creative world,” Lies says. “And they got to see how we think about, and how deeply we think about, this stuff and I think they had a newfound, even deeper admiration for what we do. And then on top of that, they had so many good ideas that I had this wild admiration for them. Now I enjoy when they give me feedback because I trust it.” 

The band is about to repeat this process as they have new music in the works, with the hopes of putting out more music and touring it later this year. While nervous to reproduce the process, they are excited to be working on music again and exploring the world of their next step forward. 

“I’m less worried about how it compares to the last thing and more, I just want to make sure that we feel good about where it ends up,” Kenter says. “Because you can’t control how people feel about your shit”