Monday, 05 December 2016 10:57

Surfin’ 616: The Outer Vibe Returns to Grand Rapids

Written by  Kelly Brown
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Two words: surf disco. 

To fully understand what that means, just listen to The Outer Vibe discuss their music and lifestyle for a few minutes. You’ll soon be riding the band’s sunshine-pop wave with a smile across your face. 

Before The Outer Vibe was a nationally recognized eclectic pop-rock band, its five members met locally on the Grand Rapids Community College campus. Since then, they’ve released numerous EPs, along with a full-length album in 2015 titled Full Circle. For that album, the band worked with producer Brad Dollar (Grateful Dead, The National) and mastering engineer Joe LaPorta (Imagine Dragons, Foo Fighters, Vampire Weekend). 

The Outer Vibe has been on the Full Circle tour since January, traveling the U.S. in a vehicle lovingly named Vanakin Skywalker. The band’s guiding force is to become full-time musicians, and with years of experience under the belt, they’re well on their way.

“We’ve had so much time on the road, about six-and-a-half months, and there’s been a lot of life experience that has helped us grow,” said bassist Andrew Dornoff. “(Living in a van), you really get to know each other.”

The long months of touring paid off. While stopping through Nashville, the group teamed up to tour rental houses, discuss contracts and ultimately land a deal with publisher Catch This Music for a new EP — which will be on sale at the show.

“Now that we’re working on someone else’s clock, we’re spending a lot of time rehearsing and perfecting our arrangements,” said singer Sean Zee.

The band’s democratic writing system means everyone has input into the writing process. 

“Over the past year, we’ve written 40 songs, probably more,” Zee said. “So we’re picking the cream of the crop. Throughout the EP, there will be an identifiable sound. … We’re trying to pull in what The Outer Vibe does and define ‘surf disco.’”

As for living in Nashville, it’s a pretty different experience from the band’s hometown.

“It’s interesting, compared to Grand Rapids,” Zee said. “People (in Nashville) are making music and they’re going home to their wife and kids. It’s their job. Their job is to be there 9 to 5. It’s a one-of-a-kind thing.”

Though Nashville is known for its historic country music, it hasn’t swayed the sound of The Outer Vibe, whose music is too difficult to wrap up in a few words. But if you had to ask, they’d call it a slice of paradise or a musical vacation.

Lisa Kacos, on keys and trumpet, jokingly said that “everyone asks if we are from California. Maybe we’ve been confused all along.”

Zee explained that part of the contrast comes from the longstanding culture of Nashville.

“Nashville has a sound that is deeply rooted in its history,” he said. “The talent pool is so high, and then we come in. They all sound alike and we are just so different. But we were always different. Interestingly enough, maybe we seemed less different to our fans in Grand Rapids than here.”

The Outer Vibe
wsg. Kick The Robot
The Pyramid Scheme 68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Dec. 22, 7 p.m.
$10 advance, $15 day of show, (616) 272-3758

Band website:

That acceptance makes for a welcome homecoming, and in some ways, the band’s upcoming performance at The Pyramid Scheme is a momentous one.

“It’s our first public show at The Pyramid Scheme,” Zee said. “We played a private show there before but this will be the first public show. … It should be a full house.”

The Outer Vibe also will be joined by Atlanta-based pop trio Kick the Robot. 

“We met them at SXSW in March,” Kacos said. “We caught a few of their showcases and thought they were a great three-piece band and that our fans would like them. We played together in Asheville, N.C. in September and we thought it’d be cool to bring a band that has never played in Michigan before with us to The Pyramid Scheme.”

And true to The Outer Vibe’s unusual musical style, the band is working with Bang Candy Co. to create a unique brand of marshmallow — a collaboration that follows in the footsteps of Jack White and Third Man Records.

Needless to say, pairing the sunshine-pop of your favorite local band with the sweet taste of a craftsman marshmallow is a truly unique experience. And working with Bang Candy has been a great fit.

“Owner (Sarah) is like us in an artistic sense,” Kacos said. “We are an original band making music that is different than most, and we are very hands-on with our craft. She is the same with her candy. We hit it off with her. She’s great, very open-minded and excited about sharing her passion.”

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