The time may be right for Bummer Vacation. Vocalist/guitarist Paul Hernandez, vocalist/guitarist Ryan Torres-Reyes, bassist Tyler Moore, and drummer Ricky Williford hark back to Joy Division, The Smiths, and The Cure, producing a rich, densely layered, non-synthetic sound that’s fresh and distinct. And, boy, is it catchy. Bummer Vacation’s debut album, Creative Differences, surges with melodic vocal lines, propulsive rhythms, and simple yet effective riffs that bubble, soar, and chime.
“We were trying to get something going that sounded a little bit different,” said Moore, hanging out on the Near Southside at the new retail outlet Dreamy Life Records with Hernandez and Torres-Reyes, “even though the stuff we’re doing is not bananas.”
It may not be bananas, but it is incredibly, deceptively complex. Produced at Barry Eaton’s studio in Justin by Jordan Richardson, a.k.a. Son of Stan (The Longshots, Skeleton Coast, We’reWolves), Creative Differences is both intimate and expansive, introspective and welcoming. With nine tracks clocking in at just over 30 minutes and undeniably urgent, it is a quick listen. The quartet achieves a particular brand of accessible rock so dark and borderline nihilistic that the otherwise jovial term “pop” seems inappropriate and, frankly, offensive, like calling Ian Curtis a “rock star.” Bummer Vacation doesn’t seem to be interested in pleasing anyone. However, the hummable melodies, bright and shimmery guitar passages, and dynamic grooves betray that aloof posture.
Creative Differences is about disconnection, miscommunication, and, well, creative differences. Though the readily apparent influences may imply tons of studio wizardry, every note on the album has a ragged punk edge. Not unsurprisingly. The Bummer Vacationers are steeped in punk. Moore and Williford currently play in Fort Worth’s War Party, and until he moved from Dallas to Fort Worth last year, Hernandez played bass in Dallas’ Sealion.
Why Fort Worth? “I was going through a lot of different things in Dallas,” Hernandez said, “just relationships ending and wanting to kind of do something different. … I moved to Fort Worth just because I already had friends out here,” including Moore, with whom Hernandez has been playing off and on for nearly two decades.
Even before landing in the Fort, the 29-year-old singer-songwriter also had a pretty solid idea of what Bummer Vacation was going to be. Along with Moore’s bands, Hernandez spent time in proto-punks Doom Ghost, and he was a big fan of Torres-Reyes, whose previous project, Skeleton Coast, disbanded over a year ago, making him available.
Bummer Vacation played its first gig in December, at The Where House. That same month, the group recorded three tracks at Dreamy Soundz in Fairmount to be able to make a single contribution to Group Therapy, Vol. 2, the second in an annual compilation series by Dreamy Soundz Records and another Fort Worth label, Lo-Life Recordings. Bummer Vacation re-recorded its contribution, “Unglued,” with Richardson in May during the recording of Creative Differences. Where the original version is heavy and bombastic, the new one is clean, crisp, and relatively subdued, underlining the band’s decision to go with Richardson as producer.
“Even though we’re all tied into the lo-fi world –– we like Dreamy Soundz and Lo-Life and all that –– we definitely wanted something that was going to be a little bit clearer quality,” Hernandez said. “We wanted to go that route, just to see how it would sound. I think we’re all pretty happy with it.”
The band and Richardson first met a few months earlier, a get-together initiated by Torres-Reyes, who fondly recalled his time with the producer on Skeleton Coast’s self-titled debut long-player.
“It was like a test drive,” Torres-Reyes said. “ ‘Why don’t you come out here and record one song, and we’ll see how it goes. We’ll discuss doing the rest of it later.’ ”
The band members were so pleased with the way the track, “-11 in Montreal, But Who’s Keeping Score,” turned out that they spent most of their time between February and May fine-tuning their work to get back into the studio.
“I was the only one who didn’t know [Richardson], but that day [in February], he and I became instantly super-close,” Hernandez said. “He’s one of my best friends, for sure, on the same level as these guys.”
Moore seconded the idea: “He’s like the fifth member.”
There are a few reasons why Richardson agreed to work with the band: “They are all very talented dudes from very awesome bands, and we shared similar influences and shared jokes before we even got started. Plus, I love working with new bands. Even though the dudes are seasoned, something about the excitement and urgency of new bands makes the cool surprises of the studio all that much better. We did it fast but maintained strict adherence to the rule of ‘no sound/tone alike.’ This band likes to be pushed and is open to trying anything. Like college.”
All of the Bummer Vacationers said they’ve never done anything like Creative Differences before. Moore recalled that one of his previous bands had only dabbled in loud New Wave. “We were influenced by that kind of stuff, but it was always a wet dream to be able to play it. … it’s something I’ve always wanted to do as a bass player because [The Cure’s] Simon Gallup and Peter Hook from Joy Division have been my biggest heroes as far as the bass goes.”
Hernandez points to one of his Sealion-era side projects, a duo with drummer Cordero Torrez called Royal Spirits, as a point of departure into Bummer Vacation: “We were doing surf-gazey stuff on top of electronic music … so I guess that’s kind of what got me writing in this vein.”
Richardson is equally happy with the results: “I’m super-excited about the finished product. [Hernandez] had great and thought-out demos, and I knew we could expand the already great song ideas into something pulsing and hot. A lot of the references were all on point and matching the sounds I was hearing in my head, a.k.a. The Cure in a barn. I think this band has a real shot of breaking out because they work hard, have a new but familiar sound, which is totally key, and, most importantly, they all put out very easily.”
Creative Differences will be released digitally this weekend and on cassette tape via Lo-Life and, by fall, on vinyl via Richardson’s label, WizardVision. Bummer Vacation would like to tour, but the members haven’t made any concrete plans yet. Moore and Williford are still fully committed to War Party, and, perhaps more pressingly, Hernandez is on the road most of the year as the merchandise coordinator for the peripatetic Reverend Horton Heat.
“That kind of tears into our schedule, but at the same time it doesn’t hurt us,” Hernandez said, adding that he and his bandmates are always sharing ideas. “We’ve all toured before, so it’s not like we’re trying to jump the gun or anything. We’ve been out there, so we know what it’s like to be in a van with three other dudes.”