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Thursday, October 29, 2015

No Vacation Is the College Band SF Has Been Waiting For

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 2:53 PM

click to enlarge ANTHONY RAGONE
  • Anthony Ragone

San Francisco’s college music culture can be difficult to track down. SF State or USF's word-of-mouth house parties aren't exactly on my radar, so it's hard at times — as a non-student — to get excited about (or see) a college buzz band.

Enter No Vacation. A bedroom pop duo of 19 year olds Basil Saleh and Sabrina Mai, who not only are a college band, but whose music evokes the feeling of waking up in your old college dorm room on a lazy Saturday morning without a care in the world.

“I don’t wanna get up/ no I, don’t wanna get up/ but I’ve got all this dirty laundry to do,” Mai sings on the aptly titled “Laundry Day” off of No Vacation’s debut EP Amo XO. It’s a sweet song, that defines the innocence and mundane nature of the day-to-day tasks we all learned were a necessary evil in our later teen years. But it’s Mai’s voice that makes it feel authentic and like a true fragment of time. Saleh, sitting across from me at a Panhandle cafe, agrees.

"What do we have going for us?" he says. "Sabrina’s voice. The key to good music is vocals that pop and don't get lost in the mix.”

Saleh is a humble bandleader. His voice resonates with similar effectiveness to Mai's throughout No Vacation’s small, yet memorable library of tracks. Their dichotomy is akin to that of The XX, but filled with more hope than the English band’s aura of basement despair.

Much of No Vacation’s exuberance stems from Saleh, a San Jose native majoring in New Media Studies at USF, who loves Two Door Cinema Club, SF stalwarts The Bilinda Butchers, and waxes with me about the effectiveness of Tyler The Creator’s public persona. But Saleh is still mostly concerned with his role as a producer.

“I look at what Sabrina has done from a producer standpoint and say ‘How can we get this to the next level?’" he says. “Me and Sabrina have talked about this a lot recently, because as a duo, you always have to reconcile your ideas with the other person.”

The pair met when Mai, also from San Jose, played an open mic night at USF and Saleh — a crowd member — was intrigued. Up to that point, she’d been doing casual YouTube cover songs like many other aspiring teenage musicians. But there’s something special with Mai's voice, who writes all of the sticky vocal melodies together with Saleh, who handles all of the duo's arrangements.

No Vacation recently recorded a second, three-track EP called Summer Break at SF’s Different Fur Studio, through the Converse Rubber Tracks program. Rubber Tracks gives budding local musicians free access to studio time and let's them keep the rights to all of their own music. And while Amo XO is beautiful in its sparse arrangements recorded at a friend’s home studio, Summer Break opens into a more expansive musical endeavor that flashes what No Vacation can do with a full five-piece band recording — particularly on the melancholy “Sad Valentine.”

“We recorded Summer Break the day we got our new live drummer. We were trying out all these instruments and we were definitely being more used to being No Vacation. But in the future, I want to go back to doing it as a duo, to be more concise,” Saleh says.

There’s a vision for Saleh with this project and there’s a certain mojo with the pair. It’s making people come down from Sacramento to see their shows at 20th St Block Party and Wood Shoppe SF. It’s making 30-somethings turn their heads at a college band and excitedly ask me “What is this?!” when I played Amo XO in a sun-soaked living room morning at a Santa Cruz getaway. To these ears, they’ve captured the temporal feeling of lying in my dorm room twin bed in the “good ol’ days” that I miss. It’s real and they’re living in it.

“If I knew exactly what it was, I’d replicate it at every turn,” Saleh says. “I think it’s the earnestness though. People recognize that it’s heartfelt, I know that might be cheesy [laughs] but it’s pleasant to listen to.”

No Vacation plays Rickshaw Stop with CHEATAHS and Vulkan on Nov. 3rd. Get tickets here. Check out Amo XO and Summer Break in full on No Vacation's bandcamp page. 

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About The Author

Adrian Spinelli

Adrian Spinelli

Hip hop and sandwiches.


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