Photo by @GOODTIMERICKSTUDIOS
As Strange Case get set to release “Quarter Life Crisis” this week, Guitarist and songwriter Zane Vandevort gives us some insight on the band and working with everyone from hip hop artists like Andre Legacy and Madchild to touring and writing with Jakob Nowell and Sitting on Stacey.
There’s a hidden secret starting to emerge from Ventura County, California where self-described “surf and turf” rockers Strange Case have been building a solid following by putting their own spin on the California Beach-Pop sound.
Guitarist and main songwriter, Zane Vandevort, began as a self-taught guitar player with hours of “training” on Guitar Hero II, which led him to the School of Music and eventually forming Strange Case with high school friend Mikey Netka.
They have released three albums to date. Their track, “27 Club,” just surpassed 1 million streams on Spotify and a video for it was released two weeks ago. Their recent single, “Red Somber,” has been garnering attention at radio as the group prepares to release a deluxe edition of the Quarter Life Crisis album August 26th. You can pre-save Quarter Life Crisis [Deluxe Edition] HERE.
Vandevort has been playing guitar and touring with Jakob Nowell and a couple other projects but his main passion is his own band Strange Case. “They’re all bigger than Strange Case, which is fun,” admits Vandevort. “But it pushes me to want to get to that point with my own original music.”
The Pier caught up with Vandevort to discuss Strange Case, how Guitar Hero II got his career started and much more. The conversation picks up where we like to start with new artists.
MP: When did you first start getting into playing music?
ZV: I have kind of a funny coming up story. I never really had an interest in music. I never played any instruments. None of my family played any instruments. When I was seven years old, my aunt mailed me Guitar Hero II for Christmas. I jumped on that and played “Shout At The Devil” like 17 times in a row. I never realized how much I loved music until I started playing it on this game and it made me feel this type of way that I can’t explain. And so I was like, I think I want to play guitar.
MP: I think that’s the first time I’ve heard of a video game influencing someone to want to become a musician.
ZV: I thought it would be so cool to be able to recreate sounds and guitar tones in my living room that I’ve heard for years and years. About a year after I got the game, I got my first guitar and then the journey started. I never really took lessons. I was going on YouTube and looking up how to play Black Sabbath, Green Day and The Descendants and then slowly, but surely I figured it out and started to teach myself. The biggest turning point and what gave me the best boost is I enrolled in a School of Music when I was like 13 or 14. It’s a school in Southern California where they take kids that play instruments that are around the same skill level and age and link them up together as a band. We would have a couple weeks to learn three songs and then we would do a show at the Sagebrush Cantina where the kid bands would play and all the parents would come out. They were themed shows with Grunge, Punk, Reggae and whatever. It was a good experience of being forced to learn these cover songs and play with a bunch of other kids my age and adapt and learn how to work with other musicians and improve my live musicianship. I did that for a few years and if I didn’t do that I would be way further behind than where I’m at.
MP: You’re not the first who has gone that route. I’ve talked with many musicians that got their start by going to School of Rock or something similar like you did. It’s a far cry from the garage bands of the Seventies and Eighties, not that those type of bands still don’t exist, but there’s these organized ways to get together and start making music now versus back then.
ZV: You’ll find some kid bands that are fully constructed by the parents and will be 16 and going on full tours, but it’s not their own doing. For our case, we did the school for a few years, but we grew out of it. We wanted to play our own original music, which we were starting to write 15 or 16. I met a whole bunch of musicians there and we started our own band with some friends from our high school that were good musicians. We turned into the band in the garage, but because we were able to have people guide us at a young age, it helped a lot for the band dynamic.
MP: When did the garage band get serious and become Strange Case?
Photo by @GOODTIMERICKSTUDIOS
ZV: There were a few early incarnations of what would eventually become Strange Case. Mikey, our singer, has been my best friend since eighth grade. We were playing in little bands together. He was actually a drummer and then one day we found out he could sing and he shifted to play guitar and sing instead of being the drummer. We’ve had a few different versions and different names. Originally we were called Static and we had a few other members but then we heard there’s a band called Static X, so we changed it at about the same time we got a new bass player. With him joining the band and us taking it to a new direction and level of seriousness, plus the name change, it was all coming together to create this project.
MP: How much did the Orange County Punk Rock scene influence the sound of the band?
ZV: It’s what I grew up on, listening to The Descendants, who are my favorite Punk band ever, and a lot of Bad Religion, Sprung Monkey, Pennywise and all the stuff like that. But as I grew older, I wanted to tone down the distortion guitars and do music more in the alternative vein and in the clean guitar realm. I was playing Metallica riffs all day long and a bunch of old Punk riffs. I was obsessed with that, but as I got older, we shifted to the point that I don’t even have a distortion pedal on my pedal board now. We keep the same raw, authentic Punk attitude of the SoCal scene, but it’s more about the DIY attitude of us playing house shows, recording everything ourselves and writing like more authentic and introspective lyrics. We took it to our own kind of place.
MP: Where did you record the album?
ZV: It’s been a mixture of different places. Everything besides “Red Somber” has been recorded by myself and a few of the tracks with the help of Finn Bennett, who’s our drummer, between my bedroom, Kevin Zinger’s studio and Finn’s little studio in Valencia. “Red Somber” was the first track that we went to a real producer and engineer and let somebody else take the reins on the production. We wanted the drums to absolutely hit you in the face and have a driving bass line with really solid, crispy vocals. I can’t quite get that level of HiFi sound from my own recordings and mixings so we went to a studio for “Red Somber.” And they nailed it. They got us to the sound that we were looking for with that track.
MP: I didn’t realize a lot of this album was done through self recording.
ZV: Yeah. Mostly out of necessity. Recording is expensive. We don’t really know anybody. We live in suburbia, so it’s not like there’s recording studios and producers down the block. You can hear that in our first record, Purgatory, which came out in 2017. That was my first go at recording and maybe two or three of the songs we got lucky with. They actually sound pretty good, but like most of them are just garbage recordings and pretty much the same goes for the songwriting, but it’s kind of cool to see the evolution of my recording skills and leading up to “Seasons,” “27 Club” and “Super Fly.” Those are all the latest songs that I’ve personally recorded, mixed and written. I’m proud of where we’re at and cringing at where we came from, but it’s all part of the process.
Photo by @GOODTIMERICKSTUDIOS
MP: It shows growth and progress and that’s a good thing in my book. Do you do a lot of the songwriting and the lyric writing? How do you guys handle that?
ZV: On Purgatory, that record was probably about half and half. Mikey and I have always been the two songwriters and then Too Bad, Too Sad was probably 75 percent me and 25 percent Mikey. He’s been focusing on school a lot lately, so he has been super busy and tied up at school and is about to graduate next year. So, I’m just working and have like a lot of time to think about it. On this last record, it’s mostly me and then Mikey came in and if I was stuck on a melody, he’s a melody genius, he’ll just spit out something and patches up the holes that I have. It’s really valuable to have someone like that, but lately I’ve been doing most of it.
MP: I know this album’s about to come out, but are you continually writing music and putting new stuff down?
ZV: Yeah. Every day, pretty much. Or every day that I’m not swamped with my day job. I’m trying to write as much as I can. Between songwriting and playing live, it’s almost a 50/50 passion. Those are my two favorite things about making music, so I’m writing a lot. I just signed a publishing deal with Regime Music Group and they’re putting me in songwriting sessions with other artists to expand my palette and get me working with more people. So I’ve been working with the whole gamut of people from singer songwriter to more Punk stuff. I worked with Hip Hop artists like Madchild before I signed the deal, just engineering for them and helping out. I did sessions with Andre Legacy who loved Strange Case. And more recently I have been writing with Jakob Nowell and on a personal and artistic level we have a cool bond. I also toured with Sitting on Stacey and have been writing with them too. It’s cool to broaden my taste of what I actually work with and it’s cool working with other people that are songwriters and diving into their process and learning from them. So I’m writing songs for other people now and seeing what happens.
MP: What’s up for Strange Case in the immediate future?
ZV: A new song, “Seasons” just dropped a few weeks ago. It’s a single that we self recorded and is a different vibe than “Red Somber.” I like having that duality of our sound. This is more of a garage Indie Surf vibe. I think our fans are going to dig it. We have the Quarter Life Crisis deluxe record coming out August 26, which is going to feature all the songs from Quarter Life Crisis plus “Seasons,” “Red Somber and four more, so everyone will get another little scoop of songs that might never have come out if we didn’t do the deluxe record. I have a ton of writing and recording coming up and Strange Case is going to do a tour soon. I’m finally in a place where I’m making enough from music and can quit my day job. So write, record, tour and repeat for the next decade and try to fit in some time to surf in between.