Interview: Michael McInerney of The Vaughan Building

The Vaughan Building are a blues/garage rock band from Chicago. The band’s lineup are Michael McInerney on lead vocals and guitar, Crispin Dorvak on bass, Johnny Hix on drums, and Nicholas Chomko on keyboards. All four contribute vocals. They recently released their debut single, which is now out on Bandcamp and Spotify called “You Don’t Know Nothin’ Yet”, a song that lead singer Michael McInerney wrote in 2016 while still in secondary school. It’s the first original song the band learned and a staple of their live shows. It’s an energetic song that exemplifies what they’re all about: a fresh approach classic rock that honours its roots in blues and mixes it with some proto-punk, garage rock, and psychedelic rock.

The band are quite accomplished, opening for prog/hard rockers Wishbone Ash and lead singer Michael opened for Al Jardine of The Beach Boys. They’re huge fans of classic rock and really know it inside and out and it shows. We’re honoured to have Michael McInerney on the blog today to talk about his band and his musical journey.

The Interview:

Angie Moon: How would you describe The Vaughan Building to a new listener?

Michael McInerney: The Vaughan Building is a 4-piece Blues Rock band from Chicago, IL. Inspired by the Garage bands of the 60’s and the Hard Rock and Power Pop bands of the early 70’s, we write new music that sounds old, but not to the point where it sounds like something you’ve already heard before!

Angie: How did the band get their start?

Michael: We formed in December 2018 when I met Crispin Dorvak at a guitar shop that I was working at, when he came in with a Vox Bill Wyman bass in an original coffin case. I’d seen him a few times since then at the store, and once I started putting feelers out for a bass player, my boss Max Dombrowski suggested him. Named after our old high school’s gymnasium, The Vaughan Building was born! We were a power trio throughout most of 2019, playing basement gigs, supper clubs, and the occasional talent competition until our drummer quit during the pandemic. Later on in 2021, I met Johnny Hix at a movie/record store we were both working at. I later found out he was a drummer, so I suggested that he jam with us. The new lineup of The Vaughan Building officially began in December 2021, and we played our first gig a couple months later. We kept talking about adding a keyboard player, so I reached out to my high school friend Nicholas Chomko. Nicholas and I had previously played in some teenage bands together, as well as AME churches and other events around the Chicago area with the Art Explosion music and art collective. He joined the group, and the rest is history!

Angie: What bands and musicians are your biggest influences?

Michael: I find it’s always hard to but together a big list of favorites and influences without a qualifier (“songwriter”, “guitarist”, “band”), but I’ll certainly try! I’d say that my biggest influences personally are Arthur Lee, Peter Green, David Bowie, Neil Young, Howlin’ Wolf, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Marc Bolan, early 10cc, Donovan, Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Country Joe And The Fish, Elmore James, Phil Ochs, and of course, Bob Dylan. That’s at least a few of them anyway! I also share a mutual love of The Beach Boys with Crispin (They’re probably my favorite band). Each member in The Vaughan Building has pretty diverse tastes, which helps keep our music growing. We’re all mutually inspired by The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, and The Doors, but we also pull from many different genres. Power Pop, Garage Rock, Blues Rock, Folk Rock, Funk, Country, Jazz, you name it!

Angie: How did you get into classic rock?

Michael: It’s my parents that first got me into Classic Rock. My dad loves Led Zeppelin and my mom loves The Doors, so those were probably my first brushes with Classic Rock, as well as the Blues that influenced it. My parents also turned me onto The Beatles, which was the first band I ever became obsessed with, and that’s how the 60’s/early 70’s ended up being my favourite musical decade. My mom also turned me on to a lot of the Pop acts of the 60’s like Donovan, The Turtles, and The Grass Roots as well as a bunch of one hit wonders from the era. My dad’s the one who inspired me to pick up the guitar, whether literally when I was a kid struggling to hold his electric guitar or figuratively with our conversations about guitar heroes like Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck. They also took me to a lot of Rock concerts when I was a kid and teenager, with my first real concert being Heart! So I guess I owe it all to my parents… And the Wilson sisters!

Angie: What is the music scene like in Chicago?

Michael: I feel that Chicago has a really unique music scene compared to other big cities because of the musical diversity, and the working class aspect that is inherent to a lot of the genres played and innovated here, which seems to strip away a lot of the pretensions. Carl Sandburg didn’t call Chicago the “City of Broad Shoulders” for nothing! Obviously, you have the city’s Blues legacy, and there are still a lot of great Blues musicians and Blues venues around. As a Blues-based act, it’s good to know that there’s still a pretty big market here for that kind of music, but there’s much more to Chicago than just Blues and Jazz. Chicago’s Punk scene and Hip Hop scene are both legendary, and there’s also quite a bit of Country if you know (or are willing to know) where to hunt it down. There’s even a big Noise scene here (at least that’s what I’m told)! A lot of times, these different acts can coexist really well because of all the different people and musical styles that make up Chicago’s identity. The Vaughan Building is a Blues Rock band, but we’ve played Punk bills, Indie bills, Jam Band bills. I’ve even personally played behind a few rappers which is always a lot of fun.

Angie: What are your live shows like?

Michael: Our live shows are a lot of fun, lemme tell ya! I’ve always believed that the key tenets of any successful band are quality songs as well as an energetic and unique live show. While I’m the primary singer, Crispin sings a handful of songs, and Johnny sings a couple as well. We also have every band member on mic for harmonies, and more importantly, fun stage banter while I’m switching out guitars or tuning. It’s nice to be able to play off of each other not only musically, but verbally, and I feel like the audience appreciates our Monkees-esque comedy stylings. Overall, I feel like everyone in the band has a really good energy and we put our all into every one of our performances, which I think is the only way to do it!

Angie: What are your favourite songs to cover?

Michael: Our arrangement of the Blues standard “St. James Infirmary” is probably my favourite cover that we do, and it’s not just because it’s in the public domain! Since the song has been recorded by everyone from Cab Calloway to Captain Beefheart over the span of nearly 100 years, there’s a lot of different places we could take the arrangement, and I’m really happy with where we’ve ended up with the song. It’s one of the more dynamic songs we do, and I feel like we’ve really made it our own. So much so that we’ve begun working on a recording! On top of that, I always love playing “Wooly Bully”, our sprawling 8-10 minute arrangement of Them’s “Gloria” is a lot of fun, and so is our version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Back Door Man” where I play harmonica and sing through my guitar amp. Oh, and sometimes we play the Batman theme from the old 60’s show which is always fantastic.

Angie: What were the inspirations behind your debut single, “You Don’t Know Nothin’ Yet”?

Michael: “You Don’t Know Nothin’ Yet” actually comes from my high school days. I was a junior at the time, and I was performing at a choir concert one night. Our choir director had a tendency to start talking before her brain could figure out what it is she was trying to say. One such example involved a speech she gave in between songs that night about how young people think they have everything figured out in life, which she ended by saying to the audience “you don’t know NOTHIN’ yet” in a vaguely southern twang. I heard that and I came up with the chorus on the spot. The next day at school, I wrote the entire song. I think I wrote the first verse in my Latin class and the rest during lunch. I was done with the tune by the end of the school day. It’s always a good feeling when you can write a whole song from start to finish in a short span of time. Usually I just get a verse or a chorus and nothing else for a while, but not this song!

Angie: The song was written back in 2016, how has the song evolved from then to now?

Michael: “You Don’t Know Nothin’ Yet” has evolved tremendously since I first wrote it in 2016. The song went from a mid-60’s kinda quirky Folk Rock thing into the groovy, funky, Bo Diddley-Beat Garage Rock arrangement it is now. We played a very Punky version in the early days of the band, but Crispin and I came to the mutual conclusion that the song was too same-y and that adding the Bo Diddley rhythm in the verses would really improve it. And it did! This song has symbolic importance to me because it was the first original song that I ever performed live and it was also the first original song that I ever recorded as a solo artist. Since it was also the first original song I introduced to The Vaughan Building in early 2019, it felt fitting to also make it our first single released as a band.

Angie: If you could tour with any musician, who would you tour with?

Michael: Unrealistically, I would love to tour with The Stones, The Who, or Neil Young. I feel like we’d be a really good fit musically. C’mon Mick Jagger, make it happen! Realistically though, I would absolutely love to go on tour with The Yardbirds or Vanilla Fudge. They’re both so intrinsically linked to our DNA as a band, but through our original material and the way our covers have developed, I feel like we’d be more of a compliment than a copy at this point. I guess that’s the good thing about being around for a few years before you release your first recording: you start to find your own voice a little quicker.

Angie: What is your proudest accomplishment as a band?

Michael: The biggest thing we’ve done so far is that we just opened for the 70’s Hard Rock band Wishbone Ash, and we’re going to be opening for The Guess Who in April. On top of that we’ve got quite a few local festival spots lined up for this summer. So I guess our proudest accomplishments haven’t happened just yet, but they’re all on the books and finalised! I’m just so proud of how much we’ve grown as a band and how much we’ve done this year compared to last year, and it’s only March!

Angie: What are your goals for this year?

Michael: To keep releasing more music! We have about an albums worth of original material, plus our arrangement of “St. James Infirmary” which are all at varying forms of recording completion, so we’re just gonna keep plugging away at those. We plan on dropping most of the album’s songs as singles, and then compiling them as an album sometime in mid-2024 or so. We’ve got a song that we jam on for 7-10 minutes live and I don’t know how good of a single that would make, so maybe that and possibly another tune will be our exclusive album tracks. In addition to putting out more songs, we’re trying to play as many shows as we can. Fortunately, we’ve already surpassed where we were at last year in terms of the number and quality of shows booked, but we’re always looking to add more! Is a Vaughan Building Midwest tour for 2023 in the works? Maybe! Who knows? You don’t know nothin’ yet!

You can follow The Vaughan Building on Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp, and YouTube.

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