Mysticism, death, poetry, and life – Vakili Band plays Oct. 24 at Pauly’s Hotel

“Sometimes people seem to think I came out of the womb, you know, cursing, with an electric guitar.” Patti Smith

The beginning of my conversation with Lily Vakili took off pretty quickly, touching on transcendence and mortality. Maybe for some, these words and concepts carry pretension and are far removed from their daily existence. But each day when we wake up, we all have to ask ourselves the same question: “Why bother doing anything at all?”

“Every human being has this intrinsic right to express themselves, to express their opinion in the world. The end is the end. What matters is what we do in the interim,” said Lily, the band’s singer.

When listening to Vakili Band’s latest album, Honey (09/08/23), you might think you’ve heard it before. The sound that the five-piece from Montclair, NJ, creates is familiar yet intriguing enough to catch you off-guard. While sounding very original, they’ll lean into their primary influences: The Pretenders, Patti Smith, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and many more, I’m sure.

photo by Lara Callahan

When speaking to the band’s resident poet, fearless leader, and somewhat of a bad-ass white magic witch, Lily spoke with inner musicality—with her own rhythm, cadence, and wisdom. While our conversation wasn’t completely unusual for a rock interview, she spoke with youthful energy on some of the archetypical tropes of the creative struggle and its many joys and hidden secrets.

Lily seems to have transcended getting older (like Prince did). Perhaps it is better to leave some things to the imagination, like what if she was a contemporary of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, having spent time in their company, drinking Turkish Coffee while discussing William Burroughs, occultism, and maybe some Emily Dickinson? Not to say their music lacks energy and optimism – but just like Dickinson, as a poet/lyricist, Lily falls somewhere within the overlap of Romanticism and transcendentalism.

photo by Lara Callahan

Having said all that, the strain of no-bullshit NYC rock ‘n’ roll is heavily present, keeping a sizable anchor hooked to the band’s core in case of drifting up too far into ethereal realms. The band often experiments with different instruments beyond the standard guitar, bass and drums structure—a harmonica or even a melodeon are placed in striking arrangements. After the cacophony dies down, the sparse moments become that more starkly beautiful. 

“I knew with this particular group of people, this band that we are, who I love, from the sound that we were making together, I knew what direction I wanted to take this in. For example, I wanted the drums and bass to be super forward on this one to initiate several of the songs. If you listen to some of them, I moved them (drums and bass) up front. So often, the bass gets kinda tucked in, and that’s great, but in this case, it was actually the call – the call to the listener. It’s like telling them, ‘here’s the beginning of an idea of what you’re going to hear…’” she said.

photo by Lara Callahan

This idea of letting things breathe is at the mercy of the production side of creation so often, which is a reason capturing the sound of an authentic live band in the studio is so difficult. Honey is their third full-length album, and the first to be produced by the band.

Ben St. Jack (guitar) and Lily have been playing for at least ten years now. Their shared alchemy is nothing short of authentic. Soaring vocals and screaming tube (I assume) guitar tones cascade above and around the band’s tight rhythm section – which is not a completely oblique foundation – there is still movement able to glide through the rollicking—and mostly the rolling—of bass player Matt Jovanis and drummer Gordon Kuba.

Patti Smith has always fascinated me. The way she presents in the world. She expresses a level of artistic freedom that’s hard to stick to.

Lily Vakili

“It just sets it right there… anyway, I’m often thinking of those things…” Lily says, changing the mood of her voice like a true vocalist in control of her emotive powers. Speaking to her, it’s clear that she knows how to use timing and space to weave a story—lyrically and through the rhythm of her verbal incantations. Here’s a poet who’s madly in love with the percussive sounds of words themselves, not just the literal definition.

photo by Lara Callahan

First track off the album, “Mapplethorpe,” instantly grabbed my attention for its connection to Patti Smith, referencing Robert Mapplethorpe, a figure close to Smith. “We woke up knowing that we were no longer alone,” Smith wrote in her book, Just Kids.

“The Mapplethorpe connection is kinda like a time capsule, it’s a reference to a point in time in Hoboken for me personally. But it’s also this idea of an artistic communion or rapture between two people.” 

photo by Lara Callahan

This longing for the community also runs through Vakili Band’s “To The Park,” which paints a picture of distant friends seeing each other again after the pandemic lockdown.

Musically, the track has three kinds of movements, starting slow and soft with drums, then picking up the tempo a little in the second part. By the third movement, the band kicks off into a whirlwind of symphonies, showcasing their cohesiveness as a working band.

Tickets can be purchased here:

For more information, please visit: Vakili Band’s website.

Vakili Band tour schedule:

New tour dates added:
September 13 – New York, NY – Heaven Can Wait – Album release show!
September 23 – Newark, NJ – Newark PorchFest
October 22 – Boston, MA – City Winery Loft
October 23 – Worcester, MA – Electric Haze
October 24 – Albany, NY – Pauly’s Hotel
October 26 – Washington, DC – The Pocket
October 27 – Lansdowne, PA – Jamey’s House of Music
November 10 – Asheville, NC – Fleetwood’s
November 11 – Knoxville, TN – Preservation Pub
November 13 – Nashville, TN – City Winery Loft
November 14 – Birmingham, AL – The Nick
November 15 – Atlanta, GA – Smith’s Atlanta Room
November 17 – Bowling Green, VA – The Heist

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