Editor Sandy Lo sat down with StarShine’s first “Artist to Watch”, Van Atta High’s lead singer Steve Kellner and lead guitar player Stephen Jasko at Angels & Kings bar in New York City. The Steves performed an acoustic set following our interview and blew the roof off the small space. Several other performers went on before Van Atta High, but they might as well have been invisible. The two of the five members of the band were the only ones the crowd paid any attention to. With fun tracks like “Hush Baby” and “Shakin’ In My Shoes”, it’s hard not to take notice of these guys!
Sandy (StarShine Magazine): I’m here today with two members of Van Atta High. Steve Kellner and Stephen Jasko. How are you guys doing today?
Steve Kellner: Very good. Looking forward to playing tonight. It’s a very nice day in New York City for a change.
We’re at Angels & Kings which is Pete Wentz’s bar. Are you guys fans of Fall Out Boy?
Stephen Jasko: Yeah.
Steve Kellner: Of course. They’re doing their thing and they’re doing it real well.
Have you ever been to a show of theirs?
Steve Kellner: A few times at Bamboozle and Warped Tour.
And you guys have actually played Bamboozle and Warped Tour. What was that experience like?
Stephen Jasko: Bamboozle is basically the best show I’ve ever played in my life. We had a crowd of like 3, 500. We won a battle of the bands to do it. We made 10, 000 flyers.
Steve Kellner: We had to get there around eight o’clock. We spent the entire morning putting up flyers everywhere and then stood at the gates handing out flyers to every single person. We had members of our street team that we met on the line outside of the venue handing out flyers. It was an amazing experience.
Now you’re doing small shows right now, but we were talking earlier about you planning to do a national tour in the future?
Steve Kellner: Hopefully as soon as possible. We’ve got some small East Coast and Midwest tours coming up that are just about done with the booking. We’re just looking to fill up as much as possible to get out there and spread the word.
What’s the difference between an acoustic show and a regular set? What’s the difference between the vibe?
Steve Kellner: We have a very energetic live show. We love playing live, full band, get all the sound…That’s when we get to showcase how tight we are as a group. Just the energy is way different. And acoustic is a lot more personal and you get to sing along and enjoy it.
Stephen Jasko: The big difference for me is…a full band show, you’re talking meeting up hours ahead of time and packing everything up. It’s way more of a process as opposed to today, you just take two acoustic guitars and show up. [laughs] That part I like about it better. When it’s the full band, it comes down to fifty percent putting on a show and fifty percent playing as opposed to acoustic is about…
Steve Kellner: Sounding good as possible.
Stephen Jasko: Right.
Now, do you do a lot of the songwriting?
Steve Kellner: The two of us do a lot of the songwriting as a team—we’re an awesome team. We’ve gone through a bunch of member changes over the past year or so…We’ve been the driving force behind the writing, but with the new band mates over the past six months, we’ve just been clicking and doing a lot more stuff as a full band. It’s been great. It’s exciting to have so much input from every aspect of the band.
Stephen Jasko: And if me and him come with something, we show it to them—to get their criticism on it, to just make it better as a whole is another big factor with the new guys.
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written?
Steve Kellner: Uh, I don’t know. One of my favorite songs that we play live when we have the full band and I guess a personal favorite as far as the lyrics go is an old song off our last EP called “Main Line To Flat Line”. It’s just more of a personal punch for me. I enjoy playing it. How about you?
Stephen Jasko: It’s a really hard question to answer because when I’m looking at an album of songs, I’m thinking every song is contributing as a whole. So I really can’t pick one.
Is there one song that stands out to your fans more?
Stephen Jasko: Definitely “Birthday Girl”.
Steve Kellner: People like singing it. It’s great to see people singing along and it’s always fun to play it live. I guess it’s easier to remember the words and it’s just a fun song that builds up the energy.
Now, you’re both in school. How is it juggling the band and school and other jobs?
Stephen Jasko: I hate it so much.
Steve Kellner: It’s frustrating to say the least, but I don’t know. I wouldn’t really have it any other way.
Stephen Jasko: A couple of Sundays ago, we had a show, which we usually don’t have and I remember just getting home pretty late thinking, ‘how am I going to do this tomorrow? I have a full day of classes. It’s going to be terrible.’
Have you ever played for your schools or anything? Have you ever thought about that?
Stephen Jasko: No.
Steve Kellner: Mm, naah.
Do they know you’re in a band? [laughs]
Steve Kellner: For the most part.
Stephen Jasko: Because we take music classes. It’s funny ‘cause I’ll see the flyer for the battle of the bands and it’s just this cheesy looking flyer. You can just tell it’s not going to be a good time. Then you have all the kids whose bands are in your classes and they’re all talking themselves up. You kind of just sit there quietly and hope to get out of there soon.
Do you guys have a message to send to your fans and all your future fans out there?
Steve Kellner: Personally, whenever kids ask me for advice, I always tell them to do whatever makes you happy and have fun with what you’re doing because that’s the only thing I’ve followed and it’s taken me to where I am, which I’m grateful for. I mean, you can’t really put on an act because people will see through that. If you care about it enough and you love doing it, then if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Don’t give it up if you care about it that much, just go ahead and do it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Stephen Jasko: If I could say one thing to the fans, I would just say that we really do appreciate the hell out of them. Every show they come to, we’re going to put on a good show. We’re talk to anybody after.
If you could pick any song in the world to dedicate to your fans, which song would you pick and why?
Steve Kellner: That’s tough. What’s a good song that shows my appreciation and love?
Stephen Jasko: I’m trying to pick a good song that has crowds screaming stuff, like gang vocal stuff. Maybe “We Will Rock You” from Queen.
Steve Kellner: [laughs] That’s pretty good. I’m having trouble of thinking of one. For some reason Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” came into my mind. But I don’t think that’s very fitting, but it’s a good song.
Steve Kellner: Encouraging praying. [laughs]
What are your goals with the band?
Steve Kellner: My goal is to just do it for as long as possible and have as much fun with it. To reach out to as many people as we can. My hope is to just somehow inspire everyone a little bit…just any kind of decision that will lead them to a bright future. I’m kind of a little spiritualistic the last couple of years, so I just…I don’t know. To know that we have a good message and are reaching out to as many people, that would be awesome.
Stephen Jasko: I guess every goal for a band our size is to reach that big point. But my goal is to really come out with that ultimate record one day, like personal and something different that will make people think.
As always, check out: www.myspace.com/vanattahigh for news, tour dates and more from Van Atta High!
For more photos of Van Atta High in StarShine, go to: http://gallery.starshinemag.com
To see Van Atta High’s welcome video and bloopers, check out our You Tube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/starshinemag