INTERVIEW WITH EVAN PHARMAKIS AND CHRIS PREECE
BY COLLEEN JOHNSON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHORALE MILES
People were freaking out when they heard the surprise announcement from the familiar New England faces behind the band INSPIRIT. With the debut single “Fold” now available, it signifies a return of the original lineup of Vanna. During the pandemic, the members have come together as a rebranded band on their own terms. While the future of live shows is indefinite, what is definite for INSPIRIT is dropping a new EP and continuing to write and work together.
When the news came out, we jumped at the chance to talk with vocalists Evan Pharmakis and Chris Preece on a call together where they break down the return of the band with INSPIRIT and the journey behind dissolving Vanna in the first place, as well as how all the members came back together. The two of them give the inside story on what INSPIRIT has been up to and what they hope is to come.
Starting from the top, Nick Lambert (guitar) and Shawn Marquis (bass) were in Vanna the whole time, and Vanna did a reunion show together, that you both were all part of in 2017. How has everyone stayed in touch throughout the years?
Evan Pharmakis: Go ahead, Chris. You can go first.
Chris Preece: Keeping in touch with the guys, I left the band in 2009, and we would text sporadically. I would see the guys when they came through town. I would still consider them friends throughout the years, but we didn’t talk very often. Then I was living in Portland, and Davey Muise [vocals, 2009–2017] lived there as well, so Davey and I were hanging out a bunch. And that’s how I found out about the reunion show. So after the reunion show, we kept in closer touch. I think we were all excited to hang out. And then it slowly picked up this year—all being home with not a whole lot to do. That’s when the creative stuff started happening.
It was a smooth transition when Davey was brought into Vanna, but how has the transition of you coming back to the band been, especially since you were hanging out with Davey?
Preece: Well, when Davey took over, I was a big fan of the idea of Davey taking over. So, for me, I was super on board with it. He came on my last tour with us, and we made it very clear that it was a very accepted passing of the torch. So, that was super cool. And yeah Davey and I continued to be friends after that. Coming back into this, yeah, I think it was a surprise that the five of us were going to write music together again. So, anyone we told about it was pretty shocked, but Davey was super pumped. He sent a lot of really excited texts shortly after finding out.
“IT WAS A SURPRISE THAT THE FIVE OF US WERE GOING TO WRITE MUSIC TOGETHER AGAIN.”
INSPIRIT’s first single, “Fold” is out now. How did it feel to be back in the same room playing music together?
Pharmakis: Amazing. If I can go back, it was a weird thing for me, just because being young-minded. When I left the band, it wasn’t on the best of terms. It wasn’t on terrible terms, but I just wasn’t happy with the way a few things were going and working with the members. So when I left, which was in the beginning of 2012, I didn’t really talk to any of the guys for a while. I think I saw them all again when I was doing another project on Warped Tour and Vanna was on it, in 2015 maybe. And that was the first time I had seen them in years. So, it wasn’t like a bad blood thing, but we weren’t really in touch anymore. We weren’t in each other’s lives, and when the reunion shows happened and they reached out to me, obviously many years had gone by.
As soon as they told me Chris was going to be flying out and doing vocals, Brandon [Davis] was going to be on drums, and it was going to be the original lineup of the band, I was fully in. Then when we rehearsed at the Palladium that day for that set, I think everyone felt this amazing energy that we hadn’t felt in such a long time, that we almost forgot what was there between all of us. And that really excited us all. Then when we played that night, with that original lineup, I think with the energy of the crowd, just playing those songs and us being together, definitely sparked the interest. I remember there being a conversation about, “What if we do a reunion show for the records we were on together? What if we did a Curses reunion? What if we did a Search Party reunion show?” So that was something everyone was into, and then when this whole pandemic happened, Brandon started writing songs. And then Chris and Brandon were like, “Hey, let’s do some heavy stuff together.” Then Nick jumped in, and as soon as I heard about it, I was like, “Oh my god, I definitely want to do this.” Shawn was actually the one guy on the fence. And then once he heard the demos with Chris and I on it, he was like, “Okay I’m in,” and he jumped right back in.
Then it was funny, because we did these demos and we were like, “Okay, cool.” We can do this remotely because we’re all spread out again, and we loved the demos so much that we we’re like, “Oh my god!” And immediately we went in and started tracking. It’s really funny how this has all come together. Everybody just as people have grown so much. A lot of the guys have children and have wives. We’ve all learned a lot over the last 10 years as human beings and can look back at our young selves fondly and see choices we made that weren’t great. And now that we can see that, we’re now being a little wiser due to time. It’s pretty amazing, the way things have developed.
For Shawn and Nick, being the remaining original members when Vanna called it quits in 2017, it must have been hard for them to jump back in. But once they saw that you guys were working together, they were all in.
Pharmakis: For sure.
Preece: We were all giddy, like little kids.
Live shows are still far away, but when you start playing shows, are you planning to perform some of Vanna’s music or would it just be the new INSPIRIT material?
Pharmakis: Well, we’ve talked about it, because there’s chatter about re-issuing on vinyl the first couple of Vanna records. We’ve talked about it, but I think it’s definite that we’re going to play some of the material that we wrote as this lineup when we were Vanna. I don’t know exactly how much, but I’m sure we’ll throw them in since we wrote those songs. It will probably be a nice mix for a while until INSPIRIT has a large enough catalog so we just can play full sets of INSPIRIT’s music. But INSPIRIT is really Vanna, what we were, but not keeping the name in respect to all the members that came in over time and put in years of work into the name, just so they don’t feel shortchanged for their efforts and for the love they put into that entity that was Vanna. So, it feels good to rebrand, but at the same time we’re keeping that same energy and connection that all members have and the sound we create together. So yeah, the shows will be… I mean, Chris, what do you think? Probably a nice mix, right?
“INSPIRIT IS REALLY VANNA, WHAT WE WERE, BUT NOT KEEPING THE NAME IN RESPECT TO ALL THE MEMBERS THAT CAME IN OVER TIME AND PUT IN YEARS OF WORK INTO THE NAME”
Preece: Yeah, we have a band group chat, and as you can expect, it’s pretty commonplace. The idea of shows comes up pretty often because I think we’re all super excited. We’ve never actually played these songs together live, but we’re super excited to play the INSPIRIT songs. Definitely every time the subject of shows rolls around, we’re all pretty jazzed about playing some old Vanna hits from the older records. So, definitely the OG Vanna fans will appreciate what we’re considering throwing in the mix Vanna-wise when it comes to INSPIRIT shows, when that happens.
Was “Fold” one of the first songs you wrote as INSPIRIT? How did that song start coming together?
Preece: Good question. I think the cat’s out of the bag, we have an EP that we’re going to be releasing. No date planned yet, but obviously “Fold” is the first single. And Evan, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure “Fold” was the first song that we put together fully.
Pharmakis: Yeah, I believe you’re correct.
Preece: I think that came from Brandon and Nick, they sent it my way. And then Evan laid down the chorus. And then Shawn heard that and got on board. It was definitely the first song to come together in the most complete way. I remember the first time I heard “Fold,” I got chills, for however many times I heard that song, just the whole time. Hearing Evan’s voice in heavy music, with my vocals again, just the whole vibe was coming back to life.
“WE WERE JUST FRIENDS THAT WANTED TO THROW OUR GUITARS AROUND AND GET SOME AGGRESSION OUT AND JUST HAVE FUN TOGETHER.”
It’s super catchy with that anthemic kind of thing that old school Vanna did so well.
Pharmakis: Yeah, like with “Safe to Say.”
Preece: Yeah, exactly.
Pharmakis: The EP, it’s funny, because at first when we got signed as Vanna, we had no intention of getting signed. We weren’t doing it to be cool. We were just friends that wanted to throw our guitars around and get some aggression out and just have fun together. Then when we got signed, it was odd because Vanna never really fit into a genre category. Because we had a lot of melodic aspects, like I loved singing, I always wanted to sing as much as I could and loved doing melodic guitar. But then Nick loved writing heavy breakdowns and two steps.
Vanna ended up becoming this very interesting thing where you couldn’t really fit us into any particular categories. So, it was challenging getting us tours that worked for us. But at the same time, I think a lot of people enjoyed that it was a mix of stuff. It was an interesting mix because we had songs that were just all Chris screaming and really heavy. Then we had songs that were tons of singing with a little bit of screaming dipped in. Then we had songs just of crazy heavy parts into this super pretty melodic bridge into this crazy breakdown. We really liked to experiment and just let the songs go where we wrote them together. And with this new stuff, we do that again, but I feel like the years that we’ve had to grow as artists and people… it’s funny, it’s more smartly put together, but it still has that same thing to it. Like on this EP, there are some songs with no singing that are just crazy. And then there’s a wonderful mix. Just doing vocals with Chris is my favorite thing ever.
Preece: It’s so fun.
Pharmakis: And his vocals are incredible. I feel like we mesh well together and I just didn’t ever feel that way with Dave. We tried, and we did what we did, but just the process of writing with Chris… working with Chris and doing vocal work together is unmatched for me in my life.
Preece: We had a blast in the studio doing the EP.
Pharmakis: Yeah we did, it was awesome.
“I REALIZED HOW AMAZING IT IS AND HOW GREAT IT IS TO BE WITH THESE FINE GUYS AGAIN AND CREATING TOGETHER.”
It must have been incredible being back together making music.
Pharmakis: Oh yeah, it’s amazing. I feel like you don’t really realize how big of a part of you it is, what it was and what it still is until it happened. Getting back into this, I don’t think I realized how amazing it is and how great it is to be with these fine guys again and creating together. It’s a totally different thing and it’s very special for sure.
We’re obviously in a really strange time, where we don’t know when shows are going to come back. What hopes or goals do you have for these next few months?
Pharmakis: I know we’re going to keep writing. We’re hoping to get some more songs written and keep recording and move forward. So, probably until we can play shows, we’re going to need to put our energy somewhere. We all have pretty busy schedules, so we’re going to be selective about what we do play when it comes to live shows and just getting prepared for that, planning what’s next as far as releases go. We’re going to get a schedule together for what we do have and get it released to everybody as quickly as possible.
“WE’RE IN A REALLY INTERESTING ENERGY. THINGS ARE SO CRAZY RIGHT NOW. EVERYTHING IS INDEFINITE, BUT THIS EP IS DEFINITE.”
Preece: Yeah, we’re in a really interesting energy. Things are so crazy right now. Everything is indefinite, but this EP is definite. We have some other demos that we were tracking that didn’t get completed. Then we’re like, “We’ll just save them for the full-length.” So, I know that we’ve talked about doing a full-length. With everyone being busy, we really haven’t shopped this or anything. We don’t intend this to be a full-time touring band, but we do intend to do shows, so we will work it out between all of us. When it’s doable, we will definitely be doing performances. We’ll be releasing music. I think we’ll always be able to find time to continue releasing music for this project. But again, it’s not going to be this out on the road, six months to a year touring, playing every city. A lot of people probably will have to travel. I know we’ll play around New England. We’ve reminisced, god willing, about these amazing venues that were so supportive, these places for us to perform at many years back, that they’ll still weather the storm of this pandemic. Because unfortunately a lot of very loved venues are closing down due to the current situation we’re in. But we’ll definitely be playing around New England when we can make it work for everyone. We’ve talked about Worcester, we’ve talked about Boston, all of the old stomping grounds. So yeah, definite performances, definitely more music coming, just really hopeful that things can get figured out.