How Indie Up & Comers Built & Sustained a College Band: A Q&A With No Vacation


Transitioning from high school to college can be a very difficult period for anyone. The combination of enormous workloads, homesickness, and making a whole new set of friends can make the experience unbearable. So what should you do to alleviate this overwhelming feeling? For No Vacation, it was to start a band. 

The indie pop band was formed by Sabrina (Sab) Mai, the lead singer, in a dorm on the campus of the University Of  San Francisco. In April 2015, the band released their debut album, Amo XO, which received a phenomenal reaction from listeners around the world.

However, things went a bit south after that. Near the end of the year, the group went on an indefinite hiatus, and we weren't sure they'd ever be back. To our fortunes, the band has returned this year with two new singles and news of a forthcoming album.

We caught up with No Vacation to talk "Yam Yam," meeting at USF, and making "wavy gravy" sounds.

OTW: You guys recently released your new song "Yam Yam," and it's such a tune. Can you tell us the inspiration behind it?

Harrison: I guess it really just stemmed from getting stoked about writing again after the hiatus and wanting to make the best impression I could moving forward as the new guitarist.

Nat: Yam Yam came together much faster than our other songs. I think we all wanted a calmer song to express the relief we felt with playing together again.

OTW: I heard you guys just did a live performance of it for Ring Road at 2 am! What was that like?

Sab: It was exhausting and tiring because we couldn’t find the address, but fun and something new.

Nat: It was stressfully stimulating. During tour, we had an outdoor show in Santa Ana with a bunch of homies and everyone was feeling really good, but had to be at the Ring Road studio in downtown LA around midnight. The journey to get there was the nuttiest part. I was the designated driver, but I couldn’t see with our gear stacked to the top, along with freeway signs that were confusing with the construction and closed exit ramps. We got the address wrong twice. Once we arrived though, it was like bam bam done!

Sab: …or Yam Yam done!

Nat: We had some pizza, played a few tunes with fans blowing in our faces, and then got ready to play the hell out! It was a great experience and everyone at Ring Road was very hospitable and worked so quickly, despite being exhausted too.

OTW: How did you all come together?

Sab: I started the project with a past member and needed a live band. While attending the same university (San Francisco), I heard that Marisa played bass, and I was really scared to talk to her. I ended up taking the same English class as her so that we could become friends, and I'd be able to ask her to join the band. I knew Nat as a Banjo Girl from open mic at school, and she kept hitting me up, but I flaked on her to smoke weed. When we finally hung out, we went to a show, she made me soup, and jammed for a little bit.

Nat: I told my friend not to talk cause Sab was intimidating and too cool for me to hang out with. My friend and I were just texting each other the whole time cause Sab gave the "too cool for school artsy fartsy" vibe.

Sab: She joined No Vacation the next day.

Nat: I’d say it was a pretty good hangout even though I was kind of scared of her.

Sab: After that, we went through a few live drummers and started playing shows. However, we needed more material for our sets, and started writing "Draem Girl" and "Sad Valentine" all together when jamming. After a few months of being together, we got accepted by Converse Rubber Tracks. We all knew Harrison was a great musician, and then asked him to help us finish/record the album. Things worked really well with him, so he became our permanent drummer.

Nat: I met Harrison when I was a sophomore, and he was an incoming freshmen through USF Facebook page. I was answering one of his questions on the page, but started Facebook stalking him cause he was playing some instrument in his profile pic. We were acquaintances, and he’d hit me up at the beginning of the year to go to parties, but got kicked out cause he was a freshmen. And then we ended up being in a band together. Crazy circle.

Sab: After we got back together, Harrison switched to guitar and James became our drummer. We met James from seeing him drum at other shows.

Nat: And I met him when his band played at USF.

OTW: Where did the name No Vacation come from?

Sab: The name No Vacation came after my first winter break in college. It was a bad break, so I felt like I had no vacation.


OTW: What was it like signing with Topshelf Records?

Nat: We were doing everything independently for awhile and didn’t feel ready or active enough to commit to a label when Topshelf first reached out to us right before our break up. Right around January of this year when the band started picking up again, I was in the middle of planning our west coast tour (which was harder than I anticipated), and at the point where I was wondering if No Vacation was going to be a serious part of my post-college career or just for fun. The whole process of signing with Topshelf was really exciting and solidified, for myself at least, how No Vacation was something I wanted and was able to devote my time to. We had many emails, phone calls, concerns, and questions, but it gave us an idea of what it would be like to work with other people. I’m really happy that we signed with Topshelf because everything has been so positive. I also enjoy Kevin’s tweets and Instagram stories.

OTW: How would you describe your music for those who have yet to hear about you guys?

Nat: We didn’t really know how to answer this question so we asked our followers via Twitter and Instagram live.  Some descriptors were: wavy gravy (my favorite), dreamy beach vibes with bubbles, romantic poppy catchy indie, nostalgic warm crush, and an ethereal feeling you get when you enter a vintage-ish laundromat.

OTW: Would you say it's harder starting a song or finishing it?

All: 100% finishing

OTW: Aside from your forthcoming album, what else can we expect from you guys this year?

Sab: Lots of new merch for winter, transitioning to New York, and another music video.

OTW: What advice would you give to bands/ artists that are just starting out?

Sab: Practice and keep writing, even if you don’t think that it’s good.

Nat: Your friendships, relationships, and environment are important when dealing with all of the stress that comes with being an artist. Listen to yourself. If working with someone doesn’t feel right or if they ever make you feel less about yourself, then stop surrounding yourself with them,  no matter who they are!

OTW: My last question, who are 3 of your top Ones To Watch artists?  

Tim Atlas, ALYS, Tanukichan