no vacation elevates its sun-drenched sound on ‘phasing’

After a short hiatus and a move across the country, the band takes its dream pop to the next level.

by Nick Fulton; photos by Johnson Lui
18 October 2019, 2:00pm

Unless you spend a lot of time on the internet, you’ve probably never heard of a band called No Vacation. The New York and California-based indie-rock band still has a limited discography — an album, a mixtape and an EP — but what they have put out so far has racked up tens of millions of streams on Spotify, SoundCloud and YouTube. Their most successful is a song named “Yam Yam,” which balances big summery bass lines with soft, snoozy guitars and wafty vocals about finding comfort in someone else's company and holding onto that warm, fuzzy feeling you get with them. The songs viral success is about to give gravity to their new EP, Phasing, which arrived today via San Diego label Topshelf Records.

Through Reddit forums like “Indieheads,” and social media platforms like Instagram, where No Vacation has amassed a sizable following (33K and counting), the band has been able to leverage their way up through the underground. Though the press has mostly ignored them up until now, artists such as Japanese Breakfast (who has “Yam Yam” on her *JBREKKIE* Spotify playlist) and their peers (Surf Rock Is Dead and Triathalon) in the indie rock scene have all championed their breezy music.

Sab Mai

No Vacation was formed in 2015 by Sab Mai while they were studying at the University of San Francisco. They released an album, Amo XO, and a mixtape called Summer Break, then put the band on hold due to an internal conflict with another bandmate. Sab’s creativity never slowed down though, and in late 2016 they asked two former members of the No Vacation live band, Nat Lee and Harrison Spencer, to join them onstage to play their new songs (intended at the time for a solo project). However, after jamming for a bit, the trio realized the songs sounded a lot like old No Vacation tracks so they asked their estranged bandmate if they could continue using the name. He said yes.

Their new EP, Phasing, retains that same sweet, sun-drenched malaise of past No Vacation releases, but everything has now been tightened up a notch. The band says it’s a result of being more collaborative and understanding that each member has something unique to contribute. On Phasing, Nat was able to flex her classical skills by adding strings and writing a gorgeous, lofty piano piece (“Last Dance”). Harrison’s guitar and drums parts are woven into the work like a corkscrew, while Sab’s chilled out guitar riffs and buttery voice drift through the work like a warm breeze.The trio recently spoke with i-D about how constant changes in both their personal lives and with their music shaped the new EP.

Your new EP is called Phasing . Does it have anything to do with this being a new phase of No Vacation?
Harrison: Sab came up with the idea of "Phases," and when we all talked about that name we liked it, but for us it was more about a constant change and not changes that have already happened. So Phasing, as an ongoing process, made more sense. I wouldn’t say it’s about phases of the band, but more about how things are constantly changing with our music, with ourselves, and with everything.

What else can you tell us about the EP?
Harrison: Phasing is the most accurate representation of who all three of us are as musicians. It’s the most collaborative we’ve ever been. We really helped each other out and worked together a lot more than we had in the past.

Nat: I was very excited to add strings, and I think once I did that I was able to showcase myself fully as a musician.

Nat Lee

Over the last few years you’ve all gone through a lot of personal changes; you’ve all graduated and have moved to New York (and back to California, in your case Nat). Have those experiences shaped this EP?
Nat: First off, we can say that living in New York never changed our writing style. But in terms of how we’ve developed in our own lives, I think I developed a more simplistic way of writing, and I wanted the writing I contribute to be more emotional. Now that we’ve developed more as people and become stronger musicians and closer as bandmates, we’ve learned how to write off of one another instead of just writing our part.

Harrison: For me, it wasn’t so much a location thing, but more of a feeling. The things we write and feel in New York are similar to things we’d write and feel in San Francisco, it’s more just about being true to yourself as an artist. I don’t think that location has ever changed how I write, but more so what I’m listening to at the time.

Sab: I moved to New York right when we were starting up again — I was still in school, I just graduated over the summer — so I’ve been in this same state for a while. It’s hard to compare what my writing was like in San Francisco to what my writing is like in New York, because a lot of my time in No Vacation has been in New York.

Harrison Spencer
Harrison Spender

New York has a huge ecosystem of artists. Do you think living in New York has helped you grow as a band?
Sab: The energy of the city, going into it and then coming back home (to Brooklyn), makes me feel like I want to do something [creative]. I feel creative in New York.

Harrison: We have polar opposite opinions on that. Living in New York, I feel creatively stifled.

Nat: I agree, when I was in New York I had a hard time being creative because I was focussed on surviving. I always tell people in other bands, it’s not really about which industry people you know, it’s about what other bands you’re friends with. You could be a small band, but if you’re friends with a big band and you get to go on tour with them, that’s how you get your name out there.

You’ve had success online, with one of your songs (“Yam Yam”) reaching 28 million streams on Spotify. Has that success surprised you?
Harrison: I think we were all caught off guard by it in the beginning.

Sab: That one song that popped off, “Yam Yam,” we pitched to a bunch of press outlets and no one wanted it.

Nat: The person that was going to premier it got fired the day before it was supposed to be premiered, so we were like, this is the song that we all wrote together but no one likes it. It actually didn’t get playlisted or gain any traction for a couple of months.

Harrison: Japanese Breakfast put it on her playlist, which was nice. [But] we were a SoundCloud band, essentially.

Nat: I think people just found it on SoundCloud and started sharing it that way which is really cool, because it’s organic. We didn’t do any press until 2017.

No Vacation
No Vacation