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Nostalgia on Pause: The Movielife Return With 'Cities in Search of a Heart'

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 Written by Huw Baines

On April 18, 2003 the Movielife played a show that Vinnie Caruana shouldn’t remember. It was part of a tour in support of their third album, ‘40 Hour Train Back to Penn’, at a club in Cardiff, Wales that isn’t there anymore. The place was half full, at a guess.

But he does remember it, because they could barely finish a song without the power cutting out. It was a shitshow. Halfway through, Caruana sat down at the lip of the stage and started talking to the people huddled up front. I remember it because I was one of them. Before the year was out the band had split.

When the Movielife reformed in 2014, nostalgia was very much on their side. Caruana admits they weren’t the biggest of deals when they called time on things - outside punk circles they weren’t really any sort of deal at all - but the mark they left on their fans didn’t fade.

In the intervening years their mix of heart-on-sleeve words and emotive, scrappy punk retained its sheen and, when the time came, the old guard duly turned out for another spin. That’s why their reunion run included a headline show at the Electric Ballroom in London, a venue several rungs further up the ladder than those they were playing a decade earlier.

But the nostalgia wouldn’t hold for Caruana and guitarist Brandon Reilly. Later this month the Movielife will release ‘Cities in Search of a Heart’, their first new record in 14 years. “I know how it is,” Caruana says over the phone from Brooklyn. “I know how nostalgia works. I’m also a nostalgia kind of guy. I love that about the Movielife. I love that people still care as much as they do.

“At the same time I think we’ve made a great record and we’re going to get out there and show people. Take them on the ride. Our plan is to keep this going: keep making records, keep playing shows. We’re going to keep creating. We feel like that’s what we’re meant to be doing.”

As recently as last summer - when Caruana was on the road with his first solo LP - new Movielife material wasn’t being discussed in public. They put out a single song, Future Feeling, to accompany a bout of touring, but there were no promises. Partly, that was because Caruana and Reilly were still figuring out how they worked as a partnership a decade and a half along the line.

After the Movielife split, Caruana stayed put in punk and fronted I Am The Avalanche, while Reilly helmed the goth-indie outfit Nightmare of You. Neither had really thought about the mechanics of writing new songs with a band who last had a record out when the label that released it, Drive-Thru, was still a living byword for a whole subgenre.

“This is me and him putting our heads together for about a year and a half, where we started to get in the same room and play music together quietly,” Caruana says. “Just to see how it went and how it felt. It wasn’t rocky in the beginning, but it wasn’t doing it for either of us. We knew that we needed to give it time to develop into something.

“The spirit and the heart of the Movielife is still there. This is the dude from I Am The Avalanche and the dude from Nightmare of You coming together and making a record. That’s very special to me. Nightmare of You is one of my favourite bands and Brandon is insanely talented. We have a lot of respect for each other. Otherwise we wouldn’t be undertaking this whole thing.”

One fundamental change is Caruana’s involvement in compositional matters. The first time around there was a dividing line between music and lyrics that wasn’t crossed, but now it’s easy to see his fingerprints throughout. There are segments that recall I Am The Avalanche’s rougher edges, while the high-wire melodic style Reilly honed with Nightmare of You also flits in and out.

“I never really wrote the music side,” Caruana says. “There were very few songs that I meddled in on the musical side. I would get the song, maybe work on the arrangements with Brandon, but he was the guy with the guitar and I was the guy with the pen and paper. That was the way it worked.

“He made it clear to me that we should be doing this together. We wrote lyrics together, we wrote music together. That was the way it unfolded. In a roundabout way, we’re making a punk record because that’s what the Movielife has always been. So, for the guy that’s been writing punk songs for all these years it makes sense for me to have my two cents.”

The other fundamental change occurs either side of Caruana and Reilly on stage. Back in May, Phil and Dan Navetta, the band’s bassist and guitarist respectively, announced that they wouldn’t be along for the ride on ‘Cities in Search of a Heart’. Evan Baken's drum stool, meanwhile, has been occupied for a short while by Caruana’s long-time I Am The Avalanche bandmate Brett Romnes, who also produced the LP. Of those who turned the lights out on the Movielife in 2003, two remain.

“A big part of why we’re able to tour and put out a record and be as busy as we are is that we’re the guys who have enough time in our lives to do that,” Caruana says. “I don’t want to put out a record and just play a few shows. I want to give it the treatment. I want to spread the word. Brandon and I, this has been our mission the whole time. Even for Future Feeling.

“When Dan and Phil were still involved, it wasn’t like: let’s all write a song together. They were like: ‘You guys write the song and you can show us what you have.’ The creation of Future Feeling was very similar to the creation of the record. This is really us standing out on our own and saying: 'This is what we got.' Life is very uncertain and can be very short. Let’s play music. Let’s travel. Let’s do it.”

That uncertainty is writ large on the record’s lyric sheet. As you might expect, the Movielife’s lyrical preoccupations have shifted. When Caruana wrote the words to ‘40 Hour Train Back to Penn’ - including Jamestown’s harrowing recounting of a serious bus crash - he was in his early 20s. He’s on his way to 38 now and more comfortable addressing things going on outside his window.

It’s not on the nose, but there’s a lingering unease about passages of ‘Cities in Search of a Heart’. The chorus of Mercy is Asleep at the Wheel, for example, follows the song’s title with the line: “The rest of us are just hanging on.” The song bears more than a passing resemblance to the frantic imagery of Jamestown, but this time the brush with catastrophe belongs to all of us. It’s just one that it’s OK to sing along to.

“It’s written in reality. It’s written from a place that a lot of us are in,” Caruana says. “A lot of the Movielife stuff from early on is cool and I still love to sing those songs. But I can’t write lyrics in 2017 about heartbreak. That can be done in a tasteful way, but right now people need to hear more. I need to give more. I need to give more of a social commentary of where I’m at and how I’m feeling.

“When I was 19, 20 years old that was my life. Now that I’m a grown ass dude, these are the things I should be writing about. You can’t ignore where we’re at. But I’m not stuffing politics and negativity down people’s throats.

"Music is meant to be an escape. It doesn’t always have to be, but for me it is. It makes me feel better. I don’t think about my daily stresses when I’m listening to music. The record’s not a downer and that’s something Brandon and I spoke about. Movielife records are not bummers.”

‘Cities in Search of a Heart’ is out on September 22 on Rise.

The Movielife Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue November 14 2017 - SOUTHAMPTON Joiners
Wed November 15 2017 - LONDON Underworld
Fri November 17 2017 - BRISTOL Exchange
Sat November 18 2017 - LEEDS Key Club
Sun November 19 2017 - LIVERPOOL Magnet Liverpool
Mon November 20 2017 - GLASGOW G2
Tue November 21 2017 - MANCHESTER Academy 3

Click here to compare & buy The Movielife Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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