Grunge Band Vase Powers Through the Pandemic with Positivity

In uncertain times, the Brighton group has found creative ways to keep the momentum going
Vase members Derian Parsons, Drew Kussmaul, Elijah Simmons, J.T. Jasinski, and Christian Thibodeau pose for a photo before one of their last shows at The Fledge in Lansing on March 14. // Photograph by Amanda Bower, 2020

Four members of Vase sit together outside of drummer Elijah Simmons’ house in Saint Johns. The sun is shining, and roosters are crowing. The wind picks up vocalist Christian Thibodeau, guitarist J.T. Jasinski, and bassist Derian Parsons’ long hair. They are about to begin an outdoor jam session.

The scene is quite a departure from where the band members would prefer to spend their time — ideally, the entire band would be headbanging on stage and crowd surfing into mosh pits. The pandemic has put the live show experience — along with recording songs and practicing in-person with all their members — on pause, but that isn’t holding Vase back.

The grunge band was created by Jasinski and his guitarist cousin Drew Kussmaul in Brighton in 2018, and they have been playing as a five-person group with fellow members Thibodeau, Simmons, and Parsons since September 2019.

Initially, the band was shocked when they learned that they would have to cancel shows due to COVID-19. They had been playing one to two shows a week at various locations in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and Grand Rapids before the pandemic hit, and they had around 15 more lined up already for the summer. “We were hoping it would blow over, but it just got worse,” Simmons says. “And that’s when we figured out that our shows would be canceled.” Their last show was on March 15.

J.T. Jasinski and Christian Thibodeau perform on stage at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing on Feb. 1. // Photograph by Tamarra Thomas, 2020

Guitarist Kussmaul moved home to Brighton in March after his school, Michigan State University, was shut down and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order went into effect. Soon after, he found out that he was unable to leave his home to practice with his fellow band members due to the risk of exposing an ill parent with an underlying condition to the virus. “My initial fear instantly went to my parents because obviously, most people know it affects elderly people more than young people,” Kussmaul says. “If I lived on my own or for some reason was okay with not seeing or being around my parents, I think that everything would pretty much be normal for us, except we wouldn’t be able to play shows.”

Despite this setback, the band continued to move forward. They practiced without Kussmaul by changing the songs to accommodate one less guitarist. “[Playing without Drew] was a learning process, [there was] a learning curve for sure,” Jasinski says.” And, they kept him in the loop through frequent messages and calls. “J.T., my cousin, is always texting me about songs and how they can improve, and I can still give my input on all of that stuff,” Kussmaul says. “Those are things that don’t stop even though you can’t see [each other].”

Parsons, Jasinski, Simmons, and Thibodeau also got together in person to hold sporadic Instagram Live improv jam sessions as well so their followers and Kussmaul could tune in to watch them play. On average, about 75 people watched each session. “That’s been encouraging for us,” Jasinski says. “People are still tuning in from their phones even if they can’t see us live.” They’ve also conducted interviews via Instagram Live with different alternative rock musicians, including Lincoln Parish, former lead guitarist of Cage the Elephant; Corey Coverstone, drummer of Dirty Honey; and Anthony Sonetti, drummer of Badflower.

Guitarist Drew Kussmaul at The Loving Toch in Ferndale on Feb. 23. // Photograph by Amanda Bower, 2020

Another big blow — Vase had to put recording their unnamed EP album on pause when the pandemic hit. Jasinski says they had written six songs and had started tracking in the studio before things shut down. “[We thought], we have an album to record too,” Thibodeau says… “what’s going to happen to that?”

But, after months of uncertainty, things are starting to slowly get back to normal. Kussmaul rejoined the band in-person earlier this month, and they’re in the process of finding a new recording studio with hopes of releasing their EP before the end of the year.

There aren’t any plans for shows, but the members are looking forward to venues — eventually — opening back up so they can play live music again. “Hopefully the music scene has a strong energy when everything turns back on,” Thibodeau says.”

Even though the band has faced many unforeseen obstacles due to COVID-19, they have also seen an overwhelming amount of support from their fans. This, along with their own creative problem solving, is why the members of Vase have continued to maintain a positive mindset since the pandemic hit. “We’ve been exercising being more creative, kind of using what we’ve got for the time being,” Thibodeau adds. “We are definitely turning it into a positive thing. We are all coming together and doing our part to keep the focus and keep the morale going.”

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