New Jersey Band Journeys to Asheville for the first time


Pete Lambusta (Graphic Design)

Jernigan Neighbors, [email protected], News Writer

Asheville, known for its eclectic and artistic environment, attracts touring artists and bands from all across and corners of the country. The band Vakili rocked West Asheville’s Fleetwood’s with their folk-punk rock alternative sound on Oct. 14.

The band, Vakili, recently released their album “Walking Sideways”, on Feb. 25. The band includes talent from Lily Vakili, lead singer, Ben St. Jack, lead guitarist, Gordon Kuba, drummer, Joel Dorow on harmonics and Matt Jovanis on bass. 

After releasing their first album alongside two singles on all streaming services, the New Jersey band prepared for their fall East Coast tour. 

“As individuals, we’re each pretty chill. Who we are as a band is intense, high energy and surpasses anything any one of us could do individually. It’s an amazing feeling,” said the band’s vocalist and guitarist, Lily Vakili. 

The band’s fall tour includes Washington, Charlotte, Baltimore and more dates to be determined. Their Asheville set at Fleetwoods includes local bands The Deathbots and Call The Next Witness. 

“When we are building out a song – we play facing each other,” Vakili said. “It’s a collaborative process, and a song evolves, sometimes over years.”

The Patti Smith inspired singer said there’s a lot in store for the group with planning to make albums, recording music in their style and playing for small dives and big festivals in the U.S. and other places around the planet. For the first time, the folky punk ensemble sees what Asheville has to offer. The collective said excitement ignites when thinking about visiting Sharky’s, Fleetwood’s and the Pinball Museum. 

The collective fills with excitement to see Asheville’s natural beauty as well as an old pal of theirs. 

“We’re here because of Ron Taylor of WNC Original Music,” Vakili said. “We connected with Ron a while back and he’s been kind enough to play some of our tunes on his show.”

Vakili said that performing on stage with an audience feels like freedom. She said she finds influence from artists like Billie Holiday, Talking Heads, Prince, Patti Smith and others. 

“Lily started the band, so we went with Vakili Band,” said Gordon Kuba, the ensemble’s rock influenced drummer. 

Kuba said the band encounters and possesses many food stories. 

“Like where to find the best cheesesteak in Philly, or if the cannolis in Brooklyn are as good as the cannolis in New Jersey(of course they’re not),” the drummer said. 

Kuba said they have some inquiries about a specific food chain within Asheville. 

“We’re wondering about that Biltmore McDonald’s,” said the food-intrigued drummer. “Are there actual waiters wearing ties? If so, Jersey’s going to have to up its game.” 

Kuba said they love the Foo Fighters, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Cobham and others. The drummer said they feel empowered on stage looking into the crowd. 

“Performing on stage feels thrilling,” said Ben St. Jack, Vakili’s lead guitarist. “It’s one of the only places I feel like myself. That’s all I want to do.” 

Jacob Blickenstaff

The guitarist said they find influence from musicians and bands like The Cult, The Ramones, New York Dolls and more. 

“We finally signed a band agreement,” St. Jack said. “What makes it official is the actual rehearsing, playing gigs and making albums.

The lead guitarist said recording their latest album, “Walking Sideways”, was the band’s real test by fire. 

“We started recording and then, like for the rest of the world, everything was put on hold by the pandemic,” St. Jack said. 

St. Jack said the experience in creating the album solidified the band’s sound and commitment to the artistry and each other. 

“It took a lot to stay focused and see the album through to completion, but we did it together,” St. Jack said.