In one regard, the members and music of VOTA are already familiar to alternative rock faithful, though at the same time, this particular point in time is filled with several groundbreaking firsts. Formerly known as Casting Pearls (but changed to avoid confusion with Casting Crowns), this one time trio of front man/guitarist/songwriter Bryan Olesen, bassist Case Maranville and drummer Scott Rutz has expanded to a four piece (now including guitarist/keyboardist Riley Friesen) and redirected its guitar charged rock to incorporate additional dance elements, while subsequently signing with INO RECORDS.
"It’s a new day and a new chapter for this band," exclaims an obviously excited Rutz. "We have a new sound, a new direction, a new feel, a new member, a new label and new management, so it felt like our old skin didn’t completely contain what we do now, nor did it do this band justice anymore."
Though the players brainstormed for months before making the moniker switchover, they wanted a title that wouldn’t be tied to any preconceived notions or specific music industry connotations. Originally, VOTA didn’t have a meaning, instead creating a blank canvas for the listener to interpret, though a longtime listener soon pointed out an alternative meaning anchored in faith.
"One of our fans did a Google search and found out it does have a spiritual meaning, which is an interesting nod to God’s sovereignty," explains Maranville. "VOTA is a Latin root word that stands for a collection of vows before God, which echoes our goals of using this music to His glory."
Outside of ministry intentions, the group’s self-titled debut is loaded with artistic innovation, taking cues from the players’ previous alternative dichotomy, plus additional influences ranging from dance poppers Maroon 5 to ethereal rockers Augustana. Add in a return outing with famed producer Nathan Dantzler (Relient K, Audio Adrenaline, Tree63) and VOTA brilliantly straddles the line of current and timeless.
"We really tried to throw the rule book out the window with these sessions and we tried to look at each song specifically and give them what they needed," offers Olesen. "We stretched our limits in every sense even down to the way we recorded. A lot of times a band records the drum tracks, then bass, then guitar and then vocals, but we took it one song at a time, which made the process more expensive, but artistically it was great to freshly move to each element. In the end, all the tracks have a wonderful diversity, which allows you to listen all the way through and put on a nice iPod shuffle mix."
Adding Friesen not only added an extra layer of paint to the band’s dynamic, but also a brand new instrument in the form of keyboards. Though those sounds appeared on older albums and in concert, they share double billing with the guitars on this endeavor, putting a bit more groove in the step of these Nebraska natives.
"We had honestly been looking for the past three or four years for somebody to fill this part and we knew Riley was a real answer to prayer," ruminates Rutz. "He fit the profile we were looking for perfectly, we get along so well and he lives in Lincoln, NE, which just reaffirmed it for us!"
Beyond the studio, that fleshed out sound has expanded on stage, leaving VOTA a force to be reckoned with either in headlining, festival or even outreach styled environments such as on its onoing 180 Tour a public high school assembly program designed to encourage students in their character and decision making. The foursome’s veteran status certainly doesn’t hurt, with Olesen serving as arguably the most explosive rock n’ roll front man in recent memory.
"Part of what we’re tying to do is take the live show to another level, and now with four members, we’re giving the audience an even more engaging show," Olesen adds. "We bring all our own sound and lighting on the road and we take the show really seriously, plus its been really encouraging to have support from our fans right from the get go of performing the new songs."
There’s no doubt anyone leaving a VOTA show will be thoroughly entertained, but outside of a mere performance spectacle, there’s a much more introspective thread that runs through the guys’ sets. Besides showcasing a relatable message that runs the gamut of personal and spiritual relationships, plus being lights in even the darkest corners of society, members’ humanitarian interests are also major components.
"We’re interested in moving beyond just the music, which you can see in something like our partnership with Food For the Hungry and everything that’s continuously being out on the 180 Tour, our commitment to encourage students through the 180 Tour" muses Maranville of the endeavor they started in 2006. "We want to offer students and listeners of all ages to consider how they can make a positive change in this world, whether that be by lending a helping hand or just living a life of character and integrity on a daily basis."
Olesen echoes those sentiments, also adding the gang’s earned additional wisdom through experience, along with ongoing faith refinement. "We’re not looking to be defined by being musicians and rock n’ roll and we hold on loosely in that sense," he sums up. "Now that we’re not 16-year-olds wanting to be rock stars, we’re sensitive to where God wants us and I think that’s given us a mature focus to kind of break the mold of going through the motions- whether that be with the way me make music, the 180 Tour and how we interact with everyone we meet along the way."
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