Lessons From Vessel Of Light's 'Last Ride': Dan Lorenzo On Valuing Life And Music

Heavy Metal band Vessel of Light signed with Nomad Eel Records for their fourth studio album coming up this October 30th, and have released the single, and now the video, for the title track "Last Ride". The concept for the track, inspired by true crime stories, may be grim, but there's a lot of human truth to be shared and guitarist Dan Lorenzo has a lot of insight to share into the band's songwriting process and why heavy themes can be important in life. 

Dan Lorenzo, like the rest of the crew in Vessel of Light, has worked in other bands over the years and gathered a lot of that experience into focusing on creating the kinds of music that he wants to make with the people he wants to make it with. The band, which formed in 2017, has been gaining increasing momentum, set to release four albums in three years. Even COVID can't slow them down, speeding up rather than holding up their release date for Last Ride.

Dan Lorenzo previously appeared on Tower's Instagram Live show, which you can still watch here, and spoke with Tower's PULSE about why, aside from COVID, his life in music is where he wants it to be.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Did you ever visit Tower Records?

Dan Lorenzo: Oh, absolutely. You can’t imagine how much I love Tower Records. I grew up in Paramus, then I grew up in Clifton, New Jersey. When I was in a touring band, I was touring the world on a regular basis in the late 80s and early 90s. Tower Records was in Paramus, New Jersey. Every time you walked in there, it was magic, you could discover something new. It was not just the albums, but the magazine collection was the best around. You were finding magazines from around the world that you couldn’t really find anywhere else. It was always a fun hang. It was heartbreaking when it closed.

HMS: You’re killing me because you’re the first person to bring up the magazines to me, and I love music magazines so much. Oh man.

DL: When I wanted a magazine, forget Barnes and Noble, go to Tower Records.

HMS: I figured given your history in music, you would have overlapped with Tower.

DL: Oh, yes, Tower Records was the shit for me. And then it was a thrill when you started getting your records in there, when you get your own section, after you release a few CDs. Those kinds of things I’ll never forget as long as I live. It was beyond thrilling.

HMS: That’s awesome! What bands were you with that you’d go see were in Tower?

DL: Hades and Non-Fiction. Hades started putting out full-length records in 1987. Non-Fiction would sell a ton of CDs at Tower Records from 1992 to 1994. Then Hades got back together, and we put out three records for Metal Blade in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Tower Records was an incredibly important thing. When you got your record into Tower Records, you felt like you had arrived. Whether you were a millionaire or not didn’t matter, you had made it because your record was in Tower Records. Like I said, it was an enormous thrill.

HMS: Okay, well, Dan, your record self-titled album Vessel of Light, is in Tower Records right now on CD. This band is also now in Tower Records.

DL: I’m psyched!

HMS: I feel like you gave us a great history of your bands just now! I know that Nathan Opposition has also been in other bands, and I think everyone in Vessel of Light has been in other bands, too. How did those experiences in the past help you all get to where you are now? What do you think you took away from those experiences?

DL: Well, some lessons I learned many years ago are not even applicable today. But one thing I learned was that Jimmy Schulman, my bass player in Hades in the late 80’s, and I would sometimes argue and butt heads, but now life has moved on, time has moved on, and we don’t seem to argue as much. We’re so excited about Vessel of Light and excited to have a record deal in 2020. And we’ve just about finished the record that we are ecstatic about.

My singer Nathan Opposition is in a band Ancient Wisdom, who are from Cleveland, and we were playing shows out here right before COVID shut everything down. He flew out and we were playing shows in New York and New Jersey, and we were supposed to be playing shows in Maryland and Delaware. Can you imagine if someone said, “Hey, we can go back in time to February 2020”, how much we’d appreciate being able to go back in time right now?

It might mean more than ever now to have Vessel of Light and have a deal with Nomad Eel. Even though there are dark times right now, musically it’s all very exciting. My drummer, Ron Lipinski, was discovered by Hades and he played on the last Hades album. Then he got cancer, and his brother told us that he was going to die. Somehow he got through everything and was totally fine, and I got him an audition with Overkill, and he toured the world for ten years with Overkill.

As soon as he stopped Overkill, he joined Vessel of Light. He’s at the same point where he’s not touring the world anymore with 200 dates a year. He’s an amazing drummer, and when they hear him on Last Ride, people are going to say, “Oh my god, who is that drummer??” I’m so happy for a guy who once had cancer to be putting out a new record in 2020 after all he’s been through.

HMS: That’s amazing. You have some wonderful band members, there. I’m so glad you got to play a few shows together this year before things went crazy.

DL: Me too. When we were booking dates, I was wondering, “Should I wait until the end of March until things are a little bit warmer? Oh, screw it.” Thank god. A week later, we wouldn’t have been able to play. So at least we got some shows to promote Thy Serpent Rise, our third album, which I put out independently.

HMS: You didn’t get to play any songs from Last Ride live yet?

DL: No, everything was shut down. But that’s the one silver lining from COVID is that we thought our next record would come out next year, but when everything shut down, I quickly wrote a bunch of songs, including “Last Ride” and that sped things up. I’m not happy about anything to do with COVID, but if nothing else we’ll have our fourth album out three or four months ahead of plan.

HMS: I heard that you had some songs in process, but then wrote quite a lot more on top of that, mostly in isolation. How did you figure out how to collaborate with everyone at a distance?

DL: Something I had never done before, but I first did on our album Woodshed, then on Thy Serpent Rise, and then on Last Ride, was that recorded all my guitar parts first. I map out the songs, then everyone comes in and cuts their parts. There are only one or two riffs on the whole album where we jam together as a band. Nathan writes all the lyrics and melodies, and he has the permission if he needs to rearrange the song to make sense to him. So I wrote and recorded 17 songs on the guitar…

HMS: Holy shit! Wow!

DL: The drummer recorded 15 of them, then Nathan picked the 10 that he could think of melody lines and lyrics. What kills me is that there are a few songs that are not going to be on the album that are some of my favorites, but Nathan couldn’t think of melodies or lyrics for. But I feel like Nathan’s made a tremendous progression on the last few albums vocally. He’s got really diverse styles for his voice.

HMS: That’s so great. I know that you know this, but never throw anything away! Keep that stuff.

DL: Oh yes, when Nathan and I first jammed in Cleveland, a song that we worked on didn’t make it on until the third album. Nobody’s throwing away anything.

HMS: How about the song “Last Ride” and the title of the album itself? Was that something that came from Nathan?

DL: Basically, like the show Forensic Files, the lyrics are true crime in “Last Ride”. I wrote the song on a Wednesday night, and on Thursday I recorded it, and  I called the track “Last Night” as a temporary title. So Nathan got it, and thought of “Last Ride”, like a person who doesn’t know they are going on their last ride because they are about to be a future episode of Forensic Files.

HMS: [Laughs] Oh my god.

DL: It’s kind of horror lyrics mixed with doomy Stoner Rock, though I feel compelled to mention that I’m totally straight. My wife and I just like Stoner Rock and enough of it has rubbed off on me.

HMS: Thank you for telling me that about the song, that adds a whole other layer. That’s also awesome that you write the guitar parts first on songs. What made you choose for that one to the be the title song?

DL: I feel like we always get the most excited about the most recent song first, and that was the very last song I wrote for the album. When I wrote it, I knew it was my favorite song and hoped Nathan could think of a melody line and lyrics.

HMS: There are a lot of classic elements in that song, like seeming to observe someone who is successful in life, and seeing them go wrong, and end up at rock bottom.

DL: So maybe you’re telling me that this is the world’s last ride? Is that what you’re insinuating?

HMS: [Laughs] I wasn’t going to say it, but the song is very appropriate. It seems like history is cyclical rather than a progression.

DL: Somebody else said the same thing, I think in a German write up.

HMS: However, I would expect death themes from a Metal band, at least from time to time. Actually, the song made me think of that phrase that’s popping up a lot these days, “Memento mori”. The Victorians were obsessed with it. They used to have it written on things to remind them that they would die, that they should always be in memory of death. For many Victorians, they felt it was the only genuine way to live life. That would keep you humble.

DL: That’s interesting. I kind of feel like I live my life like that. If I go out for a ride, I say, “Okay, I might get hit by a truck and die.” And my wife says, “Why do you say that??”  But it’s the truth. It could happen.

HMS: There are some pros and cons to thinking that way. It makes you appreciate what you have, it keeps you from getting too arrogant or overblown. It also says something about humanity. It might make you more sympathetic toward your fellow humans.

DL: I’ll tell you a story that I’ve never really told in an interview. About ten years ago, I still didn’t own a cell-phone, but I was coming out of Starbucks, and I pulled up at some train tracks. I saw, for maybe a half a second, this Asian girl in front of me, with a little smile on her face, and earbuds in, scrolling through her iPod. And she got hit by a train.

HMS: Whoah!

DL: I literally had half a second. I ran out of my car in terror, screaming, into the Starbucks to use the phone. It was so upsetting. Then people started saying, “Well, that girl killed herself.” But no, I saw what was happening. She had a little smile on her face. She was scrolling, she went around the railroad gate. She was an honor student. She was 23 years old.

She was going to work or something at 7:30 in the morning and she was dead a second later. I’m not afraid of being dead, I believe in the afterlife, but I’m shit-scared afraid of dying. I think about it all the time. I appreciate life and even though we’re very tough, and we could live through cancer, your life could be taken from you at any second.

HMS: That’s fair. Thank you for telling me that story. It’s horrifying but it is significant.

DL: I tell my nephew, don’t have those headphones on when you’re riding your bike. Technology is for when you’re sitting down, not when you’re moving.

HMS: Yes. My siblings and I have thought about this from a young age because a group of our friends were all killed in a car accident together when we were teenagers. It wasn’t even teenagers driving, though, but parents. One of these almost unexplainable things. When you have these experiences, you think about these things. Music is a great way to talk about it.

DL: Yes. I was a musician and I attempted to be a musician before my father died in 1982. I tell people that I was 19 going on 15 when he died, but it helped me grow up and it helped me become a songwriter. I was able to channel pain and depression. I never did drugs, but I got my sadness out in my songwriting. I still do that even though I’m a happy person, but nobody could be happy about everything in the world. So I write this angry, heavy, music and my singer does it the same way.

HMS: I think there’s a relationship there, because the nicest people I interact with are Metal and Punk musicians, and they write and play angry, heavy music. You have a way to talk about all these things that helps. I think you can see that benefit in people’s lives.

DL: When you mention that, it makes me think about the way I look. I have a long beard and I’m covered in tattoos. People crack up when they speak with me and realize I’m articulate and that I’m the last guy to start a fight. I don’t smile a lot, so maybe I look aggressive, but I do everything I can to avoid starting shit.

HMS: Do you find that assumptions about tattoos and appearance have changed in recent years? Or do you think people still react the same way?

DL: Much less now because when I was young, and had long hair and drove a crappy car, I was still a white boy, but I would get pulled over by the cops every single week, sometimes twice a week. I always did the right thing, but when it happens five times in one month, it gets very frustrating. All you can do to negate the stereotype is have nothing to hide. I was stereotyped from age 17 to maybe 29. I don’t think if I drove through too many areas of America right now that would happen. Everyone is used to tattoos.

And thank god, since my day job is selling tattoo supplies for a company out of Maryland called Painful Pleasures, and we sell all over the world. That’s how I make my living.

HMS: That’s wonderful.

Can you tell me anything about the origin of the band’s name, Vessel of Light?

DL: Nathan thought of that. At one point we were going to call the band Vessel but that was taken by another band with that name. It just sounded cool. No real story behind that one.

HMS: It definitely has a cool sound to it and remains kind of ambiguous. It makes me think of some kind of opposition between light and dark. It does sound a little different than what you might expect from a Metal band.

DL: I agree. Thank you.

HMS: I saw that the new album will be released eventually on cassette, vinyl, and CD. What are your feelings on these different formats? Are you old school?

DL: Yes. I bought a new car four years ago and it doesn’t have a CD player and that sucks for me. I have thousands of CD that I can’t play in my car. Vinyl is the shit right now. Vinyl is cool and I’m so glad Nomad Eel is doing vinyl. Now, since our third album, Thy Serpent Rise, never came out on vinyl, so Nomad Eel is going to release that for us down the road, and they are releasing the cassette.

HMS: Do you sit down and listen to records?

DL: When I work from home, I’m on the phone, so I work in silence. When I’m in the car, I listen to political radio or sports talk. When I’m with my wife, she prefers to have music on every second of the day.

HMS: That’s me, too. I guess if you’re in the car, you might listen to Sirius XM! I heard you were on Ozzy’s Boneyard, which is one of my favorite things to listen to.

DL: I’ve been on Ozzy’s Boneyard about seven times, actually. Back in June, Vessel of Light covered the Black Sabbath song “Wasp” and Sirius XM has been spinning that. It’s always fun, and they let me pick some music of bands that I’ve played with and bands that I love.

HMS: That’s awesome. How did you first get on there?

DL: I just hounded those guys. I think I started writing to those guys by e-mail saying I was a huge fan.

HMS: What’s kept you wanting to do live performance over the years?

DL: It’s a way to get yourself really nervous, and my bass player and I still get nervous before going on because things could go wrong. That crap shoot is like getting ready for a sporting event, and it’s still thrilling. Now I definitely miss it more than ever. Between 2011 and 2017 I really didn’t care about playing live but Vessel of Light has really renewed my interest in it.

HMS: So that feeling of managing a good performance and overcoming possible difficulties so that the audience has a great time is a kind of affirmation?

DL: Absolutely. The last show we did, the audience reaction was so over the top and so rewarding. It was really exciting.

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